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If you start talking about an event that takes place about 100 miles northeast of Reno in the desert in late August, most people in our area, and beyond, will know immediately that you’re talking about Burning Man.
Burning Man has become a cultural institution worthy of a museum exhibition. “City of Dust: The Evolution of Burning Man” runs from July 1 to January 7 and then in the spring of 2018 it will travel to the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery in Washington, D.C.
The exhibition at the Nevada Museum of Art in Reno traces the history of Burning Man from its modest San Francisco origins to a yearly event that attracts tens of thousands of people to Nevada’s Black Rock Desert.
“The genesis of this exhibition really began about four years ago when our Center for Art and Environment, which is the research arm of the museum, acquired a major archive of materials related to the history of Burning Man,” said Ann Wolf, John C. Deane Family Senior Curator and Deputy Director of the Nevada Museum of Art.
Wolf said the exhibition is not an exhibition of the art from Burning Man. She said that has been well documented and seen all around the world. Instead, it is more a behind-the-scenes look at the festival with documents, sketches, historic photographs, and artifacts from the founders of the festival.
“We thought what a great opportunity to take some of these rarely seen materials that tell the backstory, the behind the scenes of Burning Man and put them on display in our gallery,” Wolf said.
Wolf said one of the main focuses of the exhibition will be on the growth and evolution of Black Rock City, which is the name given to the area where everyone stays while at Burning Man.
Michael Mikel is one of the founders of Burning Man. He attended the original Burning Man, which was just 50 people or so on a beach in San Francisco. He said from the beginning the idea was to create something temporary.
“We gather together in this vast desert place and we create a community... We experience this togetherness for a period of time and then everything goes away,” he said.
Mikel has been keeping a personal archive of the event for years. He has been learning from each experience of Burning Man and bringing that knowledge to the event. At one point, the festival stopped being something that was for his experience and became an experience for everyone else that attends.
“It’s interesting to see the past and the future and where we might go and what we can learn from our past,” he said.
He said the festival continues to be important to people and actually life changing.
“It gives people a new perspective," he said, "It gives them a perspective of themselves. It gives them a perspective of the world around them. And how things can be different.”
Wolf believes people who regularly go to the festival, otherwise known as Burners, will love the exhibition, as will people interested in urban planning, and the history of the state.
“Burning Man is an integral part of Nevada’s history now and it deserves a major exhibition in a museum,” she said.
Ann Wolfe, John C. Deane Family Senior Curator and Deputy Director of the Nevada Museum of Art; Michael Mikel, founding member, the Burning Man Project