I attended Burning Man for the first time this week. While my stay in the temporary city created in the desert (“Black Rock City”) was relatively short (3 days), it was an experience I’ll treasure and always remember. As one of Burning Man Project’s lawyers on nonprofit legal matters, it was challenging to set aside my professional perspective and enjoy the event freely like other attendees, but that did not temper my awe for:
- The creativity on display. There were thousands of art installations, art cars, and other visual art works supplemented by hundreds of works of performing arts. And most attendees/participants displayed their own creativity through costumes, dance, and discussion.
- The unconditional gifting among participants. For some, the gift involved tremendous labor to create an amazing installation like the Temple of Promise shown in the photo above for all to witness and experience. For others, the gift involved building and operating (a) a French Quarter providing free fresh produce at a farmer’s market; (b) a specialized double-decker art car providing mobility-challenged individuals with art tours; and (c) an astronomical observatory. All kinds of food and meals were freely gifted throughout Black Rock City. While others gifted participants with building and operating free solar charging stations, roller rinks, and dance clubs; teaching music, yoga, and craft-making; and facilitating discussions of health, community-building, and environmentalism.
- The educational experiences available. Hundreds of classes were offered every single day in a wide variety of areas including meditation, poetry, resiliency, soul searching, sustainability, and neuroscience. Tedx BRC featured some amazing speakers. Moreover, the space and time allowed for much learning among participants in informal conversations going on throughout Black Rock City. During my stay, I certainly learned from some fascinating and brilliant people from all over the world who shared a common interest in the 10 Principles espoused by Burning Man.
- The pervasive themes of conservation and sustainability. “Leaving no trace” is one of the 10 Principles that is reinforced everywhere. The desert venue (the “Playa”) added immeasurably to the wide observance of this Principle as it is an underappreciated and beautiful environment which makes any form of pollution or degradation immediately apparent. No matter out of place (“MOOP“), not even greywater, can be left behind by any participant.
Black Rock City is difficult to define. It’s like, but unlike, a museum, art gallery, or festival. It’s like, but unlike, a social experiment. It’s like, but unlike, a temple or monastery.
For many, Burning Man is a transformational experience that creates a safe place for self-expression, participation, and acceptance as a member of a community. For some, it’s an opportunity to enjoy a sense of community-building and recreation. For others, it’s a place to recognize and organize their civic responsibility (see, for example, Burners Without Borders). I found Black Rock City to be an incredibly inspiring place to learn, be creative (I finished the framework of a long-planned novel), and witness the joy of giving.