AFTERBURN REPORT 2008
As soon as the 2007 event ended, Burning Man's year-round staff started work on planning for 2008, while continuing the efforts to foster and grow Burning Man culture around the world.
The Burning Man Regional Network grew to 150 Regional Contacts in 100 locations around the globe, and to train, inspire and support these representatives, Burning Man Headquarters played host to the second annual Regional Leadership Summit in February 2008. Regional Contacts from around the world converged on San Francisco to share information, collaborate and make connections during this productive weekend educational and social sessions.
In an effort to spread the benefits of the Burning Man ethos, in late 2007, the Burning Man Project fostered the creation of Black Rock Solar, a non-profit company dedicated to installing low- or no-cost solar power for schools, hospitals, and other public buildings who would not otherwise be able to afford it, while training members of the local communities to install photovoltaic systems. They joined with Burners Without Borders and the Black Rock Arts Foundation in furthering the globalization of Burning Man culture.
Meanwhile, the DPW worked throughout the year to plan the construction of Black Rock City for 2008, even as they wrapped up playa restoration from the 2007 event. Starting in early August 2008, they made their way onto the Black Rock Desert, where they worked diligently to set up the core infrastructure of Black Rock City. And the operative word to describe Burning Man 2008 was: BIG. Burning Man was big in size, scale, scope, and population, and this had a definitive impact on the dynamic of Black Rock City and its residents.
In reaction to the overcrowding experienced in 2007, and anticipating that upwards of 50,000 people would be gathering in the Black Rock Desert for the 2008 event (it topped out at 49,599), the Burning Man Planning Department expanded the geographical layout of Black Rock City to accommodate this growth, giving everybody a little more breathing room, and lowering the risk of accidents in an inner playa alive with vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians. Thus, the city's inner playa (the space encompassed by the curve of the Esplanade) was expanded by 1,200 feet, the Center Camp circle was made larger, the amount of available camping space was increased significantly, and the city's pentagonal perimeter fence grew as well.
And while this should have had a nominal effect on the normal (if there could be said to be a "normal") dynamic of city life, this year's playa surface exacerbated the situation. Due to an unusually dry 2007-2008 winter season, the playa was riddled with heavy, wheel-stopping sand dunes and hard, bone-rattling "playa serpents" — bumps which look much like fossilized waveforms. Much of the playa's surface was the consistency of a stale brownie, just below a hard, easily-broken surface crust. Obviously, this combined with the larger city made cross-playa travel particularly difficult.
That aside, the "American Dream" art theme for 2008 generated as much inspired creation as it did controversy. As an expression of this thought-provoking theme, The Man stood atop the tallest structure yet, a 60'-tall obelisk bedecked with the flags of all nations (except, notably, the flag of the United States). Participants were able to ascend this obelisk via an interior spiral staircase and pause on their way up at any of three viewing decks, commanding stunning views of Black Rock City.
The art department facilitated the creation of art for the playa, including 42 art installations which were awarded funding through the Burning Man grant program, including the "Basura Sagrada" temple constructed by artists Shrine and Tucker Teusch. These represented a small percentage of the 285 total pieces on playa (15 fewer than in 2007).
Over 600 vehicles were registered through the Department of Mutant Vehicles, and the exceptionally high artistic quality of the mutated vehicles was a true testament to the ongoing creativity of Burning Man participants. Over 785 theme camps and villages filed questionnaires requesting placement, and 746 met the criteria and were registered and placed, as part of Black Rock City's urban planning efforts (unregistered camps acquire space on their own, on a first-come first-served basis).
The Man burned on Saturday night, but the burn was not without its challenges. Heavy white-out dust storms tormented Black Rock City all during the day, and threatened to force the cancelation of the burn, which would have been extremely risky given the amount of fuel and pyrotechnic material that was packed into the structure. Luckily, the storm broke just long enough to provide the pyrotechnic team the opportunity it needed to release the Man — more or less as planned — in pyrotechnic splendor. Unfortunately, the risk of losing the brief window of opportunity to burn the structure forced organizers to cancel the performance of the hundreds of incredible fire performers who are members of Burning Man's Fire Conclave.
When it was all said and done, and the last participant was packed up and on their way back to their real world existence, the DPW started their work again, and the Playa Restoration team toiled for weeks on end to completely restore the playa to its pre-event pristine condition so we could once again hold our heads high when saying: we came, we burned, and we Left No Trace.
We encourage you to read and learn about the various teams that keep the fires burning throughout the year. These include the Special Events team who produce inspiring and connective events; the Communications Team, who keep our far-flung community connected and informed; the Technology Team, who keep the lifeblood of our infrastructure running smoothly; the Community Services crew, who manage all the participant-facing infrastructure and volunteers; the myriad teams of the Playa Safety Departments, who conspire to keep all the playa chaos happening safely; and the Administration Team, who facilitates the coordination of it all.
The Burning Man Project wishes to extend a message of gratitude and appreciation to the staff, volunteers, partners and participants who make Burning Man possible. It is because of your dedication to this project that we are able to keep it going for all to enjoy.