Burning Man

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Burning Man
Lightmatter burningman.jpg
Burning "The Man", a large wooden effigy
Beginslast Monday of August
Endsfirst Monday in September
Location(s)Black Rock Desert, Pershing County, Nevada, United States
Coordinates40°47′13″N 119°12′16″W / 40.78694°N 119.20444°W / 40.78694; -119.20444Coordinates: 40°47′13″N 119°12′16″W / 40.78694°N 119.20444°W / 40.78694; -119.20444
FounderLarry Harvey, Jerry James
Attendance65,922 (2014) [1]
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"The Burning Man" redirects here. For the Twilight Zone episode, see The Burning Man (The Twilight Zone). For the 2011 Australian film, see Burning Man (film).
Burning Man
Lightmatter burningman.jpg
Burning "The Man", a large wooden effigy
Beginslast Monday of August
Endsfirst Monday in September
Location(s)Black Rock Desert, Pershing County, Nevada, United States
Coordinates40°47′13″N 119°12′16″W / 40.78694°N 119.20444°W / 40.78694; -119.20444Coordinates: 40°47′13″N 119°12′16″W / 40.78694°N 119.20444°W / 40.78694; -119.20444
FounderLarry Harvey, Jerry James
Attendance65,922 (2014) [1]

Burning Man is a week-long annual event that began in San Francisco's Baker Beach in 1986 and migrated to the Black Rock Desert in northern Nevada, in the United States. The event begins on the last Monday in August, and ends on the first Monday in September, which coincides with the American Labor Day holiday. It takes its name from the ritual burning of a large wooden effigy, which is set alight on Saturday evening. The event is described as an experiment in community, art, radical self-expression, and radical self-reliance.[2][3][4][5] Burning Man is organized by Black Rock City, LLC and has been running since 1986. In 2010, 51,515 people attended Burning Man.[6] 2011 attendance was capped at 50,000 participants and the event sold out on July 24;[7] the attendance rose to 65,922 in 2014.[1] In April 2011, Larry Harvey announced that the organization had begun the process of transitioning management of Burning Man over to a new non-profit organization called the "Burning Man Project".


1986 to 1989[edit]

Wicker man on fire at the Archaeolink outdoor museum, Oyne, Aberdeenshire, Scotland

One of the roots of the annual event now known as Burning Man began as a bonfire ritual on the summer solstice in 1986 when Larry Harvey, Jerry James, and a few friends met on Baker Beach in San Francisco[8] and burned a 9-foot (2.7-meter) wooden man as well as a smaller wooden dog. Harvey has described his inspiration for burning these effigies as a spontaneous act of "radical self-expression".[9] The event did have earlier roots, though. Sculptor Mary Grauberger, a friend of Harvey's girlfriend Janet Lohr, held solstice bonfire gatherings on Baker Beach for several years prior to 1986, some of which Harvey attended. When Grauberger stopped organizing it, Harvey "picked up the torch" so to speak, and ran with it.[9] He and Jerry James built an 8-foot (2.4-meter) wooden effigy for 1986, which was much smaller and more crudely made than the neon-lit figure featured in the current ritual. In 1987, the effigy grew to almost 15 feet (4.6 meters) tall, and by 1988, it had grown to around 40 feet (12 meters). Burning Man attendees informally called it "The Man," and this name was given to each successive effigy, every year since Burning Man began.

Harvey stated that he did not see the movie The Wicker Man until many years later, so it played no part in his inspiration.

1990 to 1996[edit]

In 1990, a separate event was planned by Kevin Evans and John Law on the remote and largely unknown dry lake known as Black Rock Desert, about 110 miles north of Reno.[10] Evans conceived it as a dadaist temporary autonomous zone with sculpture to be burned and situationist performance art. He asked John Law, who also had experience on the dry lake and was a defining founder of Cacophony Society, to take on central organizing functions. In the Cacophony Society's newsletter, it was announced as Zone Trip #4, A Bad Day at Black Rock (inspired by the movie of that name).

Meanwhile, the beach burn was interrupted by the park police for not having a permit. After striking a deal to raise the Man but not to burn it, event organizers disassembled the effigy and returned it to the vacant lot where it had been built. Shortly thereafter, the legs and torso of the Man were chain-sawed and the pieces removed when the lot was unexpectedly leased as a parking lot. The effigy was reconstructed, led by Dan Miller, Harvey's then-housemate of many years, just in time to take it to Zone Trip #4.[11]

Michael Mikel, another active Cacophonist, realized that a group unfamiliar with the environment of the dry lake would be helped by knowledgeable persons to ensure they did not get lost in the deep dry lake and risk dehydration and death. He took the name Danger Ranger and created the Black Rock Rangers. Thus the seed of Black Rock City was germinated, as a fellowship, organized by Law and Mikel, based on Evans' idea, along with Harvey and James' symbolic man. Drawing on experience in the sign business and with light sculpture, John Law prepared custom neon tubes for the Man in 1991 so it could be seen as a beacon at night.

