Special Events

In 2004, Burning Man produced five community events in the Bay Area: a two-part, all day Flambe Lounge; a fantastic 3-day Fire Arts Festival; a Desert Art Preview (reinstated after a year off); the first annual p-ART-ici-PARADE!; and our Decompression gathering, the fifth annual Heat the Street FaIRE. This report reviews these achievements and looks ahead to plans for 2005.

Flambé Lounge, Sunday, May 23
Daytime theme: The Mad Scientist Olympics and Borealis BBQ
Evening theme: The Astronomers’ Ball

The organizers sincerely desired to create a gathering that could accommodate people of all ages interested in making and sharing art. We scoured San Francisco for an appropriate venue to try a new event concept. What we found was actually two venues, directly across the street from one another: The Gene Friend SoMa Recreation Center & Park and 1015 Folsom, the latter run by a Burning Man participant. The scene was set for two companion events on the same day. The all-ages Mad Scientist Olympics and Borealis BBQ took place during the day, followed by the 21 and over Astronomers’ Ball just across the street. Approximately 300 people gathered at The Gene Friend Rec Center and Park for a barbecue complete with mad scientist games and presentations by various Burning Man teams and departments. The weather was great for people to enjoy Burning Man art and day-time theme camps, and lots of kids created fun stuff in the sand box.

Later that evening, The Astronomers’ Ball, was a grand affair on three floors, with multimedia video and sound art and performances by bands, dancers, DJs, opera singers, and intergalactic oddities of innumerable varieties. The event also gave New York artist Saul Melman a chance to test eight prototype components for his playa installation, Jadu Beta.

See the Burning Man web site for details and the invitations for both events.

Fire Arts Festival, July 7-11

For years, event planners have contemplated and explored the idea of organizing a festival of fire art in the Bay Area. Finally in 2004, the Burning Man Special Events team produced a public exhibition to recognize artists working in the media of fire and light. Planning for this curated event began with an open call for submissions that would attract a wide range of exciting and cutting edge work. The event took place inside and across the street from The Crucible in Oakland. Working in collaboration with The Crucible, and with the support of the City of Oakland, the Oakland Museum of California, and the Oakland Police and Fire Departments, Fire Arts Festival 2004 opened to accolades and became a resounding success. Organizing was a tremendous amount of work to undertake, with major planning, fire safety, and permit needs to address, but in the end it was an absolute triumph for all the artists and performers who participated!

The Oakland Police and Fire departments supported our siting of the Fire Arts Fest in the 100,000-square-foot outdoor parking lot between The Crucible and the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) station. For three nights, the lot was bright with an amazing festival of fire and light artistry. The Crucible has been doing an open house highlighting fire arts inside their facility for several years, but working together we created a comprehensive West Coast exhibition and forum to showcase some of the best and BRIGHTEST fire and light artists from cities like Portland, Seattle, Los Angeles, and the greater Bay Area, plus artists from Nevada.

The art ranged from choreographed fire and light performances by groups like Infinite Kaos and Capacitor to representational fire sculpture, like Paul De Plumber’s beautiful Fire Lilly. Some works invited the public to interact directly with fire (e.g., Wally Glenn’s Fire Zen Garden and Kiki Smith’s Fire Cauldron). Some sculpture incorporated unusual technologies and flame effects (e.g., Therm, The Fire Garden and Jack Schroll’s fire jet named “El Diablo”). Nate Smith’s work showcased a technique of directly sculpting fire by hand. See the web site for full list and bios of participating artists and performers.

Fire artists have a particularly difficult time showcasing their work in public places, so we wanted to create an outdoor exhibition space where they could share their work. A fundamental goal of the Fire Arts Festival was to showcase and support artists working in this medium and to encourage greater collaboration with fire officials to do so again in the future. The full mission statement and artist application are on the web site.

