Yomi Ayeni and the Stories of We Are From Dust
Yomi is an impassioned and jovial part of the small team doing big things in the nonprofit arts organization “We Are From Dust.” The all-Burner team is dedicated to proliferating interactive, participatory artwork in public spaces that transforms the way people engage with art, and changes how they consider their daily lives.
In this time of dramatic changes for in-person experiences, We Are From Dust persists to support artists in our community, find new avenues for sharing participatory art around the globe, and support Black Lives Matter beyond first-world applications.
Remember when “Press Here” became “Media Mecca” in Black Rock City 1998? Yomi and Andie do, and they tell some tales and laugh some laughs.
Yomi is an award-winning Transmedia storyteller, film producer, and digital strategist, as well as an author, artist, record producer, and event organizer. In 2009, Breathe, Yomi’s first interactive feature film launched at the London International Film Festival, and recently he produced three large-scale installations for the Royal Observatory in London.
STUART: Hello, invisible friends, wherever you are in this big crazy world. Welcome back to another episode of Burning Man live the, uh, the Daredevil podcast. It walks a tightrope between WOW – wow – and WTF every week, uh, without a net. Unless you count post production, which is actually a pretty massive net. Anyway, let’s do a show.
I’m Stuart Mangrum and I’m here this week with my good friend, Andy Grace.
ANDIE: Hi Stewart.
Hi. I’ve been thinking about the reasons that it was so fun to start this podcast. And one of the exciting things about it lately, and that’s it’s brought me into contact. Burning Man has brought me into contact with some of the most fascinating and inspiring people doing incredible things in the world and they’re participating so fiercely in, like shaping culture and helping humanity, moving creativity around in the world. And I’ve met some people who are just so lucid and so frank about it, how Burning Man and their participation in it actually added to, or inspired their enthusiasm for it, engaging with the world in that way.
Today’s guest is really one of the best examples I can think of. We Are From Dust, could it be a better example? It’s right there in the name We Are From Dust.
STUART: Yeah, I’m with you. This is, this is exciting to me too, to kind of get out of our navel gazing and get out more into the world. There are lots of interesting stories inside Black Rock City and around the environment, but there are so many stories out in the larger world, and this is definitely one of them.
Um, so. We Are From Dust. I’m going to read from their website here, just so people we’ll get a little context, is a nonprofit arts organization dedicated to proliferating interactive participatory artwork in public spaces and private exhibitions that not only transforms the way people engage with art, but changes how they consider their daily lives.
ANDIE: I love this part. We Are From Dust embraces the values of self expression, Self-reliance, Inclusion, Participation, Gifting, Communal Effort, Civic Responsibility, Immediacy, Decommodification, Leaving No Trace except positive interactions, and is committed to demonstrating and sharing these values with others through art. That sounds kind of familiar. Doesn’t it?
STUART: That sounds extraordinarily familiar. I think I counted 10 clauses there. Is that right? Uh, yeah, for the 10 Principles. Okay. Let’s go ahead and get started. Let’s bring on our guest.
ANDIE: Today our guest is Yomi Ayeni. Uh, he is a member of the team that is bringing We Are From Dust into the world and has a rich and deep background with Burning Man. And we’re going to get into all of that. Welcome to the show. Yum’s.
YOMS: Thank you. It’s great to be here. It’s great to see you guys.
STUART: It’s great. You want me to thank you so much for joining us. I gotta ask you first how’s things in London. You’re in London, right?
YOMS: I mean. I am. Things are a little bit tight in London. It’s the rule of six, which means just six people at any one point. No gatherings, no big parties. In fact we are at a point where we may, as a nation be shut down again. And yeah, there are certain people we’ve got, let little local kind of lockdowns around the country, but they’re now supposedly threatening. To lock London down. So kind of keeping fingers crossed and I hope it doesn’t happen.
STUART: Oh man. but to be clear, you can still get a drink indoors. You don’t have to drink out on the sidewalk like we do here, right?
YOMS: Yes. Oh, goodness. Yes. Well, this is this something you had to wait about that cause they started closing pubs and bars at 10 o’clock and there are a couple of really smart comedians who’ve gone on and to just say, okay, so here’s the deal. Colby knows, you know, before 10 o’clock let people drink at night.
STUART: After 10, let them go drink in the street like California.
YOMS: Well, yeah, it’s, it’s good. But, It’s it’s, it’s kind of hard. The entertainment industry is taking a bashing. Anything else has been helped out. And my world revolves around, you know, I participate in entertainment. people connecting, being able to enjoy each other’s company and that in itself sparks beautiful ideas and inspires. Um, it’s more or less like a wet blankets they’ve chucked over that. And there’s no lifeline, so not quite sure what we’re going to do at Christmas.
