Why We Burn: Isabeau Vidal, Kostume Kult Camp Lead

(This interview is years in the making. This camp is responsible for some of the wildest nights I’ve had in NYC, and always took care of me on playa. Kostume Kult is a massive undertaking. One of the major facilitators of this tremendously popular barrel of kostumed monkeys is Isabeau Vidal, who refused a title more impressive than “Camp Lead” as a tip of the hat to the amazing krew that helps make it happen every year. If you’re in NYC over Valentine’s Day weekend, head over to Santos Party House for their Monkey House fundraiser. It’ll be bananas.  ~Interview by Terry Gotham)11951520_10153511428026208_5744216049481948401_o1. How was Burning Man 2015? People who camped with you thought it was spectacular, but as the producer, how was the build, the burn and the breakdown?
It was definitely a great year for the camp. We grew bigger than ever before, and I think that everyone involved had a great time. Of course, growing so much bigger also put quite a bit of strain on all of our camp leads, but I think everyone handled that amazingly. Of course there were the usual curveballs that Burning Man will throw at you… This year it was big winds, but even more so our shipping container from the east coast – containing some of our camp infrastructure and pretty much all of our campers’ personal stuff – which was supposed to get there on Tuesday of build week but didn’t arrive until 4 days later. Our Monday build team had all of their essential camping gear with them, but several of our Wednesday team members ended up sleeping in our central shade, kostume tent, or borrowed tents for several days. But, that is Burning man… 😉

2. You are responsible for one of the largest & well-known Burning Man camps on the East Coast. How do you deal with the drama and day-to-day logistical nightmares that Kostume Kult, like any BM camp, can generate?
In the final weeks and months before the burn, things get crazy. You try to focus on the important stuff, things you really care about and things where you can make a difference. That’s even more true once on playa. It’s a very intense two-and-half weeks out there, and you are cut off from a lot of your usual resources. Getting angry or upset is not going to make a damn bit of difference, so you just focus on the task at hand, and try to find creative solutions for the problems that you are facing. Then once you’re back at home and recovered, you try to take on the structural issues that you had no way of solving when you were at the burn.

3. For people not familiar, how did Kostume Kult come about?
Kostume Kult is an arts collective that got its start in the late 90’s with group themes and eventually an annual float at the NYC Halloween Parade. By 2002 the first 7 member Burning Man camp started by gifting hats and sunglasses and, in 2003, we had our first costume dome on Esplanade frontage where it has been every year since— now gifting over 2000 pounds of costumes and accessories to all who will embrace the immediacy of wearing them and walk the runway with the encouragement of our emcees, DJs and all those waiting in line. For more on our history & philosophy, check out our website.

4. People in NYC nightlife can be awful. How do you deal with the ambient misogyny that comes with throwing some of the dopest parties in town?
Our core team is pretty evenly made up of some of the most wonderful people of any gender, age, sexuality, and economic background so luckily whenever it matters I have experienced very little of that… We are also about much more than just our fundraiser parties, and we participate in numerous NYC arts festivals and parades (Dance Parade, Figment, the NYC Halloween Parade, Onesie Wednesday) and those are the kind of things that really make it worthwhile for us.


5. Some people denigrate Burning Man camp parties by implying they’re a haven for drugs. How do you manage those damaging perceptions while still providing a safe environment for your attendees?
In NYC I don’t think that our parties, or any other Burning Man camp’s parties for that matter, are really any more notorious for drug use than more mainstream events. We always stress to our virgin burners that – regardless of what they may have heard – Burning Man is a whole lot more than just a drug fueled rave in the desert.

6. Kostume Kult is radically inclusive in ways a lot of other places aren’t. How do you foster that environment, and how do you manage clashes of cultures, social mores and behaviors that may come from maintaining that space?
As a big camp, we get a lot of virgin burners every year. And, being from NYC, our group of campers is very diverse… While we organize a lot of communal ‘amenities’ (communal kitchen, showers, water, etc…), we work very hard at keeping the cost reasonable. We also have many camp meetings throughout the year, and from the start we stress the importance of the 11 principles… We want people to get involved, participate, and feel welcomed so they can get the best experience possible, and stick around to help us continue this craziness for many more years to come.

