Where are we? SF Mayor Ed Lee is standing downwind from City Hall on a funky, dusty, Depression-era Front Porch art car on Market Street, welcoming a festive throng dressed in glow fur and leopard print to the place he jokingly calls “United Nations Playa.” He and Board of Supervisors President David Chiu affirm their hopes for the revitalization of the Civic Center neighborhood as Burning Man moves its offices midtown and transforms into a nonprofit organization focused on social change, the arts, and community. An electric, looping, guitar-effect viola softens the boisterous crowd. Burning Man Founder Larry Harvey and Board Member Chip Conley of Joie de Vivre Hotels speak about the nascent possibilities of invigorating the mid-Market arts district. The Unamog, an art car with enormous sub-woofers, provides a sonorous backbeat. Decorated bicycles, glitter-glistened faces, and volunteer Black Rock Rangers in utili-kilts mix with talkative neighbors and fascinated tourists. The city that once sent its expressive pilgrims away from Baker Beach is offering the native Burning Man Project a warm welcome home.
Yes, the one week arts festival and social experiment known as Burning Man will still be held annually in the Black Rock desert of Nevada. (And it’s sold out all 50,000 tickets to its ardent participants, with hundreds more clamoring to get in.) But its influence has radically expanded beyond the dusty plains to include civic art (including the Ray Gun Rocket Ship on the Embarcadero, and the enormous Bliss Dance sculpture on Treasure Island,) community service, hundreds of smaller regional organizations and events, and thriving spin-off service organizations including Burners Without Borders and Black Rock Solar. Twenty five years after its founding, Burning Man now wants to ignite the positive, can-do spirit that issues from “the event” in the desert and apply it to community needs the rest of the year. Twenty five years after its dedication, United Nations Plaza could welcome some revitalization and civic participation. And that could be a match worth striking. www.burningmanproject.org
Photos courtesy of George Post