While most Burning Man special events are not proactively promoted to the general public, we invested significant resources to promote this festival and invited members of the media, art collectors, and museum and gallery curators to attend as our guests. The FANTASTIC media response resulted in articles in every major newspaper in the Bay Area before and after the Fire Arts Festival. Radio and television interviews gave tremendous exposure to these artists, and we took great pride in giving fire artists their due recognition. The Fire Department and Police, along with other city officials and curators from major California museums, all were overjoyed to be there and impressed with the range and quality of the work.

Over the 3-day festival, some 3500 people came to enjoy the art. Many came in costume knowing what to expect, but attendees included many who had never visited the Black Rock Desert. Some BART riders saw the commotion and left the trains to satisfy their curiosity.

We will definitely be doing this again! We owe it to the fire arts community and to everyone who would not normally have a chance to experience the fantastic range of fire art that we have grown accustomed to experiencing at Burning Man. Our plan is to hold the next event in San Francisco and eventually to grow this event into an international urban festival.

Desert Art Preview, July 7

This year we reinstated the Desert Art Preview event, a forum for invited artists to speak about their upcoming playa projects and potentially to find volunteers interested in working with them. Artist presentations of 15 minutes each are followed by a Q&A session.

The Desert Art Preview for 2004 was held at The Crucible as a special feature night of the Fire Arts Festival. The presentation featured lectures, demos, and talks primarily by artists working in the mediums of fire and light. This event is free to all ages and open to the public.

The 2004 event included presentations by artists: Russell Wilcox (VAX), Tim Black (Optical Acoustics), Crucible instructors and artists Jay Bridglad and Geoffrey Nwoga, Nate Smith (Singularity Machine and Fire Vortex), Chris Schardt and Betty Ray (Nebula), The Flaming Lotus Girls (Seven Sisters), Kasia Wojnarski (Tunnel Vision), Kiki Pettit (Fire Cauldron & Fountains), Charlie Smith (Nausts), and David Best (Temple of Stars). It featured particularly memorable demonstrations by Nate Smith and Tim Black, but the Flaming Lotus Girls stole the night with their playful romp. The night included a few words by The Crucible director, Michael Sturtz, a film made by the Burning Man Documentation team, and a tour of The Crucible facility.


July 31 is recorded in the San Francisco city register as “NO SPECTATORS DAY.” To celebrate this day, Burning Man pulled a permit for a pedestrian parade and invited participants to help us create a free, all-ages, populist event that perfectly captures the ethos of Burning Man. The result was a mobile art pedestrian parade!

A brave group of pioneers assembled at 2 p.m. in Buena Vista Park with noise makers, costumes, portable art, instruments, shopping c-ART-s, and sign-making materials. In the park, many worked on pARTiciPARADE signs of various kinds, while others created a 50-foot flower pedal mandala from roses, lavendar, pansies, and other flowers. At 3 p.m. a posse of clowns, bunnies, drag queens, fairies, and sundry artists marched up Haight Street toward Golden Gate Park with a variety of modified marching songs amplified through an obnoxicator.

First stop was opposite the giant fish-net covered legs, which hang out the window of a popular Haight Street store. There participants did a madcap kickline that eventually sped up to insane proportions. Only the hearty could keep up, but everyone was laughing their heads off! Next, we reached the intersection of Haight and Ashbury and poked a little fun at the increasing number of fancy boutiques that now call Haight Street their home. The procession stopped traffic to circle twice at the intersection, throwing flower pedals and singing “This is the dawning of the age of Aquari-UMS.” Next we created an impromptu art movie in front of the Red Vic Theater. Then the group indulged in roller disco, thanks to a rink that the Black Rock City Roller Disco folks set up on a dead end. There, we also created a giant floor mural in chalk (with city permission). We finished our parade in Golden Gate Park by riding the carousel and taking over the playground. Now, THAT was a parade! Get your megaphones ready and start practicing your kicks for 2005! We expect this event to grow and be replicated in other cities. It’s too much fun not to — well — grow legs!

