The History Of The Burning Man Festival

Burning Man is one of the largest festivals held in the United States. It takes place each year from the last Sunday in August until the first Monday in September. In 2016 the event attracted more than 67,000 participants. Those participants come to engage in a massive celebration of art and community.

There are ten principles that must be followed at this festival. They are as follows:

1. Self-reliance

2. “Radical” inclusion

3. Self-expression

4. Civic responsibility

5. Community cooperation

6. Decommodification

7.. Gifting

8. Immediacy

9. Participation

10. Leaving no trace

The festival earned its name from a specific event that takes place on Saturday evening. A large wooden effigy is constructed and then burned to the ground. The effigy is referred to as “The Man”, hence the name of the festival, “Burning Man”. This festival and the traditional burning of the effigy has been taking place for several decades and only continues to grow in popularity each year.

The First Years Of Burning Man

It is accepted that the first Burning Man took place in 1986 in San Francisco on Baker Beach. At the time, it was only a small bonfire that was organized by Larry Harvey and Jerry James. They met with friends that morning and began to gather wood. In the afternoon, they built a wooden man that stood 9 feet tall. There was also a small wooden dog.

Later that evening, Larry and the others would light the wooden man on fire and watch it burn to the ground. He described the construction and burning of the effigies as a form of radical self-expression, which later became one of the ten key principles of the festival.

A bonfire with an effigy took place again the following year and the effigy increased in size to 15 feet. One year later, in 1988, the effigy increased in size again to an impressive 40 feet. Larry had begun posting flyers for the event with the title “Burning Man”. It was his hope that titling it Burning Man would prevent any unwanted references to sacrificial wicker man practices.

Moving Out Of California

Local authorities put a stop to the bonfire in 1990 because the participants did not have a permit. However, at the same time, a separate event was being planned in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada. The event was to contain situationist art and the burning of large sculptures. Larry was able to have their large effigy disassembled and transported to the event at the Black Rock Desert in time to be burned.

1990 marked the beginning of what would eventually become a temporary city known as Black Rock City where Burning Man now takes place each year. In 1991, the effigy was again brought to Black Rock and was illuminated with neon tubes to serve as a source of light at nighttime before being burned.

The early festivals in Black Rock were significantly different than today. There were no paid performers and there were no fees to enter. Anyone willing to stay in the harsh Black Rock Desert was considered a participant of the event.

Over the following years, more and more people would learn about the event. Several other festivals would also merge to bring together art, performers, and creativity from all corners of the country. An official company was eventually formed to represent the event more steps were taken to ensure that all activity was legally supported.

1996 was the first year that the event had more than 8,000 people. In comparison, nearly 68,000 people attended in 2016. What started as a bonfire and method of self-expression on the beach has grown into a massive festival that is known around the world.

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