Building the Temple

Spirituality and Community

The Process and Intention of Bringing a Temple to Black Rock City

By John Mosbaugh aka Moze

Out of the desert grew a ritual,
a celebration,
a participatory moment

Out of the moment grew a need
A need fulfilled by a temple
A place to let go,
to remember,
to celebrate

The temple became a tradition
It grew from the playa,
from the temporary city,
from the culture
Its methods were ours,
its tradition was ours
It became a part of our city

And a part of us. – Jess Hobbs

It is no mistake that Black Rock City is laid out the way it is. Changes to the City map have been made in the last 25 years to accommodate changing population, address new civic needs and create additional spaces for citizens to gather, be they Center Camp Café, the Plazas or the Man Pavilions. Rod Garrett has discussed at length the evolution of the city layout and with this evolution has come experimentation that has been lauded as revolutionary, organic and even fit for settlements on other planets.

About this photo...Part of this process has been the appearance of Burning Man’s Temple. David Best and Jack Haye brought their Temple of the Mind to the playa in 2000, a structure that would become the first of a long line of Temples. When their friend and fellow Temple builder, Michael Hefflin, tragically died in a motorcycle crash prior to leaving for Burning Man, once on playa, the art installation became a memorial to him.[1] David and Jack both talk about how Black Rock City citizens had a spontaneous reaction in the Temple and began leaving remembrances to people they’d lost. In 2001 David and Jack brought the Temple of Tears also called the Mausoleum, and the tradition of the Temple at Burning Man began. There has been a Temple every year since; David Best being the lead artist for half of them to date, with the other Temples built by a wide range of artists.

This article explores the serious nature of the Temple and its cosmological importance as part of Black Rock City and as part of our shared Burning Man Culture. It discusses artistic and skillset competence as well as what part volunteers take in the process of a Temple build and how that is different from most other large scale art installations.

Burning Man takes the Temple seriously, and while just about everything at Burning Man is amplified both figuratively and literally, the Temple is also amplified, but not with booming music and wild ecstatic dancing or with art cars that slither along the desert floor or with other lunatic cacophony. While the Temple is something that does reflect the mad masquerade and joy of our community, it does so with sacredness, solemnity, a sense of remembrance, grief and renewal that can appear as a stark contrast to the rest of the event. It is that contrast that helps to define the Burning Man community as anything but one dimensional.

About this photo...Other tangible representations of the Burning Man ethos such as Burners Without Borders and Black Rock Solar also serve the purpose of defining our community. We are very much about absurdity and expression, but also we are deconstructing prevailing ideologies of what is “normal” and creating postmodern expressions of service and civic duty with a common theme of healing ourselves and the planet we inhabit.

Artists who build Temples in Black Rock City are not just building a large scale art project. They’re creating something for the community and fulfilling a civic need as caretakers of that venerable space. One of the first questions one should ask themselves if they want to propose an idea for a Temple is not “WHAT am I doing this for?” but rather “WHO am I doing this for?” from what I have ascertained after talking with some of the artists who have built Temples at Burning Man.

Structure of Passage and Hierophany of Black Rock City

About this photo...A long trail of rites and initiations [2] lie along the central spine that begins just off the highway pavement and on to Black Rock Desert. Pilgrims to Burning Man move through porticos of the Gate, up Black Rock City’s entrance road flagellum, past Burma Shave signs that educate the anticipation-drenched denizens in carnival conveyances with values and initiations, up through the Greeters station and into Black Rock City proper. Once inside the circle streets of the City, the backbone continues through Center Camp and through Center Camp Café where you are presented with a choice of staying where you can still purchase things like coffee and ice and can be entertained (or entertain). Or you may, hopefully, continue on your journey.

Moving along the walkway from the Café, you encounter the Keyhole; an imaginary last point before you step across the Esplanade into an unknown realm where nothing but art awaits you. If you choose to wander up the spired promenade to the Man you will reach what has been called the “Axis Mundi” of Black Rock City. This concept has been discussed by Lee Gilmore in her book Theater in a Crowded Fire [3] and on the Burning Man Blog where she writes, “The placement of the Man at the BRC’s center readily evokes what historian of religion Mircea Eliade called the axis mundi-a symbolic manifestation of the sacred center of the cosmos and the location of hierophany-the eruption of the sacred into the profane world.”[4]

About this photo...Eliade and Arnold Van Genep figure heavily in the ontological conception of the layout of Black Rock City. 2003’s theme Beyond Belief was born partially out of Eliade’s (and Rudolf Otto’s) writings[5],[6] and 2011’s theme, Rites of Passage, drew heavily from Van Gennep’s book [7] of the same name. These ideas are integral to the intellectual foundation of the layout of Black Rock City that Larry Harvey has noted is “open in the front, open to infinity”.

The spot along that grand promenade that stands as the last large gathering point before reaching the sprawling “wholly other” outer playa, is the Temple, beyond which are a scattering of projects out to the trash fence and that symbolic infinity. The Temple is at the edge of where we bring order to chaos. It is where our community goes to unburden themselves.

Why is this talk of cosmology important? We know how to get to the Temple from the highway.

About this photo...Burning Man is known as one of the biggest parties on earth. It is also well known as one of the pre-eminent places for public art, large sculptures, art cars, participatory experience and alternative culture. However Burning Man is not just an art gallery, a rave, a camping trip or a place to discover something new about yourself. It is not just a hopeful phenomenon or some incarnation of a Dionysian festival. It is the sum of all these, and many other things. There was a time when Burning Man was just a weeklong event in the desert, but that is no longer the case. It’s now something that exists throughout the world, appearing in many different iterations with different purposes as organizations such as Black Rock Arts Foundation, Burners Without Borders, Black Rock Solar, the Burning Man Project or in the Regionals. These entities all share a common ethos and shared community values, even if we are a diverse bunch.

