ELS 2019: Fostering Local and International Partnerships

The European Leadership Summit (ELS) begins tomorrow, April 11, in Denmark, and we can’t wait to welcome 200 participants from 22 countries to Aarhus, the “City of Smiles” and host to the 2017 European Capital of Culture initiative.

As we gear up for tomorrow’s event, we wanted to highlight some of the many partnerships we’ve forged with local organizations in Denmark and internationally, as well as Aarhus Burners, to create a unique and engaging experience for our ELS and local Danish participants. 

Collaborating to Create the Radical City Event 

On Saturday, April 13, Burning Man Project, Maker Faire, and Dokk1 will co-host 60+ free, public, all ages activities in Aarhus’s Sydhavnen “South Harbor” district as part of our “Radical City: Dreamers, Makers and Doers” event, which will be hosted at Dokk1, a world-renowned public library and municipal services center. 

Dokk1 has been host to the Mini Maker Faire Aarhus for five years and when Burning Man Project made the decision to host the ELS here, Maker Faire decided to also convene Maker Faire producers from across Europe in parallel with our summit.


Both Maker Faire and Dokk1 have worked with us by contributing spaces, speakers, activities, and workshops to help fulfill our dream for a robust and engaging public program. Here are some of the programmatic highlights that speak to these collaborations: 

  • Burning Man Co-Founder and Burning Man Project Chief Transition Officer Harley K. Dubois will speak on “Burning Man, Civic Engagement, and Maker Culture.”
  • Dokk1 Director Marie Østergård, Maker Faire Managing Director Sabrina Merlo and Burning Man Project leadership will do a welcome at the summit.
  • Aarhus Vice Mayor Camilla Fabricius will welcome the public to Dokk1.
  • Sessions throughout Saturday’s program and the weekend will be broadcast on Shouting Fire, a Burning Man participant-driven station. More details below.
  • We’ll also host a mixer aimed at facilitating relationship-building amongst Burning Man Regional event producers and Maker Faire producers.

Many Burning Man Regional Contacts and community leaders are located in cities where Maker Faires happen. We hope that this collaboration with Maker Faire in Aarhus will have a ripple effect and spark more collaborations amongst Burners and makers across Europe and beyond. 

This will also continue the work and spirit that has stemmed from the 2018 ELS in Nantes, France, collaborations with the FabLab in Barcelona at the 2016 ELS, and the work that Harley K. Dubois has done on the board of the Nation of Makers, and with the Global Grants program. Burning Man and the maker movement have co-evolved, and we’re excited to explore what’s next, together. 

illutron is a collaborative, interactive arts studio run by Burners in Copenhagen. (Photo courtesy of illutron crew)

Design Thinking Workshops

Much of this year’s ELS centers on the creative connections between the Burning Man and Danish communities. Denmark is known internationally for its creative and forward-looking approach to education, often pushing students to think and act beyond the confines of the academic classroom. This is often achieved through solutions-oriented or “design thinking” methodologies in various fields of study. 

Both Kaospilot and Technical University of Denmark (DTU) will showcase their design thinking practices by engaging ELS participants in hands-on learning experiences. 

Located in Aarhus’s South Harbor, Kaospilot is a unique business school known for its rigorous program that combines design thinking and process with business and entrepreneurship.  

The backyard at Aarhus’s Habit Breaker Palace, where dreams come true and habits get broken. (Photo by Typhaine Sotes)

During the ELS, Kaopilot students will host a three-hour long workshop with Aarhus leaders and ELS participants aimed at prototyping proposals generated in the session around how the Principles of Black Rock City can be applied to permanent cities to encourage active, creative and sustainable citizen participation, guided by Burning Man’s 10 Principles. 

As part of Saturday’s public program, students from the Copenhagen-based Technical University of Denmark (DTU) will lead a design thinking workshop, inspired by our “Radical City” ELS theme, in which participants will focus on ways to make city inhabitants more inclined to connect with one another. Motivated by what the facilitators see as a rising sense of isolation in cities, they hope to find solutions that increase the emotional health of city dwellers. 

Our goal is for ELS participants, Aarhus residents, and Burning Man staff members who participate in these workshops to not only walk away with new ideas, but also with some new insights into design thinking facilitation practices that can inform and shape future educational offerings and community-building initiatives. 

Storytelling, Danish Style

Last year when we hosted the ELS in the French city of Nantes, we wanted to make our public program accessible and welcoming to our local French-speaking audience.

In a similar spirit, we are working with local Danish Burning Man Regional Contact Lars Haahr (Associate Professor-University of Aarhus) to present stories in Danish related to Burning Man Principles and practices. Students from the School of Journalism will participate and document the event.

“The Journey”

Our intention is for these stories to spark the imaginations of Aarhus citizens and make them feel included and welcomed into the day’s many activities.

Throughout the day, we’ll also screen the Danish film, “The Journey” by Christopher Boe, which is a poetic short film bringing the audience through seven essential stages of human life from Birth to Death. These stages are explored across seven continents, including a journey to Burning Man in the Nevada desert to explore the stage of “Loss.” 

