Special Events

At the end of 2009, the Burning Man Special Events Team met to review the year and create a proposed event plan for 2010. We kicked the year off using that plan as a tool to spark discussion about what gatherings members of our Bay Area community most wanted to see happen and create. Then, in our January “Open Call for Participation Planning Meeting,” we solicited public feedback, proposals for new events/workshops, and brainstormed about how our team could best serve the Bay Area creative community year-round. People had an opportunity to sign up for ongoing team roles, to help with a specific event,  or lead a workshop. They were also invited to attend any of our monthly planning meetings.

In 2010, the Special Events team produced and assisted with the following gatherings:

  •  Esprit Park Garden Party & Park Servicing, January 9, 2010
  •  Art Lounge Artist Mixer, January 21, 2010
  •  Burnal Equinox + Regional Leadership Summit Mixer, March 6th, 2010
  •  Newbie Orientation Workshop & Mixer – March 31, 2010
  •  Theme Camp Plan Mapping Workshop – March 31, 2010
  •  Make Your Own Yurt Workshop at NIMBY – April 25, 2010
  •  Together with the Volunteer Resources Team, the June 5, 2010 BBQ-A-Noobie Community Picnic in Golden Gate Park with a Costume Swap component and a “T-shirt Redesign” workshop
  •  Together with the Burning Man Media Team, The Burning Man SF Film Fest – June 12-13, 2010
  •  Precompression – 25th Burn Celebration, June 19, 2010
  •  Performance Art Workshop – June 19, 2010
  •  Desert Art Preview, June 24, 2010
  •  The 11th Annual Decompression Heat the Street FaIRE!, October 10, 2010
  •  Dogpatch Neighborhood Clean-up, October 11, 2010
  •  Core members of the team also helped BWB with a fundraiser on May 15th and  the Black Rock Arts Foundation with the sold-out ARTumnal Gathering dinner benefit on November 20, 2010

The 2010 event plan was similar to 2009, with the following changes: A lot of our energy went into planning a special Precompression event in anticipation of the 25th Burning Man event this year; we did not do an event for No Spectators Day, instead encouraging people everywhere to participate in their own personal way—whether it be a neighborhood clean-up or sporting just a little extra self-expressive bling at work; we did a couple more workshops; and planned for a possible increase in attendance at all our events in anticipation of additonal interest in Burning Man’s 25th Burn-iversary.

It was another major year for team growth, with the addition of Inventory and Transpo Leads, a second Volunteer Coordinator, a Lighting Lead, new Workshop Planning Lead, and many other new rockstar volunteers! We regularly had 30-50 people at each monthly meeting and a lot of ideas and energy all year long. We improved our event planning timelines and documentation this year and built upon our commitment to mentoring and rotating roles so people could actually take an event off and try something new to avoid burning out from the larger number of events. We were also successful at reducing our number of necessary meetings and shortening our average meeting length from three hours to two. We now typically meet one hour as a group and break into sub-teams for the second hour. We also identified as priorities for 2011 to customize information tools so our team can work even more effectively remotely. And we are looking to plan farther out into the future and consider both larger and more intimate community gatherings.


March 31, 2010

We held this workshop at Burning Man HQ early in the year to get people who had never been to Burning Man thinking ahead to their first burn! Led by a long-time volunteer, an esteemed panel of seasoned Burners covered playa preparation basics. People found it so helpful we may just have to make it an annual tradition!

March 6, 2010

About 1700 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 200 community leaders and regional contacts from around the world who were in town for Burning Man’s Regional Leadership Summit. We showed imagery from Burning Man regional gatherings and it was an amazingly full night of art, lively conversation and performance. It was one of our zanier Flambe Lounges with everything from a punk rock cellist in a speedo to cartoon characters, and booty shaking aliens! Quite a night!

PRECOMPRESSION – Celebrating the 25th Burning Man Event and the start of our 25th Year!
June 19, 2010

Precompression is normally a forum for theme camps and artists to showcase their plans for Burning Man.  But this year we decided we’d also make it a celebration for our upcoming 25th Burning Man event and retrospective of highlight moments of year’s past. It included a gallery of artwork from Burning Man events throught the years; an outdoor fire art area with curated fire performances; and a virtual who’s who of some of our community’s best loved artists and performers. We also erected a 20 foot Man for the occasion! Expenses were very high for an event of that scale, promotion a little too late, and in an effort to keep entry prices affordable—we lost our pants.

June 24, 2010

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 collaborators and supplies. This included an overview of the Burning Man art theme by Burning Man’s Art Council and a presentation on The Black Rock Arts Foundation (BRAF) mission to fund year-round interactive art projects off-playa (ie., not at Burning Man). There was a reminder that not all the art burns at Burning Man and that we are committed to placing interactive art publicly in cities around the world.

Many comment that this event gives greater meaning to the artwork when they see completed projects at Burning Man and, increasingly, elsewhere in the world.

SF DECOMPRESSION: 11th Annual Heat the Street FaIRE!
October 10, 2010

Over eight thousand people created and participated in this annual Street FaIRE!, which was once again held on Indiana Street from Noon to Midnight. The day was chock-full of interactive art, music, diverse performances and a full range of creative expression. Decompression has become a showcase for our community’s art and culture, and continues to evolve as a community gathering 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 grandmother of them all and a much loved part of the Bay Area art scene. Many look forward to it all year long and for those who can’t get to Burning Man it is their Bay Area “family reunion.”

