Burning Man Project Exports Culture to…San Mateo

As we just mentioned in our earlier Amber Lyon post, if you’re looking to the official Burning Man site for news, good luck to you. They’re running on Burning Man time, not Twitter time. They told you this event was coming up, but haven’t updated their site yet to tell you it’s over. Meanwhile, at Burners.Me, we bring you news of the Burning Man Project Panel. Here’s some bluesy video put out by the City of San Mateo (yes, they do talk…eventually!)

Artist: Julian Cash, 2001

Artist: Julian Cash, 2001

Danger Ranger had this to say about the whole thing:

What we do literally is we take peoples’ sense of reality, and we break it apart. Burning Man is a transformation engine. It has hardware and it has software. You can adjust it and tweak it, and we’ve done that. We take people out to this vast, dry place – nowhere, very harsh conditions – and it strips away their luggage. The things that they had brought with them, the idea of who they thought they were. And it puts them in a community setting where they have to connect with each other. It puts them in this place where anything is possible. In doing so, it breaks the old reality, and it enables them to realize that you can create your own reality, you can do anything.”

Here’s what the SF Examiner had to say:

San Mateo gets lesson on community building from Burning Man

  • From left, moderator Stuart Mangrum, Burning Man co-founder Michael Mikel and entrepreneur Ilana Lipsett discuss community-building strategies. Photo: SF Examiner

The Burning Man event symbolically came to San Mateo recently, but there were no naked people, art cars or burned wooden effigies involved.

Burning Man was instead front and center on the subject of community-building during a discussion in conjunction with San Mateo‘s Innovation Week festivities, featuring Burning Man co-founder Michael Mikel. Joining him onstage were three activators, Burning Man participants who talked about how their experiences at the yearly Nevada desert counterculture event have influenced their efforts as community leaders.

San Mateo spokeswoman and economic development specialist Rebecca Zito said the city is in the process of “activating” its downtown area, and the panelists’ insights could be applied to beautification projects such as the North B Street Improvement Initiative. Community-building skills associated with Burning Man are relevant to the B Street project, she said, because there is a lot of outreach and communication involved with residents, merchants and property owners, who all have different concerns.

Panelist Ilana Lipsett talked about her Freespace project, which uses the Burning Man principle of “radical inclusiveness” to bring San Francisco residents together to collaborate on art, technology and civic projects.

She noted that people who are increasingly painted by the media as natural enemies, such as technology workers and artists, have been able to get past those labels and work together at Freespace.

One example Lipsett cited was that of a disabled, formerly homeless man who cautiously enteredFreespace’s Market Street location, wondering whether he would be welcome there. The man had an idea for a digital billboard that could provide homeless San Franciscans with information on services and resources, while simultaneously offering music and visual entertainment to draw users in and beautify the public space. According to Lipsett, the resident tech employees and artists got involved and worked to turn the concept into a reality.

Panelist Karen Cusolito, the founder of American Steel Studios, which rents workspaces to artists in West Oakland, said operating the space has forced her to get involved in local politics because, she said, “The city planned to turn West Oakland into an office park.”

And for Cusolito, that effort to prevent office buildings from displacing art studios has been successful, she noted.

“As an artist, it just doesn’t feel possible that you can influence public policy, but we did,” Cusolito said.

Another panelist, Mike North, host of the former Discovery Channel TV show “Prototype This!” talked about how the creative freedom and unconditional acceptance he got from Burning Man supported his involvement with tech innovation projects designed to help disadvantaged people.

He recounted his experience developing a brace that children born with clubfeet could wear to correct the condition. North said the brace was designed to be very affordable so it could be used in developing countries where corrective surgery is not available. Recalling how he was deeply moved when he met one of the children using his brace invention, North said, “I thought, wow, this kid is going to walk.”

In speaking with The San Francisco Examiner about the gap some might perceive between Burning Man’s freewheeling spirit and the city of San Mateo‘s staid image, Mikel said, “People say Burning Man has become mainstream, but it’s actually that the mainstream has become Burning Man!”

