When I was 50 years old, I was introduced to Burning Man. This summer will be my eighth time attending this amazing, art and adventure filled event – sixth time if you don’t count the last two years of attending virtually. I used to be the type of person who never liked vacationing in the same place twice, so why do I keep going? Because it’s a multi-level transformational journey – no drugs needed.
First, I Researched
The first year I attended I was an award-winning media sales director working for major companies in New York City. Taking on this considerable trip involved a lot of research.
In that exploration I met one of the founders of Burning Man – Larry Harvey, saw Sting and Susan Sarandon, met my future BFF, and joined a community of creative people unlike the ones I knew in my corporate world.
It was as if my life was injected with brighter colors – something more than the standard black “uniform” I wore to work.
Burning Man, Not a Festival
Festivals like Coachella or Warped Tour are curated, with others choosing the entertainment you pay to watch.
Burning Man is not a festival, because it is the attendees who bring the entertainment and art. What I saw in the desert of Nevada was a city of 70,000 highly creative individuals who wanted to share with each other.
That first event was amazing. My adventure partner and I went around and saw all that we could. The excitement of discovery felt so new, like a bright shiny penny.
Before the end of the eight days on the playa, we already wanted to come back.
Watcher to Doer
Burning Man offers ten guiding principles: radical inclusion; gifting; decommodification; radical self-reliance; radical self-expression; communal effort; civic responsibility; leave no trace; participation; and immediacy. Each principle can lead to deep discussions about how they are interpreted.
I later met the Burning Man’s Philosopher Laureat, Caveat Magister, from whom I learned that these aren’t “rules” but suggestions that help create the culture and community that distinguish this annual event from any other.
One of my most clear transformational moments didn’t happen in the desert. It happened at a “burner” – what regular attendees call themselves – event the following Spring. On March 15, people get together and dress in bridal gear and basically go on a daytime bar crawl called “The Brides of March.” Wearing my old wedding gown in the middle of NYC was pushing my comfort zone, but I was with my new friends – and I was having fun.
We were standing in the middle of Grand Central Terminal having a photo taken for the paper. Behind us we heard people yelling to us “turn around!” When I turned and saw the crowd taking photos of us, I suddenly knew I had turned from observer to participant.
Shifting from watcher to doer has changed my life on so many levels.
The Artist’s Journey
One of the major attractions of the Burning Man community is the encouragement to play – to allow wonder and creativity to express your ideas. That first year I started small, reviving my long dormant sewing skills to create accessories to wear during the event.
My sophomore year wasn’t such shiny penny energy. My partner went early for build week to help create the structures that would be our theme camp’s gift to the event. While it was fun, at the end I declared “twice is enough, we don’t need to return.”
Then Burning Man announced the theme for 2016 would be “DaVinci’s Workshop.” Having visited Corvallis 15 years prior during DaVinci Days inspired me to return to TTITD (That Thing In The Desert). Turns out, the Burning Man community wanted me to return to the fold too.
In 2016, the theme camp group I belonged to decided to grow the art installation they present on the front of camp to feature a stronger NYC presence. The team created the concept of a two-story Brooklyn Bridge. My partner was in charge of building the bridge, part of which we built in my small New York suburban backyard.
This was the year I was invited to attend an international meeting of Burning Man regional leaders in San Francisco. Where I met a wide range of artists and creators. While I was growing creatively, my corporate life was shifting, ending up with being downsized from a major job at a major media publisher.
Of the 110 people let go, I was probably the happiest. It gave me the freedom to travel in an RV with friends across the country to attend Burning Man for build week, the eight days of the event, as well as stay a few days after to “leave no trace” of our camp.
Transitioning from the corporate world to becoming an entrepreneur gave me even more time to discover ways to express myself.
The following year, I stepped up my courage and decided to build my own piece of functional art – a wooden bench-type, pop art style Checker Cab taxi. This would be seating that coordinated with the camp’s theme featuring NYC icons. I learned by doing – cutting the plywood to painting my vision to putting it together out in the desert.
Becoming a Registered Artist
Surrounded by a community of makers, doers, and artists of all stripes, I was encouraged to keep creating. One friend suggested I expand my taxi art into an installation to be placed among other big art at Burning Man. He had registered “small art” with Burning Man the year before, and was building a bigger structure based on a toll booth.
Registering art is a process, since you have more things to consider than if placing art within a camp. One thing I had to learn about was LED lighting – there are no street lights in this city!
My art installation, “Adventuremobiles,” consisted of six vehicles – four cabs, a black town car, and a red sports car to represent a Tesla. Tesla’s founder attended Burning Man and that was the year Elon Musk announced he was going to build rocket ships.
I brought my art back to the desert again in 2018 and 2019.
While the logistics of creating, installing, and maintaining my art was work, being part of the artists community was exhilarating. I love stating I am a registered Burning Man artist.
In the summer of 2019, my partner and I moved to Corvallis. One of my taxis is here with us.
My life has changed from being a corporate wonk to following many creative endeavors – writing for The Corvallis Advocate included. As we look forward to attending the 2022 event, we are involved in two art projects, however, I ache to do one of my own again. There’s still time, and another Corvallis burner and I may yet create a piece to install.
While others may see Burning Man as a party filled with young ravers, I don’t. What keeps me going back is the opportunity to play, work, make art and participate with 70,000 other highly creative individuals.
This article originally ran in the Corvallis Advocate 2.23.2022. It ran along with an item on the 2022 ticket buying process “Is This Your Year For Burning Man?”