A Space to be Completely Ourselves: Producing NYC’s 2022 Decompression

Burners. We’re a culture of producers. It’s only ever a matter of time before each of us has to tackle cat herding and event logistics — whether we’re creating public art, concocting something small and weird for our friends, or joining a crew to engineer something much bigger than ourselves.

Just one month after many of us returned from Black Rock City (and let’s face it, some of our synapses are still a little dusty), New York City Burners threw their Decompression party — no small feat. I participated along with Burning Man’s Documentation Team, who captured the magnificent photos and footage in this post. Dreamy, NYC’s 2022 Decom, was impressive — not only in its scale and scope, but in its spirit of intimacy and inclusion.

I sat down with Shiny Galeani, Dreamy’s Lead Producer, to hear about her vision for the event, and to learn how the heck she and her crew of NYC Burners managed to pull it off just one month after returning from That Thing in the Desert.

(Video by Michael Fasman. Additional footage courtesy of Stefan Pildes.)

How was your Burn? Who were you camping with?

Rough <laughs>. I feel like that’s a pretty common answer right now for this Burn. This was my 13th burn. I’ve been going every year since 2008, which was my first year. And it was a tough year. I camp with a lot of the people who run the Midwestern Burns. So I camp with Camp SPF in the Lakes on the Playa Village.

What was your role with this year’s NYC Decompression? What did it involve?

I was the lead producer. Initially contracting with the venue, determining a budget to stay within and creating an incredible team of people who can support each other so that we can succeed. We put out a call for leads many, many, many months ago and got a lot of really great interest. Then I provided all of the questionnaires and quizzes and whatnot for people who are interested in participating. I shared those with all of our leads and we were able to get a ton of great performers and volunteers. Our volunteers filled up really quickly, so we kept making more spaces for more and more volunteers. And then day of [the event], I’m the “onsite everything.” I try to share my brain with as many people as possible so if I’m not there, other people can be me.

Shiny and Harvey: Disco Kitty mutant vehicle by Evan Collier, Benjamin Jones, Shiny Galeani and Tiff Porter (Photo by Ted Philipp)

NYC Decompression recently came back after a multi-year break.

In 2009 it went on hiatus.

What was the journey like to bring back New York Decom after almost a decade?

Decom officially came back in 2018. I kind of got pitched the idea a few years ago about the concept of Decom coming back and I immediately said yes. I got brought on as a coordinator and two of our Regional Contacts at the time took the lead as producers. The venue was in the city at a building that they were going to demo a month later. So we had this great opportunity to throw a party in the city in Manhattan.

We live so far away from the playa and so much of the New York Burner scene is about nightlife — DJs and just dancing until 4 am. That’s not how I experience Burning Man. My Burning Man experience is much more about people and art. So living in a city where that’s not often an opportunity that we get to have, especially with other Burners, has been really hard. I wanted a place where I could be around people and enjoy art and each other.

(Photo by Aaron Hurvitz)

And then in 2022 you stepped up to lead the event.

This year I decided to take more on. I wanted to oversee and stay in that lane. It felt amazing to take on a lot of the responsibilities. It’s incredible to be able to work with people who I’d never even met who are in our Burner community — camps that I didn’t even know existed that reached out. I was like, “Wait, what do you mean you go to Burning Man? And you’re from New York?” <laughs> The best gift you can give back to the community is giving them a space to be completely themselves.

(Photo by Aaron Hurvitz)

Amazing. I really felt that. It was really gentle and sweet and playful in a very grassroots kind of a way.

It made me so happy to have that many kids there. I go to Burning Man and I love seeing kids because it changes your perspective, [you can] view things through their eyes. Having a big bunch of kids there in the afternoon was amazing. We had a much better turnout of young people this year than we did two years ago. It was great.

NYC Decom took place exactly a month after many Burners returned from Black Rock City. How did you manage to produce a decom so quickly? What were the challenges?

