Dream Big, Or Go Home

So far the most exciting announcement about Burning Man 2015 is not the $800 VIP tickets, or the “chumps and suckers” circus theme…it’s Big Imagination, who are going to bring a 747 Jumbo Jet as their art car.

747 cad drawing

This is surely the most ambitious project ever on the Playa. As we were packing up at the end of Cargo Cult, I heard a rumor that there was a plan to bring an art car that required 100 crew. I dismissed it at the time as bullshit – “what art car needs 100 crew? A cruise ship?” – but some rumors are indeed true, and this is very real.

3 stories tall, 4 buses wide, half a football field long, on 18 squishy wheels, able to carry more than 300 people. And it moves.

747Ken is one of the main instigators of the vision, and he’s someone who knows what he’s doing. He designed the very popular Charlie the Unicorn art car, and was part of the Robot Heart team.

I’m the knucklehead who dreamed up this crazy idea.

My Playa background was being a workerbee on Robot Heart from 2008-11, then I designed and built Charlie the Unicorn (with a lot of help). In the default world I have a varied background but experience in managing large, complex projects from aerospace to film.

Charlie The Unicorn. Image: Jun/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Charlie The Unicorn. Image: Jun/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Big Imagination Foundation is a arts and education non-profit. Specifically, the mission is to incubate and support projects that bold, inspiring, and visionary. We’re purposely trying to stay flexible on our first project.

As for why this big thing? I sketched this out on the Playa dust in 2009. I swore I would never do another art car after Charlie unless it was truly epic. When I found out we could get our hands on a scrap 747, welllll, it was just too good of a chance to pass up. Once in a lifetime, right? I’m not necessarily shooting for the “biggest” just because. We could do a plane-oriented project much easier with a smaller fuselage. However, the 747 is iconic, and that upper deck is spectacular. When this baby rolls down the playa, peoples minds are going to melt. [Source: Reddit]

Truly epic is right – my mind has melted already. If you have the resources, better to do something like this and share it with everyone, than sell exclusive hotel rooms with porcelain toilets to VIP guests who hand out a few popsicles.

The top of the plane will be cut open to make an outdoor lounge.

The latest design...the "mohawk look" is gone

The latest design…the “mohawk look” is gone

Despite what some Internet armchair pundits have speculated, they will not actually be flying a 747 onto the Playa. The aircraft will be chopped up and moved by truck from the Mojave Desert airplane boneyard. The route has already been surveyed for the length they are considering.

A couple of years ago, I stopped to get gas in Inglewood, Los Angeles. If you’re familiar with LA, or hip-hop music, you know that Inglewood is not exactly Beverly Hills. “The hood” would be one way to describe it. So when I saw 3 helicopters hovering above me, I was somewhat concerned. A crazed shooter on the loose, perhaps? Then I noticed thousands of people lining the freeway overpasses. What was going on? As it turned out, the Space Shuttle had been retired, and Endeavour was being towed through the streets to its resting place at the California Science Center. How did they get the Space Shuttle to LA? On the back of a 747. That’s how big this aircraft is, Space Shuttles ride on top of it.

Space Shuttle Endeavour being carried to LA on a 747. Image: Nasa HQ / Flickr (Creative Commons)

Space Shuttle Endeavour being carried to LA on a 747. Image: Nasa HQ / Flickr (Creative Commons)

The Space Shuttle caused quite a scene on the streets of LA. Image: J Jakobson/Flickr (Creative Commons)

The Space Shuttle caused quite a scene on the streets of LA. Image: J Jakobson/Flickr (Creative Commons)

A full size Boeing 747 is 231 feet long, and its wings are 196 feet wide. Its fuselage is 32 feet high and the tail section reaches to 63.5 feet. The aircraft weighs just under 200 tons without fuel or passengers – more than enough to sink into the Playa.

This is not quite full size. They are not bringing the 4 engines, the wings, or the tail section – not to mention all the wiring, hydraulics and seats that will be removed. They will chop the Jumbo’s fuselage at 120 feet, about half the total length. In the future they may turn the tail section into another art car, able to move independently and perhaps “form like Voltron” when the 2 art cars get together at the same event. The cut-down Jumbo will weigh 55,000 lbs, which is about the same as a semi-trailer. The fuselage width is 21.3 feet, as opposed to a standard semi-trailer width of 8.5 feet and a road lane width of 12 feet. The 747 will take up 2 lanes of road for the nearly 500 mile journey between the Airplane Boneyard at the Mojave Air and Space Port (CA) to Black Rock City (NV). All care and consideration is being given to the necessary permits for transportation, and minimizing impact on the Playa. They have a moving company that has been “hauling big ass structures for years”.

