Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Burning Man: What Is It, Exactly?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Burning Man: What Is It, Exactly?

Article excerpt

Burning Man kicks off on Monday. Here's a list of frequently asked questions about this annual celebration of free expression and self reliance.

Q: What is Burning Man?

A: If you have to ask, you'll never know.

Q: Seriously, what is it?

A: It's a weeklong annual festival held in Nevada's Black Rock Desert. Some 50,000 people gather to create Black Rock City, a temporary 1.5-square-mile settlement dedicated to self expression and radical self reliance. Burners, as participants are known, dress up in costumes, dance around, show off their artwork (whatever form that may take), make friends, and hang out together in the desert. A week later, they depart, ostensibly without leaving a trace.

Q: How did it get started?

A: It started in 1986, with 20 people gathering on San Francisco's Baker Beach for the Summer Solstice. Artist Larry Harvey and his friend Jerry James erected an 8-foot wooden human effigy, which they then lit on fire. By 1989, more than 300 people convened to watch the Burning Man, as police attempted to break up the gathering. After that, they moved to the desert.

Q: Isn't it hot in the desert?

A: Yes. Daytime temperatures exceed 100 degrees F. Burners who don't want the descriptor to become literal are advised to wear lots of sunscreen. Drinking lots and lots of water is also essential. The festival's organizers say each person should drink at least a gallon a day.

Q: What sorts of amenities are provided?

A: Very little. Burners are expected to bring their own food, water, and shelter. The city is mostly made up of RVs and tents or other temporary structures. There are portable toilets, however.

Q: Who's in charge?

A: In theory, Black Rock City is a Temporary Autonomous Zone, territory that is free of authoritarian control. In reality, it is organized by the Black Rock City corporation, which obtains permits from the federal Bureau of Land Management, which also conducts law enforcement. …

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