Special Events

At the end of 2010, the Burning Man Special Events Team met to review the year and create a proposed event plan for 2011. We kicked the year off using that plan as a draft to spark discussion about what gatherings our Bay Area community most wanted to see happen and create. 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 team roles, help with a specific event, or lead a workshop. They were also invited to attend monthly public team planning meetings and join our team announce list.

In 2011, the Special Events team produced and assisted with the following gatherings:

  • Art Grant Workshop by Beth Scarborough and Josie Schimke + Art Lounge Artist Mixer, January 13, 2011
  • Esprit Park Gardening & Park Servicing, January 15, 2011
  • Newbie Questions Answered Workshop by Nova + Mixer – February 9, 2011
  • Digital Theme Camp Plan Workshop by Jonesy Jones – February 9, 2011
  • Burnal Equinox Celebration, March 5th, 2011
  • Recycled & Altered Costume RE-making Workshop by Terry Penn – March 30, 2011
  • Department of Mutant Vehicles Art Car Workshop – March 30, 2011
  • The Burning Man Leadership Caucus lecture & mixer – April 1, 2011
  • Together with Dan of Mystery, a “Costume Swap & Gift Boutique” at the BBQ-A-Noobie Picnic in Golden Gate Park, June 4, 2011
  • Flag-making for High Winds Workshop by Marcia Crosby – June 11, 2011
  • A Burning Parents Workshop by Beth Scarborough – June 11, 2011
  • Precompression, June 18, 2011
  • Desert Art Preview, June 23, 2011
  • No Spectators Day Scavenger Hunt – July 31, 2011
  • The 12th Annual Decompression Heat the Street FaIRE!, October 9, 2011
  • Dogpatch Neighborhood Clean-up, October 10, 2011
  • Fundraising for Artists Workshop by Will Chase – December 13, 2011
  • Members of the team also helped the Black Rock Arts Foundation with a May 19th Art Pad fundraiser and November 19th ARTumnal Gathering benefit.

The 2011 event plan was similar to 2010, with the following changes: we did a few more workshops, scaled Precompression back to a smaller event after organizing last year’s 25th Anniversary mega-celebration, reinvented No Spectators Day on July 31st, and planned for increased attendance at Decompression after seeing tickets to Burning Man 2010 were in extremely high demand.

For those interested in working with the Special Events team, in 2012, we are open to all levels of interest and experience. We continue to think about “life beyond the playa”, what the right kinds of gatherings are for our year-round community in the Bay Area, and how best to encourage more collaboration, “ARTicipation”, civic responsibility, imagination and FUN! Want to help? Email flambelounge(at)burningman.com to find out more and SEvolunteers(at)burningman.com to volunteer.We had great consistency in team membership and new team members stepped in to expand our capabilities in social media, lighting and audio-visuals. We regularly had 30-50 people at our monthly meetings and our events went smoothly. This year we were able to reduce the duration and number of full-team meetings by working more effectively in sub-teams. This year we also began thinking beyond legacy events to how we can do new kinds of gatherings outside of our regular indoor venues to positively engage public spaces, entire neighborhoods and cities.


ART GRANT Workshop – January 13, 2011

NO SPECTATORS DAY SCAVENGER HUNT – July 31, 2011We held this workshop at Mission Rock Cafe early in the year to help artists plan ahead for grant application season. Led by Beth Scarborough of the Burning Man Art Council and Josie Schimke of the Black Rock Arts Foundation, the workshop was extremely well attended. Josie and Beth have many years of combined experience with grants—both reading and writing them—so the workshop was chock-full of helpful and wise tips about what grant reviewers look for and how to write a realistic, concise and compelling application. The workshop was followed by an artist appreciation mixer and social time, where the questions and ideas continued over snacks and beverages. This workshop was so popular we decided on the spot to repeat it in 2012.

SF DECOMPRESSION: 12th Annual Heat the Street FaIRE! – October 9, 2011In observance of No Spectators Day this year, teams of Burners participated in a truly marvelous art and experience-based scavenger hunt. It began at Hayes Green in Hayes Valley and led people throughout the city on a memorable journey. It took approximately four hours to complete the adventure and included stops at major works of art The Black Rock Arts Foundation has assisted artists to install in San Francisco and Treasure Island. Points were awarded for solving riddles, collaborating with other teams, completing as many challenges as possible in the allotted time, and for originality in addressing various creative challenges throughout the hunt. This proved so much fun that we plan to create a new and expanded version next year with other arts organizations to highlight art and unusual experiences in the Central Market district of San Francisco, where we are now headquartered.

This year we made a few key improvements at the Heat the Street FaIRE:In keeping with the increase in attendance at Burning Man this year and thanks to the picture-perfect sunny day we had, attendance increased by approximately 2000 and was our most attended event in San Francisco to date. A challenge we faced was being sensitive to neighborhood impact with higher attendance and more neighbors living direclty on the block. Happily, many neighbors have adopted this event as their official block party and join the fun, sharing their patios, creativity and gifts of their own!Throughout the day some ten thousand people participated in this annual street fair, which was once again held on Indiana Street from Noon to Midnight. This year we had a jam-packed and stellar line up of interactive art, theme camps, music, diverse performances and a full spectrum of creative expression. This daylong event has become an urban showcase for our art and culture, proving that what happens in Black Rock City doesn’t have to stay there! In fact, official Burning Man Decompressions now happen throughout the world in accordance with agreed upon community event production criteria and the principles of Burning Man. The SF Decom is the grandmother of them all and a much-loved part of the Bay Area arts scene. Many look forward to it all year and for those who can’t get to Burning Man it is their Bay Area “family reunion.”