A 747 dwarfs regular commercial airliners

A 747 dwarfs regular commercial airliners. Image: Airliners.Net (via Kampungkai)

Big Imagination are considering a variety of options for moving the thing around at Burning Man, including towing it behind an aircraft tug. One spokesperson for the DMV has said that the tug needs to be a mutant vehicle too, it can’t just be a stock airport vehicle. Safety third! It would be a shame if this wonderful project was green-lit by the BLM but got killed by BMOrg’s bureaucracy. Big Imagination have been speaking to the DMV and seem to have support at the right levels.

An airport tug is not exactly a small vehicle. Image: Christian Junker/Flickr (Creative Commons)

An airport tug is not exactly a small vehicle. Image: Christian Junker/Flickr (Creative Commons)

I have complete faith that these guys know what they’re doing and can pull this off. Hat’s off to Big Imagination: it will undoubtedly be the greatest thing Burning Man has ever seen, and will be the place to party at Carnival of Mirrors. Expect massive amounts of press coverage – it has started already, with stories in Mixmag, Gigwise, Bangin Beats,  Music Times, Cool Hunting, YourEDM, Dancing Astronaut, EDM Tunes, Less Than 3, EDM Nations, EDM SaucePulse RadioFestival Sherpa, Fest300…and skeptics at Airliners.Net and Yahoo Answers.

They are looking for volunteers in LA (and possiby Tucson) to help them out – that’s the “100 crew”. Get involved at bigimagination.org. Support the project with a donation.

The non-profit Big Imagination arts foundation has a broader vision than just a week’s partying in the desert:




747 pic 3

Here are some further comments from Big Imagination about the project:

Zero wristbands…We are focused on “radically inclusive exclusivity”. Everything will be First Class and top shelf, and everyone is invited. No private events, no “hot chicks only”, no “we don’t know you”. Hey, we WANT to know you. As long as we’re safe and not too full, everyone is welcome. And we should have plenty of space…

I spoke with the BLM this morning.  They said there are zero restrictions on weight and as long as the DMV/BORG give us the green light, we’re fine…this plane has been completely gutted.  No seats, no hydraulics, lots of wiring out, I could go on and on.  The heaviest parts left are the wingbox and and the rear landing gear.  I’d be stunned if we tip the scales over 70,000 lbs. Just to give you an idea, when the front 80′ are scrapped (section 1200 forward, I believe), it comes out to about 30,000 lbs of aluminum and such.  We’re going to section 1480, which includes the wing box and gear.  

We won’t be leaving marks any more than anyone else…

We’re aiming to drive around deep playa but could come into closer to the space between center camp and the man if a single spire of each 3,6&9 o clock trail is removed. That way, we could have a path to drive into the circle…

The 747 is a substantial upgrade to previous aviation-themed art cars.

Black Rock Air Force F-15. Image: Fest300

Black Rock Air Force F-15. Image: Ranger Twilight/Fest300


Playa One. Image: Sick Dog/Facebook

Playa One. Image: Sick Dog/Facebook

Playa One at sunset. Image: James Santos/Facebook

Playa One at sunset. Image: James Santos/Facebook

Seeding the Future

A guest post by reader Nick Heyming, who has been inspired by Burns to create something phenomenal.


Burner Holiday

In the spirit of the holidays, here’s a story to make you remember what gifting and communal effort is all about. If you’re more interested in the latest on the commodification crisis or tickets, don’t bother, but if you want to read about burners who are taking the principles to a new level, read on.

The first place Nickipedia heard about the burn was in Biloxi, Mississippi. He was standing next to a large dome, a decorated bus, and a newly rebuilt buddhist temple. The man in front of him was Big Stick, a civil engineer and the head of heavy equipment and last arbiter of safety for all the amazing and sometimes dodgy construction projects people bring out to the playa. He was explaining about the event, the temple, the art, and how a huge group of them had driven straight out from the festival in 2005 to help rebuild after Hurricane Katrina.

Nickipedia, being a noob and kind of a dork, said ‘Wow, sounds like a great party’.

Big Stick looked at him with a scowl, and said, ‘Yeah, you probably shouldn’t go’.