Attendance increased by over 2000 and this was our biggest Decompression to date.  A challenge we faced was being sensitive to neighborhood impact with higher attendance and more neighbors living direclty on the block in housing that was completed last year. We scheduled a “car walker valet service” to safely walk neighbor cars in and out of the event so they could access their garage. We also cancelled one sound location opposite the new building. Though technically not required to do these things we sought to work with our neiighbors so as to minimize inconvenience to them. Happily, many of them also chose to stay the whole day and join the fun, sharing their patios, art and gifts of their own! A favorite memory of the day was the neighbor who stood on his balcony screaming “I love you people! I waited ALL year for you to come back!”

There were no serious injuries and ZERO complaints filed with the police or city, which never happens with ANY street fair!  To everyone involved and to our neighbors in the Dogpatch, we say thank you and we love you!

Decompression 2010 was easily our best year in terms of production, attendance and neighborhood participation. We also made significant advances in averting landfill by looking at our waste stream and expanding composting and recyling efforts to a granular level. We left the entire neighborhood cleaner than it was before our event, paid for an annual park re-seeding, came back to host a gardening day with neighbors and the Department of Parks & Recreation, and were able to donate funds to help with a neighborhood effort to green 22nd Street—a plan that includes creating park-lets, increasing social space, and planning for at least one location for public art. These are some of the things we do to try to leave things BETTER than they were and we remain committed to doing so.

Some specific ideas we implemented that made Decompression run smoothly:

  • We expanded our 19th Street gate operations and beefed up Will Call operations at 20th Street.
  • We updated the Decompression survival guide to educate people about challenges, commitments to neighbors, and rules.
  • We cut back on an additional sound system, reducing sound locations by two over the last two years and asked sound camps to trade off and collaborate more on both art/décor and sound.
  • 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 actually increased the hours of programming at one stage we used to have fewer performances on, but kept it low-impact sound.
  • We refined our end of night exit plan, which made Indiana Street a one way street from Midnight to 2am and directed exiting vehicles in a systematic and orderly fashion. We also locked down our perimeters and avoided the problem we have had in the past with taxis racing down the block as people were exiting. More to do to get theme camps and crew out faster, but better than last year.
  •  We refined our inventory and placement process; centralized performer hospitality so it could be more consistently staffed; and brought the detail of our mapping to a new level. All these helped bring even greater order to setup and breakdown.
  • We expanded our breakdown crew to move barricades and infrastructure to pickup locations faster.

What Worked For ALL Special Events in 2010:

  • The new members that showed up at our January Open Call meeting brought new energy and ideas to an already mature and capable team.
  • 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 get all those tools on our new Ultranet in 2011 so more people can refine and access them throughtout the year.
  • We got rave reviews for all our events. Burnal Equinox and Precompression are as well loved as Decompression at this point. And we are meeting community needs with more varied content and kinds of events and workshops. In fact, we are doing more and more each year.
  • We lost money on our Precompression but made it back on Decompression so as to end the year covering event expenses, including our free events and year-round meeting expenses for the team.
  • Burning Man continued to maintain positive working relationships with neighbors, city officials, and the SF Fire Department on behalf of artists. We were commended by the Bayview Police Station Special Events Officer and by Rec and Park.
  • Our events have become showcases for Burning Man culture and unveil new art works in the city, which exhibit increasing levels of “radical collaboration.”  We also 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 art for public placement.

Top Challenges:

  • Finding appropriate venues to have fire art and exhibit a full range of human expression–our greatest team challenge.
  • Finding reliable end of night volunteers; although we made definite progress here this year. Thanks and keep the help coming!
  • Special Events needs to use technology solutions so we can share information effectively among our team members. Thankfully, we have several volunteers this year committed to helping do just that.
  • 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 and out team has expanded.

Key Lessons Learned –Many here are the same as last year:

  • Planning our events earlier and locking in venues 12-24 months in advance. Next we want to start planning 5 years out for special projects and thinking in terms of city-wide celebrations our team can support.
  • The number of events was appropriate for this year’s team.Yet we want to do more workshops, lectures and new kinds of art gatherings that fulfill a larger civic function and inspire and expand consciousness.
  • To do more our team must grow a bit more, with an expanded base of experts in all areas to keep things fun, safe, and avoid burn-out—even as we remain a team where new people can learn.
  • We need to increase communication and information sharing among sub-teams. Team leads have to start doing their own operating manuals and refine them.
  • We need to create tools and processes that allow us to work on events simultaneously and in tandem.
  • Instead of always creating new events we also learned to incorporate workshops into other events.
  • 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 our social gatherings and how to keep our events meaningful and special as our community evolves.

We are already planning out events for 2011 and 2012 and considering ways to potentially help the city celebrate the Golden Gate Bridge 75th Anniversary. We are also considering 2013 when the World Cup comes to SF and it will be the Port’s 150th Anniversary. Check the Special Events section of the Web site for final dates and details as they develop. If you live in the Bay Area and would like to help with year round events, e-mail flambelounge@burningman.com and join us for a team meeting. We encourage you to keep the fire burning all year long in your unique way!

Submitted by,
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