What we have in Black Rock City is a microcosm of humanity. Within this microcosm is what M. Eliade called a profane or mundane world; meaning that which is not sacred. In our realm of Black Rock City, we have plenty of cacophony, satires of every known aspect of the world we live in, fantastical art, a critical mass of events espousing our shared concern and curiosity, and a community all living together for that week to cross pollinate each other with our ideas, aspirations and evolutionary inclinations.

About this photo...The theory goes that as societies mature, and their intellect develops, mythologies are created to explain the human condition. Larry mentioned this in his Viva Las Vegas speech as we’ve “learned that we need myths and stories that can tell us who we are. [We’ve] learned that we need unities of time and place, a coherent theatre in which to act out life’s drama: a place you can belong to. The prospect of such things, this idea of a greater home on earth, is extremely attractive to human beings.” [8] From myths that we create springs Eliade’s concept of hierophany [9]; the creation of sacred spaces. Alexei Lidov [10] further suggests that the creation of sacred spaces at first happens because of what he calls “heirotopy” the “creation of sacred spaces regarded as a special form of creativity,” Lidov’s idea is that the hand of man creates, influences and brings into existence a place where “Every sacred space implies a hierophany, an eruption of the sacred that results in detaching a territory from the surrounding cosmic milieu and making it qualitatively different”.

In the sphere of Black Rock City, the Temple delineates the profane or mundane from the sacred and that juxtaposition provides a framework for Burning Man to have a deeper significance than if it were just a weeklong festival in the desert.

About this photo...With this in mind, I asked David Best if he thought that the Temple would have come into existence eventually if he and Jack Haye hadn’t built that first Temple. I’ve mentioned before that David Best can be quite a charming man, with blue piercing eyes that look into you when you’re speaking. He listens intently to people who come to him and there is an endless stream of people who want to talk with him. When I asked that question he told me a story.

“Do I think it would have come? Well gee, that’s a vanity question you’ve asked me.” He laughed and sarcastically replied, “Don’t know where I’ll go with that. Y’no, I’m the greatest guy in the world.” Then he continued,

“I went down and talked to [a large computer company] and they call their place a campus. They have a barber shop, you can get a haircut. There were three different restaurants, at their campus. I forget how many people are there, 2,000, 3,000 people. If you feed that information into a computer, for 2,000 people, at least three of them are going to have lost a family member. And they don’t have any place in their campus to address [that] and they want to profess that they’re building a family yet they don’t have a place to address the loss of a family member.”

“It’s like, when Burning Man built up that population, we all of the sudden needed that. It was just an obvious absence. There was a void that no one really noticed. They got the porta potties, they’ve got the police station, they’ve got the medical and they’ve got the Man. They just didn’t have a place for grief. And the Man kind of did grief for a while, but it was a mixture of so much celebration that it was hard to really have a quiet place.”

“So in all truthfulness, it would have happened sometime. The fact that I was lucky enough to do one is a lucky punch.”[11]

The Process of Building a Temple

There is a lot of empty space to fill up in Black Rock City.

People interested in building the Temple each year submit proposals to the Burning Man organization to basically do what Larry has said is one of the main purposes of Burning Man, “To blend life and art so you can’t tell the difference.”

About this photo...I spoke with a lot of people when I was researching what it took to build a Temple. Obviously, if you think you have the skills and resources to build a Temple at Burning Man, you’ve successfully built large scale art installations out there before and you’re well aware of the challenges you face. You understand how to keep a team productive and cohesive. You have tools and access to places to prebuild the Temple. You can build something that is safe, accessible, finished, and that won’t require last minute fixes just to get it standing and safe enough for Burning Man. You understand what “dust days” are and how to incorporate them into a project timeline. You have a group of people with mad sets of skills and a drive to try to pull off something as difficult as building something at Burning Man that everyone will notice and have an opinion on how you did.

Every person I spoke with told me that a Temple build is something so important to the community that there’s a lot of pressure to get it done on time and to have it ready for when Black Rock City citizens begin arriving on Sunday. The Temple isn’t an art installation that can be in the process of going up throughout the week. It isn’t the kind of installation that can be bailed out on playa at the last minute. It is something that only those who have proven they can handle a large scale installation should even think about attempting.

Everyone has their own style of getting it done. The most important thing is that it gets done and I was fortunate enough to talk to some of the people who have done that.

About this photo...Bill Codding who’s worked on several of David’s Temple told me their crew has a flat structure, with David running the show and all the volunteers taking direction from him. They have a head framer and people with skill sets in routing, carpentry and who can train the volunteers, but everyone has the ability to work on what they want to with David orchestrating everything. They have about 300 people on the Temple crew who have worked on various Temples over the years and Bill has a list of people he can call on, but getting volunteers isn’t an issue, as there are plenty of people who always want to work on the Temple.