Nickipedia quickly corrected himself, ‘Um, I mean, it clearly is a lot more than just a party. Sounds like a rite of passage or a spiritual…’

Big Stick cut him off ‘If you need a rite of passage, stick around here’. He gestured to the piles of debris littering the vacant lots surrounding the encampment. “There’s plenty of opportunity to come of age helping these people out. When you’re done with that, maybe you should come out to the playa and see what we build with that blank canvas and no code enforcement or FEMA in our way.”

The blunt attitude of the Burners Without Borders didn’t dissuade young Nickipedia from venturing out to the playa 10 months later. The efforts of BWB have been well documented in such films as Burn on the Bayou:http://vimeo.com/8057642 . What many don’t realize is how many burners, both with BWB and on their own, have shown up to rebuild after disasters.

Ten years ago, when the tsunami hit Southeast Asia, thousands of volunteers from around the world poured into the area to lend their support. Many of them were backpackers and burners, looking to do more than just be tourists but to actually have meaningful exchange with the locals and leave a positive trace.

Founding members of Communitere (http://www.philippines-communitere.org/ and http://www.haiti.communitere.org ), Hands On Disaster Relief, International Disaster Volunteers (http://www.idvolunteers.org/ ), and of course Burners Without Borders (http://www.burnerswithoutborders.org/ )are regular attendees of Burning Man and go there not just to recharge but to connect with fellow volunteers they may not have an opportunity to see anywhere else.

The work the Burners do internationally is not just superficial: aside from serious engineering and sanitation projects, Burners frequently find themselves as hubs for interagency coordination. When well-spoken foreigners show up, doors open, and Burners are known for sneaking as many disenfranchised locals in when the opportunity presents itself. This can mean doing things like community-wide design charettes where people who never normally are heard get to voice their needs directly to decision-makers.

Burner making efforts for the greater good aren’t just limited to after disasters though. That little virgin Nickipedia who almost got told off at the beginning of our story? He ended up going to Burning Man in 2006, then again for a month with DPW and Black Rock Solar in 07, again with BRS and BWB in 08 (after appointing himself director of external relations for BWB in Peru for 4 months). He’s taking the lessons he learned rebuilding parks in Mississippi.

And creating community gardens in Peru.

To create a series of video games that educate people about sustainable gardening and farming practices. The goal is to mitigate climate change, solve world hunger, and help with internet and video game addiction. All using radical self-expression, communal effort, and leaving an awesome trace.

He’s in the last day of his crowdfunding campaign and they’re still a few thousand short, so if you think that sounds like something the world needs more of, support and share at www.igg.me/at/seeds

Although the crowdfunding campaign ended short, they are still going ahead with the project and trying to get support. Every little bit helps.
Nickipedia says:
I’m an ex-dpw and burners without borders disaster relief volunteer, been burning since 06 and was a recipient of the BRAF Stimulus Funds back in 08.  The project that funded, Growcology, has grown and spun off a video game Benefit corporation where we’re trying to use art and citizen science through the media of gaming to preserve biodiversity and mitigate climate change.We’re doing a crowdfunding campaign right now with just over two days left.  Just enough time for pagan, Christian, and atheist burners to push us over the top and support a project that came out of their community and promises to bring the principles to more people than the Simpsons and Malcolm in the Middle combined.
…There’ll be another campaign in 2015, a kickstarter.  In the meantime, Grow Games is just bringing on sponsors and investors through angel list.
Here’s some more information about Seeds: The Game and what they are trying to do. I think this is amazing, and really hope it takes off for them. Go Burners! This sort of thing is how we can help the world.

Let’s Go Outside and Play Together!

GrowGames has Three Goals for Food Action:

1. GAME:  #SeedstheGame are mobile games that teach you how to grow and then get you gardening outside in real life

2. JAM: Game jams connect you to local players to form or join teams and clubs to design, garden, and play together

3. THRIVE:  Receive useful tools and vibrant seeds through our rewards and for tackling challenges in the game and then use them to grow with your friends

20141111125250-1171724_296385270548209_201596367_n 20141117123951-cornseedshashtag 20141112120656-Screen_Shot_2014-11-07_at_4.38.04_PM 20141117114713-seedhands 20141117115143-background_018

Seeds is a Series of Mobile Games Created with YOU

We want to shift the way people use technology: instead of shutting you off from the world, our games showcase the most beautiful and amazing things growing around us and then challenge you and your friends to go out and find them in real life.
We LITERALLY put the tools, and the seeds, in your hands to grow the kind of garden you’ve always dreamed of.
Join us as a seed planter, designer or developer at a game jam, a beta testing player growing food with friends or action hero garden expert to level up your guild and share knowledge worldwide. Clues to gameplay are hidden in our series of videos starting with the first video above and releasing weekly every Wednesday in 2014. Come back to watch the updates and learn how to level up with Grow Games.


