Envision, Burning Man, and Beyond: One Worldwide Movement?

There’s something special happening in Costa Rica.

I recently participated in my first Envision festival on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, just outside of the small town of Uvita. Now in its fifth year, Envision came into being in 2011 as a gathering of about 100 people in the nearby town of Dominical. This year, population neared 6,000 and tickets sold out several days before the gates opened.

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Envision event site (Photo by Aerial Media Costa Rica).

For those that planned ahead or were lucky enough to score a last-minute ticket, the experience was well worth the trip.

Envision offers a smorgasbord of sights, sounds and learning opportunities: stellar musical artists, yoga classes, workshops, a series of talks and panels, large-scale works of art, and delicious organic food and bevies. All set in the lush Costa Rican jungle, on a protected wildlife preserve owned by a local family. And yes, there’s a beach.

At Burning Man, we go to great lengths to distinguish ourselves from other ‘festivals’. We don’t allow vending or have corporate sponsorships – Burners are not passive recipients of an experience; they are active co-creators. And we are proud of this. But some events are starting to blur this line, and sometimes in quite powerful ways.

For its part, Envision seeks to encourage people to take stock of themselves – materially, emotionally and spiritually, to think about the impact of their lifestyle on the world around them, and to make very deliberate choices about consumption.

By bringing people together through music, art and sacred movement Envision presents opportunities to celebrate our spirits, heal our bodies and minds, and revitalize our souls to face the challenges and realize the opportunities of our rapidly changing world.” [From the Envision website]

 

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Luna stage design by Tigre, Hoodie, and crew. (Photo by Luke GS)

Envision places a strong emphasis on sustainability and eco-consciousness. With deliberate messaging and design, the festival encourages participants to consider their use and disposal of resources. Single use is decidedly out. Everyone is asked to bring a water bottle and reusable cutlery of their own. Those that don’t can participate in a dish rental program (for a $2 deposit you’re given a plate to use at any of the event’s vendors and return to a dish washing station when you’re done).

I was deeply impressed with the way people at Envision took responsibility for the environment around them, and for the experience had by themselves and others. I didn’t see a single piece of out of place trash on the ground (also called ‘MOOP’ by Envision-ers). I saw people jumping in, helping out, and bringing what they had to offer the collective experience.

While there were goods available for purchase in the tasteful marketplace and food stalls (no huge corporate banners, here), everywhere I turned I witnessed people genuinely enjoying acts of gifting. At times I found myself searching for price listings only to realize the activities didn’t cost any money – these included a face painting booth, a place to immerse yourself in blue clay, and a treehouse slide made of bamboo straight out of some kind of Swiss Family Robinson jungle paradise.

 

Fire performance on the beach (Photo by Andrew Jorgenson)
Fire performance on the beach (Photo by Andrew Jorgensen)

The connections between Envision and Burning Man run deep. One of Envision’s 6 Co-founders, Stephen Brooks, has been attending Burning Man for the past 14 years (his father has been ten times!), and you could see and feel the connection between the two communities everywhere.

Village Stage schedule (Photo by Zac Cirivello)
Village Stage schedule (Photo by Zac Cirivello)

There’s a strong theme camp presence – leadership from Fractal Nation, Sacred Spaces, Abraxas, and others are interwoven into the fabric of Envision. Members of various on-playa departments work as Envision staff and volunteers – DPW, Gate, Rangers, Café, Media Mecca, ESD – they’re all there, putting to use the skills they’ve mastered on the playa. In the Costa Rican jungle.

It’s not a tough sell, really. “Sort of like Burning Man? But on the beach?” Say no more.

Being at Envision gave me the immediate sense of being part of a large family – similar to the sensation I often have on playa, it truly felt as though we were ‘all in it together’ and that the actions of one affected – and mattered – to the many. It is also a decidedly kid-friendly affair. Everywhere I looked, the little ones were laughing and playing, taking in the sights and sounds around them. And, like Burning Man, there was also a strong element of whimsy. People were consistently engaging each other in playful and spontaneous interactions, such as carrying nonsensical signs just for the heck of it.

But Envision isn’t just about having a good time. Like Burning Man’s year-round nonprofit efforts, the intention is clearly to have an impact beyond the event.

The event organizes beach clean-ups, boasts several banks of compostable toilets, and for those who signed up ahead of time, the Polish Ambassador (a favorite artist at Envision and many music festivals) led an Action Day – a hands on opportunity for festival goers to learn about permaculture through participating in a day of community service at a local school.

"Designing our Future" panelists Klaudia Oliver, Daniel Pinchbeck, Burning Man's Megan Miller, Stephen Brooks, Elias Cattan and moderator Katherine Berglund (Photo by Zac Cirivello)
“Designing our Future” panelists Klaudia Oliver, Daniel Pinchbeck, Megan Miller, Stephen Brooks, Elias Cattan and moderator Katherine Berglund (Photo by Zac Cirivello)

And on Saturday of the event I had the pleasure of participating in a panel discussion titled “Designing our Future” along with Stephen Brooks, Daniel Pinchbeck, Klaudia Oliver and Elias Cattan. I was inspired by the work these incredible activists, authors and thought-leaders doing for our global community.