At the work site in 2012, weeks before the Temple was opened, Chunk, aka Richard told me that about 1/3rd of their crew are skilled laborers and “There’s lots of on the job training and I’m working with David for the artistic and community experience. You don’t get that in everyday life. Seeing people enjoy it. The overall creation is a thing of beauty in the flames. It has a phoenix affect and is catharsis for so many people. We’re all contributing to Black Rock City’s Temple as a place of grieving. It’s a sacred space, not a disco.”[12]

About this photo...I also spoke with Jess Hobbs who in 2010, along with Rebecca Anders and Peter Kimelman designed and headed up the building of the Temple of Flux. Their group had an existing infrastructure of people who had worked together on a bunch of projects and they came at it with all their combined knowledge. They put together a team that included structural engineers and experienced carpenters. They also included novices because a big part of their organization’s passion is having people learn new skills by building collaborative art. Jess stressed that a project as large as the Temple also needs to have an extensive Administration team to handle Finance, Fundraising and to organize resources and volunteers. They were able to successfully utilize the Burning Man social network and effectively advertise their fundraising efforts at mainstream publications like CNN and Fast Company.

About this photo...Jess also mentioned that past Temple builders were helpful when they had questions, notably David Umlas and Marrilee Ratcliffe who had built Fire of Fires Temple the year before in 2009 and Tuk Tuk and Shrine who built 2008’s Basura Sagrada Temple. The Burning Man artist community is a dynamic one where collaboration and knowledge sharing is paramount and the sum total of Temple building knowledge is accessible for the most part.

About this photo...I was talking with Jack Haye about how things developed with the first Temples. How did elements of the Temple come about? He was the original Construction co-ordinator and continues to consult with David when he is building the Temple. Jack explained how the original Temple was a project built by their camp. He talked about the organic spontaneity of things that became part of the Temple; the original dinosaur cutouts they discovered that were recycled to create the ornate decorations, the found wooden blocks on the property David and Jack had their studios on in Northern California, that became pieces of wood where people inscribed names of their loved ones to be burned. He told me how there was an evolution of elements such as the central structure (an altar, or with the Temple of Juno, the chandelier) being a remembrance to people who took their own lives.

About this photo...Each time a new artist takes on the Temple, they re-imagine it, but bring elements of what has become a structural definition along with them. The Temple of Flux was probably one of the biggest departures from previous Temple designs and they intentionally refashioned the conventional idea of the Temple, but even then they created a space and in that space had “caves” for memorials. They also kept one of these caves as a remembrance place for suicides. Basura Sagrada, headed by Shrine and Tuk Tuk conceptualized the Temple as their “Sacred Trash” concept with the goal of making “something amazing and exotic out of materials deemed unworthy, the stuff we throw away every day. And while it is obvious that making something beautiful out of refuse is a political act, the question we hope to answer with this project is whether it can also be a spiritual act. We believe that it can.” [13] Mark Grieve built two Temples with the Temple Crew, 2005’s Temples of Dreams that utilized space in a village of shrines, pagodas and spires around a central Temple and the Temple of Hope in 2006 that featured a grand central stupah. In 2011, Chris “Kiwi” Hankins, Diarmaid “Irish” Horkan and Ian “Beave” Beaverstock and the International Arts Mega Crew (IAM) set out to build the largest Temple ever brought to the playa using “49,360 lineal feet of Sustainable Forestry Initiative certified lumber” [14] The Temple of Transition was massive, with five towers connected to the main tower by arching walkways.

Jess Hobbs put it really well when she told me “Burning Man is an experiment and the Temple should also be an experiment.”[15]

Volunteers and our Community

About this photo...One thing unites all Temple builders. They are building something that is all inclusive and for all Black Rock City citizens. As such, certain design elements have been carried forward with each reinterpretation of the Temple including creating a space that is both intimate, with areas (often called altars) for folks to leave tributes, as well as creating a large enough gathering space capable of holding hundreds (possibly a thousand) at a time, so that it’s a true community area.

When I was hanging out with David Best’s Temple crew I noticed that, like most projects at Burning Man, the volunteers care deeply about the Temple, but there is an added dimension to this particular project. Many of them have lost someone close to them and the Temple has helped them to grieve and let go. Every person on the Temple Crew I met told me that when they heard David was building the Temple in 2012, they wanted to work with him. The process of building a Temple, for a majority of the Temple Crew, is cathartic in the same way the Burn of the Temple is and many of them feel they are contributing in remembrance of someone they’ve lost.

I asked Jess Hobbs about volunteers. The Flaming Lotus Girls, and now the Flux Foundation have a lot of members. How did they handle the influx of people who wanted to work with them? She said, “We had a lot of people come to us to work on the Temple. We took into consideration if they’d worked on Temples before and we tried to accommodate everyone” then she added that “The Temple attracts people who are grieving and in the process of letting go. We had some really heavy moments with people, especially the day before we burned it.”

About this photo...Tuk Tuk talked about how so many people volunteer to make “The Temple part of their own. They wanted to touch a piece of it.”[16]

The Temple Guardians are another volunteer phenomenon who appeared organically in 2002. Part of their purpose of “holding space” is “to protect the Temple and all of those who visit it” and they state “We do not make rules, nor are we enforcers; we watch quietly and act skillfully when necessary to protect the safety and sacred space of the Temple.” [17]

About this photo...David Best handles his volunteers with such empathy it was something that helped me develop a deeper understanding of what the Temple is all about. Watching him interact with his crew by taking time no matter what was happening and to listen to them, console them and help them through whatever process of letting go they were going through, was pretty intense and demonstrated to me one of the reasons our community is something I care so deeply about. There are other memorial art installations that come to the playa year after year, but the Temple has become a focus of so much of that energy that not only is it moving to see it in action, it is important for people to realize just what kind of a burden they are taking on if they want to propose building a Temple. Volunteers will appear who have motives that are deeper than simply “getting the job done”.

