What Just Happened? My 1st Burning Man Global Leadership Conference

Opening Reception at Burning Man HQ
BM GLC 2015 Opening Reception at Burning Man HQ. Photo Cred: Zac Cirivello

I was really nervous and a small part of me didn’t want to trek down to San Francisco, the land of no-parking and constant traffic. On the ride there I confessed my apprehension to my friend and Figment Boston curatorial director, Gonzo. His response was not what I expected. “Just assume it’ll be awful. Set your expectations really low or have no expectations at all.” But isn’t that negative manifestation? We joked for the rest of the ride that everything would be terrible, it did actually make me feel better. But the same stressers kept cropping up, what if I didn’t know anyone? What if I was just that lone writer in the back of the room buried in a notebook? Oh how easy it is for the anxieties of your school age self to creep up again even after so many years.

What I seemed to be forgetting is that this was an event full of Burners. That first night we headed to Burning Man Headquarters for the reception and as soon as we got on the elevator we were exchanging playa names and shaking hands with nerdy weirdos. I tried my best to make my way to The Temple of Promise model but I could only take a few steps without bumping into a stranger for an impromptu chat about art, aerials, modern dance and community engagement. Finally, I was swept away to watch the sunset on the rooftop and as soon as I opened the door to step out into the last rays of the sun I lock eyes with one of my oldest burner friends, David D.K. Katz. I immediately mowed down everyone in my path so I could embrace him in a long overdue hug. D.K. and I shared our virgin year together at Kostume Kult when I still lived on the East Coast. We became fast friends when I asked him to accompany me to the porta potties during our first day ever at the Burn. And here was that playa magic brought back to life on the roof of BM HQ in San Francisco.

The Temple of Promise
The Temple of Promise at BM HQ

The next morning we jumped right into the Burning Man Global Leadership conference where I was bombarded by lots of fascinating information and passionate speakers. Steven Raspa spoke of the creative renaissance. He urged us to “bring the conditions of BRC into everyday life. You are all apart of that potential. It is easier to build these cities from scratch but it is possible to retrofit our cities.” He is one of the most charismatic and earnest speakers I have ever had the pleasure of witnessing. Later he said something that really resonated, “[We have been] touched by a state of being that we know is better than modern society.” It’s something I think about often when I’m at my desk job in my dark office, I know there is something better. I want to make that something possible. I want to help artify and retrofit the world.

During our first break I bumped into Gonzo. He asked me how my experience at the conference was going so far. “It’s awful,” I told him. “Absolutely terrible.” I was grinning from ear to ear.

The whole exeperince was a whirlwind of magic much like the Burn but with less dust and more listening. The main thing I noticed was that active engagement; everyone wanted to be a part of the discussion – how can we bring this playa magic into the default world? How can we effectively create positive change in our communities? No matter the seriousness of the conversation there was always a healthy dose of snark and laughter that constantly reminded me that these fantastic, strong-willed leaders are truly my people. Even Dennis Kucinich, who attended his first Burn last year, was there and his lecture was so moving that he received multiple standing ovations. I loved his one quote, “We have to bring the light, bring the fire and when it burns away we’ll be left with a better world.”

Dennis Kucinich
Dennis Kucinich speaking at the BM GLC 2015. Photo Cred: Zac Cirivello

Everyone was doing something amazing in their community. From the David Best temple in Londonderry to Recycle Here in Detroit to a Free Art Friday Atlanta (a city wide art scavenger hunt) to Who Did That To My Bike, the art bike parade in Lithuania. Each lecture inspired everyone to dream bigger and work harder. Even the more complex topics like sexual assault, turn-key camps, creating sustainable fundraising, fostering diversity, etc were met with deep concern, patience, open discussion and a genuine desire to do it better. I continually ran into regional contacts and community leaders who I had spoken to for years via Facebook and email but had never met in person. Shifting those connections into actual real life experiences was amazing and I feel really blessed that I now have Burning Man friends family all over the world (shout out to Goku from Lithuania!).

The end of the conference felt very much like the last day at summer camp. In such a small amount of time we created profound and lasting connections. Most of us dragged our feet and had long goodbyes as we shuffled off to our trains, planes and automobiles. There were jokes about a perma-GLC where we could stay forever. What brought us here in the first place was all the work we were each doing in our home communities so clearly we needed to return back to bring the knowledge we’d gained at the GLC. At least our brains were still buzzing with all that we learned and our hearts were full of excitement for the future. One quote from the conference stood out as a crowd favorite and it’s not hard to understand why.

“If you build it, they will come. If they build it, they will stay.” – Matthew Naimi, Recycle Here, Detroit

Now go change the world.



One Response to “What Just Happened? My 1st Burning Man Global Leadership Conference”
  1. Nicely stated. I was especially impressed by the intelligence and wisdom of the participants. Kudos to the event organizers and volunteers.


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