Where the audience participation at most festivals is limited to singing back a chorus, at Burning Man, the audience makes the festival what they want it to be with their own artwork, cars, and style of dress.
Burning Man’s origins trace back to 1986 at San Francisco’s Baker Beach, where Larry Harvey, Jerry James and other friends got together to burn a nine-foot wooden man in addition to a smaller wooden dog. The tradition continued, and almost 30 years later the attendance has gone from under a dozen to over 65,000.
The festival takes place in a desert, and sandy as it may be, everything is done outdoors. The art, the music, the raves, even the sleeping and transportation. Festival-goers get around on decorated bikes in outrageous outfits, and it is safe to say that everyone will leave the festival covered in sand and dirt.
One of the beautiful parts about Burning Man is the vast community that it brings together. Friends and family may venture in together, but who they meet inside is entirely up to them. You do not go to Burning Man to be shy and hide in your tent the entire time–it is all about exploring, meeting new people, marveling at art and letting yourself be free. During your exploration you will find that many camps have their own little attractions set up, such as a beautifully-ironic shoe shine that ends with you stepping right back into the sand. Throw caution to the wind and go dance by yourself, wander the campgrounds and meet strangers that you may or may not ever see again.
A vital aspect of the festival are “The 10 Principles of Burning Man.” These are not as much rules as they are guidelines, or a “reflection of the community’s ethos and culture.”
1. Radical Inclusion: Everyone is welcome, no prerequisites required.
2. Gifting: Gift-giving is unconditional and does not require a return or exchange.
3. Decommodification: Burning Man works to create an environment free from commercial sponsorships and advertising, protecting the culture from exploitation.
4. Radical Self-Reliance: Allow yourself to discover, exercise and rely on your inner resources.
5. Radical Self-Expression: Your self-expression is a gift, determined by only yourself, to others.
6. Communal Effort: Burning Man values creative cooperation and collaboration, as well as communication.
7. Civic Responsibility: Responsibility must be assumed in conducting events in accordance with local, state and federal laws.
8. Leaving No Trace: Leave a place cleaner than you found it, and nothing comes in that does not come out.
9. Participation: Everyone is invited to work and play. The world becomes real through actions that open the heart.
10. Immediacy: Through our experiences we overcome barriers that stand between us, and no idea can substitute for this experience.
The theme of Burning Man’s art changes every year. Pieces that may have taken years to create are burned down in seconds, but that burning is not catastrophic or detrimental; it is peaceful.
To experience the Burning Man movement before the actual event, you can preview at their website a wonderful collection of everything that is Burning Man: art, music, expression and pure bliss.