ANDIE: Well, let’s talk about the, We Are From Dust cause that’s exciting and you guys are doing some things, uh, and I want to talk about first, how it, how it kind of came into being, what is it? And then how did it begin?
YOMS: We Are From Dust is a culmination of the 21 years of being part of this amazing family that makes the annual pilgrimage to the desert. And after having my head blown over and over and over again by the magnificence of the art that manifests in the desert, I came to the conclusion that if you were to take photographs from every single gig around the world, we had a desert festival, be it an inner city festival. We had an art event, or you had these pictures all lined up. You’d have these shiny, happy people in their amazing clothes. It looked absolutely awesome, you know, all looking the same in their own respective ways.
Different environment. And then you get to a picture where you see this enormous piece of art. So you kind of ask, you say, really? I say, yeah, so this wasn’t Photoshopped in? It wasn’t super imposed though. That is what that is art and we can climb it and you can touch it. I came to the conclusion that for me, art was a calling card. It was the main calling card. And that card needs to be shared in various places because the art has broken so many brains and inspire people to do the most amazing stuff in whichever field they’re from. So I thought, okay. We’re going to take this thing out
As much as I love that orange fence that goes all the way around the city, I kind of felt the art needed to break free. and to do it in a very similar context, no one pays to see this stuff. It’s got to go to places where people would never normally experience art of that kind. And I wanted everyone to have that. Wow. You Rica moment that I had when I first came out in 98 to look at this thing and ponder whether, you know, the person who built this was alien, or just to be sure the person hasn’t got about 10 brains and you touch it and you look around and no one’s, it says you can’t touch it. No one says you can’t climb it. and I kind of felt that was what we were going to do. And the name was kind of natural. Cause I know the organization is pretty particular about the brand and all the rest of this stuff, but we are the diaspora.
STUART: We call it an identity, not a brand.
YOMS: About the identity. We kind of looked at it and said, you know, yeah, I think you asked her, we are. Even people who haven’t been to the event, you know, are inspired by some of the things they see. They aspire to come out there, aspire to bring stuff. You meet people time and time again, say I’m going to do something at Burning Man.
Have you been before? No, but I’ve seen the photographs. I’m coming out to do something. You know what? We are going to bring something out to the world and share it in the most transparent way. And that’s How We Are From Dust came with the house.
ANDIE: So what were some of the first projects you guys did?
YOMS: Oh, goodness. You don’t want me to talk about the first projects! Learn some lessons? Did we! Oh, the first project was we decided that, I mean the initial concept in itself came when I, when I went to the Biennale in Venice. And I saw what people had on display there. And I said, “My city does more than this. Is this the best the world can do?”
Do you know? Okay, we got them. Here we go. It’s not so much as getting a wet fish and smacking him in the face, but it’s a case of, okay, just hold my bear. We’re bringing something out. So we, we, through the generosity of some, some fellow Burners, we, we hired a whole Island in the lagoon in Venice.
Right. We tried to hold the event, but it didn’t work. And, uh, we did some back channeling and we were told that, The Benalla was quite traditional and it is a traditional event, but, while the event requires a ticket, we were going to be free. As we’ve always said, we were going to be closed at about five o’clock.
Well, we were going to be going on til midnight. And not just in a really meek and mild way. We were going to have some big, big art with lots of lights in the middle of the lagoon. And we were told that, which seems like we’re taking a shine away from the curator and we weren’t awarded the status that we wanted.
And as it happens, The donors and the people who supported us kind of felt it would be bad for us to turn up and be the kids that weren’t allowed in a party, but turned up with our own Jeep, a keg of beer and a sound system and parts outside. I said, stuck a finger up in the world and said, we’re having our own party. We don’t care. So, we decided to scale that down and, lots of people, you know, it was quite disappointing. Yeah. It kind of knocked me back quite a lot. I went through a serious bout of self doubt, cause when people trust you enough to, to give you the sort of opportunity that I was given and we lost quite a lot of money on that. it kind of knocks you back and, you know, people were saying, well, it’s okay. We actually, you know, we doubted it would happen, but we gave you money nonetheless, and thought yeah, pull it through. And somewhere in between that self doubt, wasn’t so much self-loathing, but there was a dark moment or two.
