With COVID-19 preventing Burning Man from happening once again, the organization behind the annual event is focusing on new projects. Their latest initiative, purportedly designed to bolster local economies and support artists, will begin trial runs this week.
Dubbed “Burning Man 360,” the ambitious project involves a 360-acre parcel of land purchased in 2018. The site sits just north of Gerlach, Nevada, the last small desert town burners pass through before entering the Black Rock Desert each year.
Why has the Burning Man Project (BMP) waited so long to do anything with the land? Simple: they haven’t had the time.
“This probably wouldn’t have happened without the pandemic,” said Victoria “Meta” Hunt in a phone interview. Hunt, a 15-year architecture/interior designer and longtime burner, helped draw up the site plans for the land.
According to Hunt, the goal of Burning Man 360 is to create a space for burners, one that also invites and welcomes visitors to the area.
Burning Man began in 1986 as a small gathering on Baker Beach in San Francisco. Each year, a small group would gather to burn a wooden effigy of a man. Four years later in 1990, police interference forced them to move their gathering to the Black Rock Desert. Roughly 100 miles northwest of Reno, Nevada, the annual music and arts event now draws about 80,000 attendees every year the week before Labor Day.
A staple of the festival (besides the dust) is large-scale art, ranging from a 747 commercial plane to an 80-foot-diameter reflective orb. Transporting such massive projects can be a hassle, though. In 2018, some of Gerlach’s power was temporarily shut off in order to bring in the 747.
Burning Man 360 aims to rectify such quandaries by providing a year-round place to store large-scale art with minimal disruption to surrounding towns. In their Special Use Permit (SUP) application, the BMP writes that the land will “allow for the storage of operable and inoperable vehicles along with wholesaling, storage, and distribution (light) use types.”
Their plans don’t end with simply storing art, however. Beginning on August 6th, the BMP will begin “beta-testing” a new program called 360 TrailBLAZE 2021. An invitation packet acquired by Selector list the project’s goals as:
- Creating a year-round desert outpost that boosts the local economy
- Developing opportunities for green energy
- Expanding access to theme camp storage containers
- Allowing for mutant vehicle and art storage close to Black Rock City
The weekend-long programs consist of tours, civic outreach, and networking opportunities for Burning Man artists. Air-conditioned “living boxes,” heated showers, and porto-potties are included in the $90 sliding scale signup fee.
According to the proposed site plan authored by Hunt, the land will eventually include hot springs and landscaped boardwalks.
On paper, the project resembles Fly Ranch, another piece of property purchased by the BMP. The ambitious endeavor is intended to be a year-round incubator for Burning Man-related projects.
The organization’s goals for Fly Ranch ruffled the feathers of some veteran burners who argue that the nature of the project goes against The 10 Principles. These principles not only govern the BMP’s business decisions, but also the behavior of attendees at the burn. Among them is the principle of “decommodification,” which discourages commercial transactions.
With so much currently going on in addition to the roughly 80,000 people who cross through Gerlach every summer, what do the residents think about Burning Man 360? According to Hunt, it’s complicated. “Our relationship with Gerlach has fluctuated over the years,” she said. “There will always be pushback.”
Hunt argues that the project will enable them to make amends, though. “All of this is an effort to repair relationships,” she said. BMP higher-ups plan to use their resources to provide Gerlach with dependable/sustainable solar power along with reliable internet. They also plan to help decrease the carbon footprint of the big event itself by renting solar arrays out to theme camps.
While the Burning Man 360 Trailblaze program remains in its infant stages, plans include opening it up to the public. In the meantime, the beta testing installments of Burning Man 360 TrailBLAZE will run through September 19th.
Corrections and clarifications: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Burning Man draws 100,000 attendees each year and falsely attributed a quote from Victoria Hunt to the Burning Man Project. For an official statement from the Burning Man Project, go here.