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.

Destroy the Temple, Save the Village

by Whatsblem the Pro

Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, Christchurch NZ - Photo: David Wethey/NSPA/AP

Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, Christchurch NZ – Photo: David Wethey/NSPA/AP

A crew of volunteers in Christchurch, New Zealand, including five professional engineers and a draftsman from global engineering firm Aurecon, are coming together to build a temple for the earthquake-stricken city. . . and then burn that temple down a few weeks later.

The Temple for Christchurch project is inspired by Burning Man and the Temple built there each year, which attendees use for valuable catharsis by writing about their lost ones on the walls before the building is burnt to the ground. The people of Christchurch will be allowed to visit their Temple and write on the walls for several weeks before the structure is burned as a public event.

Photo: Kirk Hargreaves/Christchurch Press/Reuters

Photo: Kirk Hargreaves/Christchurch Press/Reuters

There’s some interesting architecture to the project, too; at 6.3 meters, the building’s height will reflect the magnitude of the biggest and most destructive earthquake in the recent spate, which devastated Christchurch on February 22nd, 2011. The lines of the building’s 40-meter length and 25-meter width will be designed to mirror the seismic waveform of the quake, as recorded at the monitoring station closest to the epicenter.

Hippathy Valentine, a leader of the project, said that the volunteers are driven by the city’s need for a little catharsis and emotional balm in the aftermath of the devastation.

“We plan to open to the public in June on the site of the old Convention Centre on Peterborough St. before [moving the Temple] outside of the city to be ceremonially burnt. We hope that people will share their earthquake experiences and use the Temple as a catalyst for reflection on how the earthquakes have affected them, their city, and their communities.”

Aurecon structural engineer Luis Castillo called the design of the Temple “right at the cutting edge of architecture for the new Christchurch.”

Some areas were badly flooded - Photo: Mark Mitchell/NZ Herald/AP

Some areas were badly flooded – Photo: Mark Mitchell/NZ Herald/AP

“The project gives us the chance to ‘think outside the box,’ to be creative while having a good grasp of the many technical issues that range from material properties to spatial vision,” said Castillo. “We created a balsa wood model to help crystalize our thinking.

“It was also a great opportunity for Aurecon staff to be proactive in bringing the city back to life and creating a means by which [local residents] can go out and enjoy it.”

The Black Rock Arts Foundation is lending some support to the project, and you can too. Get involved, or just show your support for the Temple for Christchurch with a donation of money, food, tools, or other resources, by visiting the project’s website, or by going directly to their Indiegogo campaign.

Good on ya for it, too. . . she’ll be right, mate, with time and hard work and a little good old-fashioned soul-cleansing fire.

Sex ‘n’ Drugs ‘n’ Bikes That Roll

by Whatsblem the Pro

Having a bicycle on the playa is considered essential by just about everyone who isn’t riding a Segway or driving a golf cart or an art car. Bringing your bike from home might not be wise or practical, however, for a number of reasons:

  • Your bike may not survive the playa. This could be a real issue for those who bring the bicycle they use for daily transportation the rest of the year, or for those weekend warriors with seriously expensive high-tech rigs.
  • Your bike may not be appropriate for the playa. Balloon tires are vastly preferable, as is serious decoration; not only does uniquely decorating your bike make it a more welcome sight to the rest of us, it also makes your bike a less-attractive target for thieves. Speaking of which. . .
  • Your bike may be stolen. Lock it up if you want to keep it, and at the very least, write your name and camp address prominently on the frame, in case of joyriders who really don’t mean to steal your bike, but who may have a lapse in judgment re: borrowing it while intoxicated.
  • You may be coming from overseas. Bringing a bicycle with you on an international flight? Bad idea, for so many reasons. You need to pick up something locally!
Yellow Bikes are green! Photo by Danger Ranger

Yellow Bikes are green! Photo by Danger Ranger

No matter what the reason, you do have options if you just don’t want to bring your bike with you to Burning Man (or if you don’t have a bike). The surest and most obvious is the Yellow Bike program. Yellow Bikes (which are green) can be found all over Black Rock City, free for the taking to anyone who needs one. . . but remember, there are only approximately a thousand of them, and if your butt’s not on the seat, it’s fair game for anyone else to take. Do not lock up Yellow Bikes, or stash them, or otherwise take them out of circulation unless you have an immediate need. If the Yellow Bike you’re riding breaks, please do your best to fix it yourself; the same goes for your own bike if you bring it. There are camps that do nothing but bicycle repair, but don’t count on them, and try to be self-reliant if at all possible. Carry basic tools and a patch repair kit with you, even if you’re using the Yellow Bikes. Bring some chain lube, too, as the playa has a way of insta-rusting things. . . but in the interests of leaving no trace, use lube that doesn’t get flung off the chain when freshly lubed, and be sure to catch any drips or overspray so your lube doesn’t end up on the playa where it will have to be cleaned up (yes, that kind of thing really does have to be cleaned up, and so do puddles of crystallized urine, so don’t piss on the playa either). Make sure the bike you’re on is appropriately lit-up at night, so you don’t end up creaming some other darktard out on the deep playa, or being run over by an art car whose driver can’t see your inadvisably lightless ass.