Burning Man has been referred to as a ‘permission engine’ or a ‘container of possibility’. It gives people opportunities to realize dreams that previously seemed unachievable.

But we are certainly not the only one.

In Costa Rica people are waking up to their own potential. They’re building community, collaborating on powerful projects and enabling each other to accomplish more than they thought possible. They are radically expressing themselves. They are setting aside differences in social and economic status in order to connect human to human. They are tapping into the creative potential of the collective whole. It’s pretty special stuff, really.

Unlike Burning Man, the Envision experience is intentionally curated. While there’s plenty of room for exploration, the speakers and the teachers, the food, the music, and the artists are carefully selected to take people on a journey, to open their eyes to new things and to give them a new lens through which to see themselves and their relationship to the world around them.

While I take great pride in the fact that Burning Man doesn’t book acts or build a ‘main stage’, at Envision I came to have a new respect for events that have more intentional focus. This gives Envision the ability to educate and challenge participants in a particular direction, in contrast to the completely Choose Your Own Adventure experience of Black Rock City. And I truly believe we – the big we – are stronger with both kinds (and all types of personally transformative experiences. We are more together than we are apart.

There is a hunger for this kind of community, for ritual and connection, and for time away from the ever-growing insistence of electronic communications. Different events may have their own unique flavor and focus, but there is strength in this diversity. To build the resilient communities of the future we need all kinds – all skills, all people, all points of entry. Taken together, this ecosystem of events is helping lead us to that brighter future. We have a long way to go, but I see evidence of progress everywhere.

 

Emancipator on the main stage (Photo by Cody Edwards)
Emancipator on the main stage (Photo by Cody Edwards)

As the sun rose on the last morning of Envision, I looked out over the joyous crowd and the gravity of the work we all are doing suddenly washed over me. The impact we are making collectively on thousands, arguably millions of lives. They are waking up. They are reaching out. They are connecting the dots and encouraging each other to dig deeper, reach further, and become more than they thought possible. We are all helping to build what might become a truly global cultural movement.

From Burning Man to Envision, we tip our dusty hats to you.

About the author: Megan Miller

Megan Miller

As Burning Man's Director of Communications, Megan oversees the organization's year-round communications team, which facilitates the flow of information to and from Burning Man’s founders, Board of Directors, volunteers, the media, and the broader public. Before joining the Burning Man staff in 2012, Megan spent ten years in the public and non-profit sectors working for environmental protection, HIV/AIDS prevention, political campaigns, and the United States Senate. Born and raised in Juneau, Alaska, Megan earned a Bachelor’s degree in English & Art History from McGill University in Montreal, Quebec. On playa she’s known as ‘Juno’ and can be found at Media Mecca.

27 Comments on “Envision, Burning Man, and Beyond: One Worldwide Movement?

  • RobBob says:

    “Tom Sawyer’s Jungle Paradise”????? Is there an undiscovered work by Mark Twain describing some sort of Jungle hideout, or has the author drawn an image morphed from some distant memory of the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse in Adventureland at Disneyland, mashed up with Tom Sawyer’s Island??? Pay no heed, few will understand the reference or the connection to Disneyland that it attempts to draw, or care about it anyway.

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    • Megan Miller says:

      Ha! You’re absolutely right. I meant Swiss Family Robinson. Had no idea either one was associated with Disneyland (theme parks dedicated to mass consumption are just not my cup of tea).

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  • Carlin Bloom says:

    Thank you for the incredible Journey you took me on! I not only saw beatful and glorious sights to behold. My senses were incredibly heightened not only sight and sound, I was able to taste the sensational foods brought and described before me! Thank you for sharing.

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  • Sully says:

    Did intentionally avoid disclosing a possible conflict of interest for Burning Man while promoting a for-profit festival? BMORG Board Member Jim Tananbaum reportedly has a close relationship with one of the Envision Founders, Stephen Brooks. Although this could possibly be a mere coincidence, it is always best to disclose this in order to prevent suspicions from your readers.

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    • Megan Miller says:

      Not intentional at all. I’m not aware of the details of any connection there.

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      • We have very little connection. We met at Burning Man and have had no interaction since…

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      • Hentai says:

        The connection is totally coincidental. This kind of thing happens all the time on the playa. I’m an adopted child, and last year I found out that I was camped adjacent to my biological mother and my biological father – any they hadn’t seen each other in 20 years. Then on Monday after the burn, I found my twin sister (separated at birth) along the way to the portapotties – she was camped two camps away from all of us. And then I found my lost wedding ring from 10 years ago, just sitting in the dust. I don’t know how it got there since I’ve never been to Nevada before. After that, on Tuesday I gave birth to a litter of kittens in Reno, and it turns out the owner of the hotel had a cat that was the father.

        So don’t underestimate the power of the playa.

