Greening Your Burn

Table of Contents

Greening Your Art

First off, thank you for contributing art to Burning Man. Art is at the center of our community, and at Burning Man, artists are the rock stars they should be in the real world. Whether you’re a veteran Burning Man artist or this is your first time bringing art to the playa, this section can give you some valuable insights and shifts in perspective that will help you make your art more environmentally friendly.

As a first step, we recommend you read the about the 6 R’s: Respect, rethink, reduce, reuse, recycle and restore. If you keep these ideas at the forefront of your consciousness while you conceive and create your art installation, you are sure to be as green as you can get, and garner the satisfaction you will have earned.

There are many aspects to think about with regard to the materials you choose for your installation. Of course there are practical and aesthetic considerations, but why not bring another perspective?

Think about your material choices chronologically, and ask yourself: Where did they come from? How can I use them the most efficiently? Where will they end up when I’m done?

Purchase or acquire materials from socially and environmentally conscious sources. Wherever possible, reuse, repurpose and recycle materials, rather than buying new. While it can be more challenging to use repurposed materials, it’s more creatively interesting and compelling to see how you can affect the lifecycle of an object by transmogrifying its purpose. You’d be surprised how many companies (let alone individuals) are offering used and repurposed materials. Do some research and explore the options for obtaining repurposed materials in your area.

It’s during your planning phase that it’s most important to think about the end-game — where will your materials end up? Landfill? Repurposed elsewhere? Burned? What’s the most environmentally friendly choice you can make? Many organizations accept donations. Burners Without Borders conducts a construction-grade lumber reclaiming project at the end of the event now, for example.

To Burn or Not to Burn?
Burning of art on the playa amounts to about 1% of the total environmental impact of the Burning Man experience. Don’t let people shame you into not burning your artwork, if that’s your desire.

If you do choose to burn your art, it’s critical you plan to avoid using toxic materials or paint that would be released into the atmosphere. Paint, very bad to burn. Plastics, very very bad. Learn more on our burning page.

We suggest calculating the emissions impact of your burn and purchasing carbon offsets to counter your environmental footprint.

Lighting and Power
You absolutely must light your installation at night, even when it’s just a construction site during your setup phase. People crash into unlit art projects every year, and it makes for a pretty nasty way to spend your Burning Man. You don’t want to live with the guilt of having injured somebody, do you?

Hint: glowsticks are bad bad bad.

In many cases, it’s necessary to provide power to your installation. Rather than defaulting to gas-powered generators, look at biodiesel generators, solar, people power or other options.

Digging Holes in the Playa
Sometimes you have to dig holes in the playa for your installation. It’s imperative that you save the dirt you remove (using a burlap sack, compactor bag or contractor bag works), so you can replace it once you’re done. And remember to tamp it flat. Adding water as you replace the soil helps settle it in place.

Most importantly, you must not dig holes in the playa larger than 3 cubic feet. That could be 1′ square and 3′ deep, or 3′ square and 1′ deep. Or 1.5′ square and deep. You get the idea. Reason being, any hole larger than that will not stay flush with the rest of the playa once it’s refilled, resulting in a permanent divot in the playa, which is not only leaving a trace, but leaving a dangerous one for the innumerable vehicles (from motorcycles to ATV’s to rocket cars) that zip across the playa year round.

Leave No Trace
One of the biggest MOOP factors on the playa is construction materials. Wood chips, splinters, nails, screws and sawdust. Yes, all of those are MOOP. Anything not of the playa itself is considered MOOP, folks. Bring a magnet rake with you if you’re doing metal work, including welding, grinding, screws, nails, staples — magnet rakes are a great way to clean up metal quickly and easily.

When you’re building, use tarps or other coverings to catch splinters, metal shavings and sawdust. Yes, it can be a pain to deal with, but it’s certainly better than trying to clean up wood splinters and sawdust off the playa floor. Easiest rule of thumb is: never let it hit the ground, and (like in any good shop or kitchen) clean as you go.

And it almost goes without saying that your installation should have no parts that could dislodge in the extreme playa conditions and become inadvertent MOOP.

If you’re building a particularly large installation, you will find that your transportation costs constitute a very large chunk of your budget — especially if you’re coming from far away. That, and the trucks required to bring your artwork out have the environmental footprint of a yeti. Consider teaming up with other artists or theme camps to share the ride.

Burning Man Arts maintains a list of artists creating artwork any given year. Work with them to connect with other artists so you can perhaps go in on a truck together and share the load. Other options include hitting up folks on the ePlaya or ride share board and try your luck there.


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