In its first years, the community grew by word of mouth alone, all were considered participants by virtue of surviving in the desolate surreal trackless plain of the Black Rock Desert. There were no paid or scheduled performers or artists, no separation between art-space and living-space, no rules other than "Don't interfere with anyone else's immediate experience" and "no guns in central camp."

1991 marked the first year that the event had a legal permit, through the BLM (the Bureau of Land Management).[12] 1993 saw the birth of a smaller, intensive (with 30 or so participants) near-by event named "Desert Siteworks," co-directed by William Binzen and Judy West.[13] The annual, several weeks-long event, was held in the springtime at various fertile hot springs surrounding the desert. Participants built art and participated in self-directed performances. Some key organizers of Burning Man were also part of Desert Siteworks (John Law, Michael Mikel) and William Binzen was a friend of Larry Harvey. Hence, the two events saw lots of cross-pollination of ideas and participants.[14] Desert Siteworks lasted through 1995. 1996 was the first year a formal partnership was created to own the name "Burning Man" and was also the last year that the event was held in the middle of the Black Rock Desert with no fence around it.

1997 to present[edit]

The neon-tubed Man at the 1999 event

1997 marked another major pivotal year for the event. By 1996, the event had grown to 8,000 attendees and unrestricted driving on the open playa was becoming a major safety hazard. To implement a ban on driving and re-create the event as a pedestrian/bicycle/art-car-only event, it was decided to move to private gated property. Fly Ranch, with the adjoining Hualapai mini dry lake-bed, just east of the Black Rock desert, was chosen. This moved Burning Man from Pershing county/federal BLM land into the jurisdiction of Washoe County, which brought a protracted list of permit requirements.[15]

To comply with the new requirements and to manage the increased liability load, the organizers formed Black Rock City, LLC). Will Roger Peterson and Flynn Mauthe created the Department of Public Works (DPW) to build the "city" grid layout (a requirement so that emergency vehicles could be directed to an "address") designed by Rod Garrett, an architect. Rod continued as the city designer through 2011 until his death at 76. He is also credited with the design of all of the man bases from 2001 through 2012, the center camp cafe and first camp.[16] With the success of the driving ban, having no vehicular incidents, 1998 saw a return to the Black Rock desert, along with a temporary perimeter fence. The event has remained there since.

As the population of Black Rock City grew, further rules were established in relation to its survival. Some critics of the event cite the addition of these rules as impinging on the original freedoms, altering the experience unacceptably, while others find the increased level of activity more than balances out the changes.

Light matter, Burning Man, 2004

Another notable restriction to attendees is the 7-mile-(11 km) long temporary plastic fence that surrounds the event and defines the pentagon of land used by the event on the southern edge of the Black Rock dry lake.[23] This 4-foot (1.2 meter) high barrier is known as the "trash fence" because its initial use was to catch wind-blown debris that might escape from campsites during the event. Since 2002, the area beyond this fence has not been accessible to Burning Man participants during the week of the event.[24]

One visitor who was accidentally burned at the 2005 event unsuccessfully sued Black Rock City, LLC in San Francisco County Superior Court. On June 30, 2009, the California Court of Appeal for the First District upheld the trial court's grant of summary judgment to Black Rock City, LLC on the basis that visitors who deliberately walk towards the Burning Man after it is lit assume the risk of getting burned by such an obviously hazardous object.[25]

Transition to a non-profit organization[edit]

In April 2011, Larry Harvey announced that the LLC was beginning a three-year process to transfer ownership and control of the event over to a new non-profit organization called the "Burning Man Project". The move towards becoming a non-profit organization was the result of "bitter infighting" between members of the board. At one point it looked like all of the board members were going to hire lawyers. Corporate appraisers were brought in to determine how much the company was worth, which Larry Harvey found "abhorrent" and against all of the values that Burning Man stood for.[26]

An earlier agreement stated that each member of the LLC would only receive "sole compensation for many years of service, a golden parachute of $20,000". But the members now agreed to an arrangement whereby each member of the LLC would receive an undisclosed sum prior to the transfer of their ownership rights to the Burning Man Project. Marian Goodell, board member and head of communication, addressed concerns about the lack of transparency with this statement: “When you’re in the middle of a storm, if you’re going to explain all of how you got there, and how you’re going to get out, it often sets more panic among the survivors than if you just sail the boat out of the darkness.”[27]

It was announced in March 2014 via the official Burning Man Blog that the non-profit transition was complete.[28] Under the new non-profit structure Black Rock City LLC, the longtime for-profit responsible for the event, would be a subsidiary of the non-profit Burning Man Project. Although unmentioned in the initial announcement the Terms and Conditions for ticket buyers was changed to reflect an alteration in the structure of the business. Under the new terms it was made known that a new LLC was created, Decommodification LLC. Decommodification LLC, in the new non-profit business structure, owns all of the intellectual property associated with the Burning Man brand, including ownership over logos, videos, photography, and trademarks, it will be responsible for enforcement.[29] The non-profit Burning Man Project licenses usage of all intellectual property associated with Burning Man from Decommodification LLC. After questions were raised by the community about this new LLC within the comment section on the original non-profit announcement Larry Harvey confirmed that himself and the other founders were the sole owners of this new LLC.

