What Burning Man Can Teach You About Building A Great Event
By: Barry Blassoples
Burning Man is an annual event held in Black Rock Desert, Nevada that attracts 50 000 revellers and is the envy of festivals the world over for its sheer pull power, and the reverence and commitment of the members of its community. What can you do to replicate some of the things Burning Man does so well?
Location: It’s held in the Desert!
Conditions at Burning Man are notoriously challenging. A hot, dry environment, with occasional sandstorms for good measure are normal at the event. This isn’t the urban equivalent of an abandoned sports field desert. This is a real desert environment with all of the associated hazards. You would think this would be a deterrent to attendees, but for many, it is one of the festival’s main draw cards.
The next time you book another event in another hotel conference centre with grey walls and generic catering because you think that’s what your audience will accept, remember that 50 000 people go to the desert to party for a week by choice!
Unlike most festivals, which work hard to curate and regulate how the festival unfolds, Burning Man is defined by their principle of self-expression. The community drives and defines what Burning Man is. Outlandish outfits, marvellous structures and unique entertainment – the majority of which is put on by Burners themselves – is something you’re unlikely to experience anywhere else. This is not Coachella – there’s no lineup carefully curated for you to enjoy here. The fun you have, and the extremes you go to, are entirely up to you. And the collective result of this individual self expression is frequently spectacular. Of course, over time there is an inherent downside to letting your community define what your festival is about, but change is inevitable, after all.
Burning Man Subverts Many of Society’s Rules
While drugs are officially frowned upon by Burning Man’s organisers and the festival is heavily patrolled by police, they’re as easy to find and as commonplace as a McDonald’s in a modern Western city. Public nudity? Par for the course. Public sex? At Burning Man, there are tents where communal sex – yes, orgies – take place. And none of this is frowned upon. Here’s the thing: there’s something strangely refreshing about that, even if you have a moral code that’s in conflict with that. If a festival can go to this extent to break ‘civic rules’ steeped predominately in morality, surely you can do something, however small, against your industries conventions.
Burning Man Draws A Line in the Sand
By it’s own description, Burning Man is an event where ‘attendees’ (or ‘participants’) dedicate themselves to the spirit of community, art, self-expression and self-reliance. Some of it’s guiding principles are gifting, decommodifications, communal effort and civic responsibility. ‘Burners’ often revere the festival for how it escapes the modern trappings of consumerist and rigid society, instead opting for something more reflective of a community-driven Utopia where the generosity of the society is its currency.
For many onlookers, the claims that it is more than just a drug-fuelled party for the well-to-do is rubbish, but that’s besides the point. The point is that those who buy into what Black Rock City is about buy into it aggressively. To have people feel extremely polar emotions about what you create or who you are can be a very good thing, and a catalyst for major success. Look at Eminem, or Abraham Lincoln, or Pride Parades the world over, or even Nelson Mandela during the heart of Apartheid.
Now look at your own event, and ask yourself if you’re toeing the line too closely.