The first time I had ever heard about Burning Man was very recently. It's been occurring for years and years, but I guess my avoidance of all festival-type events had me naive to this very fascinating week that occurs just outside of Reno every year. When I was attending the US Conference of Mayors Legislative Meeting for work this past winter the Mayor of Reno did a huge presentation and panel discussion with the event founders at a Celebration of the Arts breakfast.
She could not have been any more enthused about this anarchic city that comes to life in the desert each and every year. She highlighted first (as is crucial for an audience of local leaders) how good this event was for the economy of Reno and how arts programs drive tourism, sustainability, and wholesome traffic through her area. What I really enjoyed as part of her presentation is how she discussed the ideal nature of burning man. It's a completely sustainable city where the citizens take responsibility for every aspect to include food, water source, electricity, waste disposal, bartering, and complete clean-up when it's over. The Playa (the desert area that hosts Burning Man) is how an ideal society would function and can actually serve to act as a template to what local officials need to make sure exist in their communities.
I'll save most of you the boredom of my rambling neediness when it comes to local government and transition to just how cool I think the concept and artwork is. For a week people live in peace, freedom, and art. Artists from around the world construct huge displays, habitats, and pieces that are displayed all over the desert and light up the black horizon at night. These pieces are detailed, intentional, and specific to this event with the sole purpose of displaying it for enjoyment for the week, and burning it at the end. These masterpieces take probably the whole year for preparation so that they may be adorned for such a temporary time, yet the artists still hold inextinguishable fashion for them.
The Renwick Gallery in Washington, D.C. has gotten ahold of a collection of these items that were not burned and has them on display from now until January. It's so cool to see these pieces come to life and read about the stories and inspiration behind them. Also, for you instagram gals this is quite the instagrammable location. Admission to the gallery is free as it is one of the Smithsonians. Even for someone like me that will likely never attend and doesn't frequent any sort of festival event it was an inspiring experience. I got so much enjoyment walking around, learning about the artists and the art, and seeing other people value such a wonderful, ideal event.
My two favorite exhibits were interactive in that you could write little tiny notes and add them to the collections. The first was in a huge room filled with exquisite carved wood where you wrote whatever little note you wanted to on a small wood-chip. You then placed it in the carvings of the wood making the piece itself not only beautiful, but also meaningful. There were a lot of trends in what people wrote and my cousin and I both noted that studying the trends would be a neat social psychology experiment. The second was a chalk room where you wrote about what you wanted to do/see/experience before you die. Again there were trends, but it was also humbling to see people answers and realize how blessed I am to have already accomplished some of those things.
I hope this was helpful in giving you a quick overview, but you really need to check it out for yourself to gain a true understanding. I hope to go back again this summer perhaps on a weekday when it's not so crowded, because it really is that amazing!