In 2005, the Burning Man Art Department made significant changes to its infrastructure, operational management, policies, and strategy.

Immediately following the 2004 event, a collection of concerned artists formed BORG2 and mounted a boisterous protest over what they saw as limiting and overly conventional aspects of the department’s practices and policies. While many of these allegations were unfounded or based on rumor rather than fact, the essence of these complaints held some validity, and were taken into consideration as the Art Department re-invented itself.

First, oversight of the department’s day-to-day activities was given over to a council whose members represented the areas of operations management, planning, technology, artist advocacy, art assistance, and performance safety. This change facilitated sweeping changes and tightening of all processes, allowing for the Artery team to be efficient and effective in their roles as facilitators of art placement on the playa and helping artists with needed support services.

The art grant program defines a portion of participant ticket money to fund honorarium grants to selected artists. The program’s resource pool nearly doubled this year from $250,000 to $425,000. The grant review team was expanded to include an expert in the field of modern art, and grant proposals were opened to art installations outside the annual art theme. And for the first time ever, the call for proposals received emphasis on the Burning Man website and in the Jack Rabbit Speaks newsletter. A record number of grant proposals (160) resulted, leading to awards of a record 52 honoraria to artists.

Speculation has been rampant after the 2005 event, as people have attempted to explain the incredibly impressive quantity and quality of art on the playa. Some say that BORG2 had an effect, rallying participants who may have slipped into complacent dormancy. Some say the weather was the most cooperative it’s been in years. Others claim the increase in funded installations helped, while some may offer that the inspiring theme sparked creativity. Perhaps it’s the fortunate blending of all factors. Whatever the actual reason, it has been universally agreed that the 2005 event featured the most, the best, and the most groundbreaking art ever seen at Burning Man.

Not to be outdone by its neighbors on the playa, the Man took on an interesting new role this year: jokester. In play with the art theme—Psyche: the Conscious, Subconscious, and Unconscious—the Man was built such that participants could spin the sculpture at night, serving to disorient the psyches of participants who normally would rely upon their orientation to its neon as a navigational aid. And the Man was built atop an ambitious Funhouse, filled with over 40 art installations sprinkled throughout an impressive maze, overseen by a full-size Laughing Sal who enticed participants inside.

The Fire Conclave worked to support and coordinate the myriad fire performers on the playa. Once again, they represented the largest assembly of fire performers in the world (877 in the Great Circle alone). The Performance Safety Team ensured that fire art was handled (and burned) in a safe way.

Burning Man’s Special Events team took on the daunting task of producing numerous events, including the largest and most attended Decompression event ever. And as always, the material culture archive continued to grow as participants contributed samples of their gift crafts, allowing Art staff to keep track of the event’s cultural history through playa artifacts.

Overall, 2005 was a growth year for the Art Department, and its members look forward to leveraging the changes implemented so far to further improve the experience of art on the playa. Why? Early in the week of the 2005 event, when most installations were still under construction, participants could be seen flocking around the construction sites and watching (or better yet, helping!) the artists at work, treating them as one would rock stars or heroes. Artists as rock stars forming a cornerstone of your culture. Isn’’t that the way it should be?

Submitted by,
Will Chase