I came out to Artumnal Gathering and I was introduced to [name jumbled], who at that point had just bought a big chunk of land, in Richmond at points on Pablo Harbor. And, uh, we were at this gig and he was showing me his phone and my mind was on Venice and I just, you know, yeah, yeah, really, really good.
And then Venice didn’t happen. And then we were on the playa and I ran into him and he said, Hey, Yoms do you remember me? I said, Oh my God, it’s the gent who had the land. Yeah. Guess what we bought it! I said, Oh yeah, well, Venice didn’t have to set that. No, no, no. It’s okay. Come and host your first year inaugural piece on my 30 acres by a harbor. And I said, you’re kidding.
He said, no, the dream is still alive. I looked around. And my team said, yes. And you know, when your, your mates and your team pick you up and dust you down, you know, and no one criticizes, no one points a finger, no one says you fucked up. That’s the lesson learnt.
And, and that is how we came about having our inaugural piece. Just Venice. Richmond. Where’s all the art? Where does it live? Where does it end up? You know, so, yeah, it was a no brainer. And off the back of that, a lot of opportunity has opened up, not just for, we are from dust, but. We wanted, it’s not just to host the events and host the art, but to transform the space as well.
And on talking to Rob, I was told, the Harbor used to be a sort of no go zone for the police. And it was quite a rough place. Now you have families just hanging out and playing with the art. And at a time when there’s a colossal lockdown all around the world, you can’t go to museums, but you can go for a walk and Point Saint Pablo Harbor and play with art with no cost whatsoever. Uh, and you can socially distance of, of course, you know, so that’s, that’s our story.
STUART: Yeah. That sort of clash with the traditional art world of the Binali, uh, versus what we do. That to me seems like a capsule of a kind of Burning Man arts relationship to the mainstream art world.
Um, did you get a chance to go to any of the museum shows? And I’m just wondering what you thought about, about that experience. If right now, at, at say at the Smithsonian or the, we have had all these museum shows and
STUART: A lot of, a lot of feedback is that Burning Man art just doesn’t fit inside that world either, literally inside a building or figuratively inside the commercial, highly curated, very controlled world of mainstream art.
YOMS: Well, let’s, there’s something about that. I mean, we are participatory art. If we’re talking about big art, uh, some of our team don’t like the word big arts, but it’s big whether you like it or not. It doesn’t scale. I often say the experience is a result of the piece and the world that frames it, the environment that frames it. When you stand in front of the it, uh, David Best’s temple, and you can see through the amazing lashes of work latches of wood beyond, and there’s nothing blocking that view and you can see be at the sunrise and behind, or, or the dust storm coming towards you, it’s a thing of beauty.
Four walls can. I mean, it almost cattails and, and. And it’s out the impact that the arts should have. I have a, I mean, there’s, there’s there’s space for things like that. I mean, you can have photographs, you can have every single Burning Man ticket in a row that will also conjure up amazing memories of the event. And you can have the schwag, you can have pendants. Yeah. Metals, medallions, you know, stickers, patches. Yes. Things like that. They can do indoors. But the things that artists create for the desert do deserve to be outdoors indoors really. I mean, I kind of liken it to listening to people, some people understand this listening to trance, you know, trance does not work in a four-wall environment environment. You need these frequencies to go tearing along into nowhere. And for me, I. You know, if the music’s too loud, I can walk away up to a point where it’s just about loud enough.
Well, Burning Man artists like that, you may want to be up close, or you may want to distance you, and there can be thousands of people around you, but you can still find your spots. It doesn’t work in museums. I mean, the turbine hall at that, uh, in London at a, at the time wait, which is immense, and that will just about do it.
STUART: If you were allowed to touch it, climb on it, play on it, interact on it. And there wasn’t a velvet of velvet rope and somebody’s standing next to it.
YOMS: Yeah. Well, I mean, we, I mean, that’s the thing, our arts does what it is meant to do whatever it does on the playa. Yes, we do take into account health and safety rules, but it’s about, we go as far as close as we possibly can outdoors. And we’ve had one exhibition, which is, which is successful and it’s done beautifully. Well there are others that are in the pipeline and the very same similar principle, people know what they’re getting and they know hopefully what we are going to do.
ANDIE: I’m guessing that, uh, some of our interests, our listeners are interested in kind of the mechanics of a group like this. How many of you are there and how do you make decisions?
YOMS: I think there are probably about eight of us. How do we make decisions? Well, we’re still working through a lot of that, that, but we have a head person, we have a bunch of, people who, more or less VP’s of the concept, you know, if you were to use the normal, hierarchical sort of structure, and you have a whole load of a whole load of people who also have a certain amount of, a bigger say and whatever they bring to the table gets discussed and debated and acted on.