Connect Gardens Worldwide & Play an Ecosystem of Experiences

We connect gardens in gratitude with our shared heritage and we tell this story in our games.  Whether you’re an individual gardener or part of an established organization, this is your invitation to join us and get in first for our soundtrack of music, games, game jam events and actions in your area to grow together in guilds and food leagues.
Play now – use the hashtag #SeedstheGame to be in one of our next videos and earn points as we build the community!
Together with dozens of our favorite artists we are offering this limited edition game jam alpha release for you, straight from the best festivals and events around the world as a preview for music in gameplay. With your support we are launching a series of mobile games in 2015 and you will get the first download codes & access. The more we raise together, the faster we can produce this series for you.


Grow Food, Play with Friends, Save Money: GAME JAMS

We mix permaculture education, game design and community playtesting into local events to engage people who may be new to game development and gardening.
Some of our games like Symponix and Pested include great music – all of our games are tools designed to help you grow food together. We create together at game jams with community experts and game designers from many backgrounds.


Open Game Jam Access to Design with Us!

Join us at a GAME JAM to become a Grow Games Insider with special access as we develop this series of games – internships and design partnerships are welcome. This crowdsourcing harvest season is your opportunity to get first in line for game releases, downloads with the limited edition music jam.
Companies can go big with Grow Games to reach new people! Organizations and enterprises can sponsor game jam events with first access to market/shelf space in many games – the farmers market features prominently in gameplay.

Soundtrack benefit album + free downloads with all rewards over $13

As a thank you for helping us build these games we are producing a mix of our game music together with our favorite musical artists. You, the perfect beta testers, get the perfect seed album to start your garden adventures.

We are creating healthy homemade perks including custom food items with our gardeners and city farmers if we meet our goals. Stay tuned for our video releases every Wednesday including our PERKS video coming soon and help us sell out and share more SEEDS!

A Gratitude Garden Jam for you to enjoy anywhere 

Mixed by Jesse Wright (Lightning in a Bottle, Artist Director) joined by a huge harvest of artists with gratitude for all of their amazing hard work. We will be announcing artists every week and you can head over to our Soundcloud for more music to garden by.

Seed Packs & Special Gift Packs with Sensors

We are making gift baskets with special perks for our first beta testers and supporters including jewelry from artist Cristina McAllister, one of our character designers. Some of the perks listed include shipments of sensors for the home, school or community garden including arduino-based soil sensors and weather stations. Gameplay will help you link your sensors to play in coming iterations and we encourage you to make your own data centers in your garden to keep track of your soil health and climate needs for healthy gardens.

Early Bird Worm Specials & Farm to Table Play

Get in first for early access to the downloads and beta codes! Seed packs and special gift packs include extras to share. In-game our early worm will give you insight on your soil health and help you get in first for our games and apps even before they are released to the public. You can sign up to be an early playtester and come to our game jams to get involved in game and app development….plus get in on the secret prizes available only for the first week of this campaign.

Seeds Launch Party in Vista

In 2015 we will be hosting an event for our top crowdfunding supporters where they will receive all sorts of wild infusions of new seeds and special prizes. This will be a once in a lifetime event featuring many of the artists on our soundtrack album along with a full farm to table feast for the senses. You can schedule your own Farm to Table event with our expert chefs at the Emerald Village catering your feast for 16 from our gardens and farms to your table. We’ll help you grow new food at home.
Our games connect gardens, people and food systems worldwide.

This is our Gratitude Garden and You are Seeds in the Game.

We join you to host interactive events to activate your school or community play with food, water and soil systems -Your contribution now includes your first pass ticket in for events, music, games and experiences in 2015 and 2016 with Grow Games & #SeedstheGame. Take a pic and tag it now to start playing! We will be sharing your pictures in our supercuts throughout this campaign and game series.

