Each year’s Regional Contacts AfterBurn report seems to begin with a statement about what an exciting year it was for the program and once again, when reviewing 2003, exciting is the first word that comes to mind. The program continues to evolve in scale and scope, currently boasting 85 regional contacts serving 35 of the United States and eight other countries throughout the world. (Dozens of hopefuls in another six states and five countries await interviews.) The Burning Man Project again increased its dedication to providing the network with the resources and encouragement it needs to flourish and grow.
The challenge of keeping up with this evolving program reaches beyond managing administrative tasks, such as providing the ever-larger number of Regionals with their web pages, lists, and email aliases. The Regional Network itself is evolving along with our community’s efforts to organize, and that means providing more support for those efforts over time. Burning Man gives support in many forms, such as advice on how to navigate past obstacles to an event permit, information on legal issues and insurance, and actual representation at regional events to assist and advise. We continue our endeavor to share our institutional information as widely and as clearly as we can, to best benefit regional groups and those who are trying to gather community at the local level.
With the evolution of the Regional groups’ needs and our responses to them, a clear need has emerged for formalization of the relationship between Burning Man and the Regional Contacts. The first step in this formalization happened on the playa. In addition to our yearly thank-you party for the Regionals during the event, Burning Man hosted a Regional Summit in 2003 attended by nearly 40 participants in the program. At this event, Larry Harvey presented his ?Open Letter to the Regionals,? a document outlining Burning Man’s plans to formalize a network among these groups and forge connections that make it stronger than the sum of its parts. Included in this document was an announcement of an upcoming ?Letter of Agreement? that will form a legal relationship between each Regional Contact and the Project, establishing a written understanding of the verbal agreement made between the two at each Regional?s interview
While the coordination team worked throughout 2003 to add new Regionals in places as nearby as Fargo, North Dakota, and as far away as Taiwan and Japan, its members also spent the last half of the year developing this Letter of Agreement. As of the writing of the report for this page, the agreement was in its final stage of revisions, and the team was preparing for its rollout. This will mark the beginning of the new Regional Network. The network will not only support more kinds of connectivity locally and year-round, but it is expected to begin its own evolution alongside the Black Rock Arts Foundation to facilitate the movement of interactive art wherever the network can reach. A team of five Burning Man staff members have worked since the event to develop this letter and the new offerings it implies for the Regional Network. As a result, all new regional interviews have had to wait ?on hold? during this transitional period. During this time, 30 new people have expressed interest in taking on regional roles in their hometowns! In order to keep up with the needs of this ever-increasing group of motivated volunteers, other staff members’ involvement increased to help support the Communications department staff who have traditionally managed the program. Many people have contributed various types of administrative and business assistance to this large and dynamic program.
Development also continues on the Film Festival in a Box, a collection of Burning Man films to be made available to Regionals to help them gather community in their areas. A successful test run in Santa Cruz, California, in October attracted 350 to 400 people to view film clips from various documentaries and programs about Burning Man. Along with the development of the Letter of Agreement, bringing this offering into being presents various legal challenges. Work continues ?under the hood? to prepare this resource for availability to the Regional Network, with launch expected in 2004.
The last year also brought Burning Man staffers to assist with several regional events. Two representatives from the Regional team traveled to New York and Los Angeles – at the request of the Regionals in those cities – to help, advise and give support during planning of their Decompression events. Both cities’ Regional teams reported benefits from experienced staff members answering questions and helping to guide the process, improving their ability to pull off these large-scale events. Burning Man continues to endeavor, through staff contact and informational resources, to make our knowledge base available to those who seek to organize people at the local level.
Burning Man’s commitment to the Regional Network stems from our belief the event in the desert is just the beginning of the Burning Man experience. With so many new tools and programs being added to this network, our 2004 Regional AfterBurn report is quite likely to begin the way that the report has begun each year: When it comes to connecting to other participants year-round and at home, these are very exciting times.
Andie Grace, aka Actiongrl