Timeline of the event[edit]

The statistics below illustrate the growth in attendance of the Burning Man event, as well as other facts and figures.[30] The event has experienced significant growth in popularity, changing from a small handful of people to over 49,500 attending the event in 2008. Burning Man 2006 was covered extensively for television for the first time by subscription television channel Current TV which handed out cameras to participants and broadcast daily updates via satellite from the dry lake. "TV Free Burning Man" also provided TV viewers an hour-long live feed of The Burn and was shown without commercial sponsorship. TV Free returned in 2007 and 2008; the 2007 coverage was nominated for a news Emmy Award.[31]

The height of the Burning Man itself has remained close to 40 feet (12 meters) tall since 1989. Changes in the height and structure of the base account for the differing heights of the overall structures.[citation needed]

YearHeight from ground
to top of Man
19868 ft (2.4 m)Baker Beach20FreeNoneLarry Harvey & Jerry James build & burn wooden man on Baker Beach on the summer solstice, following a ritual bonfire tradition begun by Mary Grauberger
198720 ft (6.1 m)Baker Beach80FreeNone
198830 ft (9.1 m)Baker Beach150-200FreeNone
198940 ft (12 m)Baker Beach300+FreeNoneFirst listing of Burning Man in the San Francisco Cacophony Society newsletter, "Rough Draft" under "sounds like cacophony."
199040 ft (12 m)Baker Beach &
Black Rock Desert
500 (Baker Beach) +
120 Black Rock Desert
FreeNoneFigure erected at Baker Beach on Summer Solstice (June 21) but not burned. Man is invited to San Francisco Cacophony Zone Trip #4 on Labor Day weekend in the Black Rock Desert, Nevada.
199140 ft (12 m)Black Rock Desert250NoneFirst year of neon on the man.
199240 ft (12 m)Black Rock Desert600None
199340 ft (12 m)Black Rock Desert1,000NoneTheme camps: 1— "Christmas Camp"
199440 ft (12 m)Black Rock Desert2,000NoneFirst year of wooden spires and lamplighting
199540 ft (12 m)Black Rock Desert4,000$35NoneUnofficial theme was "Good and Evil".
199648 ft (15 m)Black Rock Desert8,000$35InfernoTheme featuring Dante's Inferno/HELCO (a satire on corporate takeovers). First year the man is elevated on a straw bale pyramid and guns banned in central camp. First fatality in motorcycle collision. 3 people seriously injured in a tent run over by a car.[32] 10 of 16 BLM stipulations violated, putting BM on probationary status for next year. An injury claim drives liability coverage up by a factor of 6. Featured in an article in Wired magazine.[33] Theme camps 130+
199750 ft (15 m)Hualapai Playa10,000$65Fertility: The Living LandThe BM org. forms management structure, the DPW to meet strict permit requirements newly imposed. First year the city has grid streets and driving banned. Washoe County officials impounded gate receipts to ensure payment after the fire and protection fees along with more than 100 new fire and safety conditions are imposed before the event.[34] Registered theme camps: 400+
199852 ft (16 m)Black Rock Desert15,000$80–$90Nebulous EntityBurning Man returned to the Black Rock Desert although much closer to Gerlach than before. The "Nebulous Entity" was Harvey's satirical concept of alien beings who thrive on information—who consume it but do not understand it.
199954 ft (16 m)Black Rock Desert23,000$65–$130Wheel of TimeListed in the AAA's RV guide under "Great Destinations." Registered theme camps: 320
200054 ft (16 m)Black Rock Desert25,400$200The BodyFirst active law enforcement activity, 60 Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and police arrests and citations. Most are for minor drug charges following surveillance and searches. Registered theme camps: 460
200170 ft (21 m)Black Rock Desert25,659$200Seven AgesSee Seven Ages of Man. Over 100 BLM citations and 5 arrests. Registered theme camps: 466, placed art: 150
200280 ft (24 m)Black Rock Desert28,979$135–$200The Floating WorldFirst year for FAA approved airport. 135 BLM citations and 4 Sheriff citations. Registered theme camps: 487, placed art: 120
200379 ft (24 m)Black Rock Desert30,586$145–$225Beyond BeliefDogs are banned for the first time. 177 BLM citations, 9 police citations, 10 arrests and 1 fatality.[35] Registered theme camps: 504, placed art: 261
200480 ft (24 m)Black Rock Desert35,664The Vault of Heaven218 BLM citations, some issued from decoy 'art car'. Camps giving away alcohol subjected to state law compliance examinations and 1 arrest. Pershing County Sheriff's office: 27 cases, 4 arrests, 2 citations. Nevada Highway Patrol: 2 DUI arrests, 217 citations, and 246 warnings were issued. Malcolm in the Middle used burning man in one of their episodes. Registered theme camps: 503, placed art: 220
200572 ft (22 m)Black Rock Desert35,567$145–$250Psyche: The Conscious,
Subconscious & Unconscious
