A festival of ideas and free spirits held at the Black Rock Desert, Nevada, USA




The Man burns during the Burning Man 2013 arts and music festival in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada, on August 31, 2013. The federal government issued a permit for 68,000 people from all over the world to gather at the sold out festival, which is celebrating its 27th year, to spend a week in the remote desert cut off from much of the outside world to experience art, music and the unique community that develops. 



Burning Man is a week-long annual event held in the Black Rock Desert in northern Nevada, in the United States. The event begins on the last Monday in August, and ends on the first Monday in September, which coincides with the American Labor Day holiday. It takes its name from the ritual burning of a large wooden effigy, which is set alight on Saturday evening. The event is described as an experiment in community, art, radical self-expression, and radical self-reliance. Burning Man is organized by Black Rock City, LLC and has been running since 1986. The event is similar to another event, the burning of Zozobra, or "Old Man Gloom" which has taken place on Labor Day weekend in Santa Fe, NM since 1926. In 2010, 51,515 people attended Burning Man. 2011 attendance was capped at 50,000 participants and the event sold out on July 24. In April 2011, Larry Harvey announced that the organization had begun the process of transitioning management of Burning Man over to a new non-profit organization called the "Burning Man Project".





The annual Burning Man arts festival is a counter-cultural phenomenon that interests popular culture enthusiasts, innovators, environmentalists, social scientists, and management specialists. Enabling Creative Chaos examines how a small group transformed themselves into an unconventional corporation with a ten-million-dollar budget and two thousand volunteers. Founded on a commitment to expression and community, Burning Man drew more than 50,000 people to an isolated Nevada desert in the summer of 2010. 


Attending the Burning Man festival in Nevada is like landing on another planet: a vast desert populated by a peaceful, friendly, out-there people, with a culture all its own.


Attending the Burning Man festival in Nevada is like landing on another planet: a vast desert populated by a peaceful, friendly, out-there people, with a culture all its own.


There are over 5 square miles of desert turned over as a blank canvas and filled with all manner of incredible art, weird and wonderful people to watch and events and workshops to try.


Burning Man attracts a huge number of creative people who are willing to put months of work into temporary installations. Some can really take your breath away: not just because of the talent on show but also the commitment to constructions that will often only exist for a week.




The now famous "C City," a temporary camp that develops for one week in every year to form a semicircle shaped like the letter C.





The Black Rock Desert is also home to some of the fastest cars on earth, such as the Thrust SSC of Richard Noble, and Craig Breedlove's Spirit of America rocket powered cars. Richard Noble and Andy Green are currently planning a run with a new car called the Bloodhound, while Craig Breedlove is staging a come back with another in the Sonic, or rather, Super-Sonic series of record breaking land speed record cars.





Black Rock City LLC is the company that organizes the annual Burning Man event ending on Labor Day, on the dry lake of the Black Rock Desert in northwestern Nevada. Although the organization is largely volunteer-driven, it has a for-profit form. Its mission states that its efforts are, and its primary goal is, to establish community.

Headed by a board of 6 LLC members, the company coordinates the year-round, behind-the-scenes work needed to build and remove a temporary city of more than 50,000 participants.

Event ticket sales provide a multi-million dollar budget for the organization. These revenues help the organization obtain required permits from the Bureau of Land Management, rent portable toilets and equipment, secure medical, fire, and law enforcement services, and cover other organizational expenses. The organization also holds a title to the nearby ranch used as a staging area.




In 2001, the LLC purchased a ranch in Hualapai Valley, Washoe County, Nevada, for $70,000 to use as a staging area.

In 2003, permits to operate a permanent staging area on the ranch were denied according to numerous news stories. A lawsuit was filed with the effect that the 2003 event proceeded. (Apparently LLC employees and volunteers were not able to camp on the ranch but stayed elsewhere.) The resolution of the dispute was apparently not considered newsworthy, but it seems that in 2004 the LLC spent approximately $800,000 on improvements to the ranch.





The Black Rock Desert is a semi-arid region (in the Great Basin shrub steppe eco-region), of lava beds and playa, or alkali flats, situated in the Black Rock Desert-High Rock Canyon Emigrant Trails National Conservation Area, a silt playa 100 miles north of Reno that encompasses more than 300,000 acres of land and contains more than 120 miles of historic trails. It is in the northern Nevada section of the Great Basin with a lakebed that is a dry remnant of Pleistocene Lake Lahontan. The average annual precipitation (years 1971-2000) at Gerlach (extreme south-west of the desert) is 7.90 inches (approx. 200 mm). The Great Basin, named for the geography in which water is unable to flow out and remains in the basin, is a rugged land serrated by hundreds of mountain ranges, dried by wind and sun, with spectacular skies and scenic landscapes.[8] The region is notable for its paleogeologic features, as an area of 19th-century Emigrant Trails to California, as a venue for rocketry, and as an alternative to the Bonneville Salt Flats in northwestern Utah, for setting land speed records (Mach 1.02 in 1997). It is also the location for the annual Burning Man festival.

