East Bay to the CORE

Burners sometime muse, “What if Burning Man were year round” but would you *really* want to be living in Black Rock City year round? There’s tons of dust and you form an uncomfortable intimate bond with our blue friends the Porta Potties. There’s Exodus (assuming you ever left the playa to resupply) and there’s the heat in the summer and frozen bone chilling wind in the winter I am told.

No Pilgrim, when the event is over, it’s probably best to go home to return again someday.

And once home, all cheeky and clean in your post Burn warm fuzzy stupor, you can always hang at regional events. The Regionals have grown in leaps and bounds and starting last year we even celebrated them specifically in our Circle of Regional Effigies, or the CORE that are wooden sculptures representing the identities of each Regional that participates.

This year the Circle of Regional Effigies consists of 24 effigies in a 600 foot ring around the Man with an additional two circles of five effigies each. Last year’s Burn had 23 Regionals representing.

From what I’ve heard, the idea of putting Effigies around the Man to represent regional communities was first discussed in advance of the 25th anniversary of Burning Man. A perfect storm of the community growing larger and Regionals becoming more and more defined, hit at the same time Mr. L. Harvey was working on the Rites of Passage theme. With the anniversary and the Rites theme, a sense of forward movement, where the event is the epicenter of our culture but the Regionals really carry forth the flame out into the world congealed. This all dovetailed nicely with this year’s Fertility 2.0 theme. I suspect there is some kind of method to this madness.

NIMBY in Oakland

I like to think of San Francisco as kind of the original Regional and I lived there for a long fog soaked time until recently when I, like so many ex West Bay’ers, relocated across the Bay Bridge. Artists seem to make that journey to the land of reliable sunshine when rents inevitably soar due to whatever boom is happening at the time. The end result is that the East Bay including Oakland, Berkeley and other towns has become a thriving artistic haven of sorts with monster sized art being created at places like NIMBY, Vulcan, The Crucible and the massive bays of American Steel.

There’s a large group of people who identify themselves as East Bay Burners (I’m told 900) and while hanging out at NIMBY a month ago with Sergio Morariu and Melissa Ayers I was introduced to the Fertilitree, the official East Bay CORE project this year.

This is the second year the East Bay Burners are bringing a project Black Rock City. Last year their CORE piece was Port of Fire, a wooden cargo crane modeled after the Port of Oakland cranes that look like dinosaurs dipping to drink from the bay to your right as you exit the Bay Bridge from San Francisco and drop down on the maze into that industrial mad, washed out, sun blasted cement expanse of desolation.

The Fertilitree is about challenges we all face and affirmations of how we overcome and meet those challenges.


The project is a large tree with a canopy of leaves, all made of wood. You can climb up a ladder inside the trunk and write affirmations on the walls and on leaves at the top. Melissa, the Project Manager, told me that the East Bay Burners who’ve come to NIMBY to work on the project will take a leaf and write their affirmations or challenges on it then they’ll affix it to the canopy.

She said, “The idea is for those who came here and are part of this, to write their affirmations then affix them to the canopy. Then when we actually get out there to the desert, there will already be writing on it. Our original thought was to have challenges and problems that humans are facing in the trunk area and have the affirmations and hopeful inspiring thoughts be in the canopy of the tree. We think having it there all week, people will know to write on it. That’s the idea.”

Melissa at the Tree

There will be accessible pens hanging from the trees to write your own thoughts, and people tagging art at Burning Man has been a problem in the past, so when I asked about the graffiti possibility, Melissa said they’d discussed it and they aren’t opposed to it, “especially with the urban aspects of the East Bay it actually kind of works, we’re open to all kinds of expression on it. The East Bay is a very diverse community, a very diverse area so we’re like, let’s welcome it all.”

The project concept gave me a bit of a Temple vibe, with the leaving of challenges and affirmations then the catharsis of burning them all.

Melissa agreed: “Yea, I’m really inspired by the Temple. Fertilitree represents a region, but it also has an expanded inclusiveness to it. The idea of the aspects of humanity that we’re struggling with, that we’re trying to overcome, things that bring us back together. That’s why it isn’t all positive because you include the struggle and the challenges. That’s how we come together”.

The leaves

For those Regional communities who are considering creating a CORE project, there is an application process and Sergio and Melissa shared some of the things they’d learned from their experience. Sergio told me that the first two meetings about Fertilitree had nothing to do with the actual project, but that the meetings “ had to do with a value statement. We came up with the vision, a statement about transparency and inclusiveness and community so this (the sculpture) is actually a secondary part. The more important thing is that we all came together and this was just the Rosetta Stone for doing that.”

Sergio at NIMBY

Collaboration is intrinsic to a Regional Effigy and as a result the process can be a bit longer than a “traditional” art project where one or two main artists already have a vision and a team supports bringing that vision to fruition. It is important to remember that because you will want to have more lead time up to applying to create an Effigy. This collaboration of many people can result in several different visions but you have to have at least a name and a vision of what it is going to look like.

With Fertilitree, the Regional of 900 members voted on ideas and the final design was a compilation of two or three finalist ideas. Working at NIMBY also turned out to be great because Dan Swain and Dan Fox (of last year’s Trojan Horse) are working on another project, Anubis, there and there is a lot of cross pollination between the two projects with the two Dan’s helping the East Bay Burners with some of the more complex stuff.

Every art project deals with chasing money and Sergio also mentioned how important it was to begin thinking about fundraising early. Once you decide to do it, start figuring funding sources. Additionally, tapping other artists for support and advice, or by working in a shared space like they are at NIMBY can be invaluable.

Fertilitree in August

Melissa also explained how delegation worked well for them. They’d set up departments at the outset for things like Fundraising, Procuring material, Design, Build and Transportation.

They’ll be arriving on playa the week before the event and plan to hit the ground running. The CORE burn last year was pretty amazing, and the week of having the projects installed really helped introduce people to the concept of the Regionals and how they are indeed carrying the flame forth into the world. You make friends at Burning Man, then return home and that flame can continue throughout the year. Those relationships really are the best way to answer the question, “What if Burning Man was a year round”. It kind of is.

There will be a CORE Open House on playa, Tuesday 2-5 at the Effigies. All 34 wooden effigies will be burned simultaneously on Thursday at 9:00pm.

For more on the East Bay Burners CORE project visit their site. To see all the CORE projects, check out the CORE page on burningman.com



About the author: Moze


John Mosbaugh aka Moze is a SF Bay Area heretic and writer who's been hauling himself out to Black Rock City since the Nebulous Entity first beckoned him to check out this phenomenon known as Burning Man. Moze is a "Life Collector" who scribbles down encounters with you to share on the blog. He enjoys the hyper reality of that week in the desert enough to keep coming back. He's been on the Burning Man web team since aught two and has written for Piss Clear and the YEP (Yahoo Education Project). He doesn't speak for the org and he finds you fascinating. He celebrates you and loves it when you take away ideas from Burning Man and share them with the rest of the world. He likes to make grilled cheese on Burn Night afternoon and gift it to you because you're probably hungry. Moze is a big fan of fire, art, freedom and community.

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