GLC ’14: How Burners Do The Impossible


Well, here we are! The eighth annual Burning Man Global Leadership Conference is underway. It’s a gathering of the people who are defining the global future of Burning Man culture, and it’s a whole new world. Sixteen percent of GLC attendees are international. Half of them are here for their first GLC, and another quarter are back for their second. While the average GLC14 attendee has been to Black Rock City four times, three people here have never been, and that’s just fine. They get their Burning Man kicks elsewhere in the world, and that’s what this conference is all about. (And hey, Terry Dovido, here from Boston, has been to Burning Man 20 times, so GLC is all about that, too.)

The GLC is for figuring out how we’re doing in our mission of bringing Burning Man culture to the world at large. It’s driven by the inspiration we find on the playa, but its purpose is to focus that energy on repairing the world. As Stuart Mangrum, the Burning Man Project‘s education director, put it this morning, there are two ways to get more Burning Man into the world: The first is “sister cities,” the regional burns put on around the world by so many of GLC’s stellar attendees, and the second is Burnerly projects back in the off-playa world, and the people at GLC do a lot of that, too. We saw some of the highlights in Friday’s opening session.

Ben Davis – Illuminate The Arts

ben davisFirst up was Ben Davis, one of the creators of The Bay Lights that illuminate the Bay Bridge between Oakland and San Francisco. Now he runs Illuminate The Arts, an organization that challenges itself to do nothing less than “alter the arc of human history through the creation of transformational works of public art.”

While he doesn’t personally identify as a Burner, Davis says he does identify with the 10 Principles, and he’s been to Burning Man six times. “The reason Burning Man is really here is to solve the world’s greatest problem,” Davis says. To him, that greatest problem is making the seemingly impossible happen, and Burners are great at that.

After seeing the positive charge of a week at Burning Man dissipate in the road rage of the highway back to civilization, Davis conceived of the Bay Lights as a way to bring the blinky wonder of the playa into the city. The machinery of that huge project carried forward into the ongoing operations of Illuminate The Arts, which is now executing urban art projects on the scale of writing out the digits of Pi in the sky. But even at grand scale, Davis works in messages of sustainability, such as (<) [“less”], the “world’s first open-source brand,” which he encourages people to put on anything they want, as long as they don’t sell it. Brands don’t have to be about buying more crap; they can be reminders that we have enough crap already.

  Then the power went out on the AV system for the first time. Did someone forget to put gas in the genny? stuart

Stuart Mangrum – Education Director, Burning Man Project

After Ben introduced us to the power of city-sized art, Stuart got up to talk about how Black Rock City became a city in the first place. “It seems like only yesterday that [Burning Man] wanted to be a city, and now it seems like other cities want to be us,” he said. “When I went out there, there was nothing even like a city. There were no street signs, no street lights, no streets, no cops, one ranger (self-appointed).” All that had to change. Burning Man was growing, and participant relations were getting more complex. But according to Stuart, there was one overriding reason we needed to formalize Black Rock City: “The reason we built a city was that Larry doesn’t like camping.” The architects of Black Rock City had to boil down city-ness to its essentials. In the spirit of Burning Man, no one wanted to bring along anything unnecessary. “Nobody had any interest in bringing the shopping mall along,” Stuart said.

But no one thought about bringing a church or a temple along, either, and now it’s hard to imagine Black Rock City without one. And some of the same troubles that afflict any city popped up in BRC, too: traffic, noise, gentrification. Cities develop a mind of their own. They grow and adapt to their cultures and environments. The city and culture of Burning Man is what brought us all here, and now that culture is even bigger than the city can handle. Stuart invited Burners everywhere to figure out where to take that energy next.


Meghan Rutigliano – Regional Network Manager

Megs, one of the organizers of this whole shindig, closed out the warm-up session with her story of the Critical Mass bike ride in Chicago and how it led her to Burning Man. She imagined that the whole thing was just “happenstansical” at first (new word of the day!), but as she dug deeper, she began to realize how vast and powerful of a network was necessary to make Burning Man happen, making sure people get their minds blown. “That is good work to be doing in the world,” Megs reassured us.

Then she showed us just how much that network has grown. It’s not just regional events anymore; now there are regional leadership conferences in addition to this one in San Francisco. In the U.S., there were leadership gatherings in the Southeast, Northwest, and Michigan, which will expand to be the Great Lakes Symposium next year. And Megs and other BMOrg staff went to an amazing European Burning Man Leadership Summit in Berlin this February, attended by 100 people from 25 countries. She showed this awesome video from that summit:

These talks set the tone for a great conference. After Megs came a bunch of inspiring presentations by Burners from all over the world about the projects they’ve pulled off. We’ll cover those in an upcoming post. You can follow the ongoing coverage of GLC here on the Burning Blog and on Twitter using the hashtag #bmglc14.

Photos by Sidney Erthal

About the author: Jon Mitchell

Jon Mitchell

, a.k.a. Argus, was publisher of the Burning Man Journal, the Jackrabbit Speaks newsletter, and the Burning Man website from 2016 to 2019. He joined the Comm Team as a volunteer in 2010 and as year-round staff in 2014. He co-wrote a big story about spending 24 hours at the Temple of Juno in 2012. His first Burn was in 2008.

7 Comments on “GLC ’14: How Burners Do The Impossible

  • Nomad says:

    Any chance of letting us know the agenda and who the speakers are ahead of time? Absent this, you are forcing readers to be passive followers. That’s a 20th c model of “participation” and forces the dialog to be one-way. Sort of an object lesson in how not to follow the lessons from the Burn experience, preventing people from being participants. Radical exclusion if you will.

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  • Will Chase says:

    @Nomad We absolutely encourage participation in this event. We have a team of 8+ people live-tweeting, blogging and photographing key sessions and talks throughout the weekend. Everybody is welcome to participate in the dialog and discussion here on the blog, on twitter, the eplaya, facebook and wherever else people wish to stimulate a dialog around these ideas. In light of that, I’m not sure how not publishing the agenda is exclusionary, but sure … we’ll look at publishing the schedule after the GLC is over.

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  • Frans Hollenbach says:

    There is no default world

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  • Jon Mitchell says:

    You’re absolutely right, Frans. I just used that term out of habit, and I changed it thanks to you. I’ll try to never use it again. In fact, the next GLC post I’m working on begins with a lesson from a couple speakers about why that term is no good.

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  • Trilo Byte says:

    My preference is to use the term Defaultia to describe the outmoded ‘default world’ way of thinking. It’s not so much a terrible place, but it is filled with a lot of remnants, pre-conceived ideas, and pre-determined ways of thinking. :-)

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  • This is great! I look forward to hearing more success stories as the wick is lit!

    I think the Morris Burner Hotel in Reno is a great concept (part of the big burner movement picking up speed) that can sweep the world if we have the right sponsors and community involvement!

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  • Jennifer says:

    Curious why” he doesn’t identify himself as a Burner” and has been 6 Times? Beyond that, I am so in awe with the possibility this world has because of BM.

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