Burning Man is an event held annually since 1986 in the western United States at Black Rock City, a temporary city erected in the Black Rock Desert of northwest Nevada, approximately 100 miles (160 km) north-northeast of Reno, and a thriving year-round culture generated by a global community of participants. The late summer event in Black Rock City is an experiment in community and art, influenced by ten main principles: radical inclusion, radical self-reliance, radical self-expression, communal effort, civic responsibility, gifting, decommodification, participation, immediacy, and leave no trace. The event takes its name from its culmination, the symbolic ritual burning of a large wooden effigy (“The Man”) that traditionally occurs on the Saturday evening of the event.
First held 34 years ago in 1986 on Baker Beach in San Francisco as a small function organized by Larry Harvey and Jerry James who built the first “Man”, it has since been held annually, spanning the nine days leading up to and including Labor Day (the opening day is a Sunday, while the closing day is the first Monday in September). The 2019 event ran from August 25 to September 2.
At Burning Man, the community explores various forms of artistic self-expression, which are created to be enjoyed by all participants. An anonymous attendee once elaborated that “Burning Man is about ‘why not’ overwhelming ‘why'”. Said NPR, “Once considered an underground gathering for bohemians and free spirits of all stripes, Burning Man has since evolved into a destination for social media influencers, celebrities and the Silicon Valley elite.” Participation is a key precept for the community; selfless giving of one’s unique talents for the enjoyment of all is encouraged. Examples of creativity include experimental and interactive sculptures, buildings, performances and art cars, among other media. These contributions are inspired by a theme that is chosen annually by the organizers.
Burning Man is organized by the Burning Man Project, a non-profit organization that, in 2014, succeeded a for-profit limited liability company (Black Rock City LLC) that was formed in 1999 to represent the event’s organizers, and is now considered a subsidiary of the non-profit organization. In 2010, 51,515 people attended Burning Man. Attendance in 2011 was capped at 50,000 participants and the event sold out on July 24; the attendance rose to 70,000 in 2015. The Burning Man Project endorses multiple smaller regional events inspired by the Burning Man principles both in the United States and internationally. The organization provides the essential infrastructure of Black Rock City, and works year-round to bring Burning Man culture to the world and to support its global participant community in manifesting its Ten Principles through six interconnected and aspirational program areas: Arts, Civic Involvement, Culture, Education, Philosophical Center, and Social Enterprise.