Burning Man

Burning Man is an annual gathering of approximately forty thousand people in Nevada's Black Rock Desert the week before Labor Day. Journalists, scholars, and filmmakers who have chronicled Burning Man agree that the event defies classification. It is a unique phenomenon, predicated on a level of spontaneity that borders on anarchy. The nature of the event may vary from year to year or from person to person, emphasizing both the individual and communal experiences. The flat, dusty, alkaline playa in northeastern Nevada, the largest designated wilderness area in the state, is particularly suited to this event.

Burning Man is often described as an arts festival, but the craft booths and food vendors typical of most arts festivals are absent. Sales of art, food, or anything else are prohibited. Vending is replaced with a "gifting economy" in which food and gifts are traded or given away. The exceptions are ice and coffee, sold by the Burning Man organization, which donates proceeds to community organizations in the nearby towns of Empire and Gerlach.

Participants wear flamboyant costumes and build large-scale art projects. Often, the projects invite participation; for example, they may double as modes of transportation, in the case of art cars, or as an arena for a newly invented sport or game. The atmosphere is one of celebrated absurdity, surprise, and sense of social freedom reminiscent of the 1960s. The Burning Man website describes the event as "an annual experiment in temporary community dedicated to radical self-expression and radical self-reliance."

Burning Man began in 1986 when Larry Harvey constructed an 8-foot-tall wooden likeness of a man and set it on fire on Baker Beach in San Francisco before twenty friends. The gathering and burning of the "Man" became an annual ritual. Attendance grew steadily. In 1990, the event was moved to Nevada's Black Rock Desert and drew about one hundred participants. By 2005, the population of Black Rock City, as the temporary settlement is known, approached forty thousand, and the 40-foot-tall "Man" was erected atop a 32-foot-tall funhouse by a team of carpenters and rigged with explosives.

Burning Man is run by Burning Man LLC, based in San Francisco, which maintains a website, secures event permits, directs event traffic and sells tickets, which cost between $145 and $300. Black Rock City is laid out in concentric half-circles of "streets" and contains a public works department and a post office. Participants construct their own commerce-free versions of standard municipal amenities such cafes, bars, and movie theaters. At the end of the festival, the AfterBurn, members of the community follow a "leave no trace" policy that reflects the group's environmental consciousness and meets Bureau of Land Management requirements to preserve the playa's environment.

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