I guess if you’re a Burning Man founder, wherever you go in the world, everything is given to you for free. So naturally it would seem as if the whole mainstream world was like Burning Man. I live in Marin County, California – it’s a pretty mainstream place. To me it seems quite different from Burning Man, even though I’m sure some of the people who live here are Burners. There are trash cans, you can buy food and drinks, there aren’t any blinky lights or lasers or thumping subwoofers, there are no art cars, people have clothes on, the cops don’t walk around with dogs and bullet proof vests…

What all this kerfuffle will actually mean to the good people of San Mateo, remains to be seen. Hopefully at least the Burning Man Project will be able to post a complete video of the free event…”soon”.

 

14 comments on “Burning Man Project Exports Culture to…San Mateo

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  12. Still seeing precious little of the gift economy, and of radical self reliance and expression. With these perspectives I have realized that a whole lot of what I do is stone soup, which is the operative precedent for the Burner culture: what can I give that we can all benefit from? Perhaps it is my personal work choice and environment, but most of the people I interact with, like me, are not getting paid for that interaction. We are doing it to further our professional goals which benefit our colleagues and the planet. (In my all-nighter last night I found that the while the US EPA will tell me the exact carbon footprint per KWH of the local SF electric power, they are still mute on the water use, preventing a “water footprint” comparison for some energy decision material I am putting together – for free. BTW, our potable water mostly (>40%) is used to cool power plants, more than irrigation, domestic and industrial uses. How are you fixed for water today? Tomorrow? Is your coffee maker on right now?)

    So far, for all the hoopla, the Burning Man Project “outreach” is uber-lame. It is as if they “discovered” the stone soup idea, which ironically did NOT include exploiting others for personal profit. You can squeeze a lot of “free” time and stuff out of people, but if you are not giving back more, that pretty much disappears over time. My stone soup organizations have been around for decades, so they seem to be working. We all pay expenses and time to participate, and we pay annual dues to let the organization have some operative overhead and full-time staff.

    And we get grants and commercial support, that is used to help develop information for us all to use to work better. But those funds are spent based on ideas from the base-level members, not from top-down decisions. And we do get to vote on who holds those top jobs.

    While lethargy, disempowerment and private profit can always be obstacles to human progress, overcoming them it is a universe more than getting a free lunch on your promises. And making the “precious” outreach material only available to the few who pony up cash or suck up to the power brokers is exactly the wrong thing to do – unless your material would readily be recognized as feckless cult stroking, suitable only for the inner sanctum. Perhaps they are going to start a Church of Burning Man, with a big picture of Our Founder by the door, with a little suggestion box underneath that says, “You can always talk to Larry.” (Or is that what the Burning Man Project is?) I would like to be proven wrong, by their free release of all their Burning Man wisdom, plastered all over YouTube, meeting critical acclaim. But until that happens, I see Wile E. Coyote still running strong, with that cliff edge far behind, wondering who is fooling whom.

    The Burning Man Project, and the House of Larry could learn a lot if they looked around for other stone soup organizations, instead of idle rich who took an innovative idea to the bank. …Or perhaps they have, and made their own decisions.

    Like

    • I keep hoping they’re in stealth mode, and the reason we’re not seeing much activity is that they’re feverishly working behind the scenes to launch something awesome. A suggestion box would be a huge start for them!

      Like

      • Maybe they can get Tom Cruise to join the BMP.

        Interesting that everything BMP, except the Charlie Rose interview, has been kept from us, and even then that was not their decision. Could be that whenever they have released their material, as suggested by the interview, they don’t get the reaction they expect or want. Thought maybe I was being one-sided on this, but when my friend, the forensic psychiatrist (as in MD and testifies in court about having people committed), gave me the assessment of Larry on TV, seems disingenuous affect comes from the top. Alas for them, if only the whole world were like their unthinking cult followers.

        Their overwhelming problem is that they think they created the Burn, when all they did was present the opportunity for it to happen; it was created by those who came to the desert. This recent willful selection of newbies to get tickets will test their theory. If the Burn comes from the BOrg, then they can have all the newbies they want. But if a decline of Burn culture correlates with a decline of veteran Burners, the source of the Burn is clear.

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