The Man, perched atop a "fun house" maze, can be turned by participants, confusing those at a distance who use it to navigate. Dream related art work. 218 BLM citations, 6 arrests and 1 fatality. Registered theme camps: 485, placed art: 275
200672 ft (22 m)Black Rock Desert38,989$185–$280Hope and Fear: The FutureThe Man goes up and down reflecting a hope/fear meter. Voting stations were set up around the playa, allowing residents to cast a Hopeful or Fearful vote for the future of Man. If the vote was hopeful he would burn with his hands in the air- not- hands down. They voted hopeful- and his arms were raised till the end. 155 BLM citations and 1 arrest. Pershing County Sheriff's office: 1 citation and 7 arrests. Nevada Highway Patrol: 234 citations, 17 arrests, and 213 warnings. Placed art: 300
200765 ft (20 m)Black Rock Desert47,366[36]$195–$280The Green ManThe Man was prematurely set on fire around 2:58 am, Tuesday August 28, during full Lunar eclipse. A repeat Burning Man prankster, Paul Addis, was arrested and charged with arson,[37] and the Man was rebuilt for regular Saturday burn. Addis pleaded guilty in May 2008 to one felony count of injury to property, was sentenced to up to four years in Nevada state prison, and was ordered to pay $30,000 in restitution.[38] 331 BLM citations. Registered theme camps: 681, placed art: 300
2008100 ft (30 m)Black Rock Desert49,599[6]$210–$295American DreamFirst year that tickets are not sold at the gate.[39] The size and layout of the city is enlarged to accommodate a larger central playa and a longer Esplanade. Because of excessively high winds and whiteout conditions on Saturday, the burning of the Man was delayed for over an hour and a half and the fire conclave was canceled. Many longtime contributors opted out allegedly due to the chosen theme ("The American Dream"), jailing of dissenter Addis, and the founders' rift. The perimeter of BRC extended to 9 miles. The BLM made 6 arrests and issued 129 citations. Registered theme camps: 746, placed art: 285
200966 ft (20 m)Black Rock Desert43,435$210–$360Evolution: A Tangled BankTickets sold at the gate once again. As the result of some criticism, the size and layout of the city was returned to roughly the same as the 2007 event. The BLM officials said that as of noon Saturday, 41,059 people were at Burning Man, and the crowd peaked at 43,435 at noon Friday, a noted decline after years of steady attendance growth, due mainly to the 2008 stock market crash. BLM issued 287 citations and 9 arrests. Registered theme camps: 618, placed art: 215
2010100 ft (30 m)Black Rock Desert51,454$210–$360Metropolis: The Life Of CitiesAttendance over 50,000 mark, for first time. The gate opened early, at 6 pm Sunday, for first time. Coincided with the inaugural Black Rock City Film Festival. BLM issued 293 citations and 8 arrests. Registered theme camps: 700, placed art: 275
2011104 ft (32 m)Black Rock Desert53,963[40]$210–$360Rites of PassageAccording to Black Rock LLC, 27,000 tickets (all discounted tiers) were sold by midday the day following the opening of ticket sales.[41] For the first time in Burning Man history, tickets sold out before the event on July 24, 2011.[41]
201240 feet on a 50 foot base[42]Black Rock Desert56,149[43]$240–$420Fertility 2.0Due to the sellout of the event in 2011, the BMOrg opted for a complex multi-round, random selection system of ticket sales with a separate low income program. On January 27, BMOrg announced that the number of tickets requested in the Main Sale was around 120,000 vs the 40,000 that were available. In consequence a significant number of registrants would not be awarded tickets in the Main Sale. The Main Sale was originally planned to be followed by a secondary open sale of 10,000 tickets. However as the huge demand from the Main Sale left many veteran burners and theme camps without tickets, BMOrg opted for a "directed ticket distribution" instead, i.e. "manually redirect them to some of the vital groups and collaborations that make up Black Rock City" rather than an open sale.
2013N/ABlack Rock Desert69,613[44]$380Cargo CultThe year's theme was based on John Frum and Cargo Cults.[45] Ticket tiers were eliminated and a flat rate price structure was adopted (except for low-income ticket program).[46]
2014105 ftBlack Rock Desert65,992 [1]$380Caravansary[47]This year, the Burning Man Traffic Mitigation Plan goes into effect. All vehicles entering Black Rock City will need a $40 vehicle pass. Only 35,000 passes are available.[48]
A woman is killed in a vehicle accident.[49]
2015Black Rock Desert$390Carnival of Mirrors


)'( is an iconic representation of The Man.
The effigy with fireworks immediately before being burned in 2011

Because of the variety of goals fostered by participatory attendees, known as "Burners," Burning Man does not have a single focus. Features of the event are subject to the participants and include community, artwork, absurdity, decommodification, and revelry. Participation is encouraged.[50][51]

