The state of the city

The commissioner of Black Rock City
The commissioner of Black Rock City

Larry Harvey and Andi Grace and Harley Dubois had a press conference yesterday, and it was a little like what the National Football League does right in the middle of Super Bowl week: The football commissioner gives a “state of the game” address.

On Tuesday it was Burning Man’s turn to talk about the shape of things this year and years to come.

My transcriber will be getting the source document online for you shortly. But in the meantime, here are some of the talking points:

— When you turn 60, as Harvey has, “You start thinking of what the world will be like without you. You can’t imagine it at 20 or 30 or 40, maybe you do it at 50, but at 60 you do it.”

— The entire organization has been charged with thinking about who will eventually take their place. “We’re mentoring the staff. …  (You) think of everything you know and give it to them. ”

— He’s proud of Burning Man’s longevity.  “Most scenes, creative scenes, last for a year, year and half. … How long was the Beat scene, really? … We’re still here.”-

— Oh, and the big news: The theme for next year’s event  is “Metropolis; The Life of a City.” … Which is something Burning Man knows a little about, after all. They invent a city every year. Out of nothing. For a week. And then it goes away. What makes life here work? How can you bring it back from the playa?

— It’s already coming off the playa, as the Culture Labs installation shows very deftly … the Black Rock Solar, the Burners Without Borders, the network of Regionals, the Nowhere event in Spain. Where will the next development come? “We may already  have seen it,” Harvey said.

— Harvey said the Bureau of Land Management can’t tell Burning Man what it’s done with its money for the past two years, and that’s what at the heart of a withholding of funds.

— The recession has hurt. “All our vendors are asking for breaks.”  And maybe the BLM should take notice too? “Don’t you think the government ought to find ways of saving money like everyone else?”

— Harvey was asked if he had a favorite Burning Man “moment” this year, and he said he’d had a number of them. … He liked the Onion-style story in the local press about the Unicorn Flu that was going around the city. Some thought it was caused by playa dust. Actually, it’s dust MASKS that are causing the outbreak. Perfectly absurdist.


A public service announcement: There is a lot of law enforcement here. Just saying. Don’t be dumb. Yes, it FEELS like Black Rock City is a parallel universe, but it’s not. So be cool.

About the author: John Curley

John Curley (that's me) has been Burning since the relatively late date of 2004, and in 2008 I spent the better part of a month on the playa, documenting the building and burning of Black Rock City in words and pictures. I loved it, and I've been doing it ever since. I was a newspaper person in a previous life, and I spent many years at the San Francisco Chronicle. At the time I left, in 2007, I was the deputy managing editor in charge of Page One and the news sections of the paper. Since then, I've turned a passion for photography into a second career. I shoot for editorial, commercial and private clients. I've also taught a little bit, including two years at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism and a year at San Francisco State University. I live on the San Mateo coast, just south of San Francisco in California.

10 Comments on “The state of the city

  • Could you please elaborate on this point:

    “– Harvey said the Bureau of Land Management can’t tell Burning Man what it’s done with its money for the past two years, and that’s what at the heart of a withholding of funds.”

    I’ve read it twice and have no idea what it means.

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  • SarahSF says:

    Hee-hee, I agree; thanks for having the courage to ask – it flat fuzzled me ’til I gave up…Anyone? Is it that BLM won’t tell BM, or doesn’t have the information? and how is either related to withholding funds? oh well…

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  • Daniel P. Haggerty says:

    I’m new here. Am trying to get my bearing. So long. Dan

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  • John Curley says:

    Sorry for being imprecise. … What I was trying to say was, the BLM is unable to give BM a satisfactory account of how the agency has spent its money in the past two years.

    I hope that’s a little clearer!

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  • Pete says:

    Hy I wonna go next year to Burning man , i´m from Germany and i so happy to hear about the Party ….see you all :o))

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  • t. ray gill says:

    why the major law enforcement presence this year? while i have nothing against cops, i’ve never seen so many in one place in my life. i was last here in 2006 and remember seeing guys in uniforms with guns a few (3-4) times. some type of law enforcement vehicle passed by my camp twice an hour during my short 4 day stay this year. it was unfortable and made me feel like i was under surveillance the entire time. i don’t know if i will come back again. in summary, it was weird and unexpected.


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  • Joseph Mann says:

    Why was advertising via “Won’t Say the Company Name” allowed to happen. Plus the damn helicopter flew against the pattern. They trying to kill some pilots and people on the ground. Why did this happen?

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  • leia says:

    i have to agree with ray……. i have never been to a gathering with so much supervision. i felt a little like i was in jail with all of the busts going on around me. and a high speed race with lights flashing out to the middle of the playa on thrusday morning when your enjoying your sunrise is just silly. we ended up leaving early this year around 5pm ish on saturday and on our way to empire we counted no less than 23 law enforcement vehicles on the way to the playa, one right after the other.
    it felt a little like they were fishing. or perhaps shooting costumed fish in a barrel.

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  • James says:

    I will be interested to see the final stats on criminal arrests on playa. I did witness police giving a citation for the distribution of alcohol to minors at “Monkey and the Man’s” Bar. I guess I can understand that to some extent… I’m just curious if the kids were shills or if it was just happenstance.

    I heard of but did not witness any arrests for drug trafficking and the sale of illegal narcotics (extasy in this case). I guess I can understand this as we are on Federal lands and federal laws still take precedence. For example I don’t have health care in BRC just the same as in the real world!

    However, the police action that made me the most angry was the threat of arrest given to a friend of mine who is a photographer for “pornography”. He was told he would be arrested if he did not remove photographs of willing Burners who posed for him who may have been engaged in promiscuous acts. He stated his disappointment in the system and the officers for the ultimatum given to him, he expressed his concern to see his first amendment rights to free artistic expression being infringed, he then took the photos down and replaced them with photos which showed bodies but n0 penetration… He was not arrested and the event continued on…

    I suppose it is all how you deal with the police officers that attend the event. I actually had a fun conversation with a couple of cops surprisingly enough and I had some great conversations with the BLM rangers who usually see things from an environmental and sustainability level on my level… but there were alot of non-art police cars out there.

    Maybe next year we can build a drive through art decoration camp for cops who want to get into the playa play. ;)

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  • arni says:

    nice Jim Jones impersonation Larry.

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