Special Events

In 2005, the Special Events team produced an April Fools Flambé Lounge, a Desert Art Preview lecture night in July, a Burning Man pARTiciPARADE! on July 31, and perhaps the most exciting and challenging Decompression Heat the Street FaIRE! ever in October.

As was the case last year, the event schedule shrank from previous years because so many theme camps in the Bay Area are organizing their own gatherings, and the Bay Area is home to an active and healthy creative community. More events will likely emerge in 2006 to support artists in the Bay Area and to add to the diversity of the thriving arts community.

This report reviews the four events organized in 2005 and offers a sneak preview of plans for 2006.

April Fools SK’BOWLING Flambé Lounge

In an effort to explore ways to reinvent Flambé Lounge, the team tried something new and, well, very silly! Organizers put together a night of bowling and skating in grand April Fools Day style! Following the much beloved St. Stupid’s Day Parade, a few hundred costumed Burning Man fools and revelers gathered at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts to BOWL in UV-sensitive clothing under blacklight and to ICE SKATE in elaborate costumes to some of the most ridiculous music this side of Disco Duck!

In the bowling alley, DJ Pantshead and DJ Mermaid spun musical mash-ups and ecclectica fit for bowling under blacklight. Playa trivia was randomly announced, and people were forced to change lanes at regular intervals to meet and bowl with people the next lane over. The idea was to have everyone playing one big messy game together and to pay less attention to scoring than to friendly new bowling partners. Oh, yes, and to do it while on one foot and two elbows… then backwards and through the knees! You get the idea. Along the way everyone lost score and had a great time doing it!

For the second part of the evening, the party moved next door for a formal evening of iceskapades! Dr. Friendly and Neon Bunny started the night off with classics like The Hokey Pokey, vintage moog synthesizer ice skating music, and crowd pleasers like The Bunny Hop and The Funky Chicken! Fantasic costumes and atmosphere overcame a few problems with the facility’s sound system, but Mermaid had a back-up running in no time. The second half of the night featured music for roller disco (on ice!) provided by the Black Rock Roller Disco theme camp and the Godfather of Roller Disco!

The quick organization process for this Flambé Lounge didn’t allow enough time to spread the word. Pricing both parts of the evening at half the normal cost meant that attendance a bit below hopes left the night as a money loser. Sometimes the first year for a new project is a building year. Plans to revive the idea in 2006 will make this event twice as much fun, and it will manage to break-even this time around.

One drawback needs attention: The venues could not accommodate theme camps or art, so the event was not as helpful in supporting specific art projects and theme camps as past Flambé Lounges have been. But it sure was SILLY and everyone who went LOVED it—twisted ankles, antlers, and all!

Desert Art Preview Event

On July 13, The Crucible in Oakland, California hosted the 2005 Desert Art Preview. More than a dozen artists planning projects for Burning Man offered insight into their creative processes and spoke about their art and the challenges associated with making art for the Black Rock Desert, then they gave sneak previews of 2005 Burning Man projects in-progress. This year’s ceremonies were again hosted by $teven Ra$pa and included an art overview by LadyBee and Beth Scarborough of Burning Man’s Art Council. Black Rock Arts Foundation (BRAF) Board Member Crimson Rose added a presentation on that organization’s mission to fund off-playa art: BRAF doesn’t fund art that appears only at Burning Man! See the BRAF website for details.

This year’s speakers included: Kevin Walsh and Jeri Countryman (LawnMowerMan); Christian Davies (Dicky Box); Pepe Ozan (Dreamer); Robert Paton (Aeolian Harps); Andrew Johnstone (Virtual Playa); Karen Cusolito and Dan DasMann (Passage); Charlie Smith and Jamie Ladet (Synapses); Flaming Lotus Girls (Angel of the Apocalypse); Mark Grieve (Temple of Dreams); and Zachary Coffin (Colossus). It was an intriguing night with a lively question and answer section. And it left everyone wondering whether Dicky would actually stay in his box at Burning Man 2005 and live to tell about it!

The Second Annual pARTiciPARADE!

On July 31, Burning Man and BRAF teamed up for a full day of activities in celebration of NO SPECTATORS DAY. The Burning Man Special Events team organized its second annual mobile art parade, which originated at Golden Gate Park. People on foot, stilts, rollers, and bikes brought mobile art, acoustic instruments, kazoos, art signs, and costumed creations to create a procession of art and absurdity.

Participants marched down Haight Street on the sidewalk, stopping at several points along the way to recruit others to join in the fun and to create and share art. The first stop at the corner of Haight and Ashbury featured throwing flower petals and singing “This is the dawning of the Age of Aquariums…” in honor of all the aquarium-like boutique and chain store windows now lining historic Haight Street. The group later did a kick line in front of the giant stripper legs farther down the block. A stop at Buena Vista Park involved people collaborating on a communal drawing by holding crayons and taking turns rolling down the hill over a canvas. (People got extremely inventive!)

