Immediately after each year’s event, planning and reorganization begin, especially for the art submission questionnaire. Artists complete a form on the Burning Man web site, and their answers are recorded in a database. The structure of web form and the database must mesh, so questions correspond to answers. The Art team creates this form to gather as much information as possible so we can understand exactly what an artist will create at the event. The Art Department is here to facilitate participants’ creativity, because we do believe that anyone can create art.

The major change for the questionnaire in 2003 dealt with modifying classifications of fire effects. The Performance Safety Team (PST) is the oversight group created to assist those creating art with fire, flame effects, or pyro. As creative minds experiment with new forms of fire art, the PST must remain ready to adapt to those changes. The new fire art classifications have been created to help the PST determine the severity of danger and inherent hazards associated with each artwork, and to determine whether the artist truly understands what they are proposing. The artist must read and understand the safety issues associated with any fire effect to be used before they can answer the questions that relate to that effect. If specific questions are not answered, the questionnaire does not accept the submission. At least this was the way it was intended to work. Because of a glitch in the system, some participants answered only part of the questions and provided insufficient detail. The Art team then had to follow up with more questions, and this process presented the team with extra work.

Art and theme camp questionnaires should open to the public at the same time. If someone is submitting both questionnaires, the common deadline makes economical use of their time. In 2003, this date was slated for March 1. Because of the need to revamp the flame questions, the Art Department was nearly 3 weeks late in opening the questionnaire. In 2004 we are pushing for an earlier opening date to be in synch with the theme camp form.

Mapping all artwork to be placed on the open playa is an essential part of preparations before the Art team arrives on the event site. This map is not unlike a game plan for football or choreography for a dance routine. We have learned throughout the Burning Man Project that better organization before we hit the playa helps us to better accommodate anything that might come up at the last minute.

Since 1999, a grid system has overlaid the preliminary plan for the city. We have found that this grid works so well for planning that we still use it today.

The Man’s position defines the geographic center where Black Rock City survey starts. Streets radiate out from the Man through the city to the trash fence, and concentric circle streets intersect them, spaced 200 feet apart. Each year we start with a giant plan of the city (6 feet by 6 feet), attached to a wall in the San Francisco office. For the next 5 months, one by one, names and images of artwork start appearing on and next to the map.

The layout of Black Rock City and the theme dictate the art layout. In 1996, the first promenade, defined by rows of light spires, stretched from Center Camp to the Man. For 2002, the promenade continued 2100 feet beyond the Man to the site of David Best’s Temple of Joy. In 2003, mapping expanded to include a new promenade across the city between the 9 and 3 o’clock plazas, all marked with light spires. Theme art is placed all along these promenades. Playa art not related to the theme is mapped between the city and the walkways. Both theme and playa art pieces are mapped out in the deep playa. Most art is mapped before the event starts, while some artists wait until they arrive on the playa to decide where their art will rest. All installations are mapped, ensuring adequate space around them to avoid sound and light interference and to provide adequate distance for fire safety.

August 1 is our standard date for closing submissions to give the team enough time to prepare for and move everything to the desert. People can continue to create art for display at Burning Man, though. We do give the option for participants to print the questionnaire and fill in the information, then bring it to the desert with their artwork. These unregistered projects are called “walk-ins.”


About this photo...The Artery is the headquarters in Center Camp for the Art team. The name was coined for the 2000 event, with the theme The Body. Every work of art on the open playa flows through this group, so it seemed to be a very fitting title, and the name stuck. In 2003, our headquarters on the playa sported a fresh new look. Shade structure supports were painted red, with plans and drawings decorating the walls. Several artists contributed additional art: photographs, cast-cement flowering plant sculptures, a Spirit Door, raku pots. One visionary artist from Los Angeles allowed us to use one of his landscapes as the background for our new sign. The Artery was always thronged with people, including several interviewers from radio stations and magazines as well as photographers and artists new to Burning Man who wanted to get involved.

The task of processing art at Burning Man takes an organized team. Base camp operations staff greet artists and begin placement for all art (registered or walk-ins) making sure that information is correct, then maintaining and updating the map. Field operatives escort artists to their spots, register GPS coordinates, and communicate back to base camp operations, all while keeping an eye out for renegade art that has bypassed the appropriate process. The art documentation team keeps notes on all installations and photographs them; this group also gathers Material Culture archives and accompanying paperwork. The assembly team decorates the Artery, unpacks the container and building, and helps as much as possible with the shade structure. They then mark the sites for all pre-registered art on the open playa. The dismantle team removes the Artery base station: Roll up carpets, fold up tables, take down the map, store all documentation and notes in bins, store Material Culture archives as needed, create inventory list. Our volunteer coordinator encouraged involvement by several new participants who brought extremely helpful attitudes. A few on-site volunteers worked with us daily and quickly became solid members of our team.

The Art team has blossomed into a well-organized, cohesive group with several new functions in 2003. The team came up with the idea of leading art tours and obtained two vehicles for this purpose. Team members studied selected theme art installations and gave informative talks about art across the playa. The tours were very popular with participants, and each one was full to capacity. In addition, we led a tour of fire art on Friday night. We found the tours to be so popular that plans are in the works to expand next year. For another great accomplishment, one of our volunteers became the coordinator of the Art Support Services team, which organizes heavy equipment assistance for artists.

We encountered several challenges, along with our successes. Traffic in the Artery was high, and we experienced a bottleneck of visitors waiting for help. Next year, we plan to assign specific tasks to staff members. “Artery Team greeters” will answer general questions, “dispatchers” will work on special needs, and a “go-to” person will pick up all the small details.

By the time the 2003 event ended, out of 196 pieces of pre-registered artwork, 21 never checked in with us. Adding 86 walk-ins means that a total of 261 works of art were placed by the Artery team. As more participants find their own ways to contribute, the rise in art installations will continue.

When people direct energy toward creating art, they need to complete their statement by cleaning their sites. The Art team emphasizes Leave No Trace when communicating with artists, but we still feel that people have different understandings. We aim for zero burn scars on the playa surface every year, and even though Burning Man has the best record for cleaning up events on public lands, we have trouble communicating the importance of this problem. Protecting the land where we play, create art, and live is our most important responsibility, more so even than creating art. Burn scars are created when anything is set aflame without some kind of protection on the playa surface, sometimes they cannot be avoided. In 2003, we attempted to take Leave No Trace to the next step by offering tools to the artists to improve the clean-up process. Metal barrels were offered to hold burn debris, and they were somewhat helpful, but this change did not go far enough. Each year artists get better than before about cleaning their sites, but some projects always take extra energy to make disappear just because of the intensity of heat they generate. In 2003, we had to deal with fewer than five burn scars, three of which were from major art installations. With major artwork that produces high heat, we must strive to increase the help we give artists to create the protection their pieces need.

Submitted by.
Crimson Rose and LadyBee

*Starting in 2003, we have combined the Art Placement, Art Submissions and Art Team and Artery Reports.