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  • Jazz says:

    I love to see Costa Rica embracing the 10 Principles. I’m planning on going to this festival next year to help the organizers identify some additional profit centers. Costa Rica is perfect for this type of Burning Man event because they don’t have the same BLM restrictions. There are many ways things can be improved and made more efficient.

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  • Scotto says:

    And no parking pass debacle!!

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  • can you please correct the spelling of my name on the photo credit of my image?

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  • Great article Megan! It was a pleasure to sit on the panel with you at Envision. I hope you can make it to La Calaca 2015 and see the way in which BM has influenced our Day of the Dead festival in a colonial town.

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  • Thank you Megan!! Great recap! So much fun connecting!

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  • Sam says:

    This experience is extremely consumerist, who are you kidding about washing your own plate. With what water? In whose nation?. Not a single mention of Costa Rica other than as virgin territory for the roving hoards of consumerist lifestylers who blast around the globe on jet fuel for a few days escape from reality. It is ironic and deeply saddening that the inward focused politically unconscious ethos of burning man can survive outside of it’s barren laboratory and can continue to celebrate it’s ignorance “out in the world” among different cultures, different environments and different political and social realities. Yes, in Costa Rica people are “waking up to their own potential” and “building community” with “powerful projects,” but Envision isn’t one of them. Envision represents a new form of colonialism whereby privileged elites sustain an apolitical fantasy-land utilizing foreign nation’s tourist infrastructure to funnel massive profits to a few foreign investor organizers. What a bunch of suckers.

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    • Sam says:

      that being said…. I think that comment was too harsh. Festivals such as these do create a special place with lots of love for special feelings to take place in and are irreplaceable. So, to give credit where credit is due, Envision brings like minded people from around the globe to celebrate an different world together, even if it is imaginary. It isn’t a bad thing, but with all the important changes in to environment and in lives of billions people whom aren’t privileged to attend festivals , it is important to temper utopia with some reality. Sorry for offending, ya’ll aren’t really suckers just beautiful innocent folk enjoying life.

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      • Sam says:

        but seriously, to call a big party where everyone washed their own dishes a movement?! Which real movements are responsible for the freedoms we enjoy? (labor, gender, civil rights, sexuality, environment) and what are the differences between Envision/Burning man and these real movements?

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      • Johannes Sebastian says:

        envision is a fart from capitalism nothing more.

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    • Johannes Sebastian says:

      you wanna know who is destroying the forest of the area where envision was done? fucking americans loaded with money who buys the nice lands in the mountains chop the trees and then build ridiculously Beverly hills style mansions so they can snore cocaine all day locked up in there!

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    • Claudia says:

      Not only that but no mention of the fact that this event has consistently left the town that is hosting them without water. Or the fact that the howler monkeys were completely freaking out by all the music…real sustainability

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  • Hannah Ward says:

    I would have to disagree a little on the trash/impact comment. Staying until the last day and seeing the mountains of trash – I was a little disappointed in how much MOOP and trash there was everywhere! There was also a lot of waste – to me it look like 4 days of extreme consumption. A lot of things in the festival that were thrown away would be treasures for poor communities around the festival. I hope that we can make this better next year.

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    • Janney says:

      I have to agree. It was an amazing festival, but there seemed to be too much waste! And they ran the local town out of water? The free drinking water idea was nice but people were abusing it so bad. I saw people taking 20 minute showers, washing their clothes in the showers, washing themselves in the water spigots because they didn’t want to pay $4 for a shower.. turning the spigots on so their kids could play in the water. This was a huge problem near the “VIP areas.” I felt bad for the medical tent people too. I went in for a cut (they were great!) but so many people were there almost demanding things that radical self reliance would have had them bring like their own sunscreen, band-aids, aloe, etc.
      So hopefully next year. Envision is amazing but I really REALLY think it needs to promote at least some of the 10 principles. conserve, and self-care are key to its survival.

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  • GG says:

    The hyperlink to Envision doesn’t go to anything that resembles this article other than the name.

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  • Emily Pasatiempo says:

    The only people Envision is sustainable for is the organizers.
    Some of the people who had purchased tickets but “could not be found on the list” during internet outages – bought additional $1600 VIP tickets after standing in line for 6 hours….. Artists / Fire spinners troupe with 4 years of performing for free at Envision had 12 hour hassles to make it inside – one artist admitted – rest of the group denied entrance and only after much gobbledygoop admitted – volunteer treatment abysmal – no local (food) vendors because of exorbitant booth fees – no criticism policy : an artist who made a remark about the music line up to one of the festival producers had his ticket revoked – it is a joke – and the joke is on all of us – people who need someone(s) to organize a party where we can meet and greet and listen to music and pay between $140 and $1600 to attend.

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  • Johannes Sebastian says:

    Movement my ass, is all about the allmighty $$ like everything americans do. What’s doing a DAMN VIP area in those festivals?

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  • Schnauser says:

    Wow, Megan, sounds like most everyone here didn’t quite enjoy this event like you did. Tough crowd, ‘eh? Maybe it’s all about the party and nothing but the party…

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