What kind of talks and workshops take place at Burning Man?

The Burning Man Special Events Team convened at the end of 2008 to analyze the year and draft a suggested event plan for 2009. We began the year by utilizing that plan as a springboard for conversation about which community events members of our Bay Area community wanted to see again or develop for the first time. Then, during our January “Open Call for Participation Planning Meeting,” anybody was welcome to attend, provide comments, and suggest a new event or workshop as we discussed how our team might best serve the Bay Area creative community and the Burning Man concept. At the meeting, the monthly team meeting calendar was released, and members had the chance to sign up for continuing team responsibilities or to assist with a special event. Throughout the year, the team also spent a significant amount of time planning for the 25th Burn Anniversary season in 2010.

The Special Events team organized and helped with the following meetings in 2009:

What kind of talks and workshops take place at Burning Man?

  • January 10, 2009, Esprit Park Garden Party & Park Servicing
  • Workshop on Self-HOOPnosis (hypnosis and hula-hooping), January 17, 2009.
  • Art Lounge Artist Mixer, January 22, 2009
  • On February 28, 2009, the Regional Summit Mixer Dinner was held.
  • Burnal Equinox Flambé Lounge, February 28, 2009
  • Cosmos Workshop in Astronomy and Astrology, March 21, 2009
  • A Burning Man HQ open house on April 4, 2009, and the June 20, 2009 BBQ-A-Noobie Community Picnic in Golden Gate Park featuring a Costume Swap component, both in collaboration with the Volunteer Resources Team.
  • Precompression, June 6, 2009
  • Desert Art Preview, June 25, 2009
  • Dolores Park Clean-up & Mixer, July 31, 2009, No Spectators
  • The 10th Annual Decompression Heat the Street FaIRE! will take place on October 11, 2009.
  • Dogpatch Neighborhood Clean-up, October 12, 2009
  • On November 20, 2009, core members of the team assisted the Black Rock Arts Foundation with the sold-out ARTumnal Gathering dinner fundraiser.

The 2009 event schedule was identical to the 2008 schedule, with the following changes: We did not hold a pARTiciPARADE! or Burning Stories night; we had two fewer workshops due to the need to focus on moving the Burning Man office and the lack of space at our temporary Burning Man HQ; we held a park clean up at Dolores Park for the first time; and we launched successful food drives for the SF Food Bank as part of both the Burnal Equinox and Precompression events. Our events were well-attended, and we received positive feedback from attendees; nevertheless, we missed having extra seminars and smaller events. We expect to be able to offer more of these kind of seminars, mixers, and other modest, free, and all-ages events once we have a new Burning Man HQ in San Francisco.

It was a significant year for team development and progress, but we continue to enhance our documentation, communication, mentorship, and delegating. More work is needed, such as developing operational manuals for established events, reducing monthly meetings, and personalizing information tools so that our team can operate more efficiently in sub-teams. We are also adding a second Volunteer Coordinator job to the team, when there was previously just one. It’s all fine!

Those interested in working with the Special Events team should know that we will be seeking for someone to assist with event e-announcements in 2010 as well as someone with expertise in all elements of event production. However, we welcome all levels of interest and experience—or lack thereof. We’re still thinking about “life beyond the playa,” what sorts of events are appropriate for our year-round community, and how to foster more cooperation, creativity, participation, learning, and fun! Do you want to join us? Send an email to flambelounge(at)burningman(dot)org.


ART LOUNGE Open House, Mixer for Artists
January 22, 2009

The goal of this event is to provide a chance for artists to interact with one another and discuss ideas on themes and potential collaborations. To foster cross-pollination, the Special Events team utilized colorful name tags with the name of the artist/project/role to link individuals with diverse areas of expertise. The Burning Man Art Team personally praised the artists for their work and addressed questions about the Burning Man art grant process in front of a packed audience.

February 28, 2009

What kind of talks and workshops take place at Burning Man?