And we’ve just about got a system running where most people in the team have a particular project that they’re working on and they bring updates to the biweekly meeting and, If help is needed, then, it’s asked for, and if not, then things roll along. And a lot of our communications go on a chat channel, a fairly well known chat channel that most people use these days.
And, Yeah, that, that is how that is how we offer it. But honestly, it’s very similar to being in the media team, you know, or every single person in our group has worked for Burning Man. So we’ve just taken this very similar approach. I take pride in. In saying that, uh, can you relatively, we have donated 150 plus years to working for Burning Man.
STUART: I definitely want to hear more about your experience with the Burning Man media team. but I’m still curious about another thing about your distributed operation. Have you ever all been in the same place? Do you ever have a board meeting where everyone is actually in even pre COVID? Did everybody ever get in the same room or are you all just little boxes on a screen?
YOMS: We have never all been in the same place. Not once it’s, it’s, it’s quite remarkable. But it’s a distributed system and we tried it once. I think we were all there bar Will Chase, and at that point he had just moved to Oregon to Portland and he couldn’t make it down and that was last year.
But up until a week before the burn, we had never been in the same place at the same time. I think we’ve only done it maybe twice. But we’ve never actually, as a team being in the same, same space.
STUART: Here’s hoping that, uh, in Fall of 2021. You guys can all meet together at our favorite city.
STUART: How do you fundraise, uh, and has that been affected by the collapse of so many economies and this COVID thing? What’s your fundraising model? Is it more crowdsourcing or individual donors? A mix, more individual donors.
We have never. Quite filled in a form for donations, uh, the, the, the community of the family, as I like to call them have been. More than generous in helping us do what we do. we had a fundraising campaign. God almighty, take me back there. We had a fundraising campaign that launched a week before the lockdown.
STUART: Great timing.
YOMS: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. We also hosted a dance event, which was beautiful. It was so cool hosted by the guys at unison. I know hopefully some people have heard of the unison team who are absolutely amazing. They’re raising funds for a lot of great causes. And, uh, they looked at what we were doing and were very interested in, in supporting, but, all the money has been from the family from generous, donors and all Burners, just about. They liked what we’ve, we, we, we hope to do and they’ve been inspired. And I guess I’m delighted that the money has been spent well, and we have stayed very, very true to our original ambitions and our original dream to place art in places that would never normally be seen, but also making it give people an opportunity to interact and hopefully break brains.
ANDIE: So that’s what you were kind of up to when, when all of this hit, when COVID hit, you were just starting a fundraising campaign and you must have had to kind of change your tech with shelter in place. Participatory art kind of implies people being in the same space together. What’s changed. Like what are you working on now?
YOMS: Well, we had to pivot somewhat. There were a couple of really interesting things that happened. One was when we had the celebration, we rather than take art into public places and spaces we realized that we had to support artists within our community. And, uh, and we, we set about doing that, but also, we also ran into the Black Lives Matter, developments, which also took us on a totally different course. Which was quite enlightening for me cause the team that we’re working on on getting people interested to come through our event, I’m down more or less down tools.
So they just got back to us and said, look, you guys are raising money to help artists. And there’s lots of you know, various campaigns going and there’s social justice and all the rest of the stuff. And you guys just seem to be dealing with artists and your own weird logic. I just said, guys, just so you know, and I actually had to write this very, very long letter.
I said, I’m okay. Thank you very much for supporting We Are From Dust. We really appreciate how much work you have done towards our event. My name is Yoms. I am founder of the organization. And just so you know, I am Black. I understand what you’re talking about and, you know, just so you know, we are going to be donating. Because we donate it to the bail project and certain, certain projects in the US but, we also, have made two decent sized donations based on our, what we own or what we’ve raised to a group in Kenya called [unclear], it’s a little charity that takes in these underage girls and stops them being married off to old men. And there’s, there’s this traditional practice, which doesn’t kind of for a man. It kind of. It makes your knees buckle. and it’s it’s female genital mutilation.
YOMS: So what we kind of told people is we’re not just going to use this money for just, you know, Western worlds.
First of all its issues, there are the parts of the world where we can really have a sense of impact. So, well, I understand your, your needs to, you know, to check us, to see what we’re going to be doing with the money that you have. Yes. Res we are. Creating, you know, legacy on a broader scale. And then I had some messages back from the guy saying, Hey, we didn’t know you were packed.
