My, How You’ve Grown: The Burning Man Effect in Nevada

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!

Aerial view of Spire of Fire, by local Reno artists Steve Atkins and Eric Smith. (Photo by Mark Hammon)

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.
BRAF, Celtic Forest (Photo by Mark Hammon)

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.

Mini Man displayed at Reno-Tahoe International Airport (Photo by George Post)

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.

The Gateway, by the Reno CORE (Photo by Dan Adams)

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)

About the author: Marnee Benson

Marnee Benson

Marnee is Burning Man Project’s Associate Director of Government Affairs. Her work focuses on permitting and relationships with the Nevada Legislature, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Pershing County, and multiple other Nevada agencies. She helps Burning Man navigate Nevada politics and federal issues affecting the Burning Man event. Marnee’s first trip to Black Rock City was 2001, and in 2007 she worked with the Department of Public Works and the Communications team, writing and photographing content for the Burning Blog “Building Black Rock City”. From 2009 to 2013, she served as the Deputy Director at Black Rock Solar. She loves the way Burning Man expands her world and flips ideas upside down.

10 Comments on “My, How You’ve Grown: The Burning Man Effect in Nevada

  • What a timely article for me Marnee. Thanks for all the great information. I am a member of the Utah Builders Community and a medium long BRC attendee in the process of relocating myself. Turns out Reno is at the top of my list of potential landing sites. My friend and I will be staying at the Morris Burner Hostel this weekend to investigate the vibe in the area. I would love to meet you and pat you on the back for all your good work and say hi if its possible. Anything we shouldn’t miss happening on Saturday night? What is your favorite pale to dance, have Sunday brunch, trail to hike?
    Information gathering on a big scale…thanks for adding to my database.

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  • brian says:

    Thank you Marnee for a great article… I was born in Reno and have lived here all my life. I love Northern Nevada, and like you, I’ve seen our community change in such a positive way with the culture embracing so many of the BM values. Keep up the great work!!!

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  • Timeless says:

    15 years ago I submitted a proposal for a Burner sculpture garden of in Nevada on a piece of highly visible, most highly traveled state property in the region! I already call the garden of monuments “Liberty Gateway” because I like Liberty, hey… It’d be mostly Burner art that changes out every year just before public event/auctions, to drive expenses.

    I’m seeking a capable burner to purchase the land that hosts my sculpture studios, just adjacent (Default likes its full-time artists poor…) and the land would only accrue with such notoriety… At 83, my land lord of nearly two decades needs to sell.
    Such stability will help us in our bids to gain control of the public land.

    Any real estate people or anyone smarter than me (adds up quick): please, get back. Please click my name for more.

    I figure a few dump trucks of playa and this corner will be rite comfy ;)

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  • Nathan Heller says:

    Thanks for the great report-out, Marnee! Excited, as well, in the next phase…

    Also, for all interested – a movie from a few years ago called “Event Horizon” on Burning Man’s impact upon the Reno area (containing interviews with Marnee, Larry Harvey, …and many others) can be viewed here:

    https://youtu.be/jU_BIPvkEUY

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  • roissy says:

    “Burning Man’s annual economic impact on Nevada is conservatively estimated at $60 million: ”

    Except you forgot to include the income from the BM ticket tax…

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  • Trilo Byte says:

    I love Nevada, but I wish the burners and other residents of Nevada cared enough about the event to successfully sway their elected leaders to afford Burning Man the same treatment other events receive with regards to the entertainment tax. They don’t (at least not yet), so an unfair tax is levied on all Burning Man participants. I would much rather spend that money with local businesses in northwestern Nevada.

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