#WeekofMaking: What Kind of Maker Space is Black Rock City?

Part of a series about 2017 National Week of Making.

So, clearly there’s some relationship between Black Rock City and the American maker movement. How exactly does that work? Maker spaces are vital for the creation of Burning Man art and the communities around it — that’s obvious. But what does maker culture gain from the (temporary) existence of BRC? A venue for the stuff they make? A network for sharing talent, materials, and appreciation? Or is it something deeper than that?

One of the things that makes Black Rock City’s art and architecture so interesting is that it’s made by so many hands with so many different skill levels. Since the motivation for all the work is primarily creative, rather than merely practical, it’s fun, so everybody wants to get involved. And because there aren’t really any rules other than “don’t die”, the many makers of BRC can take risks and learn new skills on the job. “One of the great joys of doing any of this kind of work is giving people the gift of additional skills,” says legendary Burning Man maker Kay Morrison in the new Profiles in Dust documentary, “Makers of Black Rock City.”

“I really believe the act of learning is key to creating,” says Matt Schultz, one of the founders of The Reno Generator maker space and an artist behind some of BRC’s most beloved creations, such as The Space Whale from 2016. “When we started The Space Whale, for example, almost none of us knew how to weld — we’re a wood crew. And when we started our first wood projects, almost none of us knew how to work with wood! We took the time, and we learned like anyone how to do the things that we do.”

When people learn all these new maker skills as Burning Man artists, it expands the scope of what they think is possible in the rest of their work, and that’s where things get really interesting.

You’ll see in this documentary how Burners take what they learn from their making and apply it to solve real civic problems in communities around the world. That’s exactly what Dorothy Jones-Davis calls for in the introduction to this Week of Making series. If one of the goals of the maker movement is to empower people everywhere to solve their own material problems, Burning Man is like a high-intensity dojo that trains them for life as a maker. It shows people that they can build practically anything they can imagine in a place where they can imagine practically anything. After that, solutions to the maker problems of everyday life seem much more within reach.


Top photo: The Space Whale by The Pier Group with Matthew Schultz, Android Jones and Andy Tibbetts, 2016 (Photo by Tony Edwards)

About the author: Jon Mitchell

Jon Mitchell

is the publisher of the Burning Man Journal, the Jackrabbit Speaks newsletter, and the Burning Man website. His playa name is Argus. He co-wrote a big story about spending 24 hours at the Temple of Juno in 2012. He’s been a Burner since 2008. Email: argus@burningman.org

One comment on “#WeekofMaking: What Kind of Maker Space is Black Rock City?

  • Elizabeth says:

    My virgin year, I had been crocheting for less than 6 months, but used that to make art. Then I wanted to make pewter gifts, so I learned that. Then I wanted to have engraved gifts, so I learned that. Programmable lights, soldering, CNC… Before Burning Man, I don’t think I had ever used a power tool.

    Now we have a theme camp, Hookers & Makers that teaches and helps people make their own gifts and mementos.

    sic semper evello mortem spectatores

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