Special Events

At the end of 2008, the Burning Man Special Events Team met to review the year and create a proposed event plan for 2009. We kicked the year off using that plan as a tool for discussion about what community gatherings members of our Bay Area community most wanted to see again or create anew. Then, in our January “Open Call for Participation Planning Meeting”, anyone could attend, give feedback, and propose a new event or workshop as we brainstormed about how our team could best serve the Bay Area creative community and Burning Man ethos. The monthly team meeting schedule was published at that meeting and people had an opportunity to sign up for ongoing team roles or sign up to help with a specific event. Throughout the year the team also spent a great deal of time thinking ahead to plans for 2010’s 25th Burn Anniversary season.

In 2009, the Special Events team produced and assisted with the following gatherings:

  • Esprit Park Garden Party & Park Servicing, January 10, 2009
  • Self-HOOPnosis (hypnosis and hula-hoop) Workshop, January 17, 2009
  • Art Lounge Artist Mixer, January 22, 2009
  • The Regional Summit Mixer Dinner on February 28, 2009
  • Burnal Equinox Flambé Lounge, February 28, 2009
  • Astronomy & Astrology Cosmos Workshop, March 21, 2009
  • Together with the Volunteer Resources Team, a Burning Man HQ open house, April 4, 2009 and the June 20, 2009 BBQ-A-Noobie Community Picnic in Golden Gate Park with a Costume Swap component
  • Precompression, June 6, 2009
  • Desert Art Preview, June 25, 2009
  • No Spectators Day Dolores Park Clean-up & Mixer, July 31, 2009
  • The 10th Annual Decompression Heat the Street FaIRE!, October 11, 2009
  • Dogpatch Neighborhood Clean-up, October 12, 2009
  • Core members of the team also helped the Black Rock Arts Foundation with the sold-out ARTumnal Gathering dinner benefit on November 20, 2009

The 2009 event plan was similar to 2008, with the following changes: We did not do a pARTiciPARADE! or Burning Stories night; we had two fewer workshops due to the need to focus on moving the Burning Man office and lack of space at our temporary Burning Man HQ; we held a park clean up at Dolores Park for the first time; and initiated successful food drives for the SF Food Bank as part of both the Burnal Equinox and Precompression events. Our events were very well attended and we got rave reviews from participants; but we missed having the additional workshops and smaller events. When we have a new Burning Man HQ in San Francisco we hope to be able to do more of those kinds of workshops, mixers and similarly small, free and all-ages events again.

It was a major year for team growth and development, but we continue to improve our documentation, communication, mentoring and delegation. More needs to be done, including creating operating manuals for established events, shortening monthly meetings and customizing information tools so our team can work more effectively in sub-teams. We are also adding a second Volunteer Coordinator position to the team, where we have only had one in the past. All good stuff!

For those interested in working with the Special Events team, in 2010 we will be looking for someone to help with event e-announcements and people experienced with all aspects of event production. But we are open to all levels of interest and experience—or lack thereof. We continue to think about “life beyond the playa”, what the right kinds of gatherings are for our year-round community, and how best to encourage greater collaboration, art, participation, learning and fun! Want to join us? Email  flambelounge(at)burningman(dot)org.


ART LOUNGE Open House, Mixer for Artists
January 22, 2009

The mission of this event is to create an opportunity for artists to engage with one another and share ideas regarding concepts and possible collaborations. To help encourage cross-pollination, the Special Events team once again used colored name tags that indicated the name of the artist/project/role, to help people with different areas of expertise connect. We had a full house and the Burning Man Art Team personally thanked the artists for their work and answered questions about the Burning Man art grant process.

February 28, 2009

About 1100 people attended this lively Flambe Lounge over the course of the evening to celebrate the mid-point in the burning year. As guests of honor we had some 150 community leaders and regional contacts from around the world who were in town for Burning Man’s Regional Summit. We showed video and photos from Burning Man regional gatherings and hosted a dinner and mixer with staff before opening to the public and a full night of art and performances. It was one of our smoothest events from a production stand-point and we had plenty of volunteers. It was truly a stellar night on the waterfront in SF at Mission Rock Café.

June 6, 2009

Precompression is a forum for theme camps and artists to showcase their plans for Burning Man. It reunited our diverse community for a full night of interactive theme camps, including Dustfish and Brass Tax; Burning Man Department info tables, including the Department of Mutant Vehicles and Playa Info; art displays by artists such as False Profit and Maricela Alvarez; and a giant floating sphere on the Bay that at times became a massive blinking eye and at other times featured imagery relating to the night’s theme: “Evolution”. There were also circus, cabaret and musical performances, including a knee-slapping dance duet by Fou Fou HA!, a stunning Butoh performance involving broken dinner plates by Bad Unkl Sista, and inspired musical performances by groups like Varona, Land of the Blind and newcomers Protopsychopus—who made quite a first impression in spandex! We dedicated the inside area downstairs to info exchange and conversation, which was a very popular spot. In general, we are making conversation zones a priority at every event we organize to allow for more idea exchange and meaningful conversation.

