Burning Man Arts Festival Facts

By Kristin Luke, 15, North Hollywood HS
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"You know those deserts you see in the movies ? The ones where the guy is crawling across the cracked ground that stretches on for miles? OK, take one of those deserts and put on it 25,000 of the craziest bunch of would-be-hippies. Along with that, add any kind of artwork, tents, cars and anything else that would grab an on-looker’s attention. Now you basically have yourself a Burning Man Arts Festival.
My mom brought up going to the Festival one day and all I could think was "oh great, a bunch of old weirdos out in the desert living in tents for a couple of weeks." Friends of hers had been there before and told us more about it. I thought it was cool that all the artwork would burn after being displayed. The festival is not commercialized and there is no advertising. I found this appealing and the idea sort of grew on me.

The festival started about 17 years ago when artist Larry Harvey decided he needed to express himself and the way he was going to do it was to go burn a huge statue of a man on the beach. While he was burning this man, all these people got really into it and followed him around, doing their own pyro-artwork. It turned into an annual festival that they moved to the desert because it got so huge.

My family and I packed our bags full of clothing appropriate for such a festival. By appropriate, I mean about as artistic as you can get without actually being a work of art. Along with the clothes came LOTS of water and food, toilet paper (alas, the only potties were port-o-potties), and our project for the festival—a windmill that played music and animation of a dog running as it turned.

Our whole family is artistic: my mom is a painter and she’s designed album covers and illustrations for commercials among other things. My sister Alex and I like to paint using everything from watercolors to pastels. We even take art classes together. My mom, sister and I thought Burning Man would be a great opportunity to collaborate and have fun together. We’re Dutch so we thought a windmill would be a good way to represent us. We didn’t want the windmill to be boring so we added the animation and music.

At the Burning Man Festival you are highly encouraged to participate or else you are just so not with it. Since the very beginning, the festival was all about expressing yourself, not standing back and observing. The trip to the Reno desert was long but there was also a feeling of anticipation. When we arrived at night, we set up camp on the corner of Jupiter and 4:30—yes, there are streets and they’re named after planets and times of the day. We’d stay there for the next two days and three nights.

The first day, there was just so much to do that it was almost overwhelming. We did everything from yoga under a parachute tent to participating in a red lingerie parade. I happened to be wearing red satin underwear and a red backless tank top. The parade members dragged me in and I followed them around the streets. It finally ended with a big game of Red Rover.

There was nudity. Some people decided that the way they were going to be artistic was to walk around completely naked. Because it is so much a part of the festival, I found it easier to accept than I would if I saw a naked person walking around my neighborhood at home. And surprisingly, there is so much amazing stuff going on at Burning Man that you hardly even recognize the nudity as anything but another piece of art.

The art lit up the sky

Daytime was just a lot more bland than night even though there were cool things like colorful tapestries that looked almost liquid when they waved around in the wind. In fact, night time was when things really got going. Lamps, fires, statues and even people lit up around me and we all began to party at around 11 p.m. Night time was when all the techno rooms got started and everyone started dancing.

The artwork was actually at its best because virtually everything at the festival was burned; yes, even our poor little windmill. All the fires made everything so much cooler, especially on the final night when the ritualistic burning of the 40 foot tall man happened. All 25,000 people gathered around the man and cheered as they watched it burn. This huge amazing party started on and around a stage shaped like a flower. And you had all the house music you would ever need there. This party went on literally all night long. I didn’t have as much energy as other people there because the day was so packed with things to do so I was in bed right after midnight. The morning after the party, when my family packed up and drove around to get one last look at what had been our home for the past couple of days, there were STILL people partying.

Now to some of you this might sound silly but for the rest of you creative people, I think it would be a good idea to check it out. Personally, it was one of the best experiences of my life because I’ve never had a chance to express myself so freely before. There were so many people but at the same time there was a sense of unity because we were all here for the same purpose. My family and I felt a sense of accomplishment because we had a plan and we worked together to do it.

The only problems were that there weren’t enough port-o-potties, there weren’t enough teenagers, and it can cost a lot of money. My advice to you would be to go to this festival next year and feel free to express yourself however you can, therefore having as much fun as you can! This was an awesome experience and I highly recommend it to any of you who want to get in touch with your artistic side. Burn the man!"