I talked with David Best about his volunteers and he told me the story of a woman who, while she had few skills that could be tapped to build a Temple, wanted passionately to work on it. David had been in a discussion about building the Temple with another artist who mentioned that they thought there would be no room for someone like this woman in his crew if he were to build the Temple.

David relayed that the woman had said,

“I can’t do anything, I have no skills, but I want to be on the Temple crew”and he continued,

“We were going, how we are going to deal with her? And she came up to the work weekend. I thought maybe we can just tire her out. Maybe she can just see for herself that she can’t do it. Well, she didn’t quit. She didn’t quit. And we finally went, she’s gotta be on the crew and she came up to me in line, we were at lunch one day working on the Temple, and she came up and said, “I want to thank you for letting me be on the crew” and I said we wouldn’t be worth a shit if we didn’t let you on the crew. We wouldn’t be a Temple crew if you couldn’t work with us.”

David told this to the other artist who said “Well you know you can’t have people who slow your project down.”

David replied, “You don’t build a temple for the finished product, you build it for the crew. It’s for those people who are building it. I could build a temple with 20 people in half the time. I’ve done it in half the time. But what it would lose is its soul and the heart. And that comes from P being in a wheelchair or T being unable to do that, or someone else who’s artistically challenged or someone who’s challenged using tools. It’s those layers of the commitment from those people.”

“We’re talking about other people coming to build it and I’m saying that in the screening process of someone saying hey I want to build the Temple; we kinda have to look for what the intention is. Is it to make a spectacular, the biggest burn you can possibly make? I mean that’s kinda cool, but there’s gotta be something else.”[18]

Someone sitting at the table with us said, “It has to spiritually resonate” and David agreed.


About this photo...When we think about intention, we should return to the question artists who want to build a Temple should ask themselves, not “WHAT am I doing this for?” but rather “WHO am I doing this for?”

Jack Haye told me that their camp in 2000 and 2001 that created the original Temples was called Sultan’s Oasis, and their themecamp description was:

“The Sultan’s camp is to be a place where you can prostrate yourself before a greater entity and find transformation” and in 2001 it was “The sultan is back at his oasis, offering weary travelers a place to rest.”

About this photo...Jack said their philosophy was one of service and that is something that needs to be impressed on people who attend Burning Man. Jack said that “in camp we would invite people in and say ‘How can we serve you’, not touchy feely, but ‘How can I help you?’ And the Temple is like that. It’s a shared community art piece. Some people want to build it to become rock stars but it’s really all about that service.”[19]

Jack doesn’t see the Temple as a resume builder. It belongs to Black Rock City. It is a work of art, but it doesn’t exist as a piece of art unto itself. There are plenty of pieces each year on the playa that exist for themselves, as beautiful sculptures. The Temple is different.

Jack said, “It’s not there to call attention to itself, it is there as a sacred, spiritual space.”

Sealed Up, Never to Return

About this photo...Personally I was ambivalent about the Temple until this year. One year in the mid aughts, I put a picture of my grandparents in there with a goodbye and good luck inscription to them. Another year I made a little shrine to my dog of 16 years who I had to put down, but this year, after hanging out with so many people and hearing their stories of loss and letting go of that loss, of forgiving themselves and of taking part in building the Temple or of leaving totems to their loved ones that, as David Best has said, “everything is sealed up, never to return”[20] I came to an awareness that the Temple once complete and filled with remembrance is something consecrated and very significant to our community.

On Sunday night I walked out to the Temple burn and hung out, unexpectedly, in the Temple Bus with two new friends, one who was celebrating her mother who’d died 19 years ago. My friend had been allowed to get on a boom lift to place her mother’s ashes in the spire towards the top and her mom was next to a cat which delighted my friend. She said. “We celebrate the dead, but life is for the living. She’s been with me for 19 years, and she’s next to a cat. She always loved cats.”

About this photo...Bagpipes played. Diva Marisa and Reverend Billy’s choir sang “Ave Maria”, and the three of us took swigs of Jameson befitting an Irish wake as the full moon inched towards the Temple. Once the Temple was lit by wandering purposeful shadow shapes in the courtyard carrying fire, we watched the roaring orange and red flames grow then engulf that structure until it became a delicate black skeletal outline against the glowing blazing inferno. I hugged my friend and saw the flames in her eyes as she looked on smiling, and said, “Mom has the east, the best view on the playa. Her and the cat.”

When the spire outline grew thin, it finally leaned over slowly, and then collapsed upon the rest of the Temple sending a great chimney of embers floating upwards. My friend said, “Mother is free and so am I now. I really feel her. She would have liked this.”

I have no doubt she did, indeed, like it.[21]


I have attempted here to discuss the cosmological importance of the Temple as it appears in Black Rock City and to impress that it is a vital part of our shared Burning Man experience. The Temple is not just an art installation, but it encompasses a large range of serious spiritual requisites that add dimension to our community. Building a Temple in Black Rock City requires not only artistic and craft skillsets, and is something that is taken very seriously by our community, but along with it comes a set of volunteers who want to be part of it, to build and to protect it. As such, the Temple is something special and is, in one way or another, shared by all of us.

