Blazing a trail from Art Center to Burning Man

Burning Man, the annual creative bacchanal drawing some 50,000 hedonistic seekers, makers and disrupters, kicks off next Monday in the Black Rock Desert in northern Nevada. This year’s week-long confab celebrating self-expression, community and the ephemerality of art and life itself draws its theme from John Frum, the messianic figurehead of the cargo cults of the 1930’s and ‘40’s, which sprung up on South Pacific islands after American troops landed there and dazzled the natives with their exotic first worldly possessions. After the servicemen departed, the islanders built altars and monuments intended to lure these otherworldly Americans (John Frum was derived from the endless series of G.I.’s introducing themselves as “I’m John from…” ) back to bestow them with another bounty of MRE’s and walkie-talkies.

It’s a legend tailor-made for Burning Man, which culminates with the incineration of a giant effigy of the eponymous wooden figure, constructed on site by an army of artists. And though Art Center has never embodied the anarchic temporality of the Burning Man ethos. There’s an argument to be made that Burning Man’s cultivation of a cult of makers, sustainability evangelists and big-dreaming visionaries is more closely aligned with Art Center’s forward-thinking values than it may seem to the naked eye.

Both Burning Man and Art Center are creative meccas located in relatively remote natural environments prone to high temperatures. Both boast populations of artists surviving on little sleep and dubious sustenance. And, most substantially, both aim to make the world a better place through innovation and invention. The most concrete bridge between the two manifests itself in David B. Walker, who served for eleven years as Art Center’s Dean of Public Programs and now sits on Burning Man’s Board of Directors. While at Art Center, Walker oversaw the launch of Art Center at Night and the development of South Campus. He is now Executive Director and CEO of the Nevada Museum of Art.

While Burning Man is now more famous as an extravagant exercise in eccentricity and excess; its founding principles of collaboration, civic responsibility and doing under deadline make it a perfect venue for the brand of creativity cultivated at Art Center. With that in mind, we’re putting out a call to any Art Center students, alumni or faculty making the trek to Black Rock City. We’d love to hear about your Burning Man experience and the projects you create for the occasion. And for those of you who can’t make it to this year’s festival, the above trailer for “Spark: A Burning Man Story,” a recently released Burning Man documentary (in theaters now), might just be the next best thing to pitching a tent on the desert floor.

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