Group attends Burning Man

Josh Knight, Staff Writer
September 22, 2010
Filed under News

Associate Professor of Theatre History Dr. Dawn Larsen and two Francis Marion students recently embarked on a QEP-sponsored trip to the fine arts festival known as “Burning Man.”

Burning Man is a gathering of 50,000+ artists, performers and travelers. The event takes place in the austere Black Rock desert and lasts one week. During those seven days, the attendees, or “Burners,” live in an open, barter-based community in which no form of currency is exchanged and a supportive, friendly atmosphere is encouraged. The week is also furnished with live concerts, performance pieces, and art exhibits. The week culminates in the burning of a gigantic wooden sculpture, which gives the event its name.

Larsen said that Burning Man’s open-minded and barter-based community engenders an atmosphere conducive to the artistic process.

“I think artists get tired of being constrained,” Larsen said. “Burning Man is a place where you can do anything you want and be anyone that you want to be.”

According to Larsen, the two students who attended, CJ Miller, a theater major, and Tiffany Thomas, a visual arts major, returned from their desert excursion with invaluable new knowledge and experience.

When asked about the academic merit of the trip, Larsen was emphatic in her response.

“For a fine arts student there is no better experience,” Larsen said. “[Burning Man] allows students to meet and connect with other artists from all over the world. It gives them the chance to experience their own discipline and others.”

However, Larsen also said that the benefits of Burning Man go beyond the academic. This August was not Larsen’s first time attending Burning Man, and she insisted that she comes back a changed person every time.

“At home I’m always [the] teacher, the healer, the fixer, or the mom,” Larsen said. “But [at Burning Man] I get to be the one who is taught, healed, and fixed … I know we all came back changed people.”

Despite its considerable distance from civilization, Larsen said that the Burning Man community is quite peaceful and crime-free. Larsen said that there is always the presence of consumptive and rowdy youth who “don’t have any idea what Burning Man is about.” However, she has never personally experienced an altercation with any Burning Man attendee.

Larsen said that the extremities of the weather in the Black Rock desert proved to be the most difficult aspect of the week. Temperatures peaking at 100 degrees during the afternoon and reaching a low of 40 degrees in the late evening tested the attendees’ commitment to the event. However, Larsen insisted that warmth and companionship created by the Burning Man community greatly outweighed the inclement conditions.

“Burning Man is the way the world ought to work, and I get to live it for a week,” she said.

Larsen described the return to everyday life from Burning Man as “jarring.” Upon leaving the peaceful and supportive Burning Man community, the Francis Marion group found the rushed, self-centered atmosphere of the airport disheartening.
“When you meet people from all over the world in that environment, it’s hard to come back,” Larsen said.

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