The Burning Man event and its affiliated communities are guided by ten principles that are meant to evoke the cultural ethos that has emerged from the event. They were originally written by Larry Harvey in 2004[52] as guidelines for regional organizing, then later became a universal criterion of the general culture of the multifaceted movement. They are:[53]

The descriptions in quotes are the actual text:

Radical inclusion[edit]

"Anyone may be a part of Burning Man. We welcome and respect the stranger. No prerequisites exist for participation in our community." This was written with a broad stroke for general organizing meaning anyone is welcome to the Burning Man culture. Prerequisites for the Burning Man[53] event are participants are expected to provide for their own basic needs, follow the guidelines stated in the annually updated event "survival guide," and have a ticket to get in.[54]


"Burning Man is devoted to acts of gift giving. The value of a gift is unconditional. Gifting does not contemplate a return or an exchange for something of equal value." Instead of cash, participants at the Burning Man event in the Black Rock Desert are encouraged to rely on a gift economy, a sort of potlatch. In the earliest days of the event, an underground barter economy also existed, in which burners exchanged "favors" with each other. While this was originally supported by the Burning Man organization, this is now largely discouraged. Instead, burners are encouraged to give gifts to one another unconditionally.


"In order to preserve the spirit of gifting, our community seeks to create social environments that are unmediated by commercial sponsorships, transactions, or advertising. We stand ready to protect our culture from such exploitation. We resist the substitution of consumption for participatory experience." No cash transactions are permitted between attendees of the Burning Man event in the Black Rock Desert. Cash can be used for a select few charity, fuel, and sanitation vendors as follows: [55]

Radical self-reliance[edit]

"Burning Man encourages the individual to discover, exercise and rely on his or her inner resources." Because of the event's harsh environment and remote location, participants are expected to be responsible for their own subsistence. Since the LLC forbids most commerce, participants must be prepared and bring all their own supplies with the exception of the items stated in Decommodification.[62]

Radical self-expression[edit]

"Radical self-expression arises from the unique gifts of the individual. No one other than the individual or a collaborating group can determine its content. It is offered as a gift to others. In this spirit, the giver should respect the rights and liberties of the recipient." Participants at the Burning Man event in the Black Rock Desert are encouraged to express themselves in a number of ways through various art forms and projects. The event is clothing-optional and public nudity is common, though not practiced by the majority.[63][64][65]

Communal effort[edit]

"Our community values creative cooperation and collaboration. We strive to produce, promote and protect social networks, public spaces, works of art, and methods of communication that support such interaction." Participants at the Burning Man event in the Black Rock Desert are encouraged to work with and help fellow participants.[66]

Civic responsibility[edit]

"We value civil society. Community members who organize events should assume responsibility for public welfare and endeavor to communicate civic responsibilities to participants. They must also assume responsibility for conducting events in accordance with local, state and federal laws."

Leaving No Trace[edit]

"Our community respects the environment. We are committed to leaving no physical trace of our activities wherever we gather. We clean up after ourselves and endeavor, whenever possible, to leave such places in a better state than when we found them."


"Our community is committed to a radically participatory ethic. We believe that transformative change, whether in the individual or in society, can occur only through the medium of deeply personal participation. We achieve being through doing. Everyone is invited to work. Everyone is invited to play. We make the world real through actions that open the heart." People are encouraged to participate, rather than observe.


"Immediate experience is, in many ways, the most important touchstone of value in our culture. We seek to overcome barriers that stand between us and a recognition of our inner selves, the reality of those around us, participation in society, and contact with a natural world exceeding human powers. No idea can substitute for this experience."


Transformoney Tree Burning Man 2012 by and with Dadara on the left

Art on the dry lake is assisted by the Artery which helps artists place their art in the desert and ensures lighting (to prevent accidental collisions), burn-platform (to protect the integrity of the dry lake bed), and fire-safety requirements are met.[67]

Since 1995, a different theme has been created, ostensibly by Larry Harvey, for each year's event. For 2006, the theme was Hope and Fear,[68] and for 2007, it was The Green Man.[69][70] The 2011 theme was "Rites of Passage".[71] The 2012 theme was "Fertility 2.0".[72] It determines to some extent the design of the Man (although his design and construction, while evolutionary, has remained relatively unchanged) and especially the structure on which he stands (an Observatory for "Vault of Heaven," a Lighthouse for "The Floating World"). These themes also greatly affect the designs that participants employ in their artworks, costumes, camps and vehicles.[73]

Burning Man primarily features outsider art and visionary art, though a great variety of art forms appear during the event. Creative expression through the arts and interactive art are encouraged at Burning Man. Numerous Theme Camps, registered and placed by the LLC, are created as event and residence centers by sizable sub-communities of participants and use extensive design and artistic elements to engage the greater community and meet the LLC's interactivity requirements. Music, performance and guerrilla street theatre are art forms commonly presented within the camps and developed areas of the city. Adjacent to the city, the dry lake bed of Lake Lahontan serves as a tabula rasa for hundreds of isolated artworks, ranging from small to very large-scale art installations, often sculptures with kinetic, electronic and fire elements.