June 25, 2009

This year we moved the Desert Art Preview from July to June to better accommodate artist and Burning Man Artery Team seasonal work schedules, and it turned out to be a popular move. July can be such a hectic time and moving this event into June allowed the artists speaking to benefit earlier from new volunteers found at this event and to focus on their projects without interruption in July. Artists planning projects for Burning Man offered insight into their creative processes and gave sneak previews of projects in-progress. Some also used the opportunity to find last minute collaborators and supplies. This year’s ceremonies were hosted by Beth Scarborough and $teven Ra$pa and included an art overview by members of Burning Man’s Art Council. There was also a presentation on the mission of The Black Rock Arts Foundation (BRAF), which funds year-round interactive art projects off-playa (ie., not at Burning Man).

The Burninator Grid. The Burninator GRID a large-scale fire installation - a set of computer-controlled large flame towers.

The Burninator Grid. The Burninator GRID a large-scale fire installation - a set of computer-controlled large flame towers.

Primary speakers and projects discussed included: Bill Codding — The Burninator Grid; Rossella Scapini – Bio*tanical Garden; Neil Tanner – QuadBod; Rebecca Anders and Jess Hobbs – Chimera Sententia; False Profit Labs – Carbon Garden; Rosa Anna De Fillippis, Caroline Mills – Gee-Gnome; Bryan Tedrick – Portal of Evolution; Flaming Lotus Girls – Soma; and The Raygun Gothic Rocketship crew, who explained in great detail their plans to re-launch a manned rocket into space at Burning Man so they could continue collecting alien specimens. Suffice it to say, nobody was bored that night! This is definitely one of the best events Burning Man hosts all year and many have commented that it gives greater meaning to the artwork when they see it completed at Burning Man or elsewhere in the world.

NO SPECTATORS Day Dolores Park Clean-up & Mixer
July 31, 2009

To celebrate NO SPECTATORS DAY on July 31, 2008 in San Francisco, the Special Events Team organized a Dolores Park community clean up and mixer. In truth, the Park was pretty clean that day, but the dedicated and meticulous group of costumed MOOPers picked it over with a fine toothed (clown) comb and pulled out bottle caps, cigarette butts and unsightly odd ends by the trash bag full. A good time was had by all and the team is motivated to do it again next year!

The Costume Swap normally held on No Spectators Weekend, was moved this year to Golden Gate Park as part of the BBQ-A-Noobie festivities on June 20th and we decided to not have the Burning Stories Night of previous years due to lack of space at the temporary Burning Man HQ. We also decided to skip the pARTiciPARADE! because attendance was down the year before and the team wants to consider how to reinvent it. Instead of organizing centralized events, we posted out on the San Francisco Announce List ten ways Burners could participate in No Spectators Weekend, including “perform random acts of kindness, gifting and self expression” and “volunteering at a local school or non-profit.” In that way we decentralized the spirit of No Spectators Day and encouraged the community to observe it in any number of ways that were meaningful to them. Some people cleaned up their block others collaborated on art projects and hosted potlucks. What did you do? And, hey, isn’t NO SPECTATORS DAY every day!

SF DECOMPRESSION: 10th Annual Heat the Street FaIRE!
October 11, 2009

Seven thousand people created this spectacular annual Street FaIRE!, which was once again held on Indiana Street from Noon to Midnight. The day was chock-full of interactive art, music and wildly diverse performances and a full range of creative expression. Decompression has become a grand showcase for our community’s art and culture, and continues to evolve as a meeting place and proof that what happens in Black Rock City doesn’t stay there! In fact, official Burning Man Decompressions now happen throughout the world in accordance with agreed upon event production criteria and principles of Burning Man. The SF Decom is the granddaddy of them all and a much loved part of the Bay Area art scene.

This year the SFFD threw us a bit of a curveball and instituted a series of new draft fire plan requirements that took a tremendous amount of extra effort to comply with. We did not feel several of the requirements were appropriate for San Francisco fire artists vs. for stadium pyrotechnic events, so we offered feedback, voicing our concern that we fear very few people in the fire community will be able to comply. In the end we managed to be compliant and enjoyed the dialogue and close working relationship with the fire department.

The biggest unexpected challenge this year was that a neighbor, who was not a Burner, hosted a noisy afterparty on 19th Street that went until 4am and resulted in numerous sound complaints. Though we had nothing to do with that event and were not technically responsible, we had to field complaints from angry neighbors many days afterward who thought we created the noise. So we are forced to consider how to address such issues in the future. There was also an issue with a cab that sped through the gates during breakdown and ignored security instructions when the street was still closed to traffic. Happily we had no other major issues or injuries; and—though this year definitely felt harder than last to produce because we had a full week less production time—the team did a FANTASTIC job and our 10th Anniversary Street FaIRE included many new theme camps, artists and performances—which was very exciting and is the sign of a healthy art scene.

