Bring Your Burner Selves to the Smithsonian and Share the Culture

How We Got Here:

• The exhibition, which aims to tell the story of the playa’s limitless creativity, is a close collaboration between Burning Man Project and the Renwick Gallery that started in 2016.

• Large and small-scale Burning Man pieces will be spread throughout the gallery floors and the surrounding Washington D.C. neighborhood.

• “No Spectators” will feature installation art, jewelry, costumes, and photography, some of which were drawn from a call out to the Burning Man community by the Civic Arts department with the help of volunteer Affinity Mingle.

• The exhibition will be on display from March 30, 2018 – January 21, 2019.

This is the fifth post in a series about “No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man,” the upcoming exhibition at the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

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The idea of bringing Burning Man to a museum is challenging in several ways. How can a museum exhibition bring the feeling of Burning Man, not just the art? How can it express the culture? The talking-to-strangers, the random coincidences, the 4-a.m.-trash-fence-grilled-cheese-sandwich? The DUST?

It can’t express the whole thing, but it doesn’t have to, and it doesn’t intend to. (Particularly the dust; that was a definite “no.”) As we create this portable expression of Burning Man culture, I’ve learned a little bit of cultural context goes a long way.

I was in D.C. recently to present to the Renwick docents who’ll be involved in the Burning Man exhibit. I gave them a look at the community and the culture behind the art, and a discussion of the reasons why people create art for the event. My hope was to share a fuller picture of all the things wiggling around behind the scenes that made these finished products possible. I also challenged them to think about how they could bring the culture and spirit of Burning Man to their own volunteering.

None of the docents have been to the event. They’re all terrifyingly smart and charming and experienced at being museum docents, and are so excited to learn about Burning Man and share their knowledge, but it’s an uphill battle to try and be Burning Man if you’ve never experienced it firsthand.

This is where you come in, friendos. Burning Man is made of people, and y’all are the people who make Burning Man, so if we want the exhibition to have the spirit of Burning Man in addition to the art and objects, we have to step up as a community. Communal Effort!

(Photo by JR “Nexus” Russ)

How You Can Help Burning Man Up the Smithsonian

The title of the exhibition is “No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man.” People are saying it’s funny that it’s called “No Spectators” when museums are traditionally just for spectating, but what if we thought of it as a clever call to action to figure out how to be Burning Man in a non-traditional setting?

It’s easy to be Burning Man when you’re at Burning Man, when the people around you know it’s cool to talk to strangers and gift and play, and where the extreme elements break down the social barriers and make it easier to relate to one another. Being Burning Man in a museum setting with people from all walks of life, who don’t have those same expectations? This is your master class in being a Burner.

The Smithsonian is great at being a museum, and we’re great at being Burning Man. They’re all-in to show off the fruit of our community’s creative drive. It’s up to us to come exhibit our culture and sense of play.

Are you planning a trip to D.C. to see the exhibit? Do you live locally and have the ability to volunteer? Is there no way you’re gonna get there but still want to participate somehow? There are avenues for both in-person and remote participation.


The D.C. Burners have been amazing at offering their talents and being involved in this exhibition and the events surrounding it. We’ll be hearing more from them later about different activities going on in D.C. during the run of the show. I recommend connecting with them if you live locally or will be in town.


If you’re a D.C. local or will be in town long enough to pull some volunteer shifts, the Renwick has a short-term exhibition volunteer call-out on their website. Shifts are four hours, and these opportunities are a maximum of 30 days.

In-Town Visitors / Anyone Physically Going to the Renwick

If you’ll be in town to visit the museum, I challenge you to think about how you can embody Burning Man while you’re there. I don’t necessarily mean wearing a costume (although if you’re a costume person, the Renwick folks tells me it’s welcome and encouraged). I mean, act as if you’re at Burning Man. Talk to strangers — in line, in the museum, when you’re out in the Golden Triangle seeing the larger sculptures in the neighborhood. Share your experiences. Ask people their thoughts. Be excellent to each other. The majority of the people who come to this show will have never been to Burning Man — can you imagine treating them like honored guests in our culture, and showing them why you enjoy this whole crazy thing?

Remote Participation

Not everyone can (or will want to) get to D.C. for the exhibition, but there are ways you can participate from afar. The Renwick has a social media screen in the museum, and they’ll be showing images hashtagged #NoSpectators from Instagram — images of the show taken by participants, but also the results of various image call-outs posted on Instagram. There will be themed requests for images of various objects and experiences from Burning Man and Regional Events.

Events List

Here are some of the scheduled events so far (with more to come, check back on the Renwick’s page for upcoming events and the Golden Triangle’s events page):

March 29, 7:30 p.m. – Opening PartySOLD OUT

March 30, 11:00 a.m. – Walking Tour of No Spectators: Beyond the Renwick

March 30, noon – 2:00 p.m. – Open House

April 25, noon – Gallery Talk with Nora Atkinson

May 3, 8:00 p.m. – Artist Talk with David Best 

May 18, noon – Walking Tour of No Spectators: Beyond the Renwick

May 25, noon – No Spectators-inspired Renwick Handi-Hour crafting at Farragut Park

Top photo by Tristan Savatier

About the author: Brody Scotland

Brody Scotland is a native Californian and recovering shy person who enjoys hugs and snacks. Brody first attended Burning Man in 2004, found out that she doesn't actually know how to “go to Burning Man,” and started volunteering in 2005. Her mission in life is to increase the amount of happiness in the world, and she would like someone to teach her how to carve a wooden bear with a chainsaw. These two things are not necessarily related.

3 Comments on “Bring Your Burner Selves to the Smithsonian and Share the Culture

  • David (Hedge) Evans says:

    Just learned about the exhibit. Thank you very much. I know you and every volunteer will represent the Burning Man community very well. I would love to come and see the exhibit and will make every effort possible.

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  • Juno says:

    I love that the spirit of Burning Man really can be as simple as talking to strangers. Thanks for the post, and for encouraging human connection, Brody!

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  • Roki says:

    Ug. No one can “be burning man”. You, most certainly can’t “be” burning man. It’s not a “thing”. This is just a spectatorial thing. Stop. It’s just wrong.

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