That’s really, really cool. Yeah, let’s do this. Huh. So it’s, I mean, we’ve been hit, I’ve been hit a lot. There were people who had pledged to donate quite a bit. And, truth be told, people were running around like a headless chicken. You cannot blame them. You had family to deal with. You had health issues.
I mean, I went down with the virus mid March. And I know what it’s like when you’ve got children and you just want to lock yourself in you can’t be thinking about giving money to art. I mean, who’s making art anyway. No, not really. Everyone’s locked up or locked in.
Recently, We’ve had one very, very, very amazing donation, which was from Arts Council of England, which is the first international donation we’ve had for an exhibition that we’re going to be hosting. and that has helped us pivot somewhat to, okay, we’ve got our base, our home in San Pablo Harbor.
But we have the opportunity to expand elsewhere. And, that donation from the Arts Council of England, alongside a donation that we have to expand our brief and our remit beyond the Harbor means we’re going to be doing work away from the Harbor for the first time.
STUART: Still within the general area though of Point Richmond?
YOMS: No. we are hosting our first international exhibition in Bristol in the UK.
STUART: Oh, tell me more about that.
YOMS: We were invited in and this is, this is a whole kind of weird thing. Whichever way you look at it, the whole idea of everywhere, at one point I kind of thought, Burning Man elsewhere, but no, it’s every freaking where. There’s an estate in Bristol called Ashton Court Mansion. Now this is an estate that has been in existence since the doomsday book. it’s got an oak there that’s older than just about every country on the planet. and, yes, it is managed by a Burner. Katherine who runs it, they said, look, we’ve got this estate about 160 acres of land that people just flocked to and just hang out. The building itself is a little bit shoddy, but the charity itself, art space, life space. They take on buildings that are not used and turn them into art spaces and create a very good working environment, creative environment for artists. So why not have art around on the grounds?
You know, so we’ve been invited in to host our first international exhibition and we have chosen several artists, one, well, all Burners, obviously all Burning Man artists. Paige Tasha, who did the Purr Pods that were on the on playa last year at a currently is on location at the points on Pabla Harbor Estate Art Park rather, has for the first time we’ve commissioned art. So she’s built a new Purr Pod, which is currently being put in the crate and he’s about to be shipped over to the UK. and we’re working with CJ, who’s built this amazing arch. And she, she, I think she was part of the guys who built, Raygun rocket ship, and she’s got a piece coming out.
And then, if you remember last year, there’s a massive sculpture by Andrea Greenleaf called, Bee Dance. Well, several years ago, two years, three years ago, she did this amazing piece called trust. Forenza that in perspex, like a cathedral, and it was just way out on the player. that’s on its way back to the UK.
And that too is going to be placed around the house and we’ve got a six month run with a view to applying for a lot more money and extending it and hopefully it will become, the, We Are From Dust permanent rotating sculpture park. So we’ll have two locations.
STUART: Fantastic. And what are you hoping to open that?
YOMS: That we hope we hope. Well,
STUART: In these times of uncertainty, I phrased everything as hopes.
YOMS: It should have opened about two weeks ago. But, with the lockdown over here, the lockdown on shipping cause getting things across as a massive backlog, Of getting things created across. We hope it is going to be the second or third week of November, but I mean, we’ve just had the things created and then now we’re waiting to go into a container to be shipped across.
So it’s, it is go. And like I said, we’ve got different people working on things. Jenna Lee is working with me on the team on doing Bristol, then we also have two locations in Salt Lake City that we are talking to, and one of them were at contract stage. we are also. Who? Oh, we’ve got a piece that was on the playa last year called Playa gate, which was put together by Alex Hall who’s a British designer massive amphitheater that’s on its way to, a site called the ruins, which is in, American Canyon. And, so the reason for the uncertainty regarding Bristol is, we are taking several of our artists and the showcase to Art With Me in Tulum in Mexico, which starts on the 9th of November.
ANDIE: So your slackers is what you saw. Sit around all day, reading the paper.
YOMS: It’s crazy time. It really is. We are stretched beyond comprehension and when we’re doing, we’re doing all of this, it’s not bootstrapping. I mean, with all the money we raised a year ago, I don’t think we spent more than seven grand of it on operational matters, not a single one of the team has, and a coin out of the project. We’re all bootstrapping, sweat, sweat, and tears and blood and everything in. And, are you still getting paid? That’s beautiful. You know, which is, which is good. And it’s, it’s a lot better than the pieces, just languishing or sitting in a container somewhere. The artists are getting paid and we’re creating opportunities for them. Paige is doing really, I mean, to be able to commission a piece
STUART: That’s huge
YOMS: During the lockdown is great. And trust me, shipping something across the world is not cheap. No.