When Aarhus was the European Capital of Culture in 2017, “The Journey” was presented as part of a beautiful exhibition at Aarhus’s Mosegard Museum, an institution focused on anthropology and ethnography. In the late afternoon, exhibition curator Pauline Asingh will join Carsten Holst (Executive Producer of “The Journey”) to discuss the film and the exhibition. 

Sara Bindeballe from Aarhus will also showcase Danish bands and artists at “Listening in the Dark” sessions, intended to provide participants with a respite from the busy pace of the day. 

Sustainable Solutions

One of Burning Man’s Principles is “Leaving No Trace,” a Principle the organization and over 70,000 Black Rock City participants take very seriously. As it turns out, Aarhus does too.

A hands-on workshop aims to make sustainability sexy again. (Photo by Kate Beale)

In an effort to combine Burning Man’s sustainability practices and methodologies applied here in Aarhus, we’ve paired up Playa Restoration Lead Dominic “D.A.” Tinio with Dana Ansberga and Søren Stochholm from Aarhus-based Worldperfect, an organization working towards a sustainable future. 

Together, these three facilitators will lead participants through a hands-on workshop focused on creating positive campaign strategies aimed at saving the world by making sustainability sexy again.

We are excited to see the campaigns generated during their session, and we know that throughout the summit weekend, we will hear D.A. shouting out “Leave No Trace,” which will hopefully be echoed by the Danish equivalent phrase being bellowed on the streets here in Aarhus and at festivals across the Nordics. Fingers crossed!

Stine Tange and Martin Erstad, creators of By Forfra-City Remade on Copenhagen’s harbor will also join us in Aarhus to showcase their off-the-grid solutions designed to facilitate a growing floating city. 

Giveism And Gifting 

During our Saturday public program at Dokk1, Aarhus local Burner Thomas Lütken and Theresa Duncan (Burning Man Director of Philanthropic Engagement) will give a talk on “Gifting in a Radical City: An In-depth Conversation on the Impact of a Gifting Culture.”

Since 1999, Thomas has been performing a social experiment applying the principle of gifting to real-life scenarios, an approach he calls “Givisme.” Theresa leads the Philanthropic Engagement team, which honors and develops the culture of giving threaded throughout the Burning Man experience. 

In this talk, Thomas will cast light on the results of his experiments and explains the mental reason why gifting could make the world live happily ever after (like in the fairytales). Together with Thomas, Theresa will explore how the gifting Principle transforms the way we interact. 

In this session, we aim to have participants walk away with a sense of how Burning Man’s Principle of “Gifting” can have an affect on local culture. We’re delighted that these two have matched up and look forward to learning about how Givisme works and how ELS participants might be inspired to take generous action in their local communities. 

Other Exciting Local Partnerships

Our call for participation also drew students from the Design School in Kolding, a city located south of Aarhus. Their contributions are playful in nature; one called “Opinion-ate-It” will instigate civic engagement through playing with food (yes, that’s right) and the other, called “Boring Magazine”, will aim to explore alternatives to boredom. 

Just last week, CounterPlay Festival happened in Aarhus. The mission of Counterplay, founded by Mathias Poulsen, is to encourages everyone to join in playful activities to explore why play is essential for learning, working and living. On Saturday, Mathias will share his philosophies and is certain to instigate some playful activities. 

And, for those excited to learn more about Aarhus’s unique approach to citizen engagement, Torben Glock from the municipality will reveal participatory budgeting practices that can be applied to other cities. 

You Gotta Have a Little FIRE!

The flame effects are coming to Aarhus! (Photo courtesy of illutron crew)

Copenhagen-based fire starters and founding members of illutron Nicolas Padfield and Mads Høbye will join torches with Black Rock City Fire Arts Safety Team lead Dave X to offer up several fiery contributions to our ELS program. 

Nicolas and Mads will be bringing their flame effects to the ELS and on Friday, Dave X and the illutron team will host a Flame Effects workshop for ELS registrants. Then, on Saturday they will share their fire tales with the public in a morning talk on “Fire Arts from California to Copenhagen” and then on Saturday night at our party in Sydhavnen, Nicolas and Mads will light up their giant poofers for us! Watch out, Aarhus, we’re coming for you!

Speaking of Fire… Saturday’s lineup of public talks will be broadcast live on Shouting Fire and other selected Breakout Sessions on Friday and Sunday!

Saturday night’s party will feature local and international DJs and live music! This photo was taken at last year’s celebratory Saturday night event in Nantes, France. (Photo by Hervé PHOTOGRAFF)

Bobzilla and Steve from Shouting Fire will also stream live sets from local musicians and DJs at our Friday evening party at the Aros Museum, as well as interviews with participants, music from our Saturday night party in Sydhavnen and MORE!

We’re delighted to be partnering with participant-driven Shouting Fire radio to give international Burners a taste of what’s happening here in “The City of Smiles.”

To tune in, you can access Shouting Fire in the following ways:

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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