Fifth European Leadership Summit to Be Held April 5–8, 2018 in Nantes, France

We’re pleased to announce that we will host our 5th Annual Burning Man European Leadership Summit in Nantes, France on April 5-8, 2018. Each year, we work with a local team of Burners and like minds in different host regions in Europe to build a Summit that’s both an opportunity for co-learning amongst network leaders and a chance to experience the richness of a host region. We’ve had our sights set on working with the French Burners on the Summit for the past few years, and when our hosts at world-renowned La Machine/Les Machines de l’île in Nantes opened their doors as well, we seized the opportunity with excitement.

A Les Machines project in action! The giant Spider rounds the corner on a Nantes city street in 2016 during the Maker Faire Nantes weekend. Photo by Megs Rutigliano.

We’ll host our weekend’s programming at the Les Machines campus on the Isle of Nantes, alongside the Loire River. La Machine, an artistic company under the artistic direction of François Delarozière, is comprised of artists, designers, fabricators and technicians who specialize in producing giant performing machines, mostly in the form of gigantic creatures. In partnership with the City of Nantes and through the production efforts of Pierre Orefice and a dedicated team, the works of La Machine have made an extraordinary impact in Nantes and have toured to cities across the world. We’ll get a behind-the-scenes look at the creative and strategic processes underpinning their efforts, and we’ll interact with the mechanical creatures who reside on the Isle of Nantes, including a giant elephant, a spider, and a carousel of epic proportions. We’ll also get a closer look at the activities and unique culture of the French Burners community, which has been tremendously active over the years, particularly in Paris. Their events and projects have been nurtured by a dedicated team of Regional Contacts located in Paris, Nantes, and Nice, and this team, along with a few France-based Burners and project leaders, is helping us design and produce the Summit weekend.

The French Connection

The French Regional Contact Team and community members share out about their local activities at the ELS 2017. Photo by Raphaël Pincas.

Back in 2016, French Burners from across the country ventured to Nantes to participate in Maker Faire Nantes, a Black Rock City Rendezvous, and to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Les Machines. “The idea was to bring together Burning Man, the Maker Faire, and Les Machines to create an incredible, larger than life zoo,” says Bertier Luyt, a French producer who brought the idea to life alongside Les Machines co-founder Pierre Orefice. With support from Burning Man Arts, Jon Sarriugarte and Kyrsten Mate transported The Serpent Twins from the Bay Area to Europe, and visionary artist Android Jones brought Samskara, a 30-foot immersive dome experience to the Maker Faire. A photographic exhibition of 40 Burning Man images by artist Gilles Bonugli Kali from Marseilles were also featured and brought a strong portrayal of our dusty desert city in Nevada to the city of Nantes.

Burners chat with Nantes residents at Maker Faire Nantes 2016. Photo by Megs Rutigliano

This year, Pierre Orefice came to Black Rock City, and we began to explore the philosophical similarities between Burning Man and Les Machines. Their larger-than-life creatures bring about a new perspective for people of all ages and are intended to benefit the city spiritually, creatively, and economically. The Machines are meant for touch and interaction. Once someone experiences a Les Machines performance, they are likely to be forever changed. This is consistent with the way participants describe their first trip to Black Rock City. Pierre and his team also take a Decommodified approach to their artwork. Like the Man, Les Machines’ elephant has no name, and though there would certainly be a market for them, Les Machines does not sell miniatures or models of their creatures. They place the emphasis on direct experience.

“We are very proud [to be hosting the European Leadership Summit in Nantes],” Pierre says. And we are proud to collaborate with Pierre and François and the French Burners to create a meaningful experience for our Summit participants.

Nantes, France RC Marielle Bigot will be one of our hosts with the most at the ELS 2018. Photo by Megs Rutigliano.

Who Will Participate?

As we begin to think about the spaces and places where we’ll gather, we’ll also be reaching out to Summit participants to collaborate on developing the workshops, talks, activities for the weekend together in Nantes. Invitations will be sent to community members in January, along with a call for content to Burning Man’s Global Network. The European Leadership Summit participants will be comprised of Burning Man Regional Contacts in and around Europe, Burning Man staff, and content providers from established Burning Man communities and from other creative networks. We will be evaluating requests to participate based on experience leading community initiatives and events in Europe, and we’ll give priority to those interested in leading or hosting sessions. The Summit program will include workshops on community facilitation, organizational development, communications, grant programs, and on Nantes as a “case study” in arts and civic renewal.