About this photo...As with all Honorarium projects, each year’s Temple crew is expected to create something extraordinary, on time and within budget, but building a Temple also involves a substantial responsibility to not only the citizens of Black Rock City and the Burning Man community in general, but to the volunteers who will want to take part in the building of the Temple. It is something bigger than any artist who conceives and pulls it off because it is something that helps to define who we are as a community. It is about creating a shared space for everyone to take a part in, as Sarah Pike notes the Temple is “Burning Man’s largest collective piece of art.”[22]

When they were building the Basura Sagrada Temple, Shrine said, “You are putting in what you want to let go, or putting in how you want to change your life. It’s what makes a sacred space.”[23]

About this photo...In 2012 David designed thresholds to keep out bicycles and the distracting sound from art cars. Upon venturing out there, I felt like I was stepping across that threshold into another reality. The atmosphere was heavy with reflection and quiet chanting, prayers, the drawn out grrr of a digeridoo and other reverent sounds. I was overwhelmed with all the notes and altars, inscriptions, photos and totems that covered every square inch of the walls staring back at me. That most intimate space swells with so much grief and remembrance, so much reflection and meditation it is indeed what David Best has called an “emotional nexus”. The Temple provides a space for that essential urge, but unlike religion, that feeling is coming directly from our core, unadulterated by dogma.

Creating this place carries with it a heavy responsibility and should not be taken lightly.

About this photo...Whoever is building the Temple each year brings it to our city as a gift for everyone. A friend of mine said “It’s a profound space. If people can’t confront it, they want to escape.” If you have been fortunate enough to not have experienced something that rocked your reality, you may have no use for the Temple. But if you ever need it, someone will be building it for you each year in Black Rock City.

Jess Hobbs told me, “We wanted to bring back the silence of the Burn. It was a gift and the Temple was the biggest thing we’d ever burned. It was a gift we gave to the community, but the biggest gift we ever got was what the community gave back to us.”

I’ve been to many Temple Burns over the years, but this year as I was trying to understand on a deeper level what it all meant, I felt that I’d come closer to realizing what a gift all our Temple artists, volunteers and playa citizens create each year. It is all about affirmation, closure, forgiveness and healing. On Sunday of the event this year I tried to describe how it feels to be there as a Temple burns and wrote the following that is not concerned with the how and why, the philosophy and meaning.

It just is.

About this photo...“Tonight the Temple burns and all of the emotion we’ve put in there this week will wash up in a cathartic column of fire, sparks and ash that will send those notes of love and loss and of grief and forgiveness swirling into the night sky. Dust tornadoes will form and dance around us as if they are our loved ones lost, caressing us in the firelight’s glow, saying do not worry, everything is as perennial as the seasons, or the plants that return each spring or the love that brings us all together eventually.”

Huge Thanks to everyone who contributed to this article by letting me interview them and thanks to Portaplaya, aka Todd Gardnier who took many photographs this year of the Temple and those who build it.

Also, there is an accompanying blog post where you can record your comments to others’ comments about your thoughts on this article.

[1] Lori Van Meter. “The Temples at Burning Man”, 2007 p. 3.

[2] Moze, Initiations and Salutations. Burning Man Blog. 2011.

[3] Lee Gilmore, Theater In A Crowded Fire (University of California Press 2010)

[4] Lee Gilmore, The Temple: Sacred Heart of Black Rock City. Burning Man Blog. 2010

[5] Mircea Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion (English Translation, Harcourt, Inc. 1957)

[6] Rudolf Otto, The Idea of the Holy (Oxford Univ. Press 1923)

[7] Arnold Van Gennep, The Rites of Passage (Univ. of Chicago Press 1960)

[8] Larry Harvey, Viva Las Vegas, Speech at Cooper Union, New York City, 2002.

[9] Op. cit. Mircea Eliade, p. 26

[10] Alexei Lidov, Hierotopy. The Creation of Sacred Spaces as a Form of Creativity and Subject of Cultural History (Progress-tradition, Moscow) 2006, p 33-58.

[11] Moze, Interview with David Best, (Black Rock City 2012)

[12] Moze, A Sacred Place amidst the Dust 2012

[13] Basura Sagrada: The 2008 Burning Man Temple, (2008)

[14] Temple of Transition – The tallest temporary wooden structure in the world. (2011)

[15] Moze, Interview with Jessica Hobbs, 2012

[16] Basura Sagrada, (Current TV 2007)

[17] About the Temple Guardians,

[18] Moze, Interview with David Best, (Black Rock City 2012)

[19] Moze,Interview with Jack Haye (2012)

[20] The Last Temple, Interview with David Best (Current TV 2007)

[21] Op. cit. Moze, A Sacred Place amidst the Dust

[22] Sarah M. Pike, Burning Down the Temple: Religion and Irony in Black Rock City(rd Magazine) (2011)

[23] Basura Sagrada, (Current TV 2007)

If you are interested in learning more about how you can build the Temple in Black Rock City, visit BRC Temple Grants.


Leave No Trace for Artists

All artists who bring art to Black Rock City agree to Leave No Trace. This means leaving the playa in the clean, pristine state it was in before they arrived to build their art – completely clear of all debris such as nails, fasteners, wood chips, sawdust, ashes, and other other remnants produced by the artwork or participants engaging with it.

Your Area of Responsibility: The LNT GRID

After checking in at the ARTery, you’ll be escorted to your art build site, where the center of your art project location is marked with a CD and a plastic marker (“floofy”). That floofy marks the center of your Leave No Trace (LNT) Grid, the area which you and your crew are responsible to line-sweep in its entirety before you leave playa. For most art projects (unless otherwise stated), the LNT Grid is the area centered on the floofy that extends50 feet beyond the outer edge of your project footprint.

