On May 19, 2019, the Temple of Time burned in Coral Springs, Florida.
Earlier that year, David Best, the Temple crew and 600 members of the Parkland and Coral Springs communities had come together to create the Temple of Time to honor the losses and celebrate the lives of those lost at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Valentine’s Day 2018.
The Temple was selected as part of a project called “Inspiring Community Healing After Gun Violence: The Power of Art”, and was one of five temporary art installations designed to help the community heal.
Before building began, David said to the local community that he understood that no art project could really heal the pain, only time could do that. And this is how the Temple of Time came to be named.
This post offers some of David’s thoughts on the experience in Florida, as shared with Kim, Burning Man’s Director of Art & Civic Engagement, followed by Kim’s reflections.
David Shares His Thoughts:
The thing that happened with Coral Springs is that it had to be very low profile because there was a year of media attention that tore the community apart. We had to tread very lightly in that community.
The Temple of Time represents what our community is all about; all the Principles were manifest, yet I felt very cautious about the role Burning Man would play. The Burning Man community approached graciously and understood how delicate the situation was. People were fearful, and no one wanted to exploit the circumstances.
The Love Burn people generously offered assistance. They brought food, but we couldn’t really use them on the build, and the Burnt Orange people also offered assistance. We had to step carefully. We had to do Leave No Trace before we even started — and in this sense this means being constantly aware of our impact on a community that already had a lot of folks coming into it.
When we were choosing the team to build the Temple, we knew we had to keep a small footprint and we had a limited budget. We thought about our team and chose people, for the most part, who had experienced and understood loss of an unexpected nature. We looked for people who were capable of managing the emotions of the public with empathy.
We were really careful to invite people and tried hard to not hurt the feelings of the rest of the crew. We knew that people had to be able to both build and take the time to sit and listen and understand what community members wanted to share.
The first day we were in Coral Springs, we met with an art therapist from the Coral Springs Museum of Art, and the crew really took it on.
We weren’t able to go to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, but we had an open house at the museum to talk about what we were hoping to do and to address any concerns and answer questions, and that was really amazing. When it was time to do the presentation, the computer didn’t work, and I said, “Great, it isn’t about how good my presentation is. It’s about how good the people who live here are. It’s more important that we connect, showing my work feels like vanity.”
For me, the Temple is about the person who is hurt and may even feel mad at me and who needs to express that rage. This is not about good news. This is about issues that are painful to deal with, but if we ignore them, they won’t go away.
This project is about the great moments where the young kids participated, or people from Scentsability — a community group that provides job training to adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities — worked with us.
The people in Coral Springs… at the beginning, there was an understandable opposition or reservation: Who are these people coming in? Who do they think they are? That is where the idea of walking really softly becomes so important.
We brought our own equipment; we were very self-contained. We weren’t there to impact them or capitalize on them. Work is healing. That is what we offered to a handful of people: the option to work, and by working they started to find a healing process, and by the end more than 600 people participated. So working with families and friends who lost someone dear to them, they begin to be able to have forward motion.
In Coral Springs, we learned how this work can live in another community. It was like going into an entirely comfortable community that had no experience with this kind of violence. They didn’t know how to integrate what had happened to them; we were no strangers to loss and we make art and life out of that loss. The people who were there could see that we were celebrating the lives, and shifting grief to celebrate the loss in a way that isn’t frivolous.
The woman who rode the lift up to the top and wrote her daughter’s name at the top, she couldn’t have imagined something like this being built. There was a sense of gratitude and also some confusion about the beauty of the gift of the Temple.
I spent time with the first responders, and they opened up to me in a way they didn’t to the media. Some struggled with feeling like they could have done more to stop the shooting — that they were somehow responsible despite putting themselves on the line and being prepared to kill the shooter.
Our conversations turned to forgiveness and the human impossibility of preventing everything from happening. And I learned that out of 200 first responders, the statistics are that two of them are likely to take their life.