We’d done a fair amount of legwork before leaving to go to playa. I was gone about a month because I ended up driving a support truck to Burning Man and back for the art car that we built. So I was gone a really long time <laughs>. I would do the first [driving] shift and then as soon as the next shift would kick in, I’d have my co-pilot drive and I would get out my laptop and turn my phone on and start responding to emails and replying and jump on conference calls. So it came together really quickly.

Honestly, people were really receptive and were self starters, so it made my life a lot easier. Being able to talk to a theme camp and let them know which room they were in and say, “Go, you figure it out. I’m excited to see what you bring. You don’t need to tell me what it is. I trust you. You know, make it Burning Man.” People took ownership of their spaces and people who wanted to bring art were just excited to do it and would figure it out when they got there.

Placement changed completely because of the weather. So the day before the event, every installation and our three DJs who were going to be outside and the art car location and everything changed and everybody was game, “Okay, it’s all gotta change, let’s change it.”

(Photo by Tad Philipp)

And the Man effigy was… delightful. How did it come together?

The effigy this year was amazing. The effigy we had in 2019 was magical and unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed, ever. We had a balloon Man that we lowered and everyone popped together and it was… It blew my mind, blew my hair back in all the best ways.

For 2022 we couldn’t think of anything. We kept brainstorming for weeks about what we could do after we found out we couldn’t get balloons. Apparently there’s a shortage of balloons, Who knew? So we were brainstorming and brainstorming.

We had some ideas. What if it was made out of string and we all pulled strings and it undid? What if it was a pinata and we all hit it and there was a game? And that sounded like a terrible idea. Then Stefan went to an event and bumped into a couple of our friends from Kostume Kult and lamented that we couldn’t figure out anything to do. They’re artists and they were like, “Wait.” They sat down and drew up a sketch that night and the next morning at about 10 am we all got on a video call and decided: “Do it. You have less than two weeks.” <laughs>

The venue was magical. Venues like that just don’t exist anymore. How did that space facilitate the kind of event you wanted to create?

That’s our last one. I dunno what I’m gonna do if it ever goes away. They’re really open and they are happy to let us make it weird <laughs>. They’ve been incredible to work with both this year and in 2019 in embracing and letting us choose how it goes. As long as it’s safe, we can do whatever we want. They attend and they’re always so happy at the end of the night to see it because it’s so unlike other events that happen there. Because we do it so differently, it’s something that opens their eyes a bit about the opportunities of their space.

(Photo by Gurps Chawla)

How is event production different within a Burning Man context than in the… non-Burning-Man world?

I work in event production in the default world. I feel like a lot of people work what they’re worth. So if they’re getting paid a certain amount, that’s what they work. Whereas in Burner culture, you work what you want, you work because it’s the thing you want to do. You want to see the space get finished so you can see people’s eyes light up when they walk in. Versus outside of that, when you’re done with your job, you walk away; you’re working for a client. At Burner events, the whole goal is that the people you care about and the people you call family have a great time. People will work so hard for the look in someone’s eyes when they see the space that we’ve all made together. It’s radically different.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Big props to all the theme camps that came out. It was super important to me that we had camps involved this year. And big thank you to our fire performers who performed in the pouring rain. I was standing fire perimeter for them. So we all suffered together <laughs>. I mean, just thank you to everybody who showed up for their volunteer shifts, ‘cause we can’t do it without them. Thank you to all the Rangers who stayed up late to make sure that it was a safe environment and worked really well with security. Yeah, everybody was great.

Cover image: NYC Decompression effigy (Photo by Gurps Chawla)

About the author: Kirsten Weisenburger

Kirsten Weisenburger

Misadventures led Kirsten Weisenburger (aka kbot) to Black Rock City in 2004. She was captivated and hoodwinked into organizing theme camps, rangering and participating in Regional Events. As Communications Strategist, Kirsten works across the organization and global community gathering stories and writing for the Burning Man Journal, the Jackrabbit Speaks, and the annual Dispatch. She went to journalism school in the 1990s and then spent two decades at startups and digital agencies.

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