Over the course of the evening, over 1100 individuals visited this exciting Flambe Lounge to commemorate the halfway mark in the burning year. We had 150 community leaders and regional connections from across the globe as honor guests who were in town for Burning Man’s Regional Summit. Before opening to the public and a full night of art and performances, we presented film and images from Burning Man regional gatherings and had a dinner and mixer with employees. From a production standpoint, it was one of our smoothest events, and we had enough of helpers. It was an incredible night on the San Francisco harbor at Mission Rock Café.

June 6, 2009

Precompression is a venue where theme camps and artists may promote their Burning Man ideas. It reunited our diverse community for a full night of interactive theme camps, such as Dustfish and Brass Tax; Burning Man Department info tables, such as the Department of Mutant Vehicles and Playa Info; art displays by artists such as False Profit and Maricela Alvarez; and a giant floating sphere on the Bay that at times transformed into a massive blinking eye and at other times featured imagery relating to the night’s theme: “Evolution.” There were also circus, cabaret, and musical performances, such as a knee-slapping dance duet by Fou Fou HA!, a stunning Butoh performance involving broken dinner plates by Bad Unkl Sista, and inspired musical performances by Varona, Land of the Blind, and newcomers Protopsychopus—who made quite an impression in spandex! The inner space below was devoted to information sharing and discussion, and it was a highly popular site. In general, we prioritize discussion zones at every event we arrange in order to encourage greater idea sharing and meaningful dialogue.

June 25, 2009

We shifted the Desert Art Preview from July to June this year to better meet artist and Burning Man Artery Team seasonal work schedules, and it was a well-received change. Moving this event into June enabled the artists presenting to benefit early from new volunteers identified at this event and to work on their projects without interruption in July. Artists developing projects for Burning Man provided insight into their creative processes as well as sneak peeks at projects in the works. Some people took advantage of the occasion to locate last-minute partners and supplies. Beth Scarborough and $teven Ra$pa presented this year’s ceremonies, which featured an art review by members of Burning Man’s Art Council. A lecture on the purpose of The Black Rock Arts Foundation (BRAF), which finances year-round interactive art projects off-playa, was also given. (ie., not at Burning Man).

The Burninator Grid. The Burninator GRID a large-scale fire installation - a set of computer-controlled large flame towers.

The Grid of the Burninator. The Burninator GRID is a large-scale fire installation consisting of a series of computer-controlled giant flame towers.

Bill Codding — The Burninator Grid; Rossella Scapini — Bio*tanical Garden; Neil Tanner — QuadBod; Rebecca Anders and Jess Hobbs — Chimera Sententia; False Profit Labs — Carbon Garden; Rosa Anna De Fillippis, Caroline Mills — Gee-Gnome; Bryan Tedrick — Portal of Evolution; Flaming Lotus Girls — Soma; and The Raygun Gothic Rocketship Needless to say, no one was bored that night! This is without a doubt one of the greatest events Burning Man offers every year, and many people have noted that seeing the artwork finished at Burning Man or anywhere in the globe gives it more significance.

NO SPECTATORS Day Dolores Park Clean-up & Mixer
July 31, 2009

On July 31, 2008, the Special Events Team coordinated a Dolores Park community clean up and party to commemorate NO SPECTATORS DAY in San Francisco. The Park was really very clean that day, but the committed and diligent crew of costumed MOOPers went over it with a fine toothed (clown) comb, pulling out bottle caps, cigarette butts, and unattractive odd ends by the garbage bag full. Everyone had a terrific time, and the crew is excited to do it again next year!

