Lighting Your Art Installation

One of the important design steps in bringing art to the playa is deciding how to light your art, both for safety and to make your art look awesome. 

The playa can be a very dark environment at night. Please be sure that your build site and art are lit EVERY SINGLE NIGHT from when you arrive on playa until you depart, to prevent injury to participants or damage to your art from accidental collisions.

During construction, make sure your art project build site and perimeter, including any rebar or guy wires,  are well-lit at night and neatly organized (lumber stacked, loose materials secured, etc.) for safety.

Keep in mind that, with sunset at around 7:30pm and sunrise at 6:15am, you need to have a power system for your lighting that can run for at least 10.5 hours. Unfortunately, it’s not unusual to see artworks go dark in the early morning hours because their batteries have run out… with many participants still out and about who could collide with it in the dark. Check this site for sunrise and sunset times and please plan accordingly.

Lighting on playa requires daily maintenance, from the day you start building, to ensure that your lights stay lit. This can be undertaken during your daily Matter Out Of Place (MOOP) sweep.

Although our Eyes on Art (EoA) team is there to support you and other artists by patrolling the playa nightly during build week and the event, looking for dark, dangerous, or damaged art, please remember:

  • It is YOUR responsibility to light your art. 
  • If your art is insufficiently lit, EoA will put out perimeter lights or traffic cones (if available) to protect oncoming mutant vehicles, bikes or other vehicles from colliding with it.These lights and cones should be returned to the ARTery in the morning.
  • Your Art Support Services (ASS) squad will connect with you and your team to ensure that you correct your lighting problems before the next nightfall.

General Guidelines for Your Safety Lighting Plan

  • Design safety lighting into your art design, not as an afterthought.
  • Use the 20-second rule. People should be able to see your art 20 seconds before they arrive at it. Since mutant vehicles travel at 5 mph, this means they should be able to see your art from (minimum) 150 feet away.
  • 360 degree lighting is important for safety. As most lighting is directional, ensure no dark spots in your lighting design by putting up spot-lighting or adding perimeter lighting.
  • Light your rebar. This structural part of your project is often overlooked and is one of the biggest causes of injury on the playa. Be sure to mark it and light it up!
  • Light your perimeter. Mark your boundaries to keep mutant vehicles and bikes at a safe distance from your artwork. Perimeter lighting is best when off the ground, so it does not get buried beneath the dust.
  • Enhance your lighting system. Mirrors and other shiny surfaces can reflect your deliberate lighting as well as headlights from oncoming vehicles. Sound objects like wind chimes can also assist in protecting your art from oncoming vehicles both at night and during daytime playa whiteouts.

Lighting DON’Ts

There are many forms of light for you to choose from. Please DON’T use:

  • Chemical lights (“glow sticks”): they don’t last an entire night and are bad for the environment
  • Fuel lanterns (tiki torches, etc): no unattended flames are allowed on the playa

Acceptable Lighting Options

  • LEDs
    • Highly efficient, effective alternative to conventional lighting
    • Compact
    • Available in an array of colors
    • Easy to power and control
    • Perform well in extreme environments
  • Rope lights
    • Available as incandescent bulbs or LEDs
    • Inexpensive solution
    • Can make a great demarcation, point of reference, or general area light
  • Small blinking (bicycle) lights
    • Easy to procure
    • Bright enough to warn on-comers of potential hazards
    • Do not cast much light on the surroundings
    • Should be used as warning lights only
  • Solar lights (garden lights, etc.)
    • For ground-mounted solar lights, consider lifting them up and off the ground to minimize dust accumulation on the integrated solar panel and LED light, which can greatly impair their functionality
    • Can be used for perimeter marking or accents, but not very bright and should not be considered the main source of lighting
    • If not staked down properly, they can be blown away or get stolen
    • For larger solar light installations that require solar panels, see the “Power” section below
  • Neon
    • Highly efficient
    • Consumes little power in operation
    • Can last for years if utilized properly
    • Since it is made of glass, consider placing it out of reach to guard against breakage
  • Electroluminescent (EL) panels or wire
    • Highly portable, flexible, and customizable
    • Available in neon/fluorescent colors, different shapes and diameters
    • Can be powered with simple or sophisticated lighting controllers
  • Incandescent lighting
    • Highly accessible
    • Available in standardized packages
    • Generates light omnidirectionally
    • Consumes a lot more power, produces more heat, and is far more fragile than their updated counterparts
  • Lasers
    • Do not consider using lasers unless you understand the regulations surrounding them.

Power for Your Lights

To the extent possible, please help us reduce the carbon footprint of Black Rock City by considering sustainable sources to power your artwork, such as solar or wind. To learn how to use solar to power your art, check out this Solar 101 course on Hive

(You can learn more about Burning Man Project’s community-wide effort to prioritize sustainability and lessen our environmental impact in our 2030 Environmental Sustainability Roadmap.)

No matter the source of power you’re using, it needs to be checked daily prior to sundown to ensure your art will be lit throughout the night. Take this time to also do a MOOP sweep! If you are having lighting issues your team can’t fix, make sure you get to the ARTery before 6pm closing time.

  • Solar
    • Before acquiring components (solar panels, charge controller, battery, inverter, wiring, connectors), take the time to properly design your system for whatever you may be powering
    • Always build margins into solar systems, be sure to account for no/low solar days, plan for worst-case scenarios and bring along additional components to perform onsite repairs.
    • Solar systems require daily maintenance to remove dust and check connections.
  • Small Batteries
    • Require daily swap-out
  • Car Batteries
    • Should be stored in a cool, dry place
    • Should be secured to ensure they don’t wander off
  • Generator
    • Needs to be secured within a generator box (see the “Baffle Your Box” section of the Keeping Your Art Safe on Playa page
    • Fuel needs to be arranged with ASS

Re-using Your Lighting

Post-event, your lighting system can be used for future years if it is in good condition. If you are going to re-use your lighting system for another year, be sure to check that it is still in working order before returning to playa, and think about ways you can improve it.

If you don’t plan to reuse it, consider donating your unneeded lighting objects to avoid having them end up in a landfill. You can check with Eyes on Art at the ARTery to see if they are accepting donations of small solar lamps, bicycle lights, blinkies and other small lighting accessories.