The Power of Gathering: Sparking Connections, Creativity, and Civic Action

In today’s hyper-connected digital world, the art of convening — bringing people together in person for dialogue and discovery — is vitally important for our well-being and a powerful catalyst for creativity and innovation. It’s why the nonprofit Burning Man Project collaborates year-round with the community to produce convenings, gatherings, and of course immersive events like Black Rock City. It’s why we support the community around the world in creating more than 80 official Regional Events, and why we produce gatherings like the European Leadership Summit which just recently took place in Tallinn, Estonia.

Art and community engagement breakout session at 2024 ELS in Tallinn, Estonia (Photo by $teven Ra$pa)

Pille Heido, one of the event’s Tallinn-based organizers, summarized the benefit of connections made at ELS. “It was basically playa magic happening in our very own homes. It was evident when you looked around the room at any given moment how much energy it gave to everyone, and what it actually meant for the local community here,” she said.

So many doors open when people convene in person. 

Israeli ELS participant Baroch spoke about being part of a collective with the shared purpose of building a better world. “There have been many things that I take with me from the ELS. First and foremost is a very strong sense of connectedness and being a part of a [community] that is making a big effort to stay with all the challenges and all the devastating things that happen in reality. [We’re] trying to create a better version of reality and a better version of how we live on this planet, how we care for each other and see the best of each other”

Shouting Fire radio host Steve Mann has been to several editions of the ELS, where he records playful conversations with participants. By mingling in person with this globally-dispersed cohort of innovative humans, he learns creative approaches to universal challenges. “Community and leadership skills are something I’ve been building. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to come to the ELS. These are people who lead a crazy bunch of communities all around the world — and how do they do it? They still run into the same conflicts or issues or challenges that you would in any job. Coming here and just listening to the communication and the very openness and the very positive mindset… I feel refreshed and inspired again.”

The Burning Man LIVE podcast episode “Burning in Europe: Stories of Home” features recorded conversations from Burning Man’s 2024 European Leadership Summit, where folks gathered in Estonia to connect, teach, learn and conjure ideas for the future.

At the 2024 ELS, Burners without Borders (the civic action arm of Burning Man Project and a global network of local Chapters that support communities in becoming resilient) revived their popular Civic Ignition Grants, which fund innovative community and civic projects. Grants are pitched, discussed and decided in real time in workshops at Regional convenings, including this year at the European Leadership Summit (ELS) and South Eastern Roundtable (SERT). Other 2024 Civic Ignition Grants will be awarded at the Multi-Regional Summit and Burners of New Zealand and Australia (BONZA).

The impact of these civic projects is far reaching. South Eastern Roundtable participants chose: Neurospicy Creators Space, a sensory-friendly art space designed for the neurodivergent community; and The Intersection, a weekly writing collective that gathers housed and homeless participants. 

At the ELS, participants selected “Temple of Re:creation,” from Ukraine, a collaborative land art project that will bring women together to heal from the impacts of war in their country. “Temple of Re:creation” is the brainchild of Anna Kroitor, steward of a rural eco center in central Ukraine, and her friend filmmaker Eva Neidlinger.

Anna explained the purpose of her women-run retreat space. “I want them to have a space where they can just breathe and see some green, take a little time out. The idea is to do an artistic residency run by women for women in times of war. We thought it would be nice to combine it with art and regenerative solutions. ‘Temple of Re:creation’ will be a simple construction, a symbol or sanctuary for the community. We’re super lucky to have support from the Burning Man community,” Anna continued. “It allows us to get the tools and the materials that we need for construction.”

Streetopia in Cape Town, 2023 (Photo by Richard Ahlstrom – StvdioɅ)

Gatherings within the global Burning Man community are renowned for their wild creativity and forward-thinking innovation. When ideas spark between two or more people — whether in a conference room, on a dance floor, or atop of a rubber duck art car — they can create ripples that positively impact communities well beyond.

That’s exactly what happens when more than 9,000 humans come together annually to create AfrikaBurn — South Africa’s Regional Burn. Through connections built at AfrikaBurn and within the local South African community, Burners teamed up with Cape Town residents and civic organizations for Streetopia, a free one-day arts event.

Lorraine Tanner, AfrikaBurn’s Director of Development, explains: “The streets are turned into a blank canvas where artists, performers, buskers, residents and kids can enjoy the open spaces and do their thing. Keeping it villagey, intimate, spontaneous, open to collaboration, a space for causes… the event’s broad aim is to create a safer street culture.” 

Tanner points to the cross-pollination of ideas at AfrikaBurn as being essential for the creativity and problem-solving that made it possible to serve the greater good with Streetopia.

Listen to “Monique Schiess and AfrikaBurn” on the Burning Man LIVE podcast for an enlightening exploration into the world-changing power of play, among other things, in a conversation with AfrikaBurn’s co-founder and co-producer.

Traveling Hedgehog gathering at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany, 2022 (Photo by @hfotos_)

From the establishment of South Africa’s Streetopia to the creation and travels of a spiky illuminated Hedgehog in Europe, creativity is bringing people together in unexpected and awe-inspiring ways. 

In 2019 Estonia’s Burning Man community came together to imagine and build the country’s very first mutant vehicle. The Traveling Hedgehog (Reisiv Siil) voyaged all the way to Black Rock City, then returned to become an epicenter for regular gatherings in the community — affectionately called Hedgehog Parties. 

A great example of convenings building connection, inspiring creativity and civic action, the Hedgehog has also toured Europe, sharing its stage with revelers in Germany, Denmark, Finland and Sweden. In 2024 the city of Tartu, Estonia, was named the European Capital of Culture. To usher in a year of celebrating culture, this historic city hosted a grand opening parade featuring, among other cultural marvels, the Traveling Hedgehog, supported and surrounded by Estonian Burners and the local community.

Effigy burn at Fuego Austral in Buenos Aires, Argentina, 2024 (Photo courtesy of FuegoAustral.org)

The importance of coming together goes to the heart of what it means to be human. Burning Man-style gatherings remind us that we are not alone in our struggles or aspirations. Whether they are global summits or local community gatherings that foster neighborhood projects, these events are essential. In the act of coming together, we find the strength to change our world for the better.

“Burning Man teaches us that we are not alone; we are part of a vast, interconnected web of humanity.” – Larry Harvey

We’d love to hear from you! Share your perspective on the transformative power of gathering — drop a comment below.

Burning Man Project is a 501c3 nonprofit and its programming and events are made possible thanks to your support! Make a donation today. We are grateful for your support and to all those who work alongside us to advance a more creative, connected and thriving world. 


Cover image of European Leadership Summit participants from all over the world in Tallinn, Estonia, 2024 (Photo by Mark Nixon)

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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