During the past 25 years, Burning Man has had a profound cultural and economic impact on Reno and the surrounding area. Burning Man culture, and Burners themselves, were not embraced by Northern Nevada in the early years, with dusty travelers, unusual rigs, and strange outfits typically unwelcomed by businesses and locals. That has changed!
- Burner-inspired businesses line the main drag of the hottest neighborhood in Reno.
- Washoe County was awarded a $75,000 National Endowment for the Arts grant and is partnering with Burning Man Project to build an art trail from Reno to Gerlach.
- Gifted solar arrays sit atop and alongside schools, hospitals, tribal buildings, and nonprofit organizations around Nevada, providing clean energy and cost savings, and preventing atmospheric carbon emissions.
- Burning Man brings the largest influx of passengers to the Reno-Tahoe International Airport — more than Christmas and Thanksgiving — and the airport has hosted many exhibitions of Burning Man art and history.
- Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve invited Burning Man to a national conference of her peers in Washington, D.C.
- The Morris Burner Hostel is a gathering place and opportunity for artists to create and show work.
- Large maker spaces including the Generator and Artech facilitate art and community building year-round, as well as serving as the build site for major Black Rock City projects.
- In 2017, for the first time, the Man was built in downtown Reno. The space was open to volunteers and community members.
And the art! Art from the playa can be seen temporarily and permanently displayed in Reno and other Nevada cities, including Fernley and Carson City. These beautiful pieces feature prominently in Reno’s creative landscape and reflect just how deeply the Biggest Little City is influenced by Burning Man, and in turn how that translates into Reno’s cultural impact on its citizens and tourists.
- The Guardian of Eden, a large sculpture by artist Kate Raudenbush, sits permanently in a place of honor in front of the Nevada Museum of Art (where a major Burning Man exhibition recently finished up).
- Jerry Snyder’s 50-foot replica of the Nevada State Fossil swims overhead in the lobby of The Discovery Museum.
- The Pier Group’s Space Whale and Jeff Schomberg and Laura Klimpton’s BELIEVE are placed in City Plaza.
- Mark Szulgit’s Cosmic Star Thistle has its home at the intersection of Virginia St. and McCarran near Meadowood Mall.
- Bryan Tedrick’s Portal of Evolution is placed beautifully at Bicentennial Park.
- And the Playa Art Park features different pieces from Black Rock City each year.
- Mutant Vehicles are a fixture at special events including the Nevada Day Parade in the State Capital Carson City. Our own Michael Mikel was the 2017 Grand Marshal.
Northern Nevada is not the only trailblazer. Oakland, San Leandro, San Jose, and Las Vegas have all worked with Burning Man and Burning Man artists to display art cars and place public art initially installed on the playa. Where once good Nevada citizens kept secret their journey to Black Rock City, elected officials and business leaders now embrace our principles and our spirit.
Burning Man’s annual economic impact on Nevada is conservatively estimated at $60 million: approximately $50 million from participants and $10 million from the Burning Man organization. Many businesses — hotels, grocers, costume shops, ice distributors, RV dealers, box and home improvement stores, auto repair experts, and car washes — plan their year around the event and compete for Burners’ business. Entrepreneurial sole proprietors and major corporations both benefit. Whole Foods and Save Mart run successful recycling and trash programs post-event to encourage returning Burners to shop at their stores.
Time in Black Rock City translates to real, impactful innovation.
Elon Musk went to Burning Man, and now there is a massive, state of the art Tesla gigafactory near Reno and electric vehicle charging station in Lovelock. Musk’s cousin, Lyndon Rive, accompanied him to Black Rock City and was inspired to start Solar City. Sergey Brin and Larry Page went to Burning Man in 1998 and left a discreet message to their friends and colleagues by creating the first ever Google Doodle. Time in Black Rock City translates to real, impactful innovation. Time on the playa surrounded by people both connected — to time, place, and community — and disconnected — from outside schedules and devices — affords creative minds the freedom to explore and question.
Behind the scenes, Burning Man meets year round with elected officials and government agencies to plan and permit the event. Where once we had minimal contact with officials, we now coordinate closely with more than a dozen local, state, tribal, and federal agencies to ensure smooth operations and public safety. We routinely meet with members of Congress to keep them apprised of issues that may be important to their constituents. We spend close to $5 million just on permits and contracts with law enforcement. Our impact continues to grow.
As a proud Nevadan for 20 years and 17-year Burner, I can say I’ve watched with amazement and pride as Burning Man and Reno have evolved and intertwined. It’s been fun and rewarding to see those changes spread to other cities and communities in Northern Nevada. It’s a lot like the personal journey so many of us embark on after going to Burning Man for the first time. First we wear different outfits back home and color our hair. Then we volunteer for an art project or organize a Theme Camp. Next thing we know, we’ve left our jobs and started a new career, inspired by the wonderful culture and values we’ve chosen to embrace. I’m very much looking forward to being a part of the next phase in Burning Man’s journey with the Silver State.
Top photo: Guardian of Eden by Kate Raudenbush (Photo by Bill Kositsky)