Artwork is generally viewed as a gift that the artist makes to the community, although art grants are available to participants from the LLC via a system of curation and oversight, with application deadlines early in the year. Grants are intended to help artists produce work beyond the scope of their own means, and are generally intended to cover only a portion of the costs associated with creation of the pieces, usually requiring considerable reliance on an artist's community resources. Aggregate funding for all grants varies depending on the number and quality of the submissions (usually well over 100) but amounts to several percent (on the order of $500,000 in recent years) of the gross receipts from ticket sales. In 2006, 29 pieces were funded.

Various standards regarding the nature of the artworks eligible for grants are set by the Art Department of the LLC, but compliance with the theme and interactivity are important considerations. This funding has fostered artistic communities, most notably in the Bay Area of California, the region that has historically provided a majority of the event's participants. There are active and successful outreach efforts to enlarge the regional scope of the event and the grant program. Among these is the Black Rock Arts Foundation (BRAF).

While BRAF does not fund any installations for the event itself, it relies on the donations from the LLC for a significant portion of its funding, and does facilitate presentation of work created for the event in outside venues as well as offering its own grants for artworks that typify interactivity and other principles and traditions the event.

Mutant vehicles[edit]

LEGO Truck at the 2011 Temple

Mutant Vehicles, often motorized, are purpose-built or creatively altered cars and trucks. Participants who wish to bring motorized mutant vehicles must submit their designs in advance to the event's own DMV or "Department of Mutant Vehicles” for approval and for physical inspection at the time of the event. Not all designs and proposals are accepted. The event organizers, and in turn the DMV, have set the bar higher for what it deems an acceptable MV each year, in effect capping the number of Mutant Vehicles. This is in response to constraints imposed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which grants permits to hold the event on federal property, and to participants who want to maintain a pedestrian-friendly environment. Vehicles that are minimally altered, and/or whose primary function is to transport participants, are discouraged or rejected. One of the criteria the DMV employs to determine whether an application for a proposed Mutant Vehicle is approved is "can you recognize the base vehicle". For example, if a 1967 VW van covered with glitter, dolls' heads, and old cooking utensils can still be recognized as a VW van, it is considered to be "decorated not mutated" and is less likely to be approved. This criterion led to the exclusion of some "Art Cars", which historically have been a staple of the event. There were over six hundred approved Mutant Vehicles at the event in 2010.


Bicycles and tricycles are popular for getting around on the dry lake. Mountain bikes are generally preferred over road bikes for riding on the dried silt, which is normally hard but becomes loose with traffic. Participants often decorate their bikes to make them unique. Since lighting on the bikes is critically important for safety at night, many participants incorporate the lighting into their decorations, using electroluminescent wire (a thin, flexible tube that glows with a neon-like effect when energized with electricity) to create intricate patterns over the frame of the bike. Every night during Burning Man, thousands of bikes and art cars drive around, creating a visual display similar to Las Vegas at night, except that the lights are mobile.

The Temple[edit]

Temple Of Joy Burning Man, 2002.
The 2011 Temple, built to be burned.
Inside the 2011 temple

In addition to the burning of the Man, the burning of a Temple has become an activity at the event, and takes place the evening after the Man burns. David Best's temple projects were ritually burned from 2000 to 2004.[74] The tradition of participants inscribing on the surfaces of the piece has continued through all of the iterations and are usually of a highly personal nature.

Black Rock City[edit]

"Black Rock City" redirects here. For the company that organizes Burning Man, see Black Rock City, LLC.

Black Rock City, often abbreviated to BRC, is the name of the temporary city created by Burning Man participants. Much of the layout and general city infrastructure is constructed by Department of Public Works (DPW) volunteers who often reside in Black Rock City for several weeks before and after the event.[87][88] The remainder of the city including theme camps, villages, art installations and individual camping are all created by participants.

City planning[edit]

Oblique aerial photo of Black Rock City showing the familiar "C" pattern 2010

The developed part of the city is currently arranged as a series of concentric streets in an arc composing, since 1999, two-thirds of a 1.5-mile (2.4-km) diameter circle with the Man Sculpture and his supporting complex at the very center (40°47′11″N 119°12′23.40″W / 40.78639°N 119.2065000°W / 40.78639; -119.2065000 in 2012). Radial streets, sometimes called Avenues, extend from the Man to the outermost circle. The outlines of these streets are visible on aerial photographs.

The innermost street is named the Esplanade, and the remaining streets are given names to coincide with the overall theme of the burn, and ordered in ways such as alphabetical order or stem to stern, to make them easier to recall. For example, in 1999, for the "Wheel of Time" theme, and again in 2004 for "The Vault of Heaven" theme, the streets were named after the planets of the solar system. The radial streets are usually given a clock designation, for example, 6:00 or 6:15, in which the Man is at the center of the clock face and 12:00 is in the middle of the third of the arc lacking streets (usually at a bearing of 60° true from the Man). These avenues have been identified in other ways, notably in 2002, in accordance with "The Floating World" theme, as the degrees of a compass, for example 175 degrees, and in 2003 as part of the Beyond Belief theme as adjectives ("Rational, Absurd") that caused every intersection with a concentric street (named after concepts of belief such as "Authority, Creed") to form a phrase such as "Absurd Authority" or "Rational Creed". However, these proved unpopular with participants due to difficulty in navigating the city without the familiar clock layout.

