Burning Man—What’s It All about?

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Burning Man is an annual weeklong festival that begins on the last Sunday of August and ends the first Monday in September. In 2016, it takes place from August 28 to September 5 in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. Rather than be a passive experience with scheduled events and activities that attendees watch, Burning Man is an experience in which attendees participate. They build Black Rock City, perform, interact and make art. Participation is the heart of the event. As long as you have a ticket to the event, you can fly your private jet to Burning Man’s own Black Rock City Municipal Airport (88NV).

What is Burning Man?

Burning Man is an event that explores artistic self-expression. Key principles include participation and sharing your unique talents so others can enjoy them. Examples of creativity include playing music, erecting interactive or experimental sculptures, painting, performances, leading camps and building art cars. The goals of the event are to lift the spirit, encourage personal engagement, inspire a sense of culture and address social problems. The ritual burning of the Man occurs on Saturday evening.

Burning Man History

Burning Man began in 1986, when friends Larry Harvey and Jerry James dragged a nine-foot wooden figure of a man to San Francisco’s Baker Beach for an annual summer solstice gathering and set it on fire. A crowd of curious onlookers gathered to watch the spectacle. The next year, the effigy was 15 feet tall. In 1988, the effigy was 40 feet tall and Harvey formally called the new ritual “Burning Man.”

In 1990, Kevin Evans and John Law organized a separate event in Black Rock Desert in which Evans burned a sculpture as a form of situationist performance art. By this time, police prohibited Harvey and James from burning the effigy on the beach because they didn’t have a permit.

Evans and Law learned of James and Harvey’s annual ritual through a mutual friend. The men collaborated and created the Man in 1991 for the annual Nevada event using neon tubes, so it would serve as a beacon at night. At first, participants learned of the event via word of mouth. By 1996, the gatherers adopted the name “Burning Man” for the annual event. With each passing year, the event grew exponentially, as did the price of admission and the list of rules designed to protect the safety of participants.

Da Vinci’s Workshop

Burning Man features a different theme each year. In 2016, the Italian Renaissance inspires the art theme, Da Vinci’s Workshop. The hope is to make Black Rock City the center of a modern renaissance. In honor of the latest theme, the event’s organizers will mount the Man in a mechanism that will rotate it on a vertical plane in the center of a piazza. The piazza will have numerous workshop spaces that promote experimental learning.

Where to Stay during Burning Man

Burning Man isn’t for the faint of heart. There are no hotels nearby, so you must come equipped with your own camping gear and shade structures. Since there are no food carts, you must also bring your own food and water. It is also a good idea to bring a portable shower with a drain system. Many people also bring bicycles, as it’s the simplest way to get around Black Rock City. The Burning Man website offers a helpful checklist of items to pack.

One of the best ways to know what to expect is by getting touch with a regional contact, which is a group of “burners” who gather throughout the year for different events.

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