Devin Breen is here to burst your bubble.
Devin is the co-founder and president of Chicago’s CHIditarod, the love child of an unholy matrimony between a food drive, dodgem shopping carts, wacky races, a bar crawl, street theatre and all-round chaos generator.
He’ll be talking bubbles and making the right kind of trouble when he takes to the GLC plenary stage on Saturday afternoon with co-founder and partner Liz Campanella Breen.
“One of the challenges with Burner culture is that it can be really insulated. It takes place in this almost hermetically sealed environment, whether that’s the Black Rock Desert or your Regional of choice,” says Devin.
“What drives me is the idea of expanding beyond this kind of insulated environment into the default world where we can really make an impact.”
And the CHIditarod is high impact in every sense of the word.
Sabotage not only happens in this charity race, it’s openly encouraged as a strategy, and the event has gathered more than 150,000 pounds of food and raised $125,000 for charities over the past 11 years.
Based (loosely) on the Alaskan Iditarod, the CHIditarod replaces the Alaskan sleds with decorated shopping carts piled high with food donations, and dogs are replaced with five costumed people who “mush mush” or pull the cart.
It takes place each March in Chicago’s Wicker Park and Ukrainian Village neighbourhoods, and all with the blessing of the city and local police.
“I wanted something that was a get-up-in-your-face kind of thing: you can’t avoid it if it’s happening in your neighbourhood,” says Devin. “During the day, thousands of people see this event because they’re out and about doing their thing. It’s right there on the streets of Chicago.”
Surprisingly, only about five percent of race participants are Burners.
“We have expanded our participatory, creative culture into the default and built a platform that is like an artist generator. I have people who say to me: ‘I’m not an artist. I’m an accountant. I live in the suburbs. I have kids.’ But people don’t realise they are artists,” says Devin.
“We get people who literally break down in tears at the award ceremony because they’re so excited and so happy about this level of participation.”
Not surprisingly, Burning Man was the font of Devin’s initial inspiration.
“I went to my first Burn in 2005 and I came back literally bursting with creative energy. It was suddenly all so accessible. It wasn’t some artist in some far away place doing cool shit. It was right there in front of me, among my peers,” he says. “I was really empowered, and I wanted to do something amazing.”
But after more than a decade of love, sweat and tears that can total around 600 hours a year, Devin is now focused on empowering others and learning to lead from behind.
“What inspires me to keep going is the idea of turning over the event to other people so the event can grow, expand and change in ways that I can’t foresee,” says Devin.
“The lesson for me now is: ‘how do I get out of the way to allow engaged, excited, creative, organised people to step up into the leadership role?’”
Devin and Liz will be unveiling their Rod-in-a-Box toolkit at the GLC. It’s a distillation of 11 years’ worth of lessons, processes, software and technology, all shared under creative commons.
His final take-home?
“Be inspired to do something in the default and get empowered. Here is all the stuff we have built over 11 years, and you can take it and use it as your starting point for any event,” he says. “And send us pictures!”
Feature photo by Milosh Kosanovich