When people say “I could put on a Burning Man event, you just need to draw some roads and bring porta-potties, right?”, I wish they could see what happens behind the scenes. The amount of work that goes into the event is staggering, yet much of it is completely invisible to participants. Take for example, the work weekends up at the Burning Man Ranch that start in the spring and continue into summer.
I attended the last combined DPW/Gate work weekend for the year and, not having a particular task to do, was adopted by Gate.
I spent much of the day in the warm desert sun, painting steps. From my central location, I got to watch the busy hum of activity in the common shop area, as well as a small crew building a small “shack” (which was remarkably well-constructed for something called a shack). I overheard one of the construction managers say to a volunteer: “We don’t care about getting this done fast. We want it to be good.”
That statement proved to be true for everything I came across that weekend. The amount of care and detail that went into these projects initially amazed me, but then made so much sense. Burning Man is a city created from the ground up, exactly to our specifications, according to our whims and desires. It’s insane to build a city just to tear it down again, so why not build one filled with art, and constructed with love and care in every detail?
Burning Man is our city. The pride in ownership by the crew I met at the work weekend was plain to see, but it was not a possessive pride. Rather, it was the sort of effort and care that says “I am building you a gift, and I want you to love it too.” For example: The DPW work crew built out an amazingly beautiful and functional multi-room office trailer for the Gate staff, with recycled mural panels carefully chosen and arranged on the walls. DPW went the extra mile with this, thoughtfully preserving art panels from last year’s exterior Cafe wall for this cost-saving (and aesthetically-enhancing!) re-use.
The Gate staff loved it, and spent all Saturday carefully painting the trim and caulking the seams and nail holes until it was smooth and even more beautiful. No one else will notice these tiny details, but they will know, each time they use that carefully crafted space. The intention counts.
Long before participants show up to the event, DPW is out there, building the city, installing infrastructure that they’ve worked on for months in advance: from office space built inside shipping containers and trailer trucks, down to the hand-painted street signs. All the hundreds of things that happen behind the scenes to make Burning Man run smoothly and seem effortless to outside eyes.
Enormous numbers of people are required to make Burning Man the event it is. Some of them year-round at headquarters in San Francisco, some seasonal, some just on-playa. Everyone involved in making Burning Man happen does it because they love it, because it gets inside them. And that’s a magical thing. You can feel it. Everyone feels it. Burning Man is different. It makes people want to give back and be a part of it, in this weird, self-perpetuating engine of chaos and sweat and communal effort and participation.
Brody works in the Art Department. You can find her at http://twitter.com/BrodyQat or at the ARTery on-playa if you want a hug.