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Regional Contacts

The Regional Contacts program experienced a truly dynamic year in 2002. Finally, Burning Man had reached a pivotal level of stability: with the desert event's yearly execution firmly established, the organization could look further and step up that endeavor to encourage connectivity among participants all year long by providing more tools and greater support to the Regional Contacts to facilitate their local efforts. In fact, one major motivation for the creation of the AfterBurn Report in 2001 was to elucidate the efforts, trials, and experiences the organization has faced over the years, so that Regional groups might benefit from this accrued knowledge, and apply it to their own efforts to organize people around the philosophies of the Burning Man community. All along, the organization has acted on the belief that the desert event is but one manifestation of an affinity that exists year-round, and 2002 brought an opportunity to direct attention to this program.

Participants showed increased enthusiasm for this program, as well. During the months before the event, 22 new contacts stepped into roles serving newly defined or existing Burning Man communities. Since we left the playa, another 20 have stepped forward to assume the role, and they are in the process of taking the reins.

The most exciting changes to the Regional Contacts program began in February, when members of staff met with the web team to discuss a redesign of the Regional Contacts section of the website. At the time, the section consisted of a simple list of email addresses, in alphabetical order by state and country. Such static content failed to demonstrate the activities and efforts in each region, and navigating it was a difficult and uninspiring chore. Thus, the section was entirely redesigned: a clickable map, with dots indicating the presence of a Regional Contact, took the user to a separate page for each region; each page contained a full set of autobiographical information about the Regional Contact, along with a list of relevant email addresses, announcement lists, discussion lists, and any websites relevant to the local community. Lists of recent events, an interactive calendar, and the inclusion of photographs allowed each Regional to create an enticing page to invite new members into their local communities, meaning more participants than ever before could connect with others near them.

As the section of the website evolved, the Regionals themselves grew more active and interested in ways to evolve their communities. Amidst growing enthusiasm, members of the Burning Man staff visited New York City in April to connect with the East Coast communities, in conjunction with Larry Harvey's Cooper Union address. This and other regional activities were the focus of several articles in the Burning Man Journal summer newsletter, which, for the first time, featured the activities of regional groups, greatly increasing awareness of the program. Many readers discovered the Regional program for the first time through this educational effort.

Over the summer of 2002, as the focus increased on the program, a committee was formed to help manage the process within the Burning Man staff. This committee includes several active Regional Contacts and has served as a steering committee for the program as it grows in scope and size. Post-event, this committee created mission statement and role description documents to guide Regional Contacts. Previously, this information had been only verbally provided to new regionals. Feedback from the Regionals helped craft a role description that brought the task into focus, and gave the group a clear idea of what a Regional Contact was encouraged (and in some cases, what they were not encouraged) to do in their communities.

Since Burning Man 2002, members of the program have continued to discover new ways to connect people in local communities. Now that every Regional has a web page, an announce list, and an interactive calendar, Burning Man hopes to focus its efforts on new tools for the future of the program, and research is underway to discover new ways to increase these offerings. For example, the Extranet will be rolled out in March 2003 to the regional groups after several years of development. This online resource will help them organize people and plan events and projects. In September, the Santa Cruz Regional Contacts developed an exciting "Film Festival in a Box" concept, a portable Burning Man film festival that, when completed, will be made available to Regionals for the purpose of bringing together participants to share the magic of the playa through film and video, in cities all over the world.

In 2003, the regional program will experience further growth and formalization. The relationship between the Regionals and the Project will entail an agreement with annual renewal. Additionally, the Regionals will be more closely tied to The Black Rock Arts Foundation.

The program has faced a significant challenge in finding enough staff time and other resources to fully support this increasingly complicated program. The complexities of managing the data, needs, and personalities of the efforts in over 65 cities has created an increased need for database support, legal advice, organizational sessions, and simple human interaction from the Burning Man staff. Finding ways to provide time and resources to this group within the existing event budget is a perpetual challenge of the program. The organization is dedicated to continuing to refine and improve this effort, and we extend our deepest gratitude to every participant who has sought to keep the fires of the playa burning at home all year long.

Submitted by, Andie Grace, aka ActionGrl

Click here to read the 2001 Regional contacts report.