Last Friday, a jubilant group of locals, art lovers, Burners, City officials, neighborhood activists, and a sizable crew of staff from the San Francisco Burning Man office made their way to the Hayes Valley neighborhood, and gathered to celebrate the unveiling of David Best’s latest temple in San Francisco. Best’s temples, as any Burner knows, have a hard-to-describe, extraordinary quality about them. Each one conveys a distinct meaning specific to its location, community, and point in history. This one is special to us here at Burning Man Arts, as it marks the tenth anniversary of our Civic Arts Program.
Ten years ago, we were approached by the San Francisco Arts Commission (SFAC) and the City’s mayor, Gavin Newsom, and asked to work with Best to create a temple for the Hayes Valley neighborhood in San Francisco. The community’s love and appreciation for the piece energized and inspired us, and we became determined to share more public art with more communities. And, thus, our Civic Arts Program was born! Since then, the Civic Arts Program has installed 29 works of art in cities including Reno, Nevada; Detroit, Michigan; and Fernley, Nevada, as well as in the San Francisco Bay Area. This is in addition to our Global Art Grants program, which has funded over 120 projects to date, worldwide.
In local news coverage of the project, and at the unveiling event, Best remarked that volunteers don’t work for money—they work for love. His crew, standing behind him at the event, nodded their heads in agreement. David Best’s crew of over 60 volunteers began construction on the new temple about three months ago at his home in Petaluma, California. They then moved their work to the installation site, where they worked for two weeks artfully assembling the temple’s many decorative elements.
Last Friday’s Opening Reception included remarks by SFAC Director of Cultural Affairs Tom DeCaigny, City Board of Supervisors Board President and District 5 Supervisor London Breed, Burning Man Associate Director of Strategic Initiatives Tomas McCabe, Madeline Behrens-Brigham of the Hayes Valley Art Coalition, and artist David Best. Mauro ffortissimo of the Sunset Piano project warmed up the crowd with a few classical music selections, and lounge act Tom Jonesing concluded the morning’s festivities with the perfect soundtrack for a sunny, joyful day in San Francisco.
This temple, simply called The Temple at Patricia’s Green, was a collaborative effort between SFAC, Burning Man, the Hayes Valley Neighborhood Association, Hayes Valley Art Coalition, and was funded by grants from San Francisco Grants for the Arts, the San Francisco Planning Department’s Community Challenge grant program, funds from development impact fees from Hayes Valley private developments, and generous donations from our supporters.
At the reception, Best clarified his perspective on his temples. He explained that this temple was not a work of art, but a functional space—an environment that can only be activated through participation. The structure is a mere container, a set condition, an invitation to co-create meaning. (Sound familiar? A certain city in the Nevada desert seems to function in the same way.)
Following Best’s suggestion here, this temple is not a temple, independently. It is only completed by interaction, by the supplement of our responses and reactions to it. This shifts the significance away from art as a commodity, as something given and taken from one individual to another, and onto the relationship between individuals. This humble approach to art-making takes the focus off the artist’s singular vision and onto shared intention, and in shared intention is the potential for real social change. We think this shift is one of the reasons why Best’s temples and other Civic Arts public art projects seem to mean so much to people. It’s our hope to help communities manifest works of public art that function for them, personally and communally.
While the event at Black Rock City is paid for by ticket sales, Burning Man’s Civic Art projects depend on the generosity of our community. Thanks to the support of our donors, we’re able to fund a wide variety of Burner-initiated programs and art projects like the new Temple at Patricia’s Green in other cities. Tax-deductible donations can be made online at donate.burningman.org.