The Costume Swap, which is traditionally conducted on No Spectators Weekend, was relocated this year to Golden Gate Park as part of the BBQ-A-Noobie activities on June 20th, and we opted not to hold the previous year’s Burning Stories Night owing to space constraints at the temporary Burning Man HQ. We also chose to forego the pARTiciPARADE! since attendance was low the previous year and the team wants to think about how to revamp it. Instead of arranging centralized activities, we offered 10 methods for Burners to engage in No Spectators Weekend on the San Francisco Announce List, including “random acts of kindness, gifting, and self expression” and “volunteering at a local school or non-profit.” We decentralized the spirit of No Spectators Day in this manner, encouraging the community to commemorate it in whatever way was significant to them. Some folks cleaned up their neighborhood, while others worked on art projects and organized potlucks. What exactly did you do? And, hey, isn’t every day NO SPECTATORS DAY?

October 11, 2009

What kind of talks and workshops take place at Burning Man?

This stunning annual Street FaIRE!, which was hosted on Indiana Street from Noon to Midnight, was constructed by 7,000 individuals. The day was jam-packed with interactive art, music, and radically different performances, as well as a wide variety of creative expression. Decompression has evolved into a magnificent showcase for our community’s art and culture, and it continues to develop as a gathering place and evidence that what occurs in Black Rock City does not remain in Black Rock City! In reality, official Burning Man Decompressions are currently held across the globe in compliance with agreed-upon event production requirements and Burning Man values. The granddaddy of them all, the SF Decom, is a much-loved element of the Bay Area art scene.

This year, the SFFD threw us a curveball by instituting a slew of new draft fire plan criteria that required a significant amount of additional work to meet. We felt that some of the standards were inappropriate for San Francisco fire artists vs stadium pyrotechnic performances, therefore we provided input, expressing our worry that very few individuals in the fire community would be able to comply. In the end, we were able to comply while also enjoying the discourse and tight working relationship with the fire service.

The most unexpected problem this year was that a non-Burner neighbor had a loud afterparty on 19th Street that lasted until 4 a.m. and resulted in multiple sound complaints. Even though we had nothing to do with the incident and were not legally accountable, we had to deal with furious neighbors for many days thereafter who assumed we were to blame for the noise. As a result, we must explore how to resolve similar concerns in the future. A taxi also drove past the gates during the failure and defied security directions when the roadway was still restricted to traffic. Happily, we had no other major issues or injuries; and, while this year’s Street FaIRE was definitely more difficult to produce than last year’s due to a full week less production time, the team did an AMAZING job, and our 10th Anniversary Street FaIRE included many new theme camps, artists, and performances—which was very exciting and is a sign of a healthy art scene.

We applied the following key approaches to ensure that Decompression ran smoothly:

  • We enlarged our 19th Street gate operations and relocated Will Call to 20th Street, eliminating the lineups that existed in previous years.
  • An updated Decompression survival handbook to teach individuals about the playa’s hardships, obligations to neighbors, and restrictions.
  • We reduced one sound site and invited sound camps who had participated in previous years to take the year off so that others might join.
  • Instead of grouping various types of performance by stage, we lay out the street to generate a larger diversity of experiences, and each stage was reimagined to incorporate more varied programming. This contributed to a more playa-like experience, where you never know what’s going to happen next.
  • We once again shuttered performance stages sequentially, beginning at one end of the event and working our way toward the side of the street fair with the least influence on neighbors.
  • We implemented an end-of-night departure strategy that turned Indiana roadway into a one-way roadway from midnight to 2 a.m. and guided leaving cars in a methodical and orderly manner. We will absolutely do this again!
  • More team members took up leadership positions, and more individuals are now aware of what has to be done and how to execute it. End-of-night volunteer positions continue to be challenging to fill, but the team stepped up when other volunteers fell short. We want YOU to assist next year, so we’ll be thinking about ways to make those late-night volunteer slots more enjoyable and fulfilling.