ANDIE: And the logistics are crazy.
YOMS: Yeah. And we’re paying for all of that. The stuff we’re doing. I mean, the grant that we get from the Arts Council is less than one tenth of the amount that we’re spending to host the art. But it’s what we fucking look at. The craziness that takes place on the playa, where communities come together, get their hands in their pocket, put money towards stuff, devote all their energy, time and effort.
You can’t help, but be inspired by that. We gotta more or less create a similar sort of impact outside the desert in ways that encourage other people to collaborate and to help co-create. And that is more or less what we do at the moment. You start putting a price tag on things, you know, it doesn’t work. And the community has been extremely generous.
ANDIE: Well, and you’ve been doing so much of that. But it sounds to me like from talking to you this week, that you’re also thinking about the next time you go to the playa and how to get some artists engaged there. Right?
YOMS: Well, miss, I mean, It’s, it’s kind of weird that now this is the second time.
The other time I’m going to mention it. Okay, Being Black at Burning Man is different. It is different from being anywhere else in the world. When I first came out in 98, I was one of a few. I didn’t feel at that point, I mean, I was in the desert within 24 hours of leaving the UK. And that was the first time I had ever set foot in America. Wow. I didn’t feel odd. I didn’t feel out of place. I was taken in by a whole bunch of lunatics who were in a camp called Motel Six.
And it was just an eye-opener for the first time in my life. Okay. I lived in Africa, I’ve lived in other places as an African. Even if people question, you know, like you’re not African, I like I’m Black. Burning Man made a jot of difference, and over the years I noticed.
It was like 2006 or 2007. I went into the Commissary and I saw more Black people there than I’d seen the whole week. And then it dawned on me, people aren’t coming out to party. They’re actually coming out to build a city. Cause they actually, they understand what it means. They actually have subscribed to the whole thing.
It’s more than just having an RV and just walking about. They’re coming out to build. And I thought, okay, now there’s a lot more to this than meets the eye. So over the years I thought about it and said, “We have to do something about this.” Now We Are From Dust is there to take art created and the platform of the playa out or inspired by Burning Man and put it around the world to break brains.
We’ve run it into Black Lives Matter and social justice. There is no Burning Man in 2020. So what do we do? Do we either wait until 2021? And hope things happen? Or do we look at the world around us and say, okay, there’s an opportunity which we can change the script somewhat.
So what we have decided to do is, we’ve got to… it’s an idea, but it’s gathering a lot of momentum. We’ve got people who have pledged to fund parts of what we’re trying to do. And we’ve got a project called Art Bar None. And the idea is to find artists of color around the world who subscribed. They may not know it, but deep down we share similar principles, similar ideals, similar ideology.
Create a family and a culture around them, acculturate them, get them to understand our beliefs are our goals, our ideals, the fact that we believe everything is possible. As long as you have the right people with you and twist this whole thing of privilege, turn it around and use the privilege that we have as a community to highlight their talent, create a camp for them, raise the funds to do the art, get a team of builders around them and bring them into our worlds to create something so that they become an ambassador. And they can tell the whole world that one, we’re not devil worshipers, and we haven’t got 10 heads.
We’re actually a fun bunch of people who can help make things happen. But then. Stipulate that one: the art is not going to be burned because you need to take it off playa and show it around the world and to actually create a pathway in which we can do that by bringing people in.
People will say its privilege. Well, I’m a Black person for Christ’s sake. Cut me some Slack. I’m allowed to have some privilege, you know, but also it’s art. And color really does not mean much in our company. Let’s see. Other than that, we have to find a way of pushing down every single one of the hurdles: can’t get tickets; I know no one; my people don’t go out there; we don’t like dubstep. All of these things, push them down. So that’s, you know, they can at any point pick up the phone and say, someone says, “Hey, I’m going to London,” and say, “Hey, I’m going to pick up the phone. I’m going to call my mate Yoms. He’s in London. He’ll take care of you. How do you know him? Hey, I met him at Burning Man.”
You know, and create those opportunities for people. So that is the initiative that we are going to take on and going to launch, which is going to be almost the reverse of what we have done in the past. By taking art from the playa into the outside world. Now we’re going to take art from the outside world and someone who’d never in their wildest dreams go and party with those folks in the desert. Well, Yes, we will create an opportunity for them to actually do that and show the world that it is a great place to be.
