Past, Present and Future of Burning Man

Burning Man


Burning Man Effigy


Every year since its inauguration in June 1986, in the searing desert of northwest Nevada, a nine-day gathering brings together the world’s largest community, united under the flag of shared self-expression and artistic openness. Situated in the middle of a desert, the Burning Man project takes participants on a mystical journey, where individualities transcend the known bounds of time, space, and their inner selves.  



Due to the swift turn of global events in 2020, the edition for that year was the first one to get canceled since its origination. The traditional physical celebrations were postponed until further notice, but this was not the demise of the ever-lasting communal spirit of Burning Man. It should rather be taken in as a natural pause and a moment to reflect upon the great cultural impact the project has had on everyone’s lives for nearly 4 decades.


Black Rock City


Ephemeral Architecture of Burning Man


In this next bit, we are exploring the roots and rudiments of this ephemeral gathering with a kindly appreciation for the transformative impact it has had on the lives of thousands. What does the future hold for the community of Burning man and what are the hopes for the next bona fide ‘burning’ experience in the temporary city situated in the Black Rock desert?


The Timeline of Burning Man


When it first started in the 80s, the Burning Man was only a bonfire ritual during the summer solstice – bringing together a tight circle of only 35 people. The whole concept of burning a wooden effigy happened in a spontaneous spur of ‘radical self-expression, as described by the two founders: Larry Harvey and Mary Grauberger. The tall wooden sculpture grew in size with each year and it became a symbol for the solstice ritual, giving it the famed name “Burning Man”, used still today. Even though the name itself has not changed, the event has evolved massively in the following two decades and surmounted a lot of logistical issues, to become what we recognize today. Initially, in the first 5-10 years, the Burning man was exclusive to participants who shared the situationist vibe of the Cacophony Society, running the gathering at the remote and largely unknown location of the Black Rock dry lake (aka playa). It was only after it partnered with a nearby annual event called “Dessert Siteworks” that the organization took a turn into making the space fully open for art-living, co-creating, and finding artistic expression in various forms and narratives.


Self Expression


Freedom of Self-Expression


By the year 1997, the burning man structure grew in size, similar to the capacity of the event, inviting over 10k participants from all over the world. Having attracted so much interest through the years, the event was made to impose more rigorous rules and restrictions to allow safer access and better living conditions. Later on, the event expanded, even more, featuring a new topical theme every year: ‘The Vault of Heaven’ (2004), ‘Psyche’ (2005), ‘American Dream’ (2008), ‘I, Robot’ (2018) and many other avant-garde concepts, expressed through arts, designs, and performances. Based on the running theme, creatively altered motor vehicles known as mutant vehicles, and theme camps playing live DJ parties appearing as decoration to the playa environment.


Mutant Vehicle


Mutant Vehicle



DJ party


DJ Party


The Black Rock City arc also grew in planning and organization. Radial streets forming a concentric circle can be seen only in an aerial photo, giving the viewer an idea of how vast the city design actually is in real life. At the very center of the circle, you could see where the effigy is stood and warded by fences, again ensuring the safety of the participants.


Concentric Circular structure


Aerial View of Burning Man


The goliath organization had been recreated and scaled up progressively until the event was canceled for the first time in 2020 and 2021 due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. This, however, did not stop burners from celebrating the life of the community at a local beach location in San Francisco in September last year. Later on, the organizers came up with a substitute for the real-life experience by introducing the VR concept for Burning Man, where 8 virtual Universes were created for participants to experience in a safe homely environment. Burners are hopeful that the uncertainty around the organization is coming to an end, and the community will soon gather together stronger in the real-world setting, once again, at the iconic playa location.  




There’s not a single cultural ethos to the Burning Man event. It revolves around multiple features which guide and unite the community, by shaping the culture into multiple dimensions.


If you are already considering the Burning man to be right up your street, look up the 10 main principles and see where you fit as a ‘burner’ individual.


10 Guiding Principles


Radical inclusion


Everyone is welcome, regardless of their background or lack of previous experience on the dry lake land. The only requirement is to provide for your own basic needs, by following the “survival guide” of the event.




Black rock city does not rely on cash, but on a gift economy instead. This means that participants can exchange gifts, or make ones without expecting anything in return! The unconditional act of gifting is perhaps the main guiding principle within the burning community.




Advertising, sponsorship, and monetary transactions are not welcome in Burning Man land. This underemphasizes the importance of gifting and unreciprocated sharedness in a close community. However, if one wishes to get hold of ice, they are required to purchase it as all profits go to the local communities of Nevada.


Radical self-reliance


Everyone is responsible for their own sustenance! The conditions at the dessert location are impossible to endure without bringing your own provisions. Black Rock City is not for the faint-hearted!


Nevada Dessert


Black Rock City Dust Storm


Radical self-expression


There are no physical boundaries to self-expression at the Burning Man event. Whether you participate in a collaborative project or on your own, creating art in ludicrous forms and sizes is strongly encouraged. This is just another way to present a gift to the community and to give without expecting anything in return.


Communal effort


Cooperation is a central principle in the burning man society. The social network should be strengthened by everyone’s contributions, whether it’s working as part of a team to endorse the connections or on your own as a gift to everyone.




Keeping a clean environment is a core principle in the community as well. There should be no physical trace of activities following the event at all!




One of the mottos of Burning Man is that all participants are welcome to work and play. Adding personal value without asking for anything in return has a transformative effect on individuals by opening the hearts and the minds of the people, who are so deeply ingrained with the concept of commodification in the outside world.




Experiencing immediacy is the overcoming of what we know to be our inner self and our surroundings. It’s about crossing the tangible barriers and re-discovering the true human power that lies within all of us individually. There’s nothing more valuable than feeling and living this principle truly at the sacred place that is the Burning Man land.


There is more to the Burning Man project than you know about!


Apart from the mesmerizing atmosphere at the event, created by architects, artists, performers and participants, there’s something more to the place and the community that’s built around the Burning Man project. It is the power of transcending through feeling, sharing, and exchanging. The raw emotions that are evoked at the sacred location, everyone’s energy vibrating in the waves of hot air, combined with wondrous forms of artistic self-expression, create a divinely surreal environment, one would simply never forget. 




Burner's Look



Burning Man Installation


Burning Man Structure


Art globe


Mirrored Orb At Burning Man


To find out more about the Burning Man Project organization and new offerings, visit the event's official page: HERE