  • Working with UCSF Medical Center to utilize their parking lot and property we were able to significantly expand our entrance areas to make the entry experience rapid and increase the amount of exhibition space on 19th Street.
  • We moved recycling and composting off the street to private property, thereby freeing up additional exhibition space on the street and minimizing sorting noise and loss of parking for neighbors at Homes on Esprit.
  • We reversed the direction of the 21st Street Stage to point away from an area with more residents.
  • We gave more room to the fire art area, which reduced crowding.
  • We rented property from a neighbor to add additional exhibition space for theme camps and artists in an area that had not been usable before.

Some things that did not work well this year were:

  • Sound: We had several sound complaints for the first time in many years and our first formal warning ever issued to us by the Entertainment Commission–which was called out to respond to sound complaints resulting from two sound camp areas. Sound metering by the Entertainment Commission indicated that sound camps located at 19th Street and near the 18th Street overpass on Indiana, were both exceeding sound limits on neighboring streets. The sound camps involved did not self-monitor and our sound metering person was not as vigilant with sound metering as usual. One group brought in a much larger sound system than expected and positioned their speakers in a manner that led sound to travel farther than in previous years. We have learned some valuable lessons here about restricting the size of sound systems, working directly with sound engineers, and the importance of sticking to our plans regarding speaker positioning and active sound monitoring. No more Mr. Nice Guy when it comes to sound at Decom! This year proved we need to stick to the plan and actively monitor sound. This is a serious matter.
  • About 20 port-o-potties were placed in the wrong location by our pottie vendor. This led to a particularly jammed intersection near the 18th Street overpass, where the road narrows and we had a popular dance camp and art display located. Thankfully that was our only bottleneck this year and we have made our vendor aware of the importance of following our exact placement plan.
  • There were damages to plants at the corner of 19th and Indiana on UCSF property. A section of the lovely garden there was crushed by people cutting behind potties to take a short cut. We subsequently had to pay for a gardener to replace the foliage and we are happy to report things are back to normal and spruced up. But we should have fenced off that delicate garden area and recommend doing so in the future. More signage may also be helpful.

To everyone involved and to our neighbors in the Dogpatch, we say thank you; we love you; and we can do a better job on sound. To thank our neighbors we left the neighborhood and city underpasses cleaner than before our event; we paid for an annual park re-seeding; we came back to host a gardening day with neighbors and the Department of Parks & Recreation; and donated funds to help with a neighborhood effort to green 22nd Street—a plan that includes creating park-lets, increasing social space, and planning 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.


What Worked For ALL Special Events in 2011:

  • The team had virtually no turnover in staff and new members brought more 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.
  • Event mission statements, role documents, volunteer announce lists, event timelines, and full year team meeting schedules—all helped get the team on the same page and working toward common goals to meet deadlines earlier.
  • Our events were well attended and we got rave reviews from participants. We are bringing together diverse groups of people and meeting community needs with varied content and various kinds of events and workshops.
  • We had a financially successful year and donated profits from Decompression to The Burning Man Project non-profit to help kickstart new art, educational and civic engagement programs. HOORAY!
  • We continued to maintain positive working relationships with neighbors, city officials, the Department of Recreation & Parks, Bayview Police Station, and the SF Fire Department on behalf of artists.
  • Our events provide a forum for artists and performers to experiment with new work and many exhibit increasing levels of collaboration. We also helped cover the costs needed to restore numerous works of art after wear and tear in the Black Rock Desert and we invited city officials and members of the larger Bay Area arts community to consider more art for public placement.

Top Challenges:

  • Finding appropriate and affordable venues that safely allow fire art and the exhibition of a full range of human expression.
  • Many team members have no down time and volunteer for roles at Burning Man and all year long in the city. Avoiding burnout is a challenge, even though we love what we do.
  • Using technology smarter so we can share information effectively among our team members.

Key Lessons Learned:

  • Planning events earlier and locking in venues 12-24 months in advance. We are endeavoring to plan 3-5 years out.
  • The number of events was appropriate for this year’s team.
  • As we organize more gatherings and events 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 learned the wisdom of incorporating workshops and proposed event ideas into other events to make them richer.
  • 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 and grows. We want to do more workshops, lectures and new kinds of art gatherings that fulfill a larger civic function and engage the world in new and inspiring ways.

We are planning out to 2013 and considering ways to help the city celebrate the Golden Gate Bridge 75th Anniversary and the World Cup city-wide celebrations. 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 here, e-mail flambelounge@burningman.com and join us for a team meeting. Regardless, we encourage you to keep the fire burning all year long in your unique way!

Submitted by,
$teven Ra$pa