And hopefully encourage more to get involved.
STUART: That is a beautiful vision. I like the reverse diaspora and then the other direction, you know, I’m imagining a tide, a tidal basin of art moving around the world to and fro.
ANDIE: It’s kind of breaking through a membrane for people and extending a little bit more of an invitation. Not just you could come if you want to, but we want you to come. I want the rest of the world, our black rock city to look more like the rest of my world.
YOMS: Absolutely. The thing is it’s hi, come home and people, you know, you, I can’t do that.
Don’t live in them, live in a tent. Where’s my shower. Where’s my, this, wherever that, but then when you actually get to meet the people or you think, “Whoa, you’re actually my kind of person.” So you go out there. Yes. And it’s okay. Of course. It’s okay. Dude, I want to come too, and that is, that is all you can cause without showing by example.
It’s never going to work. There will always be that barrier. And we want to make sure that it doesn’t exist by bringing people in and getting them to step out on our behalf and show the world that we are a great community of people. And we are probably one of the most artistic on the planet. Amazing.
STUART: Beautiful, beautiful. Hey, take us back to 1998.
YOMS: Oh shit.
ANDIE: Yeah, I was there, but I want Stuart to hear this part.
STUART: I heard that you actually showed up on assignment as a working journalist, is that right?
YOMS: Yeah, I came out for the BBC. I managed. Well, I saw the film in 97. I’m in the middle of the night in London, and I saw this film and I thought Christ what a bunch of losers running around in the desert, all of this stuff, it was close to midnight.
I switched off the telly. I went to bed, I’ve got a four o’clock shift in the morning. So sort of this. And then I was in bed for less than 10 minutes. I jumped out and I’m like, “Dude, You are so judgmental. This is your tribe. You’re in denial.” So I grabbed a notebook and ran back to the tele naked and scribbled down.
So I managed to talk my editor into doing this. I said, “Look, there’s this festival. and as far as I know, it’s the only festival that I believe is more or less organized electronically. None of these, some of these people meet and many of them don’t and there’s lots of email and really not like Glastonbury. A lot of this stuff takes place on bulletin boards and all the rest, and then they coordinate.
And they arrive in the desert and they’ve all brought everything they need. And there’s no food, there’s no water, there’s no electricity. They all survive for a week and they create, look at these pictures.”
So the editor says, “Huh, this is really interesting. So, here’s the deal. We want the story. but we are not going to send any of our reporters. So we’re going to send you off on a course to learn how to use the camera. Uh, secondly, we’re not going to risk any of the equipment. So you go and hire your own equipment and if it dies, it’s on your hands.”
So I went on the course and I called a friend of mine and I just said, you know what? They want me to hire a camera. It’s going to cost as much as buying a brand new camera. So you’re working in the city. Camera’s about two and a half grand. Why don’t you buy a camera for me? And then I’ll charge the BBC for them, basically.
That was it. So I turned up with a camera. I connected with the press contact who was Candace LaClaire and don’t mind talking to Candice, you know, all was going really, really well until the very last email exchange where she said. “When you get to the desert, don’t call me Candice. My name’s Pippi.” I said, “Okay, I need that.”
STUART: Yep. That sounds like her. Now this was before it was called media Mecca. Right? Was it still Press Here?
ANDIE: Lean-to and four people with clipboards.
YOMS: So I, so I walk up with a team. I’ve had a friend who, who had never, I mean, he was, he was a subject of the documentary. He looks miserable, I have to say.
YOMS: I had all my money. I had everything I can remember. We walked up to the gate and I’m one of the people at the gate said, “So, uh, Oh, you’re Brits.” “Yeah. Yeah.” “You got water?” “Yeah. Yeah. We’ve got lots of water. We got lots of water.” “So then have you got enough water? “So yeah, we’ve got loads of water.”
I said, “Good, cause I’ve been out here for three hours. I’ve had about four liters. And I’ve not had a piss. I think we’ve got enough.”
I don’t know anywhere you walk up to Mecca. This is the best part, bronze up to Mecca of course. Walk up to Candice. I said, “Are you Evil Pippi?” She turned around, expecting to see a white guy.
I shoved a three liter bottle of Jack Daniels in a hat. Oh, God, I didn’t roll down from there. Then she took me back to Motel Six.
ANDIE: Camp out in Walk-in Camping way out there.
YOMS: Way, way out west. And that was it. I checked into the motel and I have not left.
ANDIE: And you ended up joining the media team and have been on the team the whole time. You’ve missed a year or two, huh?
