Q & A

Q: It seemed to me that compared to years past, I saw less “big art” in 2004. The stuff I saw was fantastic, but the playa seemed a little “emptier” and I was a bit disappointed. Was there really less art, or was it my imagination?

Art faced a challenging year in 2004. Early in the event, 3 days of dust and wind forced some artists to keep their art in their camps, and many people experienced various problems getting to the event at all. Overall, the playa was home to less art in 2004 than in earlier years: 172 placed projects, as compared to 225 in 2003. Artists pre-registered 71 theme art projects and 95 other playa art projects. In addition, 46 “walk-ins” registered installations on site, and 40 pre-registered projects didn’t arrive on the playa.

A perception seemed to emerge of a large reduction in playa art for 2004, although the numbers show about 50 fewer projects than the previous year. Several factors contributed to this perception. Fewer large-scale projects appeared this year, and the city’s layout left more space to fill between the Man and David Best’s Temple of Stars, which site mappers moved much further out than in previous years. Moving the temple so far back left a big empty stretch that was difficult to fill adequately with participants’ art. Also, several of the theme art projects originally mapped on the walkway to the Man were moved out to the deep playa at the artists’ request, so the walkway seemed a bit more empty than usual. Additionally, there is speculation that the state of the economy and fallout from the dot com bust made for fewer self-funded art projects.

Q: My friends had a hard time with their mutant vehicle registration. Even though their car has been approved in previous years, they didn’t hear that they were supposed to pre-register, and they almost missed the deadline. Not only that, but they were told at first that they wouldn’t qualify for a sticker to drive from the Department of Mutant Vehicles (DMV). When they finally complained to the right person, they heard back from the DMV and were suddenly approved — but not before spending nearly a month being disappointed about their rejection letter. What happened with the DMV process in 2004?

After the 2003 event, the Project focused more careful attention than ever on driving at the event. Over the years, we had observed a widespread disregard for our community driving standards, creating an environment in which some pedestrians and bicyclists felt outright unsafe on the playa. This trend, coupled with the need for more clarity in the difficult task of determining which mutant vehicles were “mutated” enough to qualify for driving privileges, drove the Project and the DMV to take a deep look at these operations and begin to refine processes.

The Tech team partnered with the DMV in creating a database that would improve tracking of registered vehicles (and of drivers who violated community, local, state, or federal rules). Likewise, new processes called for each participant who wanted driving privileges to demonstrate some level of dedication to the community’s well-being through pre-registration, saving time (and disappointment) on the playa. Unfortunately, not everyone kept up with communications like the DMV newsletter, website content, Jack Rabbit Speaks (JRS) email newsletter, and Survival Guide, and many didn’t hear about the registration process until it was nearly closed. Since 2005 will be the second year for pre-registration, planners expect a lot fewer people will be surprised about it.

Also, while the creation of the database was a great idea, it too was in its first year, and the opportunity to use it didn’t neatly mesh with efforts to maintain face-to-face, one-to-one contact. This lapse lead to some difficulties in communications between DMV volunteers and applicants. Coupled with the volume of their work and the adaptation to a new system, 2004 was a bumpy year in some ways. Still, the first year of many new systems can be a bit rocky, but even with the bumps in the road, we saw lots of fantastically mutated vehicles, and we expect a much smoother time in 2005!

Q: I saw the article about kids at Burning Man in the summer newsletter, and I heard a lot of people debating about kids at the event on our local discussion list. Many seemed concerned that they’d have to change the way they expressed themselves because kids were around. Is Burning Man really a “family friendly” event?

Burning Man has always been a family friendly event. Children have been present since the first burn on Baker Beach in 1986. While the extreme environment and the widely varied forms of self-expression common in Black Rock City may not be for every child, many families have found participating in Burning Man together to be a very fulfilling experience. The Project leaves parents to choose what is right for their children. A thriving village (KidsVille) and the area around it is specifically for families with children, and we’ve heard reports of family reunions bringing three generations to the playa.

As our event has evolved into the popular consciousness, more families have chosen to make the trek, and the Project members believe that in the spirit of radical inclusion, children are welcome at our event. Likewise, in the spirit of radical self-reliance, parents are responsible for guiding their children’s experiences, helping them to process and understand it, and keeping them away from that which they are not prepared to comprehend. Not only are we careful when placing theme camps with regard to the location of KidsVille, for years we have advised adult-oriented camps to post guards at their doors to prevent any children from accidentally wandering in. This year, we requested all camps to appoint such guardians, should their camps plan any sexually themed activities. While no evidence suggests that this request infringed upon anyone’s rights to free expression, it did demonstrate that between individual parental responsibility and community awareness of the presence of children, Burning Man remains an experience that is open to children of all ages.

Q: I did my 2 hours of cleanup outside of my camp before I headed home, and I actually was surprised to see trash on the playa the morning after the burn. It made me wonder — how did cleanup go in 2004? Did people do a better job at Leaving No Trace? How long were the crews on the playa after the event?

The cleanup effort spans 30 days after each year’s event, and the playa must be completely restored before the site inspection by our landlords at the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which usually happens in the first week of October. While many camps did a great job, and while we are so successful that the BLM’s standards for large-scale event cleanup are measured against the work we do, people still need to be reminded that ours is and always will be a Leave No Trace event. The BLM narrowed its standards by half for 2004, and while we did pass our inspection, our cleanup team reports that it was a close call. In fact, we did not do as well as we had after 2003. Our city’s communal and public areas are being left with debris and litter, which is why it is so important that every participant not only clean up his or her own camp, but each must also dedicate 2 hours of time to cleaning up beyond the borders of their own encampment, before they leave Black Rock City. Leaving our mess for the cleanup crew is not only unfair, but it could mean that last look back at BRC in your rearview mirror as you leave is the last one you ever get to take.

Q: When we arrived in Black Rock City, our greeter made a big deal about telling us not to put anything in the porta potties. Then we saw the story in the Black Rock Gazette and heard people running around the banks of porta potties with megaphones, hollering at the people inside not to put their trash in the toilets. What was the panic all about?

We have always recognized the importance of educating our population about what can go in the porta potties, since the trucks that pump them can accept only human waste and one-ply toilet paper (which dissolves rapidly in the toilets’ chemicals). Regular two-ply toilet paper, tampons, or baby wipes can jam up the pumping mechanisms and must be fished out by hand before pumping. Not only a disgusting proposition, this activity can present a health hazard. It also results in slower porta potty servicing all around the city.

In 2004, a more serious problem occurred: Some participants began to dump their garbage and random objects into the toilets. Items such as clothing and even uneaten food were found stuffed into several of the units. Even if these foreign objects *do* make it past the screens from the pump trucks, this litter creates a bigger problem — the one and only waste processing plant in the area will not accept our waste if it contains these foreign objects. Without somewhere to dump the waste, toilet service would grind to a halt. Without the potties, no event is possible, so we acted to educate the public as quickly as possible about this very serious threat to our city’s infrastructure.

The porta potties absolutely cannot handle your garbage, nor even toilet paper brought from home (unless it’s the single-ply type sold for RVs). Please help educate your campmates and friends about this important issue, and do your part to help keep the potties clean!

Submitted by,
Andie Grace