Citizenship in Black Rock City

Black Rock City has become something we could scarcely have imagined on the beach in 1986: a thriving temporary city. With tens of thousands of residents stretched across miles of the Black Rock Desert, 1,472 camps, and hundreds of works of art, 2018 was one of the best years yet in the dust! Black Rock City’s citizens stepped up to build the inclusive, dynamic art and community they wanted to experience together.

The Black Rock Desert is where our culture took root, and the annual gathering in Nevada is still the largest annual expression of the Burning Man ethos. It is our launchpad to the broader world. Our work now is to manage costs and capacity while protecting the event and the ways it serves as a catalyst for promoting cultural change beyond the event in the desert.

Our hope is that people who participate in Black Rock City become positive, productive, and engaged citizens in their year-round homes and communities. Being a good Burning Man citizen starts with being prepared and understanding that Burning Man works best when everyone participates.

This year we took steps to nurture a sense of citizenship in participants, and to reinvest in the cultural ethos that sets Burning Man apart from mass-produced events.

Project Citizenship is a concentrated, cross-departmental effort to educate potential and returning participants on many of the values we hold dear. In 2018, the project focused on topics like preventing the commodification of Burning Man, celebrating the small, and taking personal responsibility. We shared this information through targeted emails to ticket buyers, short quizzes in Burner Profiles and the ticketing page, Burning Man Journal posts, a shift in Instagram content, and other campaigns.

We also launched another big initiative in 2018 called ‘Black Rock City Cultural Direction Setting.’ This project aims to examine and shift how we think about placement, camps, and residential BRC over the next five to 10 years. To engage the community about these issues, we created a survey with questions about residential BRC, camp sizes, and cultural concerns and considerations. In just three weeks it generated over 4,800 responses from 78 countries. This work will help establish a new baseline for how the community views itself and what steps Burning Man Project might take towards creating effective change. This is citizenship in action.

Burning Man Project’s mission is to share Burning Man culture beyond the playa, and as we continue to find ways to live the 10 Principles beyond the trash fence, we believe it’s more important than ever to insure Black Rock City is the strongest possible manifestation of our ethos. This means investing new energy in our city in the desert, and preserving and protecting.

Spotlight on BRC Art

Art is everywhere in Black Rock City. In every theme camp, on every street, throughout the expansive open playa — from Center Camp to the Man to the furthest point of the city’s perimeter — you’ll find art. In fact, everybody in Black Rock City is art. That’s part of what makes our city so special. Participants really took to the 2018 I, Robot theme with a range of creative expression, from every sort of robot imaginable to more conceptual pieces around our relationship with technology.

“The Great Train Wreck”, a collaborative project between artists from Reno and Sacramento, was a celebration of railroad history, featuring two locomotives colliding and burning on Friday night. Inspired by NASA’s Project Echo, the 84’ diameter “ORB” from Bjarke Ingels’ group in Denmark gave BRC participants a 1/500,000 perspective of what it might be like to see Earth from space. On the smaller but equally fun side, “Odd Jelly Out” returned to Deep Playa for a second year, depicting a joyous gathering of 10, four-foot tall Jelly Babies hand crafted from steel and fiberglass.

In 2018, Art Support Services (ASS) continued its push toward “going direct," supporting artists at their build sites to address 70% of service requests — for heavy equipment, anchors, fuel, water, and other resources — in the field. Before, during, and after the event, ASS volunteered a total of 4,000 hours over 680 shifts to provide this high-touch outreach, fulfilling more than 700 complex requests and a multitude of smaller needs. Building on past know-how and infused with new leadership, 91% of artists gave ASS a positive rating.