“We’re not against commerce–hell, commerce is the backbone of civilization, what we are against is the commodification of culture.” Larry Harvey told Frobes Magazine in 1999 when they featured an interesting article focusing on Burning Man as the playground of a then booming Silicon Valley. Decommodification is arguably the most protected principle of Burning Man as we can clearly see from the recent Krugg upset. It’s also one of the most difficult concepts for newbie burners and outsiders to understand. Decommodification, no commerce (with the exception of Artica and Center Camp coffee – two obvious essential), no barter, no trade – just gifting! It’s undeniably the most refreshing aspect of Black Rock City- a respite from the overwhelming and constant bombardment of advertising, commercialism and the world of class divide caused by personal monetary level.
Although decommodification works extremely well at Burning Man , the lack of commerce is less doable off Playa where capitalism still reigns supreme. The cold hard truth of the matter is that regardless of how much love, gifting, and acceptance we put out there- money still makes the world go round. Our clothing, car insurance, food, rent, even medical treatment – all of that has to be paid for somehow. Those are just the essentials covered by our default world vocations. But what about the art? How does that get funded? Or what about those Burning Man supplies for your epic jello shot and hula dancing dome? And what about that Walmart run that many of us (20,000? 40,000? 50,000?) go on each year for all of those last minute supplies?
As Burning Man gets larger its impact simultaneously grows just like a bassy ripple in a still pond. Which creates the question- how do we as burners ensure that our impact is a positive one?
This is a question that Nikki Doran can answer! “One of the most important things you can do is choose where you want to spend your money. Who do you want to support? Do you want to support people that are doing art projects and participating in the community? Or do you want to go to Walmart?” Nikki Doran’s first Burn was 2004 after moving to San Francisco and making friends in the community it quickly became apparent that Burning Man was something Nikki had to attend. After some thrifting Nikki headed to the playa with some goodwill threads only to discover the phenomenal platform for radical self-expression that is Burning Man. After that year Nikki began making her own costumes and now runs a business selling faux fur coats and other fun burnerific things through her company Wild on the Inside. Besides being a burner artisian, Nikki is the founder of Prepare for the Playa, a bi-annual by burner, for burner free street festival in San Francisco featuring over 75 burner artists (what Nikki lovingly calls burnerPrenuers).
Now in its sixth year, Prepare for the Playa, is an invaluable resource for burners both as a venue for artists to showcase their wares but also as a way for burners to sustainably shop for Burning Man supplies. Prepare for the Playa has it all- from el wire, to playa coats, to goggles, even eco-friendly and burner made reusable baby wipes called Action Wipes! Prepare for the Playa started as burner ware fashion shows and Playa University workshops but it quickly grew into the fun full-fledged bonanza it is today. In the words of Nikki, “You don’t have to necessarily buy something to be a part of it.” There’s a photo booth, hoop workshops, fashion shows, free clinics, sneak peak of playa art like Anubis and The Neverwas Haul and even virgin burner make-overs! The Playa University clinics provide burners with valuable knowledge about all things Burning Man, including tu-tu making, costume repair, evap pond construction, dome building, showers and power basics. Nikki feels it’s important to include the burner basics through Playa U, it ties into the entire idea of sustainability and radical responsibility we uphold on Playa. The Playa U clinics are applicable to everyone. Nikki says it best herself, “Even if you’re not a builder and you’re not into tools and 4x4s and evap ponds, you still probably want to shower at some point during the week.” Learn how to make a dome, get some crafty bits and bask in the glow of our community this Sunday, July 15th at the first Prepare for the Playa of the year. The event will be shaking things up from 12pm-7pm at Café Cocomo at 650 Indiana Street in San Francisco. If you can’t make it this Sunday don’t sweat it- you can try again on August 5th (same location and time).
Prepare for the Playa supports the grander vision creating a collaborative and cooperative community off Playa. It’s a way to support burner owned businesses while also creating a shared goal that relates to Burning Man. After her first Burn, Nikki was determined to do what she wanted year round. “Do you have to be a secretary or a wood worker or an engineer or a computer scientist or whatever it is that you do, just to have one week each year where you get to unplug and be somebody else or could you have that as part of your life always?” This is what Nikki has created through Prepare for the Playa and what she’s encouraging us all to create through supporting local burner owned businesses. Let’s be our truest selves all year round!
As Burning Man continues to touch hearts and minds across the globe we become a much larger community. We all deeply cherish our blessed oasis but unless we start making sustainable choices there may not be a Black Rock City to call home anymore. Let’s open our minds to a new kind of commerce off-playa, one where we make responsible choices about where we spend our money and our time. Decommodification is definitely important to uphold on the Playa but when we’re back in the default world let’s support those burner owned business that allow artist and craftsman to do what they love every day of the year.
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