What Is It About Burning Man?
Why does Burning Man sell 30,000 tickets in the first 30 minutes they’re on sale?
Why do people value this experience so much?
It’s not the playa, which is a blank slate. It’s not the sparkle pony costumes, or the accommodations. You could have the same camping experience in a much more hospitable environment. And you can see the same kind of wild costuming almostanywhere in the Bay Area. It’s not just the art. If it were just that, our museums would always be packed. It’s not even the sense of community, although that is a strong part of the draw for many. Most of us belong to social groups in other parts of our lives.
At Burning Man, you are in the world of artists, of people making art. Burning Man was conceived by artists, for their own pleasure and the entertainment of each other. It's not the products that these artists give us, the art itself, that is so compelling. It's being in the milieu of the people who make it.
Burning Man has been, since 1990, a philosophical, cultural, and visual De Vinci's Workshop—artists working together to make the civilization of their dreams.
What Is It About Artists?
People love being in artistic environments without even knowing why. There are many reasons, including some I haven't thought of yet. Here are a few:
Artists are completely authentic. They have to be themselves, absolutely original. They don't want to be like anyone else, which makes it fine for everyone to be themselves in their company.
In the world of artists, there is something more important than money. They need it to survive in the world, so they have to think about it. But they are much more concerned with creating a thing you will love.
The artist's greatest desire is to produce the music, book, painting, sculpture, or performance that will completely wow you. People in the arts have always been part of the natural gifting economy.
With half of artists' minds in the practical world, and half lost in the realm of what no one has ever seen, heard, or read before, artists have little bandwidth for conventions. Unconventional environments let everyone relax, because there are no expectations.
Watching an artist work triggers our creative impulses, as we anticipate their next moves.
There is a buzz in the air of artistic communities, all those minds concentrating on things that are new, moving, powerful, and original.
And in this age of mass and robotic production, the bespoke is increasingly an object of desire. For artists, every work is one of a kind.
For these reasons and more, people are drawn to places where artists live and work. They want to be in the presence of the creative buzz. Every great city districts famous of its artists has beome a highly desirable place to live, and as a result, few artists remain. Think Montmartre, Greenwich Village, Mitte—and in San Francisco, North each, the Mission, SOMA, or the Haight.
As artists are displaced from the districts they made fascinating, they take with them those qualities that make tickets to Burning Man so valuable: authenticity, originality, generosity of spirit, and unconventionality.
People have always loved the milieu of artists and wanted to be part of those places. The most prestigious men's club in the country, The Bohemian Club, was started by a group of artists and writers for themselves. The club, and its Burning Man equivalent, the Bohemian Grove, now only has famous artist members—or associate members invited to join because, for example, the string quartet needs a viola player.
Cities full of artists, like Black Rock City, compel us, entertain us, and inspire us. Cities devoid of artists suffer. They're less relaxed, more divisive, and more combative, as we see now in the city of San Francisco.
On the other hand, when a city has a large and diverse community of people in the arts, every day contains the essence of the Burning Man experience. Towards this end, I've started a nonprofit, Bohemia Redux, to provide artists' live/work spaces and venues in the city.
As a native San Franciscan, I grew up in a culture of artistic innovation. In my lifetime, a dozen art movements of global consequence flourished here. The last great development in the arts here was Burning Man, which was planned, in the early years, in my living room.
As the city has grown more expensive, artists have been priced out or evicted. It's been international news, especially in countries that value what artists do and give them stipends. We've replaced our artists with different kinds of innovators, but we've also taken something vital away. Bohemia Redux wants to fix this.
The "social fabric" is a subtle, organic thing. Each player has a role, and what artists do is keep people sane. There are reasons why we're attracted to places artists come together, why we come to Burning Man. It only makes sense to provide affordable places fo artists to live, work, and play, making the rush of being at Burning Man accessible every day.
It's up to nonprofits and philanthropy to do this. Fortunately, the Bohemia Redux project is good for everyone. The city benefits from the the fix of an international scandal. The artists get to return to the city that inspired them. And for philanthropists, there are the evident tax advantages,prestige, goodwill, and a profit on the investment. This is a high social impact project that will receive a lot of international interest.
This is how Bohemia Redux works:
We encourage those who need to show losses for tax puroses to buy a building and lease it to the nonprofit at a nominal rate. At the end of 10 years, when the tax benefit ends, the non-profit buys the building at a pre-arranged price. We particularly want buildings zoned residential and commercial. Commercial spaces provide venues for the residents' work and other businesses that contribute to the nonprofit fund.
If you would like to see a business plan, please contact me:
P Segal, mspsegal at gmail dot com, @mspsegal
Cover art: Lizzy Laynewww.lizzylayne.com
Glass: Java Flame Glass, javisima at gmail dot com, @JavaFlameGlass