What Worked For ALL Special Events in 2009:

  • The January Open Call meeting infused the team with fresh enthusiasm, ideas, and people.
  • The devoted, incredible, bigger, and more experienced core crew ensured a successful production year. We are learning and implementing what we have learned.
  • Continued delegating and connecting new team members with current team members to enable mentorship and retention of team expertise after a team member quits.
  • Event objective statements, role papers, volunteer contact lists, event timetables, and a full year team meeting calendar all assisted in getting the team on the same page and working toward shared goals in order to reach deadlines sooner. We just need to make those tools more accessible to all core team members.
  • All of our activities were well-attended, and we received positive feedback from the community. At this moment, Burnal Equinox and Precompression are as popular as Decompression. And we’re providing more diverse material to fulfill the requirements of the community.
  • In a down economy, we functioned incredibly cost-effectively with a limited budget. It just goes to show that a little creativity and sharing can go a long way during difficult times.
  • On behalf of the artists, Burning Man maintained to establish strong working relationships with neighbors, municipal authorities, and the San Francisco Fire Department.
  • Our activities have evolved into showcases for Burning Man culture, revealing new art pieces throughout the city with growing degrees of “radical collaboration.” We assisted in covering the expenses of restoring various pieces of art for Decompression and urged the City and Bay Area art community to examine the art for public display.

Top Challenges:

  • Our biggest team problem continues to be finding acceptable places where we may have fire art and display a broad variety of human expression.
  • The lack of a regular location to hold free seminars severely limited our options! As a consequence, we lost some of our event options this year and were unable to hold as many free events. Furthermore, we do not provide enough diversity of events for certain members of our community.
  • Finding dependable late-night volunteers. There are still some holes in the team, and the Volunteer Coordinator function has expanded to need at least two people.
  • We encountered transportation challenges and will need to hire a vehicle for each event.
  • Special Events must leverage technology and procedures more efficiently, as well as develop data management and technology solutions, in order to successfully exchange information among our team members.
  • Improved inventory management and storage space.
  • Many team members have no spare time and volunteer for duties during Burning Man on the playa as well as throughout the year in the city. Even when we like what we do, avoiding burnout is difficult.
  • With another office transfer coming, the 25th burn anniversary, and a likely Decompression site shift, 2010 will be a difficult year for the crew.

Key Lessons Learned:

  • We plan our events early and book locations 12-24 months in advance.
  • For this year’s team, the amount of events was suitable. With the workplace relocation we did in March/April, it would have been tough to do anything else. However, we aim to organize fresh and diverse types of art events that will stimulate our minds and broaden our awareness.
  • If members want to do more, the Special Events Team must expand, with a larger base of expertise in all areas to make everything entertaining, safe, and minimize burn-out.
  • We must improve communication and information exchange amongst sub-teams. Team leaders must also begin creating their own operational manuals, incorporating modifications each year.
  • We need to split our team email list into a discussion list and an announcement list. We should also start making smaller lists for each event.
  • This year, we saw art venues like American Steel and theme camps like Opulent Temple and Space Cowboys host activities that were very similar to what Burning Man has historically done in San Francisco. We must consider the next stage of these social events and how to maintain them important and distinctive as our community grows.

Related Questions

  • What takes place at Burning Man?

    They enjoy a week of camaraderie, art, counterculture, free expression, and identity celebration under a scorching heat and chilly nights. The celebration concludes with the symbolic burning of a big wooden effigy, following which all participants scrupulously clean up.

  • Is there entertainment at Burning Man?

    Burning Man is a celebration of individuality. It does not hire any kind of entertainment for the whole gathering, but instead invites individuals to perform for the community for free. People spend their time in the desert exploring on foot, bicycle, or scooter.

  • What are the most important resources at the Burning Man event?

    The playa provides (everything but water)
    Water is virtually never given as a present; you are expected to bring your own. “Radical Self-reliance” is one of Burning Man’s ten principles, therefore bring 1.5 gallons of drinking water every day. (more if you plan to shower).

  • What are Burning Man traditions?

    The festival is recognized for creative and self-expression exhibitions, such as sculptures and other art installations, as well as odd, art-inspired automobiles and structures. The avoidance of any exchange of cash is a key component of Burning Man culture, with guests instead engaged in trading, borrowing, and bartering.

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