This week, The Burning Man Project—Black Rock City’s prized mecca of international artists, free-thinkers, and other madcap creatives—launched a new microsite to collect financial donations.
It packs a somber but encouraging message. "Sadly we will not be gathering in the Black Rock Desert in 2020. Though this will result in an unprecedented revenue shortfall for Burning Man Project, we remain optimistic," the site reads. "We are committed to maintaining the critical infrastructure we’ll need, after cuts to expenses and staffing, to produce Black Rock City 2021 and continuing our vital off-playa work in the year ahead. We can’t do this without your help."
The suggested donation amount is $475—the price of admission. To some, that number may seem high but for those who have arrived at Burning Man by receiving a ticket that was gifted to them, it's perhaps not impossible to imagine one day doing the same for someone else—or for Burning Man itself. All the same, those who donate have the option to choose a comfortable amount.
The page is the latest in an ongoing series of efforts aimed to assure the return of the beloved event in 2021. The Burning Man Project closed out the week with the unveiling of the new feature-length documentary, Burning Man: Art on Fire, which delves deeper into the impermanent spectacle and bewildering wonder of Burning Man culture.
Where a lot of events would and do struggle to garner support from their community in the dire-most throes of the COVID pandemic, Burning Man should weather the storm because its culture is built around several core ideas, including "gifting." These "principles," which scale in importance higher than a suggestion and lower than a commandment, are the bones of the Burner philosophy set forth by the late charcoal stetson sporting leader and co-founder of Burning Man, Larry Harvey.
"Burning Man is devoted to acts of gift-giving," the website reads. "The value of a gift is unconditional. Gifting does not contemplate a return or an exchange for something of equal value."
In addition to instilling Burners with the innate joys of giving, the practice of gifting actually ingratiates people towards Burning Man, conjuring goodwill towards the colorful event and the even more colorful people who make it possible. After all, who wouldn’t want to treasure and even protect an accidentally discovered utopia? As both a core principle and a pastime of sorts, gifting is a part of the DNA of what makes Burning Man special.
All one really need to do is prod any Burner for a "one time at Burning Man" story and chances are they’ll recollect at least a few occasions whereupon a dusty stranger, who showed up at the most opportune time in Black Rock City, gave an honest gift of a completely random yet somehow necessary item to save or make the day. Sometimes that gift comes in the form of a ticket, like an invitation to go to Hogwarts, on the wings of a majestic sherpa-like friend.
"My first burn was 14 years ago and I went because a dear friend gifted me my ticket. My life was forever changed," explained Chris Kite, who gifts his time each year as the music curator at Camp Question Mark, Burning Man’s largest theme camp dedicated exclusively to bass music. "I now make it a practice to gift at least one ticket each year to pay it forward. I know how special of a gift that is so watching a friend or loved one experience burning man for the first time is truly rewarding."
House aficionados and technophiles over at the iconic Pile Palace expressed a similarly loyal sentiment stemming from the times shared at Burning Man. Known as the place on-playa where popular LA underground superfecta Desert Hearts take their disco naps, Pile Palace is a strong, emergent vision for the future of the genre outside of Burning Man, when it remains rooted in the 10 Principles taught in Black Rock City.
"It is so important to rally for Burning Man if you love the music because Burning Man has been one of the most impactful platforms of creative expression and inspiration for so many artists around the world," says Justin Campbell, a camp co-director who DJs and curates a lot of the music featured at the Pile Palace. "By the time all camps and build crews have donated their unconditional love to their art installations, sound camps, and creative experiences, the gates open and BM begins; the living, breathing playa then becomes the canvas, and all the dreamers of the dream become the art. The connections made, the emotions felt, the music shared, and the overall experience."
"We’re beyond grateful for those who have shared a special experience with us at Pile Palace! Year after year, Burning Man has shaped us as a family, and as individuals from all the hard work we’ve put into The Pile and the exponential return we feel in gratitude," Campbell continues. "That’s what it’s all about. No corporate interests, no political agendas, no profits or business model, simply just passionate humans who are inspired to create and share a very special environment. This would never be possible without all the camps, build crews, and every single burner, who gift their time, energy, and donations to Burning Man."
"Gifting is such an essential part of the burn," Kite reaffirms. "I hope people can see that donating to our beloved Burning Man would be a gift to us all. A gift to ensure this experience will continue year after year.”