The Burning Man festival is literally one of a kind. It’s music, it’s art, it’s community as well as one hell of a party. It’s a small city built and maintained by the people who show up. The official website refers to it as a, “vibrant metropolis generated by its citizens.”
The Burning Man Project has been around since 1986 and is currently held in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada. It started in San Francisco by Larry Harvey and friend Jerry James when they decided to set their four-story tall wooden sculpture ablaze along the coast. Over the years that followed, the annual expedition snowballed, starting with a few hundred people attending in 1990 to more than 66,000 people in 2014.
According to the website, burningman.org, it wasn’t the easiest thing to keep afloat. They had lots of publicity issues when the city of San Francisco tried to shut them down due to fire safety standards. When they moved to the barren desert, a whole new list of trials emerged.
Since it’s in the middle of a desert, some forms of safety were needed. The Rangers were created, not police by any standards, but more of individuals assisting the “lost souls” of the desert landscape.
In 1997, CNN listed it as ”the most dangerous arts festival”. This claim was the final straw from being a low-key festival to something that many people added to their bucket lists. The secret was out.
In this place, anything goes. One particularly rainy weekend in 1995 caused a huge muddy mess, consequently meaning lots of people ditched their clothes completely and went commando. Another year, the festival was cited for having “naked employees” as well as not having an ice scoop for making iced coffee.
According to the official site, BMP is a, “temporary metropolis dedicated to community, art, self-expression and self-reliance.” This is reinforced by the non profit’s 10 principles that it stands by. These principles aren’t a list of how to act, but more of a reflection of their morals and culture. These standards include, but aren’t limited to; Radical Inclusion, Decommodification, Self-Expression, Civic Responsibility, Immediacy, and Participation among all that attend.
In terms of art and music, there isn’t a “set list” like other festivals. The performers are all that show up, and anyone can perform in any way they choose. It can be music, art, dance, food, installations, rides, fire breathing, or anything one can think of.
This utmost freedom of self-expression is what makes this festival so unique and sought after. It is a spiritual journey as well as a party. The Burning Man itself is whatever you make it to be and is open to interpretation.
Being mainly an art festival, in 2014 the BMP had roughly 311 art installations, 975 theme camps, 652 mutant vehicles and people from 80 countries. Through their efforts, more than $1.1 million was given to artists at the festival and around the world.
The same year more than $800,000 in honorarium art grants was spent on the creation of 61 art installations. One of which was a seventy-two foot tall wooden sculpture titled “Embrace” which depicted a man and woman bust embracing each other, that was later set on fire.
The BMP is organized around the community who are all encouraged to actively participate. The act of consumption of brands and labels are not important here, as they hold true to their principles even though it has grown in popularity over the past thirty years.
2014 was the third consecutive year the event has sold out, and the ticket prices reflect that growth. The humble beginnings of the festival were free to all, and later became $30 or so but now range from $190 for low income people, to $1200 for those who are able to pay that much.
This is one of the few festivals that have a bracket for low income people to attend, and the highest tickets are called the Leonardo da Vinci tickets. With the purchase of those tickets, named so due to the art theme of this coming year, no additional benefits are added. Instead, the extra funds go towards all the art that is bursting at the seams at this venue.
Tickets aren’t guaranteed however, as you must register beforehand. Registration doesn’t mean you will get a ticket once they go on sale, and a normal ticket costs around $390 for the weekend. Vehicle passes cost $80.
“Achieve being through doing […] Everyone is invited to work. Everyone is invited to play.”
This is a festival must, one that will never be forgotten. No other festival is so community based and so free to be unique. It is a fact that you will bring some of this back to the real world and hopefully bring some creativity to make the world a better place, full of inspiration and passion.