Employee-Owned Social Benefit Game Company

Our biodiverse team is a Southern California Social Benefit Corp striving to be the first gaming B-Corp with a focus on global food and ecosystem resiliency:

  • We love games and create/play together at game jam events
  • Our team is a mix of women and men from all backgrounds and orientations
  • We are disaster relief geeks with 25+ years experience working with nonprofits, government, education and sustainable business practices
  • You can join us for events by sponsoring an award or bounty achievement at a development game jam in a city near you

Our nonprofit partners such as Growcology in Riverside and Project Nuevo Mundo host volunteer events where we partner to host a mix of game jam and educational events to level up real world gardening skills. We are happy to be working with great nonprofits such as the Seed Libraries Network and local food action and permaculture alliances. Join us at a game jam or local event to get started as a playtester, artist or game designer with Grow Games Interactive.

Action Engine EXPERIENCE with Food Systems

Our team includes amazing leaders in biodiversity and permaculture, technology and game development, interactive storytelling and educational applications.

GROW GAMES INTERACTIVE is a social benefit company in California:
Nick Heyming: CEO and Director of the Flow with experience in eco-friendly development and media, providing FLOW DOJO workshops as a premium reward for those who want to learn jedi arts with friends at home or at his ecovillage.
Evonne Heyning: Chair of the Board and Executive Producer ~ experienced with interactive production and games of all types, creative lead making limited edition jars of SEED JAM with homegrown pomegranate and lotus seed as a sugar-free spread.
Peter Kwok:  Technical wizard, operational lead and board member specializing in data integration with hardware and software experience from Apple to Google. Active gamer, designer and climate data/disaster response specialist.
Sonya Meline: Active in permaculture as culture-building through events and tech companies, focusing on great relationships and healthy organizational development as we grow
Michelle Perrales: Our volunteer and project coordinator with the passion for people, the planet and playtesting with our team, designing great user experiences and interfaces for action.
SOME OF OUR AMAZING ARTISTS (and more to be announced!)
Jesse Wright: A top headlining DJ at Coachella and Lightning in a Bottle, Lead music director and artist liaison for live music & DJs
Cristina McAllister: Character, avatar and fine artist with experience in tabletop and RPG gaming, crafting epic bugs and female heroes such as the Autumn Queen in our early prototypes
Nahko and Medicine for the People: Live music with a message for the people of the earth from the native voice
Imperial Highness:  Produced by FABIAN ALSULTANY with KAZUHIRO ITOH, the Globesonic world DJ’s latest project mixes global music masters
Al-Insan Lashley:  Interactive designer and artist for game board and posters
Mr. Lif: HipHop & Spoken Word artist with Terra Bella
Don Tipping:  Author, workshop and educational leader at Seven Seeds Farm
Native Seeds/SEARCH: Non-profit Indigenous Seed Saving and Education
Eric Stephens:  Gardening and composting expert and youth outreach

Daniel Goldman:  Founder/systems designer with SimCity/Maxis

Jon Everett: Project Manager/Flow master, Unity Developer and Animator
Kevin Byall: Senior CG Artist/Animator with SimCity/Sims at EA
Jacki Morie: 30 years interactive design/production for games and simulations, advisor and curator/producer for SIGGRAPH
Maya Zuckerman:  Founder of Transmedia SF, Interactive Producer
Marco Barrantes: Permaculture expert, Founder of La Loma Development
Bianca Chavez Memory Heyming: Native Landscaping and Storytelling Expert
Dr. Nicole Radziwill:  Technology/Computer Quality Systems + Climate Data, JMU
Dr. Victor Zordan:  University of California Professor in Video Game Production
Tom Munnecke: Systems design sensor advisor for hardware and internet of things
Ursula Leyva:  Permaculture education and level/achievement design, Spanish language learning specialist
Selena Wilson: Visual Artist, School Garden Liaison, Youth Outreach
Olivia Zanfardino: Advisor for Aquaculture, education and dashboards for data analytics with agencies and public sector partners


Manny, Tina, Mari, Blake, Hayley, Mario, Adam, Ariel, Dalia, Joshua, Thom, Toren, Chaos, Adam, Jessica, Natalia, Jesse, Selena, Mike and everyone at the Emerald Village, including our playtesting volunteers and field experts.

