Appropriate to the 2009 “Evolution” theme, Burning Man been focused on finding ways to nurture and support the thriving Burning Man Regional Network. The Regional Committee, comprised of staffers and volunteers who contribute to supporting the Network, has focused great attention on creating conditions and structures that will ensure that the evolution of the Network and the Burning Man culture at large are not hindered by over-management or overly centralized processes. We’re aiming to create models for leadership that will support the efforts of regional Burning Man communities, meanwhile ensuring the sustainability of the Regional Network in the face of rapid growth and increasing demands on its infrastructure.
With economic concerns on everyone’s minds, Burning Man’s budget for supporting Regionals/Outreach efforts was significantly reduced right alongside the rest of the departments. The Regional Committee and other staffers are regularly summoned to many locations to make in-person visits – often we’re requested to directly assist with events, participate in Town Meetings or film screenings; on occasion, we undertake an in-person visit to conduct interviews for new Regional Contacts in an area, or to help new teams get started or old ones to recover from challenges.
Turning down almost every such request for our presence in 2009 was not always without negative impact or perception – some areas and challenges still warrant or want for that level of attention. And yet, more evolution: innovation all across the network sprung up as people rose to meet local challenges in new ways, and we indeed saw more cross-regional collaboration within and across various communities as these leaders worked together to overcome and evolve.
In 2009, the Regional Network swelled to include over 100 regions around the world with interest as far away as places like Russia, Hong Kong and the Philippines. The Regional Committee has been working to restructure the Network in order to help balance its exponential growth with our limited staff, infrastructural, and technological resources. The Regionals Committee is currently working to create a structure that will better empower and assist the Regional Contacts to help support one another and collaborate across regions, and redistribute some of the care and feeding of the Network’s evolution to engage more peer-to-peer support and interaction.
The Film Fest in a Box finally saw significant developmental leaps as new volunteers infused the project with brand new life; a fantastic new internal website helps guide them through the process in a more user-friendly way, and a team is hard at work converting the DVD based festival into a digital download, supporting more executions of this gathering throughout the Network — without shipping DVD’s around the globe.
In February of 2009, the Third Annual Regional Leadership Summit was held at Burning Man;s Headquarters in San Francisco. Regional Contacts and other local leaders from across the Burning Man culture gathered for a weekend to share experiences, “best practices,” and the advice and know-how that can only truly come about through collaboration and the sharing of stories, support, and experiences.
Annually, we’ve encouraged strong leaders from across the Network to create Case Studies to present to their fellow Summit attendees. In 2009, the leaders behind Figment in NYC and the Detroit Dream Temple shared their experiences producing a large-scale public event on Governor’s Island and a community art project in the inner city. Leaders from Seattle held a seminar on How to Run an Effective Town Hall Meeting and last year Chicago leaders gave a presentation on how they created a Steering Committee to foster the growth of their community.
As we plan of the 2010 Regional Summit, we are turning to the Regional Contacts and other community leaders more than ever to determine what types of workshops and trainings would be the most useful to them in their roles as community leaders.
Not only did we see more cross-regional collaboration in 2009 within the Regional Network, but there was more collaboration between the four Outreach groups of the Burning Man Project, as well. Black Rock Solar, Burners without Borders and the Black Rock Arts Foundation joined forces with the Regional Network to create the Culture Labs camp in Black Rock City. Whereas on 2008’s “Everywhere Lane”, the four groups each had their own structure and “look and feel,” this year’s “Culture Labs” housed all four groups under a single roof — a recycled the shade structure from the Green Man Pavillion in 2007. By sharing a playa home, the groups were able to pool resources and share a collective story for all who visited about all the different ways to engage with the Burner community and its ethos year-round. The creation of a camp behind the Culutre Labs was a trememdous success, and fostered new friendships and greater communication between members of each Outreach group.
To help Burners from around the world stay connected year-round to one another and to the Burning Man Network, Burningman.com now hosts an Official List of Regional Events and host web pages for each region within the Burning Man Regional Network. We’re always looking at new and better ways for Regionals to share calendars and other web-based information through this resource, and creating better support for the Network overall.
The modern Burning Man participant population is nearly best described as a diaspora – one with many members who reconvene annually in the Black Rock Desert for their original celebration, but with still other members who do not all regularly – and indeed, sometimes do not ever – plan to attend that event. Regional Burning Man activity takes so many forms: it can be a performance act orchestrated by a solo Burner in a remote location, a civic action by a small crew, or a produced activity or event produced by a well-developed local team in areas of urban Burner density – these are the vision of Burning Man made manifest. There are no plans to ever abandon or remove focus from the desert event, but it is clearer than ever that Black Rock City, Nevada is but a representation of something much greater. That energy is taking on more permanent form in the year-round lives of Burners everywhere, and is continually enhanced by those who are daily welcomed to become a part of those local activities and communities and the Burning Man culture at large.
Meghan Rutigliano and Andie Grace