Some specific ideas we implemented that made Decompression run smoothly:

  • We expanded our 19th Street gate operations and moved Will Call to 20th Street, which eliminated the lines we had in prior years.
  • An updated Decompression survival guide to educate people about challenges, commitments to neighbors, and rules — which differ from the playa.
  • We cut back one sound location and asked sound camps that had participated several years in a row to take the year off so others could have a chance.
  • We laid out the street to create greater variety of experience and each stage was reinvented to include more diverse programming, rather than grouping different kinds of performance by stage. This helped create more of a playa experience, where you just don’t know what’s going to happen next.
  • We again closed performance stages in a sequential manner starting at one end of the event and moving toward the side of the street fair with the least impact on neighbors.
  • We instituted an end of night exit plan that made Indiana Street a one way street from Midnight to 2am and directed exiting vehicles in a systematic and orderly fashion. We’ll definitely be doing this again!
  • More team members assumed leadership roles and more people are now familiar with what needs to be done and how to do it. End of night volunteer roles remain difficult to fill, but the team filled in where other volunteers fell short. Next year we want YOU to help, so we’ll be thinking how to make those end of night volunteer slots more fun and rewarding.

What Worked For ALL Special Events in 2009:

  • The January Open Call meeting brought new energy, ideas, and members to the team.
  • The dedicated, amazing, larger and more experienced core team made for a smooth production year. We are learning and applying our lessons.
  • Continued delegation and pairing new people with existing team members to encourage mentoring and retain team knowledge when someone leaves the team.
  • Event mission statements, role documents, volunteer contact lists, event timelines, and full year team meeting schedule—all helped get the team on the same page and working toward common goals to arrive at deadlines earlier. We just need to make those tools more readily available to all core team members.
  • All our events were well attended and we got rave reviews from the community. Burnal Equinox and Precompression are as well loved as Decompression at this point. And we are meeting community needs with more varied content.
  • We operated extremely cost-effectively with a tight budget in a down economy. Just goes to show you that a little imagination and sharing goes a long way during tough times.
  • Burning Man continued to maintain positive working relationships with neighbors, city officials, and the SF Fire Department on behalf of artists.
  • Our events have become showcases for Burning Man culture and increasingly unveil new art works in the city, which exhibit increasing levels of “radical collaboration.” We helped cover the costs to restore numerous works of art for Decompression and invited people from the City and Bay Area art community to consider the art for public placement.

Top Challenges:

  • Finding appropriate venues where we can have fire art and exhibit a full range of human expression, remains our greatest team challenge.
  • Not having a regular place to host free workshops really cramped our style! As a result, we lost some of the range of events this year and couldn’t have as many free events. And we do not have enough variety in kinds of events for some members of our community.
  • Finding reliable end of night volunteers. There are also still some gaps in the team and the Volunteer Coordinator role has grown so we need at least two.
  • We faced transportation issues and need to consider renting a truck for each event.
  • Special Events needs to use technology and processes even more effectively and implement data management and tech solutions so we can share information effectively among our team members.
  • Better inventory management and dedicated storage space.
  • Many team members have no down time and volunteer for roles at Burning Man on the playa and all year long in the city. Avoiding burnout is a challenge, even though we love what we do.
  • 2010 will be a tough year for the team with another office move looming, the 25th burn anniversary, and a possible Decompression location change.

Key Lessons Learned:

  • Planning our events earlier and locking in venues 12-24 months in advance.
  • The number of events was appropriate for this year’s team. It would have been difficult to do any more with the office move we had in March/April. Yet we want to do new and different kinds of art gatherings that engage our imaginations and expand consciousness.
  • If members wish to do more, the Special Events Team must grow, with an expanded base of experts in all areas to keep it all fun, safe, and avoid burn-out.
  • We need to increase communication and information sharing among sub-teams. Team leads also have to start doing their own operating manuals, including refinements each year.
  • We need to divide our team email list into a discussion list and a separate announce list. We also need to start creating smaller lists dedicated to each event.
  • This year we saw art spaces like American Steel and theme camps like Opulent Temple and Space Cowboys do events that were very much like the kinds of events Burning Man has traditionally created in San Francisco. We need to think about what is the next phase of these social gatherings and how to keep them meaningful and special as our community evolves.

DRAFT 2010 EVENT PLANS (as of December 14, 2009)
The following events and dates are being considered:

  • Esprit Park Community Gardening Day, January 9, 2010, 10am-1pm – firm
  • Art Lounge, artist mixer, January 21, 2010 – firm
  • Regional Summit Mixer & Burnal Equinox, March 6, 2010 – firm
  • Burning Man Open House, April 2010 – Pending office move
  • 25th Anniversary Burn Series of Events in June, especially June 18-21 – firm
  • BBQ-A-Newbie – likely to be June 19th
  • Desert Art Preview, June 2010 – firm
  • Costume and Clothing Swap + Bike Repair, June/July – firm
  • The SF Decompression Heat The Street FaIRE! October 10, 2010 – Date and location TBD
  • Esprit Park Garden Party, December 2010/January 2011

We also plan to add more workshops and possible art shows and lectures. Check the Special Events section of the Web site for final dates and details. If you live in the Bay Area and would like to help with year round events, e-mail flambelounge(at)burningman(dot)org and join us for a team meeting. We encourage you to keep the fire burning all year long in your unique way!

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