After several other surprise stops along the way, the parade marched over to Octavia and Hayes, where the first BRAF Community Art Carnival was in full effect. That event located at Hayes Green brought public art to the area around David Best’s temporary installation. Participants enjoyed puppet making by the Big Tadoo Puppet Crew, accordion performances by Miss SF Accordion Winner Linda Robertson, a performance by One People Voice Balinese Gamelon Orchestra, an appearance by soprano Marisa Lenhardt, the first MOOP (matter-out-of-place) Olympics and leave no trace training for kids. Other events included a gun bake by artist John Ricker, a public flower mandala installation led by Joe Mangrum, and glass blowing demonstrations by Adam Mostow. To cap off the afternoon, Larry Harvey gave a talk about the importance of the day and thanked the artists for their participation and the city for its support.

Members of the Burning Man Special Events team helped organize aspects of both events, and it was a full day of free, all-ages art and community. This wonderful joint effort brought free art and some of what we love about Black Rock City to the public streets of San Francisco!

SF Decompression: Fifth Annual Heat the Street FaIRE!

On October 9, over 7,000 people created the biggest and most spectacular Street FaIRE! ever. The gathering erupted in Indiana Street, between Mariposa and 21st Street, inside Cafe Cocomo and throughout Esprit Park. This Decompression was the largest and most exciting so far, with seasoned participants coming to celebrate Burning Man’s 20th Anniversary and articles in local papers bringing in new participants, including some who have never attended Burning Man — an influx that proved both positive and challenging in many respects.

The 2005 Decompression cut back on the number of sound theme camps and increased non-sound art and theme camps, plus circus, aerial, puppet, and variety show performances. Decom featured more art, performance of every kind, and the highest level of overall participation ever. The variety and amount of art was easily the best seen so far, and theme camps went all out!

As always, the stars of Decompression occupied the streets as much as the stages. Bringing that depth and breadth of creative expression to the streets of San Francisco was an absolutely inspiring achievement! Any list the artists and theme camps would go on far too long to try. Suffice it to say, it was indeed Blacktop City and the organizers LOVE everyone who made it so.

Despite the best art year ever and participants’ great time, the 2005 Decom posed special challenges associated with higher attendance and an increase in first-time attendees. Though it is a positive step to expand the community beyond familiar participants, the event experienced some new challenges not seen before such as theft of an art bike and other issues. In addition, the lines to get in were too long and door lists were a mess. From an organizational perspective, 2005 Decom was perhaps its most challenging year, with more door and list issues, radio communications problems, a new fire marshall with whom safety staff had to build a relationship in short time and under stressful conditions, and the usual challenges associated with handling a growing population.

Work on ticketing and door list processes must reduce bottlenecks. Automation must simplify booking and confirmation processes, and diligent efforts must keep rogue mobile sound systems and unplaced art cars and art from endangering safety and degrading the commitment to neighbors to keep sound to acceptable levels and traffic moving. For the first time, an alternate location is under consideration, but some wonder if the experience of 2005 was just a growth blip associated with all the press surrounding the 20th anniversary of Burning Man. Some solutions require only team expansion, advance sale tickets, and increased safety and security measures. Other changes that will help are T-shirts for staff, so police and fire personnell know who is working the event, and dedicated door people to provide for a consistent and orderly in/out process. Planners will work this year even more closely with the neighborhood association and the city to address these challenges, or if necessary do the unthinkable and find Decompression a new location.

A few of the ideas are under consideration to make Decompression 2006 a more positive experience:

  • Presale tickets.
  • A Decompression Survival Guide to educate people about the event’s commitment to neighbors and rules for Decom, which differ from those on the playa.
  • Wearable identifiers or T-shirts that make Decom staff readily identifiable.
  • A “special handling” entry gate for families with small children, elderly and handicapped attendees, neighborhood residents, staff, and special invited guests.
  • A triage person walking the lines to help hasten passage by picking out people who can go to the special handling entrance.
  • More management people who can solve problems for larger numbers of participants.
  • Block monitors to watch and manage activities on each block.
  • Automated performer/artist/theme camp/art car confirmation system, which will help standardize the information staff and participants get about entry.

