Burning Man culture blossoms in unlikely places. From the arid deserts of Africa and the Middle East to the conservative Deep South, participation in our culture works especially well in improbable places.
Burning Man first sprouted up in the Southeastern United States in 1998 when George Papp brought together what became the Flipside community in Austin, then grew into the Blue Ridge Mountains near Asheville thanks to the Transformus community. Never intending to simply replicate the Black Rock City experience, these groups self-defined what Burning Man looks like locally from the very beginning, creating their own styles and local approach.
Since then, Florida, South Carolina, Kentucky, Georgia, Virginia, Arkansas and Tennessee have all joined Texas and North Carolina in hosting official Burning Man Regional Events. The demand increases for tickets to these events each year, with many Southeastern Burns reaching their max capacity for the past decade. This ever increasing demand is met head-on by Southeastern communities with new events popping up in Florida, West Virginia, South Carolina and Tennessee.
To best support community expectations in these growing regions, the leaders of each organization take their roles very seriously and stay well networked. One way Burning Man supports these local leaders is by hosting the Southeast Burning Man Leadership Roundtable. This year was the third annual gathering with content specifically tailored for board-level community leaders and volunteer Regional Contacts. Leaders gathered at the Old Smyrna Firehouse outside of Atlanta, GA, with former Roundtables hosted in Charlotte, NC and the Asheville Arts Council.
Over the third weekend of February, 47 Burner-leaders representing 17 different Burns traveled from nine states to share best practices in a true roundtable format. Each community’s representatives had an equal voice regardless of size and development. Topics ranged from overcoming permitting challenges, to year-round acculturation, to hosting better trainings for volunteers. Of special significance was a discussion on all-ages inclusion. The Ignite! Burn in Virginia is leading the way when it comes to supporting kids. At Ignite!, the Temple is created by the children, for which they also provide a kids-only conclave performance. The Ignite! Spark Scouts program awards badges based on camping skills and learning about the Ten Principles.
Like many Burners, Southerners also hold a healthy distrust of centralized authority, but the value of networking together as leaders is clear. Each community deals with the same types of challenges, and Burning Man’s response is not to “show you our way,” but to expose groups to various solutions to the same challenges. Burning Man staff members don’t have all the answers, but they are often helpful at introducing leaders in one community to those in other communities of like size who have overcome similar obstacles. This peer-to-peer networking approach can be seen at other local leadership gatherings like the European Leadership Summit, at the annual Global Leadership Conference, and in the methods by which the Regional Network team supports Burner communities around the world.
As our culture spans the globe, one is no longer required to attend Black Rock City to self-identify as a “Burner,” nor is Burning Man something that’s limited geographically to the Western portion of the United States. As we develop, change and grow as individuals, so does our culture.
Top photo by Mike Alberghini