Burning Man Collaborating with Downtown Project

Burning Man is teaming up with Downtown Project to bring their community’s artistry and spirit of collaboration to ours. In a place that is already inclined toward a culture of openness and communal effort, Burning Man hopes to grow their own tribe outside of the playa in northern Nevada where their yearly event takes place. And the organization also hopes to enhance the revitalization of Downtown Las Vegas by sharing their own experiences in community building.

“Burning Man has built a community and has a story and ethos behind it. I think that having that energy being brought to Las Vegas will be helpful . . . they have a track record of participation,” says Downtown Project’s Mimi Pham of the partnership. Marian Goodell, a founding board member of Burning Man explains further, “We’re in the midst of producing a [yearly] event that now has a capacity issue and in reality we’ve been navigating and creating a culture. It’s very exciting to imagine collaborating on a level that we haven’t done before, which is really nurturing our culture to grow in a town that is actually, sort of, almost predisposed to the quirkiness and colorfulness and creativity of the Burning Man culture.”

To do that, Burning Man and Downtown Project have entered into an agreement that will include a number of possible enhancements to Downtown, the arts scene, and to First Friday. To facilitate the process, a cultural attaché has been hired as a liaison between the two organizations. In addition to those duties, the attaché is charged with serving as a diplomat to Downtown Las Vegas with regard to Burning Man culture and will advise Downtown Project with regard to possible ways to incorporate that culture into the arts and revitalization of our city.

In order to incorporate the art of Black Rock City into Downtown, the cultural attaché will also be preparing a survey of art cars and a proposal for possibly housing some of those art cars in a facility here. Additionally, the attaché will create proposals for bringing specific works of art from Burning Man to be displayed publicly in Downtown Las Vegas.

“There’s been a Burner community there. It sort of quietly grew. Before I met the folks from Downtown Project, I had actually been to First Friday twice and had watched a fairly new and vibrant Burning Man community come to life,” says Goodell of Las Vegas’ monthly arts festival.

First Friday is also excited about the alliance with Burning Man. During November’s festival, members of the Burning Man team visited the event and produced an all day design charrette on the following day. Heather White, program manager for the organization, and Steven Raspa, who has produced events for the organization outside of Black Rock City over the last decade, led the process. The goals for improving the event include increasing the cleanliness of the event, in keeping with Burning Man’s principle of “leave no trace,” and creating ways for people to stay connected after and between events.

Perhaps most importantly, the goal is to find ways to enhance an already flourishing arts event by making it more participatory and interactive for attendees.

“The art that they create is representative of the wok that goes into it. It’s the labor, the cooperation that goes into it. These giant sculptures aren’t built by one person,” says First Friday Managing Partner Joey Vanas of the works created for Burning Man’s annual event. “They’ve mastered the concept of participatory art. Even when it’s done, it’s still participatory. You can touch and feel it, push a button. The art is amazing for the aesthetic of it, but it’s the cooperation that blows me away,” he says. He goes on to correlate that sense of cooperation with the efforts of community members in the revitalization of Downtown.

Goodell sees the correlations, too. “It’s exciting to be actively engaged when a group of people are looking at making urban change and using principles that we already adopt—principles of social interaction, social innovation, arts and interactivity,” she says. “These are principles we’ve been using to build a temporary city in northern Nevada. Those principles for us have engaged people beyond the Black Rock City experience. [This collaboration] is the biggest outside of the Black Rock City petri dish for us, and we’re thrilled to engage in any way that we possibly can.”

Photo courtesy of Scott London