How We Work with You & Your Guilds

We are raising support to pay for stipends for our creative leaders who have given generously of their energy and to host GAME JAMS WITH YOU:
  • Our company will invest the first $20K raised in game jams to produce a series of design, strategy and development events with you where we produce game elements together with field experts.
  • The next $40-50K is invested in staff cost for hiring developers and production team from game jam talent, internships and awards for events including sponsored awards for the game jam series.
  • We aim to raise $100K for first app releases by 2015 from a mix of crowdfunding, angels and ecosystem product partners.
  • We have raised $25K so far to start Grow Games as an employee-owned social benefit company over the last year starting with a team of 3 and featuring hundreds of volunteers, playtesters and guest stars.

Be the First Expert, Plant a New Field

  • SOCIAL ACTION GAMING IS HOT: Ingress is challenging millions to make a map of the world’s art while losing weight taking portals.
  • We start with the SEEDS geo-play social action engine + mapping local food systems + games + garden experiences and make it participatory for all ages.
  • Field expert perks may include Grow Games moderator permissions for forums, sensors for community gardens and guilds, Eddefy expertise & knowledge sharing across the game network + honors and recognition in-game.
  • Talk to us about your integrated projects! We love teaching gardens.

#SeedstheGame Global Impact

Have you ever wanted to play a game that creates real value?

Playing Seeds the Game apps over the last year has saved our playtesters an average of $100 in food! Our games connect games and gardening to grow healthy ecosystems starting at home and in our neighborhoods.

When challenged by disaster, drought, outbreaks and epidemics:

  • Real-time data mapping of local food systems provides a lifeline
  • Global play can help eradicate pest challenges and adapt to climate change
  • Games and actions can be added to address specific, local, urgent needs
  • Special games and actions address organizational challenges as they happen

We are happy to meet with your organization to discuss mods and gameplay on top of your existing data sets and challenges.

A Story for Thrivable Futures
  • Our storytellers Bianca (English/Native American) and Ursula (Peruvian) share the importance of food, soil, water and ecosystem care from indigenous voices as climate-appropriate landscape masters
  • We are building on five years of educational experience in permaculture and food systems with Growcology, our partner for educational scholarships and design awards
  • Our action engine includes nonprofit and local food actions, connecting people to community gardens and opportunities to do more together

Take control of your food system….and get in a great flow perk!

Our intrepid leader Nick Heyming began this work after rebuilding in Cuzco, Peru and after Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana where he taught the basics of growing new systems and flow arts, the jedi training that mixes the art of the garden with movement arts such as fire and staff spinning. Only a few of his special flow dojo workshops are available in this campaign and he will come to you or you can come visit him at the Emerald Village for your customized flow workshop.

Send photos & videos #SeedstheGame to play

  • Tag your best food systems & garden work #SeedstheGame to be featured on our site, in weekly video series and in gameplay.
  • Indiegogo share tools make it easy to Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/Pinterest us as much as you wish. Run amok, don’t be shy. We love you too.
  • Join us at a game jam! We’re in Pasadena, San Francisco, Vista, Los Angeles and San Diego this month….Reach out and send us a message to join our crowdsourced game team @GrowGames and tag #SeedstheGame anywhere to share & connect.

Gifting For Permanent Art [Update]

disorient 1

photo by Liz Hafalia, SF Chronicle

photo by Liz Hafalia, SF Chronicle

At least we know there’s one BMP Director who gets it. Leo Villareal has been a Burner since 1994, and is the founder of Disorient. If there is a “spectrum of camps” like BMOrg says, then Disorient is clearly on the good end of the spectrum. They provide a major sound stage with many DJs, as well as several areas of their camp that are open to all Burners. They bring multiple art cars, which give rides to the public; and they gift an Art Car Wash every year which every art car can participate in. Everyone who camps with Disorient is expected to volunteer some of their time at the burn in multiple shifts, to give back to the community. While they charge dues, it is in the hundreds of dollars, not tens of thousands, and no-one in the camp is trying to make a profit. Those who stay longer to break down and pack up get a discount on their dues, but even those hard workers still pay to be a part of a camp.

Leo is also an accomplished artist. He’s the first Burning Man artist to have an exhibition of his interactive works at a major art museum (the San Jose Museum of Art).


Villareal has permanent installations at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the Brooklyn Museum of Art, and the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York, as well as in the private collections of contemporary art collectors CJ Follini. His work has also been on display at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., Madison Square Park in New York City, the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, the PS 1 Contemporary Art Center in Long Island City, New York and at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

Oh, and if you’ve been anywhere near San Francisco in the last couple of years, you’ve probably seen one other little piece he’s done: an $8 million commission he got to build the largest electronic sculpture in the world, The Bay Lights.

image: Illuminate The Arts

image: James Ewing/Illuminate The Arts

The Bay Lights were only ever intended to be temporary, and have already lasted longer than the original plan. They have become a beloved feature of the San Francsico skyline, and have had a measured boost on the city’s tourism and the trade of businesses along the Embarcadero waterfront.

