Meeting the Moment: What We’re Doing in a Year Without Black Rock City

Since it became clear we would not be gathering in the dust in 2020, we’ve been listening to you, our community, in addition to strategizing and contingency planning on how best to meet this moment. As we picked ourselves up, pulled on our goggles and dust masks, and committed to facing these challenging times head on, we’ve received countless loving messages of support and offers of help, as well as inquiries into how we have pivoted our priorities in a year that we are not laying the canvas for Black Rock City. We’ve also been asked for continued updates on our financial situation (see this newly published piece for a financial report as of July 2020). To answer all of these great questions (and more!), we’re sharing the long and short of where we are as an organization, what we’re focusing on, and where we’re headed as we get through this dust storm. We may not see you in the desert this year, but Burning Man is needed around the world more than ever!

Our Current Priorities

Multiverse on Kindling

As we came to terms with the idea that we would not be shoulder-to-shoulder with you physically building BRC together this summer, we knew that our collective drive to co-create and get funky together hadn’t diminished. Despite bodily separation, our need to be together is more pressing than ever. So this summer, we launched Kindling, our new portal for live events and content streaming from all corners of the Burnerverse. We’re excited to share with you the wild and wooly Universes of the Multiverse that are being independently produced by members of the Burning Man community as we speak. Just as in Black Rock City, we know that building an experience is as much fun as living it, and that communal effort is its own reward. Visit Kindling to explore the Universes and learn how you can participate and co-create.

Diversity and Radical Inclusion

We are embracing this moment as an opportunity to step up as both an organization and a culture. We have committed to deepening our understanding of institutional and systemic racism and addressing instances of intolerance within our community. In our statement on racial justice and Radical Inclusion, we share that we are committed to listening, reflecting, and acting. We also published a piece on the Black Lives Matter movement, produced a “Racial & Radical Inclusion: What Can Burners Do?” episode on the new Burning Man Live podcast, published a special edition Racial Justice and Radical Inclusion Jackrabbit Speaks, are publishing an ongoing series on diversity and Radical Inclusion in the Burning Man Journal, and are amplifying voices of color across all of our channels.

We know that putting out statements is not enough. Some concrete, actionable steps we’re taking are: implementing unconscious bias and antiracism training for staff, facilitating discussions and weekly conversations around racial justice for all layers of our community from staff to the broader Burning Man world. We are also bringing together a group of community leaders who have spent years focusing on this work. With their guidance, we’re roadmapping more ways Burning Man Project and Black Rock City can actively practice anti-racism, work towards better representation of people of color in Burning Man spaces, and more. We will have a more thorough update on this important topic very soon.

Supporting our Community and the Volunteer Network

In 2020, the Burning Man community is bigger, stronger, more resilient, and more global than ever before; depending on who you ask, we’re at least a million strong. We have begun providing extra support to our core contributors during this difficult time and we have been investing in new resources to keep the community connected, in particular the people who would be building Black Rock City. We rely on more than 11,000 amazing, dedicated humans to step up and build and support the infrastructure of Black Rock City. Year-round trainings and interaction with volunteer teams (including the ARTery, Emergency Services Department, Rangers, Department of Mutant Vehicles, Greeters, Earth Guardians, Department of Public Works, and many others) are vital to cohesion, and for developing the necessary skills and collaboration for Black Rock City and Regional Events. In addition, our education and learning leadership team is working on a variety of opportunities and experiences to support staff and our global Burning Man community that will be available later this fall.

Over the last few months, we’ve doubled down on ways to stay connected to and support  our broader community in new ways, such as offering counseling and listening circles. We’re spotlighting community-building activities in the time of COVID (check out this page) and hosting summits, weekly podcasts, and storytelling series to support connection. Burners are learning to support each other in new ways. From sharing mutual aid practices and peer-to-peer wealth distribution tools for Burners, we’re trying our best to keep up with all of your wild and beautiful ideas and spread the word through all of our channels.

Local Initiatives and Community Resilience

Year-round civic engagement work, including within the global Regional Network and by Burners Without Borders (BWB) groups and Black Rock City theme camps, is going strong! Through convening collaborative workshops, disseminating information, and supporting stewardship of our culture, these active Burners are leading the way for positive social change. No Spectators here! BWB continues to lead an active response to COVID-19, hosting weekly online “Community Roundups” that are open to everyone, highlighting projects Burners are organizing to address COVID-19 and supporting the distribution of PPE supplies to communities in need. Ongoing updates and conversations are happening in our BWB WorldwideGroups on both Facebook and Slack. BWB is also supporting the collection and distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE). These networks are in regions all over the world, and are growing the material solidarity and relationships across class, race and community lines that will be essential for the long haul.

Environmental Sustainability

We’re proudly implementing our Environmental Sustainability Roadmap. With the gift of “pause” in 2020 (some say BRC 2020 will be the greenest event yet!), it’s essential we maintain momentum toward realizing the ambitious goals in the Roadmap. We recently had two informative events for the community to be updated on progress and provide input. A formal update was published on the first anniversary of the Roadmap, July 20, 2020. When the pandemic emerged, the Fly Ranch Land Art Generator Initiative had already kicked off the call for design competition submissions. We’re also excited about a new project on the horizon aimed at replacing fuel-based Black Rock City systems like generators with solar arrays. More to come!

Support for Burning Man Artists

We’re excited to use this year as an opportunity to further support Burning Man artists through  storytelling and education projects. ArtSpeaks is our new artist storytelling series that amplifies visibility to artists by illuminating their work for the wider world. The show explores never-before-told stories behind favorite BRC art pieces and shares what those artists are up to now — including sneak peeks into their studios, building processes, and inspirations. Ever wondered about the amazing backstories behind the art and artists? Curious about how you can build things yourself? You are warmly invited to join the next gathering! Our education and capacity-building project will empower artists and community members to teach and learn from one another via a collaborative, playa-flavored, art-based curriculum. Everything from “Heavy Equipment 101,” to tips for receiving an art grant, to “Designing for Civic Placement” will be featured!

Strengthening Alliances with Public Agency Decision-Makers

During this time we are also responding to a number of untenable demands from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management that would jeopardize our future ability to gather in the Black Rock Desert. Our aim is to reset our relationship with BLM so we can return to Black Rock City in 2021. We have agreed to sit at the table and hammer out mission-critical issues that need to be resolved in order for us to produce the event again. COVID, long-distance work, arranging for facilitators, and pending legal disputes are slowing this process, but we remain hopeful.

The Future Looks Bright

As painful as this year away from our dusty home may be, the ”great pause” that we find ourselves in (along with the rest of the world) creates real opportunities. While we can’t know what the next year has in store for us, we will help carry the torch of our culture and light the path, one lantern at a time, along the spires leading us all towards the Man. We see you, and we know that like us, you aren’t sitting this year out. That’s you — with all your snark, candor and brilliance. That’s you with your common sense to cover your mouth and nose in a dust storm and to use hand sanitizer after you visit the porta potties. Let’s just fucking carry on, reinvent what needs to be, hold onto our Principles, put our heads down in the storm and get to the next spire — are you with us?

No matter where we are, the Man will always Burn!


Top photo by Mark Mennie

About the author: Burning Man Project

Burning Man Project

The official voice of the Burning Man organization, managed by Burning Man Project's Communications Team.

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