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Stuart Mangrum is Burning Man Project’s Education Director. This is the second in our ongoing series of profiles of the people who make Burning Man Project a success.
Stuart has been part of the Burning Man community since the early 1990s, when he founded the playa’s first daily newspaper, the Black Rock Gazette. A member of the San Francisco Cacophony Society, he was drawn to the idea of creating a pop-up city in the desert, unburdened by history or context. “When I first met Larry Harvey,” he recalls, “he posed an intriguing question: what are the absolutely essential elements of city life? We agreed very quickly that there were three: bathrooms, a good cup of coffee, and a newspaper.”
After that initial experience Stuart became a year-round volunteer, serving as Burning Man’s communications director from 1993 to 1996. In addition to publishing the Gazette, he helped establish Burning Man’s first radio station, first online communities, and first live webcast.
His professional career in the default world has been long and varied, including positions as an intelligence analyst for the U.S. Air Force, a training manager for a global real estate company, and a vice president at one of Silicon Valley’s first interactive agencies. He has held executive positions at several technology start-ups, and ran a successful consulting business focusing on marketing and training programs. Then, in the summer of 2012, he got an unexpected call from his old colleague Larry Harvey.
“It was like Tom Sawyer all over again,” he laughs. “Another fence to be painted.” He worked with Harvey on the 2013 theme, “Cargo Cult,” and quickly found himself back in the thick of things. In addition to co-writing the theme manifesto and participating in the design of the Man base, he hired on as a consultant to help develop an education and training strategy for Burning Man Project. In July, he shifted to a full-time role.
“This is an exciting time to be part of the Burning Man world,” he says. “It’s like a start-up again. How do we deal with global growth? How do we teach the Ten Principles, and stay true to their spirit as we cross cultural and linguistic boundaries? How can we continue to serve as a catalyst for positive change in the world?”
When he’s not asking Big Questions, Stuart enjoys wilderness camping, cooking, brewing, and literature. He lives in San Francisco’s East Bay with his wife Paizley, another longtime burner.
Bear 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.
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.
Burning Man Project staff were joined by 25 volunteers at Burning Man 2013, encouraging participants to “take the playa to the planet” and keep the fire burning long after Black Rock City disappeared.
“We had a tremendous group of volunteers who took time out of their Burning Man preparation to familiarize themselves with our goals and programs,” said BMP Program Manager Heather White. “They made sure everyone got a warm welcome and good information on all the ways burners stay involved year-round.
Burning Man Project joined Black Rock Arts Foundation, Black Rock Solar, Burners Without Borders and the Global Network of regional contacts at the Everywhere Pavilion on the Esplanade near the Keyhole. The Project’s goal was to help visitors understand how BMP is inspiring and supporting burners seeking to create positive change in their communities.
Everywhere visitors were treated to buttons and stickers, perused informative banners and display materials and volunteers and staff encouraged them to consider how participants manifested Burning Man culture in their own lives.
“People are always talking about how they want the rest of their lives to ‘be like Burning Man’,” White said. We simply showed them what other burners are already doing in the world which is exciting and inspiring and a great gift to take home to the default world.”
Since 2008 Burners Without Borders has been supporting the MotoMoto Circus project in Mombasa, Kenya. This program has been working to engage, support and empower marginalized street living youth in Kenya through the medium of Fire Dancing.
Some of these boys, who have been with MotoMoto on and off throughout this year or longer, shared some about their lives and what MotoMoto has meant to them.
If you would like to know more about these boys, please read more HERE.
This is what KQED had to say about Burning Man, Beyond the Playa:
Every year for one week, bold, super-sized works of art spring to life in a harsh desert playa in Nevada. Burning Man, with hundreds of original works and more than 60,000 attendees, has become North America’s largest outdoor art festival. Host Thuy Vu meets the Flaming Lotus Girls, a female-driven team of Bay Area artists who are pushing themselves to the limit to create an enormous metal tree stump with fire-breathing fungi. Vu also examines how the Burning Man art scene has blossomed beyond the desert, with iconic sculptures transplanted to urban settings and even major civic installations like The Bay Lights.
Published on Sep 6, 2013