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Burning Man

Burning Man is a week-long annual festival with international draw, held on the week prior to and including Labor Day weekend. Its current location is on the playa of the Black Rock Desert in Nevada, 120 miles north of Reno. The temporary city (housing 30,000 residents in 2003) is an experiment in community, radical self-expression, and radical self-reliance. The culmination of the event is the burning of a large wooden sculpture of a man on the sixth night of the event.

Primary foci of the festival

Participate! Burning man is a "spectator-free" zone; only participants are allowed. All attendees are expected to contribute to the community, and the nature of this participation is entirely up to each individual. The concept of radical inclusion ("include yourself, include others") is the consensus-reality unwritten law that governs this social principle.

Leave No Trace, an ecological concept. Burning man takes place in the middle of a normally uninhabited desert. Participants must be very careful not to contaminate the desert with litter from civilization. The Bureau of Land Management, which maintains the desert, has very strict requirements for the festival. For weeks after the festival has ended, a team of Burners remain in the desert, cleaning up after the city and making sure that no evidence of the festival remains. A similar mantra heard at Burning Man is "Don't Let It Hit The Ground".

Commerce-free event. No cash transactions are allowed at Burning Man. The participants instead rely on a gift economy. Since the earliest days of the event, an underground barter economy has also existed, in which Burners exchange material goods and/or favors with each other. The only commerce that has been allowed are sales of coffee and ice at Center Camp, which benefit the local Gerlach-Empire school system, and the onsite commissary for staff.

Arts and crafts, particularly outsider art and visionary art. Creative expression through the arts is encouraged at Burning Man. Large-scale art installations, theme camps, music, performance, and guerilla street theatre are amongst the most common art forms shared at Burning Man. Sculptures and interactive installations are generally placed on the playa, in specific art-walk pathways that lead to and from The Man. The largest, and most active, public theme camps are generally clustered on the Esplanade, Black Rock City's inner circle "main street." The Burning Man Opera was a significant interactive community performance that occurred over four years. Most recently, the ritual burning of David Best's temple projects have rivalled the burning of The Man in community significance and popularity. The ornately designed, three story high temple buidlings borrow from Southeast Asian Buddhist architecture concepts, and are used as repositories for the memories of deceased loved ones.

Black Rock City

Black Rock City is the name of the temporary urban phenomenon created by Burning Man. The city is arranged in a large circle, with The Man at the very center. Surrounding the man is an area of empty space reserved for art installations. Further out, arranged in concentric circles around The Man, are the streets and villages of Burning Man, where the participants reside. The innermost circles are the busiest, and are reserved for "theme camps". Theme camps, as their name implies, are designed with a specific theme in mind. Some well-known camps that have been at Burning Man for a while include Thunderdome, where constestants battle in a large geodesic dome (inspired by the Mad Max series of films); Eggchair, a camp with an Eggchair for passers by to sit in and watch the world go by; and IHOP, the Intergalactic House of Pancakes, which serves pancakes to all comers. Center Camp is located at the "bottom" of the city, and serves as a central meeting place for the entire city. Various services, such as first aid and playa info, are found at center camp.


Participants often call themselves "burners," although this usage may vary with region. A "burner" is an annual denizen of Black Rock City. Anyone who embraces Burning Man as an expression in synch with their own identity is a burner. In general, the term's use is only practical in contexts outside of the event itself. A burner is usually someone who has been to the event and aspires to return, even if only in spirit. However, the concept also implies the sentiments and values inspired by the event itself, including a high regard for creativity, especially radical self-expression, and willingness to participate in a gift-based economy.

The opposite of a burner is a "yahoo". This term is applied to those that come to spectate rather then participate in the event. As the purpose of Burning Man is to form community and to promote radical self-expression, non-participants are generally frowned upon.


The annual event began in 1986 when Larry Harvey, Jerry James, and a few friends met on a San Francisco beach and burned an 8 foot tall wooden man. Since then, the event has grown enormously, and some restrictions have been put in place, such as a ban on fireworks and firearms. Some former participants of Burning Man criticize the current event as being too structured and controlled.


Coming back to the "real world" from the event is said to be a little jarring because of the requirement of money in order to sit, to enjoy entertainment/music, to imbibe, etc. To relieve this culture shock, Burners may engage in decompression parties.

Burners also continue community building through localized events such as Burning Flipside (a.k.a. Flipside), Playa del Fuego, and SynchroniCity.

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