Bear Kittay – Social Alchemist and Ambassador for Burning Man Project

Bear croppedBear Kittay serves as Social Alchemist and Ambassador for Burning Man Project, visiting burners around the world, capturing their stories and sharing information from other groups  creating positive change around the world.

So far Bear has attended AfrikaBurn in South Africa, KiwiBurn in New Zealand, Nowhere in Spain, and visited burners in Australia, Maui and London. He has represented the Project at the SXSW premiere of Spark, at a festival on human rights in Croatia and at a social innovation festival in Oaxaca, Mexico.

He’s just recently returned from a whirlwind trip that included KoreaBurn, Burning Japan and Burning Seed in Australia.

Leaving Burning Man and traveling across the Pacific to meet burners in Maui and Asia was tremendously inspirational. In Maui, the burner community calls itself Source and has been collaborating with TEDx, exploring what Burning Man and TEDx can accomplish together. This is a trend emerging throughout Burning Man’s global network – burners looking to new models of how to organize community by working with other groups.

In Korea, Chung “Shin” Shinyeob not only organizes KoreaBurn, but also manages an art space in Seoul for learning and performing fire arts. Shin says his inspiration to organize a burn event is to inspire Koreans to pursue their creative passions in a society where people are under tremendous pressure to achieve career and commercial success. He hopes – through Burning Man – Koreans can find their creative spark.

In Japan, burner Todd Porter also organizes TEDx Tokyo and also started Impact Foundation, an organization that received a significant grant to build an innovation ecosystem to implement new initiatives to help the Tohuku region recover from the tsunami that struck the region in 2011. The goal is to implement the initiatives across Japan and globally.

The Burning Japan event brought together 275 participants and reflected the creativity, attention to detail and embrace of Burning Man’s 10 Principles made it one of my favorite events. The Japanese have five different words for gifting and in many ways Burning Man culture shares its roots with Japanese tradition.

Their effigy was a beautiful Phoenix and their temple was an incredibly detailed miniature bonsai temple that burned after the Phoenix on the tip of the Chiba Peninsula.

Following Burning Japan, I traveled to Australia to meet with festival promoters and give a presentation on Burning Man as part of Deakin University’s Arts Participation Incubator on “Participatory Arts and the Future of Festivals.”

From the conference, a group of us traveled to Burning Seed, a six hour drive north of Melbourne. This year’s event nearly double to 1,100 participants and I met many Australian burners attending for the first time who were blown away participating in a Burning Man event infused with Australian culture.

The event included a “Welcome to Country” ceremony where everyone stood in a large circle and introduced themselves to each other. The organizers spoke briefly and introduced an Aborignial leader, who shared the history of the land we had gathered on. At the end of the ceremony, each of us took branches from a native bush and tossed them into a fire, symbolizing the burning of a painful past and making way for a hopeful future.

Burning Man culture is alive and thriving around the world. This thing keeps growing and evolving.

Next stop – Lithuania.