Your LNT Grid must also encompass the ENTIRE area that you, your crew and project occupy such as staging areas, wood/metal shop, trash, recycling, burn barrels, etc.

MOOP Top Public Enemy Number 1: Rebar, Tent Stakes and Ground Anchors

The biggest and fastest growing MOOP problem on the Black Rock Desert is tent stakes – as well as rebar, lag bolts, and other ground anchors used to fasten structures to the playa. Literally thousands of them were left behind after our most recent event. To avoid this outcome in the future, you should 1) keep track of exactly how many tent stakes or rebars you pound into the ground when setting up your camp or artwork, and confirm that count when you extract them from the ground during strike; and 2) bring a pair of vice grips or other appropriate tool (with those and some leverage there’s nothing you can’t pull out!)

Another big MOOP culprit, especially for artists building on playa, is wood chips. To prevent splinters, bark, sawdust, and wood debris from getting to the playa, do as much pre-cutting off-playa as possible. If you must cut wood on-playa, do it in an enclosed area such as a shade structure with walls, and lay down a carpet which you can roll up and carefully transport off-playa with the wood chips secured inside. Where possible, choose plywood over particle board when building your projects, as particle board cracks and splinters more easily.

Line Sweep Tips:

  1. Your optimal LNT line sweep should be done with people standing no more than 6 feet apart. The more people you have, the more territory will be covered quickly.
  2. Orange traffic cones placed at the edges of your LNT Grid work best at defining a visual boundary for your line-sweep team. (They can also be used to visually define a RED area (aka “hot spot”) to come back to focus on.)
  3. Look at areas of your LNT grid in terms of Red (heavy MOOP), Yellow (light MOOP), White (little/no MOOP), just like the MOOP Map.
  4. Think of your first pass as more of an assessment pass. If an area seems RED and becomes too overwhelming, mark the area and focus on it on your second pass. Try to keep the line sweep moving until you’ve assessed the entire grid. Do a second and third pass of your grid until it’s White.

Please read more about Clean-up Tools to make Leaving No Trace even easier.

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.

Art Installation Guidelines

Anyone who wants to bring art to Black Rock City is invited to do so! We do not commission or approve art; any artwork that meets the guidelines outlined below, and is registered with the Art Department, can be installed on the open playa at the Burning Man event.


We challenge you to create something that will inspire, engage, question, puzzle, amuse, seduce and otherwise impact the citizens of Black Rock City. Interactive art is our particular passion. Interactive work convenes society around itself. It generates roles. It provokes actions. It transforms participants into active contributors to a creative process.

Challenges of Building in BRC

Creating art on the playa of Black Rock City is like no canvas or gallery that you may have ever experienced before. The challenges are many. You must consider the extreme physical conditions of the desert, the logistics of transporting building materials and equipment to this remote desert site, and the difficulty of maintaining tools and equipment in a place that has no service grid or ready market of resources. You must also consider the inherently chaotic nature of Black Rock City itself.

All of these challenges are aspects of the medium in which you are working, so plan carefully and be patient. Your creation may not happen in precisely the way you envision it, and that’s okay. The struggle to adapt and to survive is an essential part of this experience and can lead to unexpected discoveries, both about your art and yourself.

Artist’s Responsibilities

Whether you create a theme-related artwork or a vision you’ve had in your head for some time, making a commitment to creating art at Burning Man means taking responsibility for all aspects of that creation. From filling out the art installation questionnaire, to participating in a dialogue with us, arriving on the playa, protecting your art, and being accountable for cleanup – every aspect of creating art must be taken seriously.

  • Art Safety – Your artwork must be sufficiently secured against high winds and intense weather conditions that often arise on the playa. To learn more about securing your artwork and making it safe for participants, please read building safe structures.
  • Lighting – Your artwork must be sufficiently illuminated at night, including rebar, guy wires and any other part of the installation that could be hit by cyclists or other participants. This includes lighting your build materials while you are in the process of assembling your art. To learn more, read lighting your art
  • Leaving No Trace – When you arrive, the playa is a clean blank canvas. And that is the way you will leave it. Everything you bring to live, create and burn MUST BE REMOVED. Nothing, absolutely nothing, may be left at your art site or camp when you leave. Cleaning up and Leaving No Trace are paramount. Read more in Leave No Trace for Artists and Clean-up Tools
  • Decommodification – You agree to uphold our community’s principle of Decommodification, both on and off the playa, by keeping your art free from advertising and transactional relationships, and not beholden to corporate influence. Neither your art nor your camp may have any corporate sponsors or otherwise be used to promote a product, service, brand, or person.
  • Good Standing Our Criteria for Artist Good Standing outlines expectations about artist and artwork integrity, project implementation, working relationship, and culture and values.
  • Transparency – Artworks must be registered using the Burner Profile of a real person – either the artist or one of their team members – not an anonymous entity. The publicly listed artist attribution may be whatever the artist chooses, so feel free to be creative or playful in that regard.
  • No Hate SpeechWe do not tolerate the use of violent, hateful, or incendiary language in association with artworks installed in Black Rock City, or on any of our platforms.
  • Camping at your art installation on the open playa during your build is not allowed. It creates MOOP and poses logistical challenges amidst the crunch of build week. We encourage you to think instead about how to take care of your crew while camping at your art support camp in the city.