YOMS: Joined the media team. I remember, going to the first meeting. After the first meeting, you gave me a lift back in your truck. And it was kind of crazy, within about four months of going to Burning Man for the first time, I had joined the media team and I became, uh, an active member of an event that I realized had the potential to change the world.
And it was, you know, It was just kind of crazy. It was absolutely absolutely crazy. I couldn’t believe it. I was amongst some of the most talented crazies on the planet to work from so many different fields. And that was the strength of the event and has remained that. And that was why, I guess, I felt it before I even went to the desert. Cause I knew there was something unique about how the thing was put together. And I worked for the media team for about 20 years.
STUART: Wow. And just to clarify for anybody, who’s not that familiar with Burning Man, the media team are the volunteer crew who is Burning Man’s interface with journalists who are covering the event.
STUART: Most Yes. And most of them are also from a background as journalists themselves.
ANDIE: Right. Journalists, documentarians, photographers.
YOMS: That’s okay.
STUART: Media Mecca is a little stronghold,
YOMS: And press and PR. I mean, it was a great mix. People were working for some of the, I mean, I guess people listening will know, you know, things Topica, and like, Tribe. These are the things way before Facebook. And the team members of the team were creating all these amazing channels and platforms that we were using to communicate and were using to build community. And yes, media Mecca was a beautiful hub. It was just crazy. And I got a message from, uh, from Candice. I was at Media Mecca when the guys from High Times came out with a photographer called [unclear] Who became, I mean, Dave had stuff in Rolling Stone
ANDIE: He shot for Rolling Stone at Burning Man.
YOMS: We had people like David Pinchback. They all came in and we treated them well. We humbled them to a certain degree. We also made sure that they realized Burning Man was not your normal assignment. And we were there as a team to fuck with them somewhat so they knew that.
ANDIE: Like solicit some brown liquor donations and hand you a pass that says “this entitles you absolutely nothing.”
YOMS: And they were happy just like a kid going to school for the first time and wearing a beautiful blazer.
ANDIE: Do you have any, any thoughts as to wrap things up about what do you think Black Rock City will be like when we do get to go back?
YOMS: I’ve been thinking about that. And in true honesty, I mean with the sort of person I am, I like to play, I like to have fun and I guess I should direct that at Stewart. Is there a chance that people will be so hyped up of going back to the playa that we could see a situation like 96?
STUART: I certainly hope not. I hope there isn’t a massive civil disturbance and people burning everything in sight. My vision of next year Black Rock City is actually less fire. I love the trend of making art that lasts and can go out into the world, even though it does create all kinds of problems, logistical problems… “How do I get this thing outta here?” Uh, you know, it’s just, it’s better for our, you know, for sustainability and whatnot, you know, the less we burn, probably the, uh, the more quickly we’ll be able to lower our carbon footprint.
I mean, we’ll always burn the Man and I can’t imagine the Temple not burning. But I personally liked the idea of more art that, you know, can go in that tidal basin and go out into the world and maybe come back and go out into the world, uh, because it is like you said, it’s, uh, it’s such a great ambassador for the culture and it does draw so many people in and give them their first real insight that it is more than, more than just a party.
ANDIE: Fire’s fantastic but art breaks brains.
YOMS: Yeah, absolutely.
STUART: Brain breaker.
YOMS: The next incarnation I think will lead to a lot of people being a lot more, I believe, a bit more mindful, and appreciative of the privilege that we all have to be in that space and to enjoy the place.
It should also be a celebration of artists who are creating amazing, amazing installations that more or less turned that vast landscape into something that is made of dreams. And I kind of feel, it is also going to be one of the best family reunions ever.
STUART: Here’s hoping. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so much for joining us.
ANDIE: Yeah, it was really wonderful. And congratulations on all the amazing things you guys are doing. Keep it up.
YOMS: We’ll be right.
STUART: It was great to see you out there next summer.
All right. Thank you, everyone that pretty mad live is a production of the philosophical center of Burning Man project. Our web address is live dot Burning Man.org. Our email is email@example.com, and you can follow us on all the socials at Burning Man Live.
And in case you didn’t already write this down somewhere. You can make a probably tax deductible donation to Burning Man project at donate.burningman.org. Thank you for helping us keep the lights on until we can burn the man again.
Appreciations to our technical producer and story editor, the fabulous Michael Vav, our producers Andy Grace and Logan Mirto, our promotions manager, Daryl and Ray, and our super friends Tanner Boger, Devin from the Internet, Jay Kanizzle. That’s all for now. Thanks Larry.