It began innocently enough in 1986 during the summer solstice, when 20 friends, led by Larry Harvey, gathered on Baker Beach in San Francisco to burn an effigy of a 9-foot wooden man, simply as an act of radical self-expression. Although Harvey is often credited for the creation of this ritual, he was simply following in the footsteps of friend, Mary Grauberger, a sculptor, who had been holding this ritual bonfires for several years.
Fast forward 26 years, and Burning Man has become a one-week-long event with an attendance of more than 50,000 participants. It begins in the last Monday of August and culminates on the first Monday of September. Burning man defies a simple defintion: it is one part Woodstock, one part Summer of Love, one part Mardi Gras, one part living art exhibit, one part Mad Max car show, and one part beach bonfire — all rolled up into one. The participants are just as diverse as the outlandish costumes (or lack thereof) and quirky structures that make up Black Rock City, rising out of the arid lake bed of Black Rock Desert, near the small town of Gerlach, in northwestern Nevada (about 100 miles north of Reno). The city forms an arc, in the shape of the letter C, covering about 6 square miles, with the effigy located at its center.
Since 1996, each Burning Man event has had a theme; for 2012 the theme is Fertility 2.0. And like any community, Burning Man has developed its core values or principles, most based on the original writings of its founder: radical inclusion, gifting, decommodification, radical self-reliance, radical self-expression, communal effort, civic responsibility, leaving no trace, participation, and immediacy. In an attempt to create a classless society, cash transactions in the Burning Man are not permitted.
A review of the numbers behind Burning Man reveal the gradual evolution of this fascinating sociological experiment in self-expression:
Ticket price 1986-1994: Free
Ticket price 2012: $240-420
Attendence 1986: 20
Attendence 2012: 60,900
Population of Gerlach: 499
Number of portopotties: 1,000
Number of volunteers to run event: 2,000
Sex: Male: 54%, Female: 40%, No Response: %
Age: 36% 31-40, 31% 41-50
Education: 69% college; 31% no college
Income: 44% $10-50,000; 18% $50-80,000
Weather: 86 degrees (high), 41 degress (low), wind speed: 7 mph
Cost of 2001 Event: $5.2 million
Cost of 2009 Event: $12.3 million
Cost of effigy in 2001: $37,000
Cost of effigy in 2009: $106,000
For further reading: wikipedia, http://www.flickr.com/photos/xmasons/4841339241/sizes/o/in/photostream/