Building Limitations on Playa

Our land use agreement with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) puts certain limitations on what and how we (and you) are allowed to build: 

  • Limits on Digging Holes – Our agreement with the BLM only allows holes that are 1×1 foot wide and 3 feet deep. The reason: larger holes, when refilled, become either high or low spots after the winter rains, causing a hazard to vehicle traffic and creating dunes. We encourage you to seek out options NOT to dig into the playa surface whenever possible. If you do need to dig a hole up to the allowed size, you will need to pack the playa dust back into the hole when dismantling your installation. 
  • No Burying Bases – Our agreement with the BLM does not allow any excavation for the covering of artwork footings and bases. Some artists build platforms to cover their base. Others use guy wires attached to ground anchors instead of a base. Still others buy or rent steel trench plates, lay them on the surface of the playa and attach their artwork to that. You can use accumulated playa dust to cover plates, but you cannot trench or excavate to cover them.
  • Minimize Trenching – Please limit the amount and depth of trenching as much as possible. For electrical lines or short fuel lines we encourage artists to trench by hand, as this causes less disruption to the playa (electrical lines only require a shallow trench…a few inches deep; a trenching machine leaves a gash 8 inches wide and 6 to 12 inches deep).


Large-scale sound art is confined to the 10:00 and 2:00 edges of our city. Art installations on the open playa may contain ambient sound elements that are integral to the concept of the installation, but we do not allow DJs, sound systems, DJ booths, or any kind of amplified dance music in the art area. Why not? Electronic music permeates our city, and the open playa is one place that may be relatively free of it. Some installations require a quiet area, and amplified music makes that impossible. With the nature of the open desert, sound carries far and wide very easily. If you are creating an art installation that contains amplified music, it must be located on or in front of the 10:00 or 2:00 edge of our city, and must adhere to our sound policy.


As the open playa is host to more art every year, we want to ensure that it remains a place for interactive discovery, rampant creativity, and radically inclusive participation. Providing a stage narrows those participation opportunities down to the more limited dichotomy of performer and spectator.

If you wish to create a stage or performance venue, theme camps often offer these as part of their interactivity and we welcome you to read more about creating or joining a camp. We also have information on performance opportunities.

Mobile Art

There is a fine but important delineation between mutant vehicles and mobile art. If your art piece is mobile, does not carry passengers, and will be parked/stored at a designated spot on the open playa when not in use, you’re welcome to discuss registering it with the Art Department as mobile art.

Conversely, if it does carry passengers, or if you’d be storing it in your camp when not in use, we’d suggest registering as a mutant vehicle.

Art bikes do not need to register with the Art Department and are considered another part of being an amazing and creative participant in Black Rock City.

Temporary Art, Performance, Food Offerings, Etc.

Wanna juggle rubber duckies? Set up a chair and paint portraits of your fellow citizens? Hand out hard-boiled eggs from your bike? Drag out a portable advice booth for a couple hours? No need to register as an art installation!

For temporary offerings such as these, just ensure that you aren’t set up close to an existing art piece, that you don’t leave any structures or objects behind when you depart, and that you Leave No Trace. This can be a nebulous category of interactivity, so please contact us if you have questions.

No Prefabricated Structures

Domes, shipping containers, and tents don’t belong out on the open playa. The open playa is for hand-built and personally-designed artwork rather than prefabricated structures that are available off the shelf.

If you’re intending to place your art inside a structure on the open playa, please either build a custom structure, or alter your prefab structure in such an incredibly cool way that participants won’t even know there’s a prefab structure under there.

No Live Plants

Live plants are not allowed at Burning Man. Please ensure that your installation does not include live plants, or any potentially MOOPy plant matter.


There are special requirements if your artwork incorporates FIRE in any of the following ways:

  • Open Fire: flames created by candles, torches, fire barrels, wood fires, and/or artwork that will itself be engulfed in flame or otherwise burned
  • Flame Effects: flames that are automated, switched, pressurized or have any action other than simply being lit on fire – including projects that use propane or liquid fuels
  • Pyrotechnic Display: explosives, fireworks or projectiles
  • Hazardous Materials Storage: storage of hazardous or combustible materials, including kerosene, white gas, propane, gasoline, pyrotechnics, etc.

If your artwork incorporates fire in any of those ways, it is mandatory that you read and follow our fire safety guidelines. You will also be required to fill out the Fire Safety section of the Art Installation Questionnaire and include your Burn Scar Prevention plan. To be prepared for these questions, please read the following and gather the information you need before you start the questionnaire:

And Finally …

Once you’ve gathered the information you need to describe your artwork, your lighting, your Leave No Trace plan – and your fire safety plan if your artwork incorporates Open Fire, Flame Effects, Pyrotechnics or the storage of hazardous or combustible materials – click below to register your art! Note that the Art Installation Questionnaire is available from late February to late May.

Art Installation Questionnaire

Get in touch with us!

Please reach out to us via email if you have questions:

  • For general inquiries about bringing art to BRC:
  • For questions regarding engineering of your artwork:
  • For open fire art:
  • For flame effects fire art:
  • For pyrotechnics:

Art and Performance

The people who make up Black Rock City are not simply “attendees,” but rather active participants in every sense of the word: they create the city, the interaction, the art, the performance and ultimately the experience that is Burning Man. Your participation is a gift given to the larger community for everyone’s benefit.

Participation is at the very core of Burning Man — it’s one of our 10 Principles — and the only limits (other than basic public safety) are the bounds of your imagination. The playa is a tabula rasa, a blank canvas upon which many a fantastic vision has been realized. All participants are welcome to create — or be — art at Burning Man.

Performance Opportunities

“All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players…”
William Shakespeare

Each and everyone of us is a player performing on the playa. Burning Man casts all of us at every moment in a heady series of unstaged productions. As one walks or bikes the streets of Black Rock City and out on the open playa, people will be found shining with their talent, every moment of the day and night.

