By Oleg Tolstoy
We Russians love and hate cleanup at the same time.
During the Soviet period of our history, there were a lot of communal public activities. Some of them were fully ideological, but some were beneficial and useful. A lot of those activities still exist, even without their original meaning. One of those traditions is called “Subbotnik” (from “Subbota” — Saturday — when they mostly took place). “Subbotnik” were held on a day off every spring. All citizens were supposed to work all day tidying up public spaces after the long winter: collecting garbage, fixing broken stuff, painting houses, benches, fences and so on.
On the one hand, people hated “Subbotnik” because it was mandatory — If you shirked, you would have problems at work. Not everyone wanted to spend the whole day off on public work instead of resting or doing their own business.
On the other hand, we adored “Subbotnik”. First of all, it was actually an effective activity, and it was nice to see the city clean and shiny. Secondly, working together outdoors is a real pleasure (Burners know this feeling well). Thirdly, it was a good occasion to celebrate and to have good fun after work (Burners know that feeling best).
So, when we were thinking about a new activity we could create for the Russian Burner community, this concept jumped to mind. We decided to take the tradition of “Subbotnik” from our past and breathe new life into it.
We chose a park far from the city center and not spoiled with attention. We worked with the park administration to create the event. They were happy about our idea and helped us with our needs. Because it was a public event, we needed approval from the City Department of Nature Management. That wasn’t too hard, though, and eventually we had a formal permit for holding a public event.
It was simple to write rules for this event by listing basic Burning Man principles — hey, they weren’t that different from Communism:
- No branding, advertising or commerce is allowed. (Decommodification)
- We’re contributing our work to a public space; participants grant their work for free; no one gets any rewards; gifts to each other are welcomed. (Gifting)
- The goal is to clean up the city. (Leaving No Trace)
- Everyone should take part in activities, not just be a spectator. (Participation)
- If we work together, we achieve more. (Communal Effort)
- The event is open, and anyone can be part of it. (Radical Inclusion)
- We assume responsibility for public welfare and conduct the event in accordance with local and federal laws (Civic Responsibility)
- Participants should bring everything they need to do the work (Radical Self Relience)
The plan was simple: to work and to have fun.
We brought sound equipment, a tent in a case of a rain, and extra porta-potties (this was the only budget item for our event). The music was playing the whole day — DJs maintained a good mood for everyone who came to the park that day. The weather was brilliant — it was one of the first warm and sunny days of spring, and we really missed warm weather. So everyone was glad to spend a whole day in a beautiful park surrounded by friends and listening for a good music.
Beforehand, we listened to the park administration and agreed with them what kind of work should be done. These were the big tasks: collecting last autumn’s leaves, packing them into packages together with any garbage we would find, and installing bird houses built earlier by children from an eco-school located in the park. The whole work took us only a few hours, but all those who came later and wanted to participate were able to clean up some other spaces.
While preparing for the event, we welcomed people to propose whatever other activities they wanted. One team that played with children and their parents that visited the park. We also had several master classes: One famous designer showed how to create elements of clothing and ornaments from stuff that is usually thrown away as a garbage. In another corner, kids and adults could build a house or a feeder for birds. People who visited park that day took part in the activities with great pleasure.
Food was an obvious question. People who worked all day would want to eat. In the spirit of Gifting, we decided to invite people to bring and prepare the food and beverages themselves and offer them as gifts to everyone. We didn’t regulate or coordinate this part of event. There was a risk that no one would bring anything, and all of us would be hungry and angry. And there was a risk that random passers-by would take all the free food. But it went amazingly well, of course. Each one brought something tasty to treat others. The tables were full of delicious food for the whole day, and everyone was happy about it. We had nothing to worry about.
So we made a super fun and helpful public event for participants and for all the people who came to the park that day. We all enjoyed cleaning up together, and we definitely intend to do this again.
With a theme like Radical Ritual, it’s no wonder Burning Man 2017 will be home to 30 different Shrines.
At the center of Black Rock City, 20 Shrines will inscribe a circle around the Man base, known this year as the Temple of the Golden Spike. Throughout the week, the space will be energized with processions and rituals, inviting the denizens of BRC to explore what we as a community consider sacrosanct.
By Alessandra Wollner and H. Connor Moss
When Burning Man’s 2017 theme became public, a collective YAAAAAAAAAY! rang through the Facebook Group for the Theme Camp, Milk + Honey. We Honeys (as we who belong to this community call ourselves) were amped. Radical Ritual happens to be our raison d’etre.
For the past 10 Burns, every Friday at sundown, Milk + Honey has hosted a playa-wide Kabbalat Shabbat service, the Jewish liturgy honoring the end of the work week and the sacred transition to the Day of Rest. Since 2014, we’ve followed our Shabbat service by offering 400+ guests a sumptuous, sit-down meal. To our rough, proud count, about 700 desert dwellers attended Milk + Honey’s ninth Shabbat service last year.
Hailing from New Orleans, Brennan Steele’s entire life revolves around making. A former architect, Brennan has turned his love for design into a specialized career crafting gigantic props for Mardi Gras floats out of styrofoam. It’s the kind of job makers of all types dream about. Spending your days crafting larger than life Conestoga wagons, cows and columns with a crazy robot that carves blocks of foam into intricate sculpture. A prolific artist, Brennan’s work transcends his day job. He’s a four-time Burning Man honorarium recipient and the king of the Space Vikings, a local Mardi Gras troupe. Brennan’s current badass maker status is the end result of a long journey that began in a place many of us call home, Burning Man.