Burning Man’s first Regional Contact in Hungary, Krisztina Radnoti gives a community update about local projects to the ELS 2017 cohort. Photo by Raphaël Pincas.

What We’ve Learned From the ELS So Far

Now in our fifth year of hosting European Leadership Summits, we see that we learn something new from each experience, from working with each host community.

  • In Berlin, we learned a great deal about the ways in which, after the Berlin Wall fell, artists took over abandoned buildings and created beauty, reimagined how they could live, as a way to heal themselves and society’s wounds. We also learned that hosting a Summit in a place with a small Burner community can spark more engagement and activity and have delighted in seeing the Berlin Burner community grow over the years.
  • In Amsterdam, we learned how to collect visions for the future through fun facilitation through collaboration with the THNK School of Creative Leadership. We experimented with using performance art as a fun outlet for Summit participants through a beautiful public procession through the center of the city. We also had the opportunity to deepen our relationship with our first affiliate, Burning Man Netherlands, and to experience the warmth of Dutch hospitality.
  • In Barcelona, we learned about the parallels between the Maker community and the Burner community through our work with the Fab Lab and Mini Maker Faire Barcelona. We also tried out new tools for team collaboration as we planned the conference and we launched a program through Burners Without Borders to award grants to European Burners looking to make a local impact, including one of our host groups, [ freespace ] Barcelona. We experienced the vibrancy of Barcelona, too, and how it serves a year-round nexus for Burners from across Europe.
  • In Stockholm, we were inspired by the Stockholm Burners’ approach to civic engagement and community building. Beyond the Summit weekend, the local Burners hosted Burning Man Week Stockholm, comprised of over 25 free public art events including a design charrette, a conversation about thoughtful responses to refugee migration, and about the future of education. Through Burning Man Week Stockholm, we learned that the philosophy behind Burning Man and the 10 Principles is just as important to the Nordic community as the social interactions. We also opened the doors of our Summit to the public for an afternoon which gave us a chance to showcase our community’s work on a broader scale.
ELS 2017 Co-Lead and Sweden Regional Contact Isadora Wronski chats with Jukka-Pekka Heikkilä, a Finnish scholar and Burner outside of The Node, a Burner hub in Stockholm where we hosted many of our ELS 2017 activities. Photo by Raphaël Pincas.

We know that we will learn a great deal during our time in Nantes, as it’s a place where art has made a stunning and very visible impact. Les Machines has drawn citizens back to the once-deserted areas around the Loire River and has helped transform Nantes into a center for arts and culture on a global scale.

The partnership between Pierre and Francois, their teams, and the City of Nantes is creative strategy in motion and has undoubtedly been a contributing factor in the city’s revival. We see that the Burning Man Global Network’s leaders are using their skills, talents, and know-how to create lasting cultural impact at home and may be inspired by Nantes.

Global Network leaders have developed many core competencies through their roles as project and event leaders both at Burning Man and in their regional communities, and we’re seeing a desire on the part of many contacts to move beyond events and into the civic arena. Across the world, many Burner groups are engaging city officials, local arts organizations, artists and community members in projects that bring the ethos and values of Burning Man and the 10 Principles into everyday life. We aim to nurture them and provide them more tools and resources at the Summit to help them achieve their highest ambitions with the greatest local impact.

The art installations that delight and inspire us in Black Rock City and at Regional Events are conceived of and built by artists in spaces that influence the communities around them from Oakland, LA, Detroit, and Atlanta to London and Lithuania. Not only can we create meaningful experiences at our gatherings, but we hope we can, like Les Machines, transform the life of a city and stimulate creativity on a grand scale.

As we work to inspire and support our Summit participants, our facilitators of year-round creative culture, Nantes will serve as a beautiful mirror to reflect our dreams for a future filled with civic art and with joy, wonder and creative potential.


Top photo: ELS 2017 participants gathering before an afternoon session at Stockholm Läns Museum. Photo by Raphaël Pincas. 

About the author: Megs Rutigliano

Megs Rutigliano

Meghan "Megs" Rutigliano is Burning Man's Associate Director of the Regional Network. She oversees Burning Man's annual Global Leadership Conference and European Leadership Summit. Meghan explores the art, events and culture of various regional Burning Man communities in her blog posts.

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