Where’s the Main Stage?

At one point in our history Burning Man did have a Main Stage, but it created a division between audience and performer. In short, large stages promote spectating — and we are all about participation. Black Rock City is the stage: things are happening all over the place 24 hours a day, and we are all participants in this grand performance.

As there is no Main Stage at Burning Man, find your audience on a smaller, more intimate scale. Maybe you have something special in mind, a talent or a skill to contribute? You may be a juggler or a musician or a fire dancer, or perhaps a costume or theatrical designer. At Burning Man, you’ll find your audience!

Are you an artist looking for a stage? Check out Spark, where you can connect with the Burning Man community and post a listing about what you do, and what you’re looking for to make your creative dream a reality.

Theme Camps

Your theme camp should create an ambiance, a visual presence, in some way provide a communal space or provide activity. It may be the anchor for a larger event taking place. The best camps succeed by simplicity. Concepts that are too big, like scholarly attempts to debunk complex social theory or Titanic-length storytelling arcs, will die from disinterest. For more information visit Theme Camps. Please note that new and improved sound restriction will apply.

Fire Conclave

Fire performers are like the celestial fireflies of the playa, and Black Rock City is a perfect environment to play with fire. Official Burning Man fire celebrations and fire dancing all week long lead up to Saturday night when the Fire Conclave creates the Ring of Light before the Man is released in pyrotechnic delight. We welcome fire performers from all over the world — for more information on how to get involved visit Fire Conclave.


Every day of the event, as the sun sets, the Lamplighters set out to light the streets of Black Rock City. They request the participation of drummers, musicians, and performers of all types to accompany their processions through the city. The walk takes about an hour, is done every evening, and is made infinitely more ceremonious and special with performers joining along, all are welcome. For more information visit The Lamplighters or email


The Drummers Collective exists as a clearinghouse and contact point for drummers who wish to contribute their art to Burning Man by providing music for performances on the playa and at Burning Man events year round. One example is the Ambient Drummers, which assembles ~200 drummers for a powerful drum rhythm to accompany the Fire Conclave as they dance before the Man is burned on Saturday night.

Creating Playa Art

All participants are welcome to create art for the playa! This section will tell you everything you need to know to create art for Burning Man, register it with us, place it on playa, and remove it at the end of the event – all without leaving a trace.

Understanding the Basics

If you want to bring art to the playa, please read:

  • Our Art Installation Guidelines, which include your responsibilities as the artist, challenges and limitations of building on playa, and details on what qualifies as “playa art”
  • Our visual guide to what we are able to register as art.
  • Our guide to Building Safe Structures
  • Our Criteria for Artist Good Standing outlines expectations for artists to represent the 10 principles through artist and artwork integrity, project implementation, working relationship, and culture and values.  
  • Our detailed Fire Art Guidelines if you’ll be incorporating fire in your project

We encourage you to include an interactive element in your artwork, allowing participants to fully engage with the piece instead of just viewing it. Participants who explore and interact with the art may well find that they may need to perform a task in order to activate your art. Touching, climbing, entering, spinning, engaging and exploring are encouraged.

Apply for a Grant

Every year, Burning Man issues a small number of grants for the purpose of partially funding specific art projects in BRC. Learn about applying to the Black Rock City Honoraria Program if you need financial assistance with your project. Please note that the BRC art grant application period is typically open from mid-October through mid-November. All Burning Man Project art grant opportunities can be found here.

Register Your Art

Fill out and submit our art registration questionnaire (typically open from late February through late May). Remember, the earlier you register, the better service and resources we can provide to you: we have time to answer your questions; you have time to make any course corrections needed for safety, materials, lighting, or Leave No Trace; and you have access to our immense wealth of knowledge! We’re nice. We’re here to help you. We know stuff you might want to know. Please, REGISTER YOUR ART EARLY.

Missed the art installation questionnaire deadline? After the Art Installation Questionnaire closes, you may still be able to bring your art project with you to BRC and register it as a  walk-in at the ARTery. However, there are limitations for walk-in projects:

  • They cannot exceed 10 feet in height
  • They cannot be burned or contain pyrotechnics
  • They must be unloaded / assembled / disassembled by human power
  • We are not able to provide Art Support Services or heavy equipment assistance for late/walk-in projects

This means if you have a large or complex art piece, or an art piece that you’re not 100% sure falls under our art guidelines for safety or allowed materials, REGISTER YOUR ART EARLY.

If you are interested in creating art for the Central Plaza see their guidelines.

City Plaza Art

Most art at Burning Man is placed on the open playa, but there are also 9 unique opportunities to have your art placed in a plaza within the city/camping area. Black Rock City plazas are neighborhood hubs, located at B and G streets at 3:00, 4:30, 7:30, and 9:00, and 6:00 & I. They offer a variety of interactivity across day and night, and have art placed in the centers. If you would like your project to be considered for placement in one of Black Rock City’s city plazas, please visit the City Plaza Art page for more information – then indicate your desire for plaza placement on your art registration questionnaire. Interested in submitting your art for possible inclusion in The Central Plaza Canopy? Fill out this form.

Check out the Artist Resources Page

We are here to support you with the information you need to bring your art to Black Rock City! Check out our Artist Resources page to peruse helpful FAQs, discover art installations from past years, connect with your community for help and resources, and learn about the volunteer teams at the ARTery who will assist you in placing and building your art on playa.