The biggest surprise for me was that I thought that I was working with 17 families who lost 17 people. But there are many more who are suffering across the whole community, including families with wounded family members, the firefighters who cannot open their hearts as wide as they might because they see too much, the first responders suffer, the community suffers, and yet they are also all full of love. Dealing with this loss is so difficult. This community was known as the safest city in America.
But then I left, and I have to ask where did I go. I need to go back, and to follow up. I’ve never had that feeling in the desert that I was a part of exacerbating the pain. The next Temple built out in the world is going to require more information for those who come into it as well as follow-up — the engagement has to be more.
We’re seeing some interest and support coming forward that will allow us to do this in other places. While we don’t quite know the location, people are seeing what is possible, what the need is for people to come together. We think the next location will show up.
What I want the Burning Man community to know is that although there were 20 people on my crew (and we were only supposed to have 12), we felt that the entire Burning Man community was behind us. We felt the more than 70,000 people who make up the Burning Man community was with us. Everyone who was there felt that we were representing our community. I want to thank the rest of our community who wasn’t there for their support.
I entered this story in the spring of 2018, when I was contacted by the City of Coral Springs (through a friend of a friend) with a request for recommendations of artists who might be appropriate for this project. The email arrived as Larry Harvey had just gone into the hospital, and at first it was too much to even think about. Then it became clear: there’s only one artist in this instance. There is only David Best.
I asked David and Maggie Roth if they would forgive me for asking at this terrible time, but could I please introduce them to these people in the City of Coral Springs. I asked for forgiveness because they were going to have to turn around an art proposal as they tried to contend with the fact that Larry was in the hospital. I knew it would be very challenging to turn it around in a very short period of time and in that painful moment.
The proposal was selected by the Cities of Coral Springs and Parkland, which had created the Power of Art project in partnership with the Coral Springs Museum of Art. The cities had also applied for and received funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Public Art Challenge — an initiative that provides U.S. mayors the opportunity to apply for funding for temporary public art projects that address a civic issue impacting their communities.
I was able to visit the build site in February 2019 for the last few days of the build. It was an incredible experience to be there and to experience the incredible porosity, the thin, thin permeable membrane between David’s team of 20 and community volunteers who came to participate in the building of the temple. I learned and saw so much.
There were little kids who came throughout the week and followed crew members around like little ducklings. I sat and talked with mothers whose daughters had been building every day and learning to use tools. I saw the families who were bringing gifts to the crew to thank them for being a part of the building and part of the community. People brought tons of food and restaurant owners wanted to offer free meals after hours.
It was so amazing to witness how the Temple works in the world. When the Temple of Time actually opened and people arrived, it was like, they get it. Everyone participated. I burst into tears even before I walked into the Temple, just simply because the gift was so evident. It was clear that this had been given to the community and done by the community.
As I went into the Temple of Time I began to read the stories. I read messages to the children of love that would last forever, and kids wishing they could still hang out with their friends. Very, very real stories of loss and it overflowed for me emotionally. It also felt important to leave people with a lot of privacy. I took no pictures once the Temple was open. I’m so grateful that I get to be a part of a community that extends itself in that way in the world.
I can tell you that the people of Parkland and Coral Springs responded to this thing that we know so well, but was absolutely new to them. There’s something so fundamentally human that people know to bring themselves and their offerings, and here was this place of gathering. It was really beautiful.
In the end, the Temple of Time burned.
When David, some members of the Temple crew and Kim returned to Florida, there were many questions from the community, “Why will it burn?” It had become a part of the environment — there were yoga classes on the grass.
And the night of the burn it ignited and then was put out before fully burning, and we all came away with lessons learned and questions about what we might do differently or better next time.
What we all understood was that we had a chance to be a part of something precious and profound — that there is no perfect way to address the pain, and that only time will tell what we provided.
One thing is certain, and will be lasting, the Temple crew, David, and Maggie touched and built relationships that will go on, and we are all grateful to the people of Broward County, Coral Springs, and Parkland for the generous, human, and incredible ways they shared themselves with all of us.
We also want to thank the Cities of Coral Park and Parkland, Coral Springs Museum of Art, and Bloomberg Philanthropies for the opportunity and support to create the Temple of Time.