Serving the Children of the World

Serving the Children of the World

If you’d prefer to avoid the vagaries and vicissitudes of riding Yellow Bikes (which may suddenly disappear under another rider anytime you’re not on them), there are several choices in Reno for acquiring a playa bike. The econo route is to reserve a bike with the Kiwanis Bike Program, which provides no-frills machines specifically tailored for on-playa use. You should do this as early as possible; last year they were completely out of bikes by mid-June. You can also hope to score big for small coin on a first-come, first-served basis at the Reno Bike Project, which runs a similar program. You can reserve a Kiwanis bike anytime, and pick it up between August 23rd and August 28th, 2013 between the hours of 9:00 AM and 9:00 PM, or at other times by appointment. If you show up in Reno having forgotten to make a reservation, you may still be able to buy one from a limited pool of machines they reserve for just such situations. To reserve a Kiwanis bike, you’ll need to give Kiwanis a PayPal deposit of $40 per bike. Some of their bikes cost a little more than others, but the maximum price is $50; when you show up to get your bike, you’ll choose from over 400 available, and pay the extra $10 (if applicable) then. All proceeds from Kiwanis Bike Program bike sales go to support the Kiwanis Bike and Pedestrian Safety Programs and other service projects. To make a reservation or for more information, e-mail, or give them a call at (775) 337-1717 or (775) 846-7146.

Photo by Reno Bike Project

Photo by Reno Bike Project

If the Kiwanis Bike Program doesn’t have what you need, try the Reno Bike Project. They no longer do reservations, but they do have a large fleet of over 500 playa-ready bikes you can buy for prices similar to Kiwanis at $55 and up. The mechanics at Reno Bike Project are probably a little more skilled than the folks at Kiwanis, and the environment is a bit hipper, but otherwise the two programs are very similar. Like Kiwanis, RBP will accept your bike back as a donation after you leave the playa and want to head home unburdened. Reno Bike Project: (775) 323-4488, or e-mail

If Kiwanis and the Reno Bike Project are both out of bikes, or if you’re looking for something a little more high-end, then Black Rock Bicycles might be the place for you. Their prices – even for rentals – are quite a bit higher than what it would cost you to buy a bike outright from the other two places, but they do offer a better quality of machine in your choice of colors, plus a dizzying array of both utilitarian and decorative accessories with playa riding in mind. Again, you’ll need to make your reservation early, as they typically run out of bikes weeks before Gate opens. If you’re too late or too much of a fancy lad to jam econo, the nice thing about Black Rock Bicycles is that they’ve got fairly cheap playa bikes for rent or sale, but also stock a wide range of gourmet brands and accessories that run into some serious money. You won’t get off as cheap at Black Rock Bicycles as you will at the Kiwanis or the Reno Bike Project (the rentals are $95, versus $50-$55 to buy a bike outright from Kiwanis or RBP), but you’ll get absolutely everything you need at the level of quality and affordability that suits you.

Playa-Ready Fleet for Sale! Photo: Black Rock Bicycles

Playa-Ready Fleet for Sale! Photo: Black Rock Bicycles

If you’ve already got a bike (or if you just snagged one from Kiwanis or the RBP), Black Rock Bicycles can fancy you up with lights, baskets, and all kinds of playa-savvy decorations and accessories. If you’re not terribly handy, BRB has seasonal volunteers who will install accessories for you in exchange for tips! To reserve a bike for purchase or rental from Black Rock Bicycles, or if you have questions, e-mail or call the shop at (775) 972-3336. If you’re broke and relying on your burner work ethic to see you through, both the Kiwanis Bike Program and Black Rock Bicycles have deals for people who volunteer their time. Put in a few shifts at either shop fixing up playa bikes for other burners to rent, and you’ll pedal away on a cycle of your choice, freshly fixed-up by you with your newly-acquired and/or freshly-honed bike-fixing skills. Again, the earlier you do this, the better.

Let’s not forget that “leave no trace” applies to unwanted bicycles as much as it does to standard litter. If the bike you bring to the playa is going to become a millstone around your neck once you leave, there are a number of places that will take it off your hands for charity; the Kiwanis Bike Program and the Reno Bike Project are two of them. Whether you bought the bike from them or not, you can donate it to them when you’re ready to leave. If you just can’t make it back to Reno with your bike, you’ll see several hand-painted signs on the highway during Exodus, directing you to spots where you can donate your bike to local (usually native-operated) charities. . . just please don’t leave your bike on the playa to be someone else’s problem! Thousands of bicycles are abandoned each year in Black Rock City, and it’s a bit of a headache for the Resto crew, so pack it out with you even if you no longer want or need it.

It would be nice if everyone’s bicycles were as unique and interesting as these, but that might not be practical for you. Hopefully your creative energies are being put to good use on some other aspect of your burn. It would be nice if everyone’s playa bike could be as cool as some. . . but no matter what you ride, ride tough!

Photo: Torsten Hasselmann

Photo: Torsten Hasselmann

Photo: Commodore Minxie

Photo: Commodore Minxie