Women of Burning Man: They Make It Happen

The Women of Burning Man lectured was hosted at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco.

“Nobody ever takes a tool out of a woman’s hand.” Rebecca Anders, sculptor and fabricator who has worked on some big Burn projects like The Temple of Flux, said this quote from David Best is one of the main mottos that has been adopted by the crew at the Flux Foundation. Except they’ve augmented it a little bit, “never take a tool out of anyone’s hand.” This is one of the most wonderful things about working on a project for Burning Man, each volunteer is given the opportunity to grow and learn.

The Women of Burning Man: Fueling Creativity and Community lecture was completely packed with thought provoking information and funny anecdotes like David Best’s quote, about not only women artists and volunteers but also some fantastic insights into how these groups of makers actually work. According to Harley K. Dubois, a founding member of the Burning Man Board and the Black Rock Arts Foundation, “Burning Man has always been run by women, straight up.” Which may partially explain why the Burning Man community is such an amazing avenue for women artists, workers and makers who might not be given the chance to fully express themselves and to really evolve in a variety of directions that are often more limited in the default culture.

This expansive environment is not exclusively available to women (although they may be one of the groups that can flourish the most dramatically in comparison) but any willing person can step into a Burning Man project and thrive. At least for the Flux Foundation, there are no requirements to join a work crew. “It’s expected that you are awesome and that you are what you say you are,” says Rebecca. One thing that really resonated about this idea is what she described next. If you come to the community and say that you want to create a crazy sculpture and bring it to the desert everyone says, ‘oh you must be an artist’ and it doesn’t matter if you have an art degree or any background in the arts. Rebecca explained this as a person “getting that permission and then building something awesome.” It’s truly one of the most transformative and awe-inspiring aspects of Burning Man, that you can actually make whatever insane idea is in your head as long as you have the motivation.

Bliss Dance by Marco Cochrane (CR Neil Girling) courtesy of www.ciis.edu

Harley gave some great advice for volunteer based art groups out there, focus on these four things: tradition, celebration, recognition and immediacy. The tradition creates a container around the movement, it allows people to see that they are valuable in that particular moment. The celebration brings that sense of joy and wonder into whatever you’re making and the experience of making it. Recognition may seem obvious but as Rebecca says, “it’s critical, especially in volunteer realms.” Harley made an excellent point about recognition, people want to receive it in different ways. Knowing who wants a pat on the back versus who needs a public shout out or a gift is important. Immediacy is one of the 10 principles of Burning Man so it’s no surprise that it made it into the mix. Acknowledging the moment that the work is being done and staying in the moment is a key part to building in a volunteer setting.

The two hour lecture had many more great ideas and conversations including the gentrification of Burning Man, the lack of diversity, lots of good tidbits on the building of the 2010 Temple of Flux, additional tips on running a volunteer organization and of course more information on the women of Burning Man. Harley and Rebecca recorded the entire lecture on audio and once it’s posted on the web we will share it all over our social media for your auditory pleasure. Since turnkey camps and gentrification at the Burn are such hot button issues we’ll leave you with a single quote to ponder. “Burning man is not getting gentrified, there’s just more people. All of us broke asses who can’t afford a fancy trailer and sleep in a tent and actually make art are still there.” – Rebecca Anders

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