Good news, Burners! The Bay Lights could be here to stay. Thanks to the generosity of a number of donors, if the project can raise another $293,000 before the end of the year, Caltrans has agreed to pick up the maintenance tab and keep the installation on the Bay Bridge – permanently.

Illuminate The Arts CEO Ben Davis says:

Dear Bay Lights Lovers,

There’s good news and even better news.

The Good News: If we raise four million dollars in gifts and pledges by the end of this year, we keep The Bay Lights forever.

This is a one-time raise of $4m, made possible by Illuminate The Arts’ break-through agreement with Bay Bridge officials. With that money, ITA will install a new set of LEDs – expressly engineered to withstand the harsh environment of the San Francisco Bay. 

We would then gift these new lights to the Bay Area Toll Authority and Caltrans, in exchange for their on-going stewardship. The Bay Lights would become a permanent fixture of the Bay Bridge, just as the 50th Anniversary necklace lights did in 1989.

This means, Leo Villareal’s temporary masterpiece will become a permanent work of public art, establishing a global icon that lets the Bay Area shine around the world in perpetuity.

The Even Better News: Thanks to a $2 million challenge grant from Bay Area philanthropist Tad Taube, every new dollar raised will be matched until the $4 million goal is reached. Tad’s inspiring gift has already helped spur another $1.7m in private gifts. That means we have only $293,000 left to raise.

If you love The Bay Lights, now is the time act. 


Here are some other recent media highlights: 

  • Featured in the San Francisco Chronicle yesterday, ‘”Bay Lights” get offer of permanence from bridge officials” Read Here 
  • San Jose Mercury News features “Bay Bridge light sculpture to shine on with big donation” Read Here  
  • San Francisco Chronicle Editorial, “Keep the Bay Bridge lights Shining” Read Here
Thank you for your continued brilliance,

Ben Davis
Founder and CEO, Illuminate the Arts


Tad Taube is an 83-year old former USAF officer, who escaped the Nazis and became a real estate and tech magnate and major philanthropist. He is connected to the Koret sportswear empire that was sold to Levi Strauss, and runs charitable foundations worth more than $500 million that gave away $26 million in 2012. He’s challenged the community to match his gift to the Bay Lights, many other donors have stepped up, and we’re almost there.

Every little bit helps – a mere $4 from everyone who went to Burning Man this year, would be enough to keep the Bay Lights going forever. Click here to donate.

Why doesn’t the Burning Man Project step up too, and provide a financial contribution to support the biggest and most famous piece of Burner Art being shared with the world forever? Seems like giving $10,000 to this would be more directly relevant to their mission of spreading Burner culture than $10,000 to the Exploratorium.

If Burners want to donate to help promote the art and culture of Burning Man worldwide, making this amazing installation permanent seems like incredible bang for our buck. It’s permanent, internationally renowned, and has already been enjoyed by more than 25 million people. The Bay Lights puts a permanent Burner stamp on the city’s skyline.

The documentary Impossible Light, about the dream that led to the Bay Lights’ Creation, makes a nice Christmas stocking stuffer for your Burner friends.

[Update 12/17/14 10:00pm]

The Bay Lights has met its funding goal, and will be staying permanently:

From SFGate:

There will be permanent, artistic lights at the end of the tunnel — the westbound tunnel of the Bay Bridge leading into San Francisco, that is — come 2016.

After a two-month campaign, the nonprofit Illuminate the Arts announced Wednesday that it had raised the needed $4 million to reinstall the “Bay Lights” as a permanent fixture on the western end of the bridge.

Billed as the world’s largest light sculpture, the display of 25,000 LED lights turns the 1.8-mile San Francisco portion of the span into a nightly show of constantly changing abstract images.

It was first announced as a temporary two-year installation to be taken down in March 2015. Now, after some cable maintenance and repainting, it’s to be replaced with a sturdier set of lights that will begin glowing in time for Super Bowl 50, scheduled for February 2016 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara.

“This is a great moment for public art and a great gift of the holiday season for the people of the Bay Area,” said Ben Davis, founder of Illuminate the Arts.