Burning Man sets sights on permanent Nevada location

BLACK ROCK DESERT - Burning Man started as a vanishing flight of fancy on a San Francisco beach, an artwork that literally disappeared in a puff of smoke when artists torched an eight-foot wooden figure 18 years ago.

The fleeting nature of the bizarre annual ritual of renewal has always been part of its appeal: Nevada's seventh-largest city rises from the remote Black Rock Desert for a week each summer, returning to dust and ash after the Saturday night immolation of the central icon.

But now organizers are seeking a permanent location as they try to morph from a once-a-year counterculture event into a nation- and world-wide enterprise that will integrate into - and influence - mainstream society.

Founder Larry Harvey envisions a place where affiliated nonprofit organizations could gather - perhaps with a conference center, a park for the event's trademark huge outdoor exhibits, and facilities for creating interactive artworks that could be transported to gatherings nationwide.

"That's going to be a huge leap, and it's going to take some fund-raising," Harvey said.

The most likely location is in Nevada or nearby, relatively close to the festival 120 miles north of Reno.

But some participants at this year's event said the thought of permanence is contrary to the Burning Man experience.

"This is about leave no trace and that includes the art," said Colleen Wynn, 35, of Seattle. "It's temporary art for a temporary audience. That's what's so unique - people spend thousands and thousands of dollars for something that goes away.

"Forming a permanent collection, I think, would take away from the original spirit," she said.

After this year's event concludes on Labor Day, Harvey expects to devote more of his time to that venture, and to his dual role as president of the Black Rock Arts Foundation, which seeks to promote Burning Man-style art and activities everywhere.

Since last year, the organization has created regional networks, with rules designed to avoid the commercial exploitation that officials have fought aggressively, sometimes with lawsuits.

Even the display of logos is discouraged, to the point organizers ask participants to mask company names emblazoned across rental trucks used to haul equipment into the desert.


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