The Accuracy Third podcast is back with a second season of stories from Black Rock City. Join Rex, D-Day and Beth for stories from the individuals who make Burning Man happen, Theme Camp implosions, and so much grand failed art.
Friend-of-the-Show Xeno moderates a roundtable of DPW hardcases: Monk, Gage, and Frisky Whisky (from S02 E07.) Monk has opinions about voluntourism, worker’s rights, and penetrations. Gage finds his way through the red tape, while Frisky Whisky discovers what’s in the bucket. Friend-of-the-Show Xeno shares his management philosophy and the transgressive chicanery he got into at Flipside. There’s the first installment of the Accuracy Third Glossary segment, and pretty much everybody has multitool on them. Find out about the awful shit we drank, and if you want t-shirts, I guess we’ll design and print them.
Beth & Rex “twinkle that yo” at the Burning Man Global Leadership Conference, which is as familiarly corporate as any conference you’ve seen. But our people dress better, and our hair is as awesome as our tattoos are bad. We talk about several regionals, Kostume Kult, and how we’re doing it wrong. A safety plan for tornadoes. D-Day already knows about permaculture. When to say yes. Blazing Swan is not a bush doof, and Beth exhibits impeccable consent with a previous guest.
Accuracy Third needs your help! If you like what we’re doing, please subscribe to our podcast and rate us in iTunes, the Google Play store, or Stitcher. Help us tell their algorithms to smush our voices into as many ears as possible. Together, we can tell the world what we’re doing at that thing in the desert!
Now I’m no Census researcher, but I bet if you asked random Burners to name one of the 10 Principles, Leaving No Trace would probably be the one that comes to mind more often than not. It’s one of the easiest things to understand about Black Rock City’s culture, but that doesn’t mean we can take it for granted.
D.A., manager of Playa Restoration, made this video to educate and rally the troops (read: that’s all of us) on the nature of the MOOP problem and how we can stop it. Watch, learn, and share it far and wide.
Bruno’s Country Club was the most notable building in Gerlach when Burning Man first arrived there in 1990. Constructed in a style typical of frontier architecture, the front wall extends above the roof to create a more impressive façade. Over the years, we would come to know Bruno himself as an impressive character, even larger in life.
Giovanni “Bruno” Selmi arrived in the United States from Lucca, Italy, in November 1946 at the age of 23. His brother had a ranch in Dayton, Nevada and put him to work as a cook. Bruno later found a job in Empire at the gypsum plant where a few fellow Italians were being hired because they didn’t need to know a lot of English. At night, he would tend bar and deal 21 at a local bar-casino in Empire. In 1952, he purchased the Longhorn Bar in Gerlach for $6,500 and renamed it Bruno’s Country Club.
Has it ever seemed to you that there are more ways to be a citizen of Black Rock City than there are to be a citizen of anyplace else you live? Your home town, your county, your state?
Well, it’s not actually true, but it can certainly seem true. And the reason it seems true, according to Walker Fisher, is that there is a link between creative freedom and civic engagement. People who feel creatively empowered in turn make creative spaces, and creative spaces are easier for people to engage with as citizens than conventional spaces. That’s because creative spaces as you who you want to be, rather than forcing you to choose from a list of prescribed options.
In this Philosophical Center podcast, we talk about the link between creative freedom and civic engagement. Walker was a Philanthropic Engagement Associate with Burning Man Project at the time this was recorded.
Theresa Duncan spent her whole adult life doing development and fundraising work for non-profits. But after she went to her first Burning Man, she realized she hadn’t understood gifts at all. On playa she discovered a gifting culture so powerful that at first she didn’t even know how to participate. That’s not an uncommon experience: many of us realize, our first Burning Man, that we are so used to thinking in terms of transactional relationships that we simply don’t know how to give the kind of life-changing gift that we are sometimes offered on playa. We don’t even know how to accept it graciously.
I like to tell people it took me about eight years of practice before I got really good at gifting in the sense that Burning Man means it. And I never, never, would have gotten there if I hadn’t seen people doing it right, year after year. It’s one of the most important things in my life.
Today Theresa is Burning Man’s director of Philanthropic Engagement, and prefers to talk about a “gift culture,” rather than a “gift economy,” because economy implies a balanced transfer, while the power of a gift comes from its lack of balance.
In a podcast with the Burning Man Philosophical Center, she talks about what she calls the “evolution of gift giving” in the lives of Burners. And how to give joyfully.
Cover Photo: “Love,” by Alexander Milov
By S. Megan Heller, BRC Census Researcher / Manager 2004-2015
(with a shit load of help from Picky!)
Like a lot of good stories about projects with academic origins, this one starts with a research problem. In the early years of the Black Rock City Census, we handed out questionnaires at gathering spots like Playa Info and the Center Camp Café. We focused our efforts on increasing participation with the vague hope that eventually everyone would want to join in the fun. Volunteers would go around with our mutated vehicle, the Census Wagon, to pass out and collect the completed forms, even at nighttime. We loved every minute of it. But we knew our findings were skewed – that is, driven by people who took the time to fill out the form of their own accord. In 2012, we designed a new and better way of collecting data using a brief questionnaire that would be representative of all Burners. Eventually the longer Census form moved online after the Burn, and we randomly selected participants at to fill out the short form on playa, in order to correct for self-selection bias. Basically, we got really geeky about our sampling methods back in 2012.