The Black Rock City Airport is constructed adjacent to the city, typically on its southern side. The airport serves a variety of aviation traffic, including private airplanes, helicopters, hot air balloons, ultralights, gliders, and skydivers.[89]

Center Camp[edit]

Center Camp is located along the mid line of Black Rock City, facing the Man at the 6:00 position on the Esplanade. This area serves as a central meeting place for the entire city and contains the Center Camp Cafe, Camp Arctica and a number of other city institutions.

Villages and theme camps[edit]

Villages and theme camps are located along the innermost streets of Black Rock City, often offering entertainment or services to participants.[90]

Theme camps are usually a collective of people representing themselves under a single identity. Villages are usually a collection of smaller theme camps which have banded together in order to share resources and vie for better placement.

Theme camps and villages often form to create an atmosphere in Black Rock City that their group envisioned. As Burning Man grows every year it attracts an even more diverse crowd. Subcultures form around theme camps at Black Rock City similar to what can be found in other cities.


The Burning Man event is heavily dependent on a large number of volunteers.[91]

Safety, policing and regulations[edit]

Black Rock City is patrolled by various local and state law enforcement agencies as well as the Bureau of Land Management Rangers. Burning Man also has its own in-house group of volunteers, the Black Rock Rangers, who act as informal mediators when disputes arise between participants.

Firefighting, emergency medical services (EMS), mental health, and communications support is provided by the volunteer Black Rock City Emergency Services Department (ESD). Three "MASH"-like stations are set up in the city: station 3, 6 and 9. Station 6 is staffed by physicians and nurses working with Humboldt General Hospital in Nevada (HGH), while Stations 3 and 9 are staffed by Black Rock City ESD personnel. While Station 3 and 9 provide emergency services and basic life support, the volunteers are generally doctors, nurses, EMTs/paramedics, and firefighters. Both station 3 and 9 have a small fire engine available in addition to a smaller four-wheel drive fire suppression unit and Quick response vehicle for medical emergencies.


Commercial airports[edit]

The airport with regular commercial service closest to the event is the Reno-Tahoe International Airport in Reno, Nevada, over two hours drive away. An airport spokesperson said in 2009 that 15,000 burners arrive to the event via the airport annually, making it the second-busiest time for them.[citation needed] In 2008 and 2009, an information desk for burners was organized in Reno airport.[citation needed]

San Francisco International Airport, nearly six hours away by car, is the nearest airport with a high volume of international service.

Temporary airstrip[edit]

A section of the Playa is used for a non-permanent airport, which is set up before each event and completely erased afterward.[92] Pilots began camping there about 1995, and once compelled to add structure, it was established in a form acceptable to the BLM in 1999 through the efforts of Tiger Tiger (Lissa Shoun) and LLC board member Mr. Klean (Will Roger). In 2009 it was recognized by the FAA as a private airport and designated 88NV. It is found on the Klamath Falls Sectional, using a CTAF of 122.9 MHz. Black Rock Unicom and the airport are operational on that frequency from 6:00 am to 7:30 pm PDT each day during the event. The runway is simply a compacted strip of playa, and is not lighted.[93] Because of the unique air traffic and safety issues associated with the airport, pilots are strongly encouraged to familiarize themselves with published information and procedures provided by, for example, the AOPA. Because of the changes of the surface each year, information about the airport is subject to change.[94]


There are prepaid shuttles, originating in Reno and San Francisco, that move participants to and from the event. During the event there is also a paid shuttle between the event and the nearby towns of Gerlach and Empire. Exiting and reentering the event requires an additional fee, and is highly discouraged.


Participants also share rides[95] and hitchhike.

"Leave No Trace" policy[edit]

Burning Man takes place in the middle of a large playa and while not inhabited by humans itself, the area around the playa is home to many animals and plants.[96] Supporters of Burning Man point out that participants are encouraged to leave no trace (LNT) of their visit to Black Rock City (BRC) and not to contaminate the area with litter, commonly known as MOOP (Matter Out Of Place). Despite the BLM and LLC's insistence on the practice of LNT, the amount of residual trash at the site has increased over the years,

[t]he number of items per plot in the City consistently increased over the 2006 to 2009(....). Although the observed trend was not statistically significant, regression analysis indicated that the predicted trend explained over 97% of the variance in the data.[97]

While fire is a primary component of many art exhibits and events, materials must be burned on a burn platform.[20] From 1990 through 1999, burning was allowed to take place directly on the surface of the playa, but this left burn scars (fired pinkish clay-like playa surface). When it was finally determined that they did not dissipate with the annual winter rains and flooding, in 2000, the organization declared that fires had to be elevated from the playa surface for its protection. When it was discovered by two of the founders of the Friends of Black Rock / High Rock (Garth Elliott & Sue Weeks) and BLM Winnemucca district director Terry Reid, that Burn scars from prior sites (numbering 250) still remained, they were finally eradicated in 2000 by the DPW clean up crew headed by Dan Miller.