San Francisco Decompression
Fifth Annual Heat the Street FaIRE, October 10

For its fifth anniversary, BlackTop City featured more of everything! New twists included a Circus & Cabaret Variety Stage at 19th Street and an additional stage at the end of 21st Street creating a venue for video art, the BlackTop City Fashion Show, and electronic art and music.

Over 6,000 people created the biggest and most spectacular Street FaIRE! ever on Indiana Street, between Mariposa and 21st, spilling into Cafe Cocomo and Esprit Park. The event featured more art, more performance of every kind, more theme camps, and the highest level of overall participation yet! The scale of the art and theme camp installations was the most ambitious we have known. Participants swarmed among over 40 art installations; 40 theme camps; and 22 art vehicles (almost double 2003’s participation), with hundreds of poets, dancers, and fire artists, and performers of every kind on five stages. Check out the web site for details and schedule.

As always, the stars of Decompression were as much in the streets as on the stages. BlackTop City attracted far too many artists and theme camps to list, and no one wants to risk leaving out any! Suffice it to say, it was indeed BlackTop City and we LOVE everyone who made it so. THANK YOU!!!

What Worked in 2004

  • Reinventing Flambé Lounge with a daytime, all-ages component worked. So did the return of the Desert Art Preview. People love meeting the artists and hearing what goes into making art that is bound for Burning Man. This background also makes seeing the work on-playa more meaningful.
  • Working with city officials and neighborhood community boards was a positive experience. We welcomed them, built even closer relationships, and increased levels of communication. As a result, these gatherings ran smoother and better than ever.
  • The Special Events team grew again, and the work was better distributed among its members. The art team expanded to include more members from the playa art team. Our volunteer coordinators did a fantastic job matching people with areas they could contribute to most. Our programming team turned on a dime, especially given the shorter production schedule of this year’s Decompression.
  • Many new works and works-in-progress debuted at these events, which helps to fulfill their missions. We enjoyed featuring fire art and performance with city support on the largest scale EVER outside the glorious confines of the playa! We continue to set new standards of excellence, working hand-in-hand with local fire authorities – who have come to enjoy our gatherings as much as we do.
  • Our Special Events team shared team members and learning with the Café Performance team, the Volunteer Coordinator team, and Burning Man regional representatives. Regional Reps from Los Angeles, New York, and Seattle also attended our Decompression to learn how we do things. This coordination allowed for greater learning and leveraging of experience and resources. The Special Events team also took an active role in helping with regional events in the North Bay, Los Angeles, San Diego, New York, Portland, and Hawaii. The learning and sharing is definitely going both ways!
  • We continued in 2004 to help support performers, theme camps, and artists who set up and performed on-time at Decompression. We also have improved our ability to feed performers, artists, and key staff who would otherwise not have time to eat. We still want people to be self-reliant and come prepared, but we are trying to strike a balance.

