History of Burning Man

Art is evanescent. Some artists resist that truth. Others embrace it.

Larry Harvey is the latter kind of artist. In 1986, he decided to create a wooden sculpture in the shape of a stylized man with a triangular face to be publicly burned on San Francisco's Baker Beach the night of the Summer Solstice. That first Burning Man, built by Harvey and his friend Jerry James, was just 8 feet tall and 20 people attended the celebration.

By 1990, the Man had grown to 40 feet in height, Dan Miller had taken charge of its constructions -- and the Park Police banned the burn at Baker Beach. Instead, the Man was merely raised -- but not torched -- at Baker Beach on the Solstice before 800 celebrants, then transported to the Black Rock Desert of Nevada to be burned in front of 90 hardy witnesses.

The next year, the entire celebration moved to the Playa. Just 250 people attended. By 1993, attendance was up to 1000 and the regular participant who styles himself Danger Ranger had already produced both the first edition of the Black Rock Gazette and the first Art Car.

By 1996, the Man was 50 feet tall and 8000 people celebrated its incineration in the Black Rock Desert. After an unsatisfying attempt to move the event to private land in 1997 -- and despite intense scrutiny from both BLM officials and environmental advocates -- Burning Man returned to public land in 1998, where it will remain at least through 2002.

The population of Black Rock City for Burning Man 2000 reached nearly 30,000 residents. Within two months after the Exodus, no visible trace of its presence will remain on the Playa.

(Copyright© 2000 by Thom Stark--all rights reserved)