On the last day of the event, public shared burn areas are prepared for participants to use. It is an ongoing educational process each year to inform the public to not burn toxic materials for the protection of the environment and participants.[98][99]

Even gray water is not to be dumped on the playa, and used shower water must be captured and either evaporated off, or collected and carried home with each participant or disposed of by roving septic-pumping trucks, which also service RVs. Methods used for evaporating water normally include a plastic sheet with a wood frame.

The Bureau of Land Management, which maintains the desert, has very strict requirements for the event. These stipulations include trash cleanup, removal of burn scars, dust abatement, and capture of fluid drippings from participant vehicles. For four weeks after the event has ended, the Black Rock City Department of Public Works (BRC – DPW) Playa Restoration Crew remains in the desert, cleaning up after the temporary city in an effort to make sure that no evidence of the event remains.[100]

Effect on the environment[edit]

Burning Man's carbon footprint is primarily from transportation to the remote area. The CoolingMan organization has estimated that the 2006 Burning Man was responsible for the generation of 27,000 tons of carbon dioxide, with 87% being from transportation to and from the remote location.[101] The Sierra Club has criticized Burning Man for the "hundreds of thousands" of plastic water bottles that end up in landfills, as well as ostentatious displays of flames and explosions.[102]

Burning Man's 2007 theme, "Green Man", received criticism for the artwork Crude Awakening, a 99-foot oil derrick that consumed 900 gallons of jet fuel and 2,000 gallons of liquid propane to blast a mushroom cloud 300 feet high into the sky.[103]

In an attempt to offset some of the event's carbon footprint, 30- and 50-kilowatt solar arrays were constructed in 2007 as permanent artifacts, providing an estimated annual carbon offset of 559 tons.[70] The Burn Clean Project is a volunteer organization that has helped replace the use of fossil fuel with biodiesel.

Photography restrictions[edit]

Video of the 'man' sculpture burning in 2011

The terms of the Burning Man ticket require that participants wishing to use photo and video-recording equipment share a joint copyright of their images of Black Rock City with Burning Man, and forbid them from using their images for commercial purposes. This has been criticized by many, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).[104][105]

A Burning Man spokeswoman replied that the policies are not new, were written by a former head of the EFF, were used when suing to block pornographic videos and ultimately arose from participant concerns: "We’re proud that Black Rock City (a private event held on public land) is widely acknowledged as a bastion of creative freedom. [B]ut that protection [of participants' freedoms] does necessitate the acceptance of some general terms of engagement when it comes to cameras... EFF seems to think that anyone attending any event somehow has an absolute right to take photographs, and then to do whatever they want with those images without any effective restriction or manner of enforcement. While we believe that such rights do make sense for any of us taking pictures in purely public spaces, this is not true in the private space of Burning Man – if it were it would mean that Burning Man couldn’t protect participant privacy or prevent commercialization of imagery."[106]

The Burning Man organization has since worked with the EFF and with Creative Commons and other parties, and has revised and clarified the photography policies.[107]

Regional events[edit]

The popularity of Burning Man has encouraged other groups and organizations to hold events similar to Burning Man.

In recent years, burners wishing to experience Burning Man more frequently than once per year, without the need for travel to Nevada, or otherwise free from the specific restrictions of the Black Rock City event, have banded together to create local regional events such as Burning Flipside in Texas; SOAK[108] in Oregon; Critical Massive[109] near Seattle; InterFuse in Missouri; Lakes of Fire[110] in Michigan; Element 11[111] in Utah, Youtopia[112] in San Diego; Apogaea in Colorado; Playa del Fuego in Delaware; Firefly in New England; AuraMan[113] in Indiana; Recompression (until 2010) & and Burn in the Forest BitF[114] near Vancouver, British Columbia; Kiwiburn in New Zealand; Burning Seed in Australia; MooseMan in Ontario; Rebirth in Hawaii;[115] Serendipity in Tennessee;[116] Transformus in North Carolina; Alchemy[117] in Georgia; Saguaro Man[118] in Arizona; Freezer Burn between Edmonton and Calgary, Alberta, Canada; Korea Burn, in Gijipo Beach South Korea; Burning Japan in Japan, AfrikaBurn in South Africa, NoWhere near Zaragoza in Spain and Midburn in Israel.

Some of the events are officially affiliated with the Burning Man organization via the Burning Man Regional Network.[119] This official affiliation usually requires the event to conform to certain standards outlined by the Burning Man organization, and to be substantially coordinated by a "Burning Man Regional Contact," a volunteer organizer with an official relationship to the Burning Man Project via a legal Letter of Agreement. In exchange for conforming to these standards, the event is granted permission to officially advertise as a Burning Man Regional Event.

In popular culture[edit]


See also[edit]


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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]