Things That Worked This Year, In General

  • The attendance and spirit of all four events were fantastic! Burning Man’s relationship with neighbors in the Dogpatch, the Recreation and Park Department, ISCOTT, and other city offices grew closer through increasing and earlier communication.
  • The SK’BOWLING Flambé Lounge was a welcome break from the complexity usually involved in producing these events. Planners learned to try something new and it didn’t have to be a major production to have community-building value.
  • Participants raved about each gathering, especially Decompression.
  • Once again in 2005, the Special Events team shared learning with other Burning Man regional representatives, so they could benefit from the accumulated lessons. Team members took a particularly active role in helping the Los Angeles, San Diego, New York, and Las Vegas community gatherings. Now the learning and sharing is going both ways, with best practices being shared among these communities!
  • People arrived at Decompression earlier this year. In previous years, people were missing early afternoon art and performances, and the team set a goal last year to complete the schedule earlier and encourage people to spend all day. That effort definitely worked and showed the potentially for positive change in participant behavior to make for better experiences.
  • Clean-up was generally even better than 2004 for all events, with most people leaving no trace and the team completing minimal clean-up. Clean-up for Decom took a little longer than most, but it was completed by the end of Monday. It is no small task to clean such a vast area so quickly and leave things better than the setup crew found them!
  • Decompression and the Desert Art Preview have grown to be opportunities to showcase the work of artists and the Burning Man community to the larger community in the Bay Area.

Things That Didn’t Work

  • Space and venue restrictions prevented the SK’BOWLING Flambé Lounge from offering an opportunity for artists and theme camps to set up tables to find collaborators and share ideas.
  • Someone drove into Esprit Park after Decompression, when it was forbidden to do so. Technically organizers were not at fault, since the violation occurred after the hours of the event permit, but because of this Burning Man decided to donate $500 to Friends of Esprit Park to help cover the costs of putting in poles to stop others from driving in or towards other ways to beautify the park, as they deem best.
  • The cases of art vandalism and art theft at Decompression are serious concerns, and future plans will combat them with education, community pressure, and increased security.
  • Decompression brought challenges in working with a new fire marshall. New to his position and to much of the concept of fire art, he inspected every joint of each fire sculpture and took longer to inspect than anyone anticipated. That detailed attention resulted in serious delays in the fire performance schedule and cancellation of acts the marshall didn’t have time to inspect before call time. Still, it is not exactly a bad thing to be held to even higher standards. It gives reason for all to rise to higher levels of excellence and reminds everyone to do things better and set a standard as leaders in the fire art community.
  • The performer and staff entry lists at Decompression were a mess. Despite the work of a dedicated list person, it just didn’t work. Too many last-minute additions and a spreadsheet meltdown led to the worst door process in the history of Decompression. This issue is high on the list of things to address for 2006.

Key Lessons Learned

Many continue to miss Flambé Lounges, which provide outstanding means for people to meet, for artists and theme camps to find collaborators, and for all to showcase and exchange new ideas.

Planning for fire art must begin even earlier than in the past to accommodate new city standards and to allow more dialogue with local fire authorities.

The Dogpatch Neighborhood Association and Friends of Esprit Park supported use of Esprit Park for Decompression 2005. When the Park and Rec department was going to shut the park to fix the sprinkler system, these neighbors argued for a delay to accommodate Decompression. That intervention showed that when Burning Man is a good neighbor, its neighbors are good in return! This support was a high point of the year for many on the team who regularly jump through hoops to get support to use public spaces for art.

The Special Events team met the goal of bringing people together year-round to foster community, but more is still desired!

To do more, the team must grow, with an expanded base of experts in all areas and delegation to keep things fun, safe, and positive while avoiding burn-out. Because many team members also have responsibilities on-playa at Burning Man and return tired from the event, a particular wish is to expand the Decompression team to include more people that have NO responsibilities at Burning Man.

Educating participants in special events is an ongoing challenge. Planners need to get more creative about how key messages reach the right people at the right times.

Members of the Special Events team feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment at having produced such memorable gatherings. Dedication remains strong to the mission of bringing together artists of every shape and discipline to celebrate common values and engage in the kind of self-expression that Burning Man is now famous for inspiring.

Looking Ahead to 2006

Burning Man hosted an open house meeting on January 11, 2006 at the San Francisco headquarters to invite members of the Burning Man community to give input about what kinds of events they would like. This meeting continues a change from 2004 and it is expanding.

Plans to repeat the April Fools SK’BOWLING night will also expand to include organizing at least one more Flambé Lounge that can highlight artist and theme camp participation. A Burning Man Fire Arts Exposition is in the works for San Francisco in May, and the search for an appropriate venue has begun. Another likely addition is a “Newbie” Orientation BBQ in Golden Gate Park in June, organized in collaboration with the Volunteer Resource team. Another Desert Art Preview event will happen in July, and activities will commemorate No Spectators Day in San Francisco on July 31 with the pARTiciPARADE! Additional ideas include a Precompression event in the Spring and an event to follow Burning Man’s Spring Town Hall Meeting. Along the way, a few fund raisers will also support the Black Rock Arts Foundation. Expect a full year with more events in 2006 than in 2005!

In the meantime, keep the fire burning all year long. Please check back at the Flambé Lounge section of the website and read the Jackrabbit Speaks newsletter for upcoming events. And if you’d like to help with year round events, e-mail flambelounge@burningman.com if you live in the Bay Area.

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