Challenges for Special Events

  • Flambé Lounge was held on the Sunday of a busy weekend, and the split venue plan incurred overhead expenses for two locations, so Burning Man lost money on that event. (Note that our team’s financial objective is primarily to simply break-even on each event or to break-even over all special events throughout the year.) Since the p-ART-ici-PARADE! and Desert Art Preview events were free, we also (intentionally) “lost” money on those gatherings. Thankfully, the Fire Arts Festival and Decompression made enough together to cover the overall annual expenses we incurred and contributed a bit to support ongoing operations off-playa, including expenses associated with the Burning Man Regional Network and the year-end Burning Man donation to the Black Rock Arts Foundation.
  • We would like to expand Flambé Lounge to allow for more interpersonal exchange, art-making, and to help people prepare even better for the playa. Expect more changes in 2005.
  • Because Burning Man fell later in the year during 2004 and the Decompression weekend came earlier, we had just shy of 4 weeks of production time, which was a full 1 to 2 weeks shorter than in previous years. This compression created a number of challenges, including door list coordination, scheduling and confirming performers, and getting all our equipment needs together quickly to meet last-minute requests. Our process worked, but it was a bumpy ride, and we had to pull the plug on an aerial performance area we had hoped to add. We’d need to plan even farther ahead and take greater steps to encourage participants to sign up for Decompression BEFORE Burning Man.
  • At Decompression, a fire artist playing a joke on a friend – with that person’s encouragement – accidentally scorched a bystander. The burns were not serious, but that was the first such incident at one of our events. Despite the minor consequences, we are taking the incident VERY seriously. When someone behaves irresponsibly in our community, the outcome potentially harms everyone – including the entire fire arts community and our relationship with fire officials. The artist apologized for the incident, and we are taking steps this year to increase fire safety through increased education on and off the playa.
  • In 2003, people came to Decompression late in the day, and we wondered how to get people there earlier. In 2004 crowds arrived early, but large numbers left when the outside sound systems shut down at 10 p.m. We’d like to get people to stay until midnight, when our street closure permit ends, and actually TALK with one another without any need for music or loud performance. Expect us to have a few tricks up our sleeves this year!
  • At Decompression we also had to move the BlackTop City Fashion Show in the early afternoon to accommodate two performers who could not perform as scheduled. That change limited the number of people that could participate in the fashion show. Next year we will again move it to a later time.

Lessons Learned

  • In 2004, we enjoyed providing a nice variety and a good mix of kinds of events. All events had an all-ages component and adhered to our principle of radical inclusiveness. Participants really appreciated the increased number of events and expansion of activities.
  • Burning Man must continue to be a major supporter of fire artists and be a leader in fire safety. In fact, we need to raise the bar further and do more to distribute fire safety information to everyone in the larger community.
  • The impact of large events on neighborhood infrastructure always requires great sensitivity. We maintain good relationships with neighboring groups because we put so much time and energy into communication. New issues will always require attention, and we joined the local community board to provide just that and to fulfill our role as good neighbors.
  • We met our goal of bringing people together year-round to foster community and encourage advanced preparation for the playa with ongoing collaboration here in our city. We wish to stretch these goals to encompass greater information exchange and community feedback. We’d also like to do even better at preparing new participants who will attend their first Burning Man this year.
  • As we did after 2003, the members of the Special Events team feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment at having produced such memorable and groundbreaking gatherings. We remain dedicated to our mission of bringing together creative people of every shape and discipline to celebrate our common values as a community and to engage in the kind of self-expression that Burning Man is now famous for inspiring.


We are planning even more gatherings in 2005, many of a smaller and more varied nature. Expect a variety pack of the strange and unusual, as we reinvent Flambé Lounge to return them to the concept of small, intimate art lounge-style gatherings in unusual places. We plan to do a Burning Man Fire Arts Festival in San Francisco in the spring. The Crucible will host a Desert Arts Preview event July 13, and the Second Annual p-ART-ici-PARADE! will bring life to the streets on Sunday, July 31. Plan NOW for another Decompression Heat The Street FaIRE! on Indiana Street on Sunday, October 9. We are also considering a variety of community forum events to share information about what various departments have in store for 2005 and how more people can prepare for the playa and get involved in local community art projects. In fact, we have more new and fantastic ideas than we can fit into one year, so we are looking ahead to 2006 and 2007!

In the meantime, we encourage you to keep the fire burning all year long in your unique way! Please check back at the Special Events section of the web site and read the Jackrabbit Speaks newsletter for upcoming events. E-mail flambelounge@burningman.com if you live in the San Francisco area and would like to volunteer as part of the Special Events team.

If you are from another city, consider visiting the Regional Network section to contact the volunteer Regional Rep nearest you and find out what’s going on in your neck of the Man…I mean, the woods!

Submitted by,
$teven Ra$pa, Special Events Producer & Regional Outreach