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7. Is running Kostume Kult your full time job? If not, how do you generate the funds & time off to be such a foundational member in an Esplanade level camp?
Not at all (we wish)! Pretty much all of the core work in Kostume Kult is done on a volunteer basis. All of us hold a variety of jobs, from artists, designers and engineers to bartenders, lawyers and accountants. For all of us, Burning Man is something that we use our personal vacations days for, and the main cost of which comes out of our own bank accounts, you know we are constantly renting beach houses at twiddy rentals and we recently just got the best water pitcher for your home that way we take them to the houses we rent all the time.

8. Are there any crucial Burners that you rely on to make Kostume Kult the spectacular success that it is?
Yes!! My girlfriend and build lead Kimmy D, her brother and our kitchen lead Mark (Sippycup), my co-lead and camp counsel Jungle, our founder Costume Jim, and so many others… you know who you are! (Gearoid, Liana, Natasha, Autodadday, Thad, Chad, Ezra, Eliza, Brandon, Marianna, Milk, Marz, Geoff, DK, Stefan, Boris & Lori to name but a few)

9. How does one become a part of Kostume Kult if they’re interested?
We have our first fundraiser of the season on February 13 (MONKEY HOUSE ~ A Valentines Soiree). Come help out with crafting or setup, or just enjoy the event itself! For more info, go here to get involved with upcoming events, or in case you are interested in camping with us.

10. Favorite moment of the 2015 Burn?
Finally leaving camp on Tuesday night after the last of our frontage decor was finished, riding out on our bikes with a small group of our core build team and taking in the magic all around us and knowing that all our hard work was worth it!


I wanted to take time to really point out how important the stories from people like Isabeau are. There are a lot of really hard working people who volunteer hundreds of hours & thousands of dollars on the East Coast to make events happen that benefit thousands of people over the course of a single season. Kostume Kult does it right, so if you’re around this weekend, definitely head down to Santos Party House & show them some love. They’ll just pour it into the pot that eventually results in you in a wacky costume on playa, so #Respect. ~TG

7 comments on “Why We Burn: Isabeau Vidal, Kostume Kult Camp Lead

  1. Pingback: Why We Burn: Jungle, Mayor of Kostume Kult | Burners.Me: Me, Burners and The Man

  2. These folks are truly amazeballs. Isa and Kimmy and Sippycup work their butts off to ensure others have a great camp and bring the magic ad know how. As a three time KK camper here, KK was my first home camp at BM and I will cherish all the time I spent there from build week to the final LNT walks before leaving. This camp is a prime example of how to do it right as a theme camp. Amazing job they do and their gifting and experience they provide are amazing contributions to BM participants.

  3. love this series, love the people featured and it’s a privilege to create, play, burn with KK. New York is blessed to have such amazing dedicated souls who like Issabelle and those mentioned who anchor our burner community here and keep a fire burning for us to huddle together and co-create. and continuing to be truly radical in all ways….

  4. Thank you for this very kind post. Isa, Kimmy and the Kostume Kult team (and it is a team) are simply awesome. The amount of structure and organization that goes into making Burning Man accessible, to virgin burners and veteran burners alike, is outstanding. It takes a village, but the top folks are so knowledgeable, smart and calm that it is a real honor to help out, volunteer and participate with them. Preparation is a key point in each of the camp meetings and this virgin burner listened, got help and was extremely well prepared. Kostume Kult is very inclusive group, which was a surprise to me since folks seemed to know each other and get along so well. It turns out that there were way more newbies than I realized and it’s just part of the culture to bring new people in and have them do stuff. And it wouldn’t happen with the great KK leadership—thank you!

  5. I happened to be part of a satellite camp with KK this year, and was so incredibly impressed with Aida’s leadership. She, and the other camp leaders had it down. Even without our supplies, it got done, and KK delivered the awesome costume dome that is a big part of transforming people who attend the burn.

    One of the many things I love about KK is that they are truly inclussive, and expressive, and really give back. They are an awesome camp.

  6. Costume Kult is awesome! Every year I get at least 2 or 3 crazy items to spice things up. This year the warm clothes kept me warm and funky on those deep playa nights.

    CK does it right.

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