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All The News That's Fit To Burn : 2006 Summer Newsletter

Black Rock Arts Foundation

Inspiring Art, Community and Civic Participation

by Kristin Hale

It stood in the center of the Hayes Green in San Francisco as a giant testament to love, inspiration, anger, hope, fear, death, and truth. People from all walks of life scrawled messages in any number of languages across the wooden Temple built by David Best and the Temple Crew. From June to December, people gathered under its dappled shade, sat on its benches, and talked to one another about what it all meant. Immortality in Sharpie marker: Gay is OK, People of Zee Wurld, Relax, Hate cannot conquer hate, only love can do that (MLK), Live Free…. Or Die, If you’re not on the edge, you’re taking up too much room! Jim loves Phaedra, Judith was a loving and loved sister, R.I.P. Tom. Lines of poetry followed the organic and decorative contour of the center altar space. Flowers withered, tucked in cracks and crevices. Balladeers strummed old songs and new melodies. Thick Russian accents were heard, philosophers spoke, the black-clad smoked, children had their hair braided, strangers met, lovers kissed, the grief-riddled cried. This new space was beautiful and compelling, a catalyst and a galvanizing point for the community. People interacted with the other and the environment. It was a gift. It was art. It was there, now it’s gone. Mission accomplished.


The Black Rock Arts Foundation has, with each new project, been forging a new path into the world of civic art. Over the course of the last year the Black Rock Arts Foundation has worked to bring interactive artworks to communities across the nation, as well as our hometown of San Francisco. While the Burning Man Project continues to fund art created for exhibition at the annual Burning Man event in Nevada, the Black Rock Arts Foundation concerns itself with facilitating the creation of interactive projects year round – in places other than Black Rock City. These off-playa projects embrace Burning Man’s familiar ideals, such as communal effort, civic responsibility, Leave No Trace, participation, and immediacy, and bring them home to local stomping grounds with the hope of changing how communities think, interact, and even dream. In 2005 BRAF granted five projects, each of which inspired and required community, and were radically inclusive, participatory in nature, and grounded in a heartfelt vision.

A lot of people are curious about the kinds of projects we support (more than once we have been mistaken for an organization in exclusive support of African-American pop stars) and there is often a gap that must be spanned in order to explain what we consider to be interactive art. For our purposes, it is art that prompts people to interact with one another, art that engenders community, art that responds to participants and to its environment. In 2005, Anne Kristoff, a NY based artist, answered our call for submissions and created an in-transit art car as she toured juvenile correction facilities in Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi. Youth in each facility were asked to arrive at a design and process for painting their portion of the car. Wanting artist-participants to own the project and process, Anne provided neither direction nor theme requirements. “My intention with ArtCarTraz,” she says, “was to show these kids that art is not just something that hangs on a wall. Art can be created using any medium – in this case, a car and paint.” Anne explains that the transformed car served as a symbol of freedom, and that through this project participants could release a part of themselves into the world as they worked toward a life beyond incarceration.

We strive to support art that inspires a sense of civic identity, and that causes people to reflect on their larger community. We want to inspire art that belongs to the public and exists for the benefit of all. A community endeavor in Tucson, Arizona, brought together some sixty participants over the course of several weeks to create a legacy fire piece, the Urn Project, for their annual All Souls’Procession, which occurs in early November. The procession is loosely based on the Dia de los Muertos holiday, a Meso-American tradition celebrating death as a new stage of life, and proceeds much like a cacophonous funeral through the city’s streets lined with elaborately costumed on-lookers in a sea of masques and painted faces. Constructed around a steel armature, this enormous papier-mache-covered urn was carried the entire 1.5-mile length of the parade. It blurred the line between participant and observer as onlookers and passersby were encouraged to contribute offerings each time the attending Spirit Group brought the piece into a new viewing area. It arrived at its destination with the prayers, affirmations, and heart songs of those honoring lost loved ones piled some three feet deep in its giant interior, waiting to be released into flame.

At BRAF, we like art created by and for the people; we like art that people can touch. “Swap-o-rama-rama”, a new twist on the age-old clothing swap, aims to put fashion back in the hands of the wearer, and promotes art, and a way of life that are driven more by community than by commerce. Longing for an era when clothing was made by hand, craft, or trade rather than industry,Wendy Tremayne has created a series of swaps that aim to extricate personal image from the arms of the corporate world. The swaps started in NYC, and the only requirement is that participants bring unwanted vestments for re-invention. Seamstresses, silk-screeners, graphic designers and embellishers are on hand to help, teach and learn from participants during the process. During the first swap several of the ideas posited by the project were met with overwhelming success as over 500 people participated and some 3,000 lbs. of clothing were recycled!

We are working hard to craft a vision of how the Black Rock Arts Foundation can best serve our community. These granted projects, in concert with San Francisco-based efforts, are the first substantive steps towards creating a model for generating new interactive art that will convene public participation in communities across the country. As a part of this effort, we’ll be embarking on a new project that speaks to BRAF’s role as civic cartographer and tool-builder. The Re-Cycled Garden is a project designed to bring together disparate groups with a goal of educating the public about the importance of reuse and recycling through art. Organic shapes created out of inorganic material otherwise destined for the waste stream, will, through a collaborative process, be transformed. Schoolchildren, area artists, neighborhood associations, parks councils, and anyone else who wants to participate will be invited to create garden-inspired sculptures, from the very whimsical to the very considered, for a group installation in San Francisco. As this model succeeds, we plan to plant it elsewhere. Already, conversations with community representatives in Detroit, Seattle and San Jose are underway.


Set in the open playa a small wind blown garden shack hunches left, bracing itself against the desert wind. Grey-weathered wood casts a slatted light shadow on the cracked earth floor. A corrugated tin awning, like a hand lifted to a brow, eclipses the hot afternoon sun, as someone steps up to relieve you of the plant, or worm, or insect sculpture you have lovingly brought from Idaho, Washington, Oregon or Ohio.

Your contribution is made of reused and recycled bits and bobs of any sort. The soft fleshy fruit of a flower might be replaced by nuts and washers; a mosaic of street-shattered reflectors could serve as petals. Forgotten baby doll arms for leaves reach out from a stem now made of galvanized soda straws and slats of wood once used for stirring paint – this flower is ready for planting in the Re-cycled Garden.

Welcome to Black Rock City’s first Community Garden! As part of the larger Re-cycled Garden Project, the Black Rock Arts Foundation intends to plant an inaugural garden at the Burning Man event this year. We invite all of the citizens of Black Rock City to bring garden-inspired flora and fauna sculptures, crafted from inorganic material previously destined for (or rescued from) the trashcan, recycle bin, or scrap yard to contribute to BRC’s first ever Community Garden! For more information on how you can participate please visit or call the office at 415.626.1248.