The Black Rock Desert is part of the National Conservation Area (NCA), a unit of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) National Landscape Conservation System (NLCS). The NCA is located in northwest Nevada, and was established by legislation in 2000. It is a unique combination of desert playa, narrow canyons, and mountainous areas.

Humans have been in Black Rock Desert since approximately 11,000 BC. In 1300 BC the area was settled by the Paiute people. The large black rock formation was used as a landmark by the Paiute and later emigrants crossing the area. The landmark is a conical outcrop composed of interbedded Permian marine limestone and volcanic rocks. At its base is a large hot spring and grassy meadow, which was an important place for those crossing the desert headed for California and Oregon. In 1843, John Fremont and his party were the first white men to cross the desert, and his trail was used by over half the 22,000 gold seekers headed to California after 1849. In 1867, Hardin City, a short-lived silver mill town was established (now a ghost town).







The Black Rock Desert region is in northwestern Nevada and the northwestern Great Basin. The playa extends for approximately 100 mi (160 km) northeast from the towns of Gerlach and Empire, between the Jackson Mountains to the east and the Calico Mountains to the west.

The Black Rock Desert is separated into two arms by the Black Rock Range. It lies at an elevation of 3,907 ft (1,191 m) and has an area of about 1,000 sq mi (2,600 km2).

There are several possible definitions of the extent of the Black Rock Desert. Often people refer just to the playa surface. Sometimes terrain which can be seen from the playa is included. The widest definition of the Black Rock Desert region is the watershed of the basin that drains into the playa. The intermittent Quinn River is the largest river in the region, starting in the Santa Rosa Range and ending in the Quinn River Sink on the playa south of the Black Rock Range. The watershed covers 11,600 sq mi (30,000 km2) including the Upper and Lower Quinn River, Smoke Creek Desert, Massacre Lake, and Thousand Creek/Virgin Valley watersheds of northwestern Nevada as well as small parts across the borders of California and Oregon.

If the playa is wet for a month or so, the shallow waters teem with fairy shrimp, or anostraca born of eggs that lay dormant in the silt crust for long periods of time - sometimes for many years. The edges of the playa and the Quinn River Sink stay wet longer than the rest of the playa, which concentrates the fairy shrimp and migratory birds in those areas. More than 250 species of neo-tropical birds and many other water birds stop in Black Rock-High Rock Country for varying lengths of time. When wet, especially in spring, the playa is a favorite place for these winged visitors to rest and feed.

When it rains, the playa can become extremely sticky, bogging down four-wheel-drive vehicles. Some areas of the Black Rock are environmentally sensitive and closed to all vehicles.

Humboldt, Pershing and Washoe Counties of Nevada intersect at the Black Rock Desert.







Katherine K. Chen is a sociologist who participated in organizing activities during four years at the Black Rock Desert. In her book she shows how organizers experimented with different management models; learned how to recruit, motivate, and retain volunteers; and developed strategies to handle regulatory agencies and the media. Burning Man's development offers important lessons for the management of organizations, particularly during uncertain times.


Katherine K. Chen is assistant professor of sociology at The City College of New York and the Graduate Center, The City University of New York (CUNY). 

"Katherine Chen's richly researched volume provides a much needed sociological analysis [of Burning Man]... she offers an original and important analytical account of what happens when bohemian modes of sociability meet bureaucratic forms of organization."

- Fred Turner, Stanford University, 2010 book review for Contemporary Sociology 39(3): 289-291.


Katherine K Chen


"Chen's analysis of Burning Man is likely to be particularly useful for those who lead, study, and teach about voluntary and non-profit organizations... Enabling Creative Chaos is ultimately a strong ethnography of an extremely interesting and unique organization that provides considerable grist for thinking about broad organizing processes. It is also an interesting read about one of the strangest social events of our time."

- Stephen R. Barley, Stanford University, 2010 book review for Administrative Science Quarterly 55(1): 157-158

"Enabling Creative Chaos is topical, smart, and interesting."

- Francesca Polletta, University of California at Irvine, 2010 book review for American Journal of Sociology 116(1): 294-296.

"In this meticulous ethnographic account of the staging of a major American countercultural festival, sociologist Katherine Chen has given us a glimpse of a possible future of organizing..."

- John Sherry, Jr., Mendoza College of Business, University of Notre Dame, 2010 book review for Journal of Consumer Culture 10: 407.




Book cover art for Katherine Chen's study of the phenomenon that has become an international event, from an idea to stage a no-holds barred festival in the middle of nowhere.





There's nothing much to say here, except that any organization that does not publish its service address is a bit of a mystery. We'd rather hoped for more accountability.








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The Burning Man as seen by a drone 2013








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