It’s astounding to think we began 2020 much like any other year, rolling out of bed on New Year’s Day, a little bleary-eyed after ringing in celebrations all over the world. Writing today from the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems almost impossible that we were together so easily, so recently.
Yet here we are, adapting and co-creating new ways to work, play, and support one another during a pandemic that has severely limited our collective ability to thrive. All the things we learned over three decades of building community have brought us to this moment. It is a testament to the power of our collective resourcefulness, creativity, resiliency, and capacity for mutual support.
The yearly AfterBurn is our story of the year that was, as experienced by the dedicated staff who produce Black Rock City and support the global culture that emanates from our remarkable, ephemeral desert city. (We do not differentiate between paid employees and volunteers. In this context, staff = volunteers and employees, both seasonal and year-round.)
Let us break it down for you, and yes, we are going to use the p-word: PIVOT (maybe just once). In early spring 2020, we were gearing up to produce an 80,000-person event in one of the world’s most inhospitable ecosystems. In response to the new world we found ourselves in, Burning Man Project and the global community pivoted overnight into connecting virtually — via pixels, ether, and a lot of hope.
We offered up social, emotional, and logistical support, and developed human-powered systems that enabled us all to push into brave, new creative realms. They say this pandemic advanced many organizations’ digital strategies several years; we would argue that it took us into an entirely new realm — the Multiverse.
Our staff of intrepid collaborators made it happen, day after day. We refocused overnight to a distributed workforce that engineered lasting change around environmental sustainability, diversity and Radical Inclusion, local community resilience, storytelling, and digital convening. These are a lot of big words that stand for huge projects we advanced with blood, sweat, tears, and a steady flow of playa magic.
What Are We Most Proud of This Year?
Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, Burners Without Borders joined forces with more than a dozen decentralized databases to create the most comprehensive database of PPE needs and offers in the US, connecting people to 2.5 million units.
Recycle Camp launched a fundraiser that generated $15,000 for the Gerlach K-12 School — three times what they normally donate from cashing in Black Rock City’s recycled cans. Not content with letting the MOOP settle, our Environmental Restoration Manager DA walked 85 miles — all the way from Wadsworth to the Black Rock Desert, cleaning up the highway and raising funds every step of the way. Thanks to you, DA’s Black Rock MOOPATHON raised $31,000 to fund a solar powered Man Pavilion in Black Rock City 2021 and beyond.
We came together as a global community and BURNED at home, with close friends and family, while cultivating new friendships, experiences, and myriad possibilities across the abundantly flourishing Recognized Universes of the Burning Man Multiverse. During Burn Week, tens of thousands of Burners from 148 countries worked, played, celebrated and created across 10 standalone Multiversal experiences — exploring everything from VR playas to over-the-top Zoom parties, virtual Temples to beautifully-rendered virtual Honoraria art installations.
Burning Man Project built our own community-funding platform and worked tirelessly to launch the SAVE BLACK ROCK CITY campaign. More than 21,000 generous humans came forward to help us make it through 2020, donating more than $5 million to stoke the engine and ignite the next Black Rock City production cycle.
We burned the Man. In a ceremony orchestrated by a dedicated skeleton crew, we built and raised by hand our 2020 Man, then live streamed a surprise Burn to the world. The Man Burn was viewed 120,000 times on channels and devices around the globe. On the same day, 32,000 Burners around the world participated in Burn Night: Live From Home — a 24-hour live stream of effigy burns and celebrations from New Zealand to Hawaii, Denmark to Argentina, and everywhere in between.
And we did it all with financial constraints. It’s no small feat to keep this complex human ecosystem running without our raison d’etre and main source of revenue. Even with a prudent reserve, and cost reductions everywhere, Burning Man Project made it happen on a limited budget, aware that every decision we made impacted our future.
We’re proud of YOU. With only digital tools, imagination, and the power of community, we pulled together to support each other, co-creating radical expressions of Burning Man culture in a dangerous and extraordinary time. During a year when the world asked so much of each and every one of us, we continued doing what we do best — imagining new ways for humanity to live, create, celebrate, and grow.
Welcome to the 2020 AfterBurn.