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All The News That's Fit To Burn : 2003 Summer Newsletter

How I Became A Regional Contact
by Lohr Barkley, St. Louis & Jody Franklin, Vancouver

When Burning Man asked me to write this article about my experiences as a successful startup Regional rep, I was both honored and horrified. I am a doer, not a writer. I love being a volunteer Regional coordinator, and I've been working like crazy to build a community here in St. Louis.

My friend SpearGirl got me interested when she started telling me about Burning Man. She and a bunch of her friends were going, and they wanted me to join them. At the time, it seemed a little unrealistic to me that I would plan some crazy cross-country trip. Suddenly, at one point, I realized that I was going, unrealistic or not. I felt like Life had just informed me that I was going.

I had not a clue what I was getting into, but I sure as hell was going to find out. I bought a ticket, made my Reno flight arrangements, rented a truck, read the Survival Guide, and started shopping. Finally, I found myself standing there the Wednesday before Labor Day 1999, alone in the desert, in the middle of a dust storm, my ass still sore from being spanked by the Greeters, wearing safety goggles, with a flask full of whiskey in my pocket. I was trying to find a 15-foot radio tower where my friends would most certainly be asleep. I found them without a hitch, and they even had a tent set up and waiting for me. For days, I was surrounded by and inundated with this amazing manifestation of creative power and human spirit. It was exactly what I needed. I knew long before leaving Black Rock City that I had discovered a significant new part of my life. My muse had returned to me.

A year later, during intense preparations for Burning Man 2000, I started searching the Regionals section of burningman.com, trying to find a St. Louis contact. ActionGrl, the regional coordinator, informed me that I wouldn't find one — no one had volunteered as the Regional rep here. The concept took about two days to seep through my thick skull. Then, it clicked: “No spectators.” I had been having an awful time finding creative, like-minded people in St. Louis. I figured if I could not find the community I wanted, I would build it. I volunteered just before attending the 2000 Burn.

Back in St. Louis after the event, I started working to uncover the latent community around the city.

I created an email list, made fliers, found a bunch of local arts mailing lists, and started publicizing like crazy. I made a lot of contacts that gave me access to other local mailing lists, so I started republishing information about other organizations' art events on the Burning Man list. This step turned out to be a great idea for community growth, as it gave my subscribers something to look forward to besides the stuff that I tried to plan. If you want people to be interested in your events, it helps to be interested in theirs.

On the Regionals mailing list, you hear the advice “If you plan it, they will come.” Guess what? It is true! I decided to bring a project called “Santarchy” to St. Louis by doing a pub crawl, Kris Kringle style. I got about ten friends to commit to dress up in Santa gear, and to bring everyone they could. That arrangement turned out to be critical to the event's success. We topped out at about 30 people that night, and we had a blast! We made such a ruckus that everyone wanted to know what it was all about. I passed out fliers and collected email addresses all along the way. The outing created some buzz around the city in the name of Burning Man, but as a local thing instead of “that party in California, right?”

It was time to get the local community to become more active in our region. I asked list subscribers to contribute suggestions about what a St. Louis Burning Man community could do. I would submit suggestions to the group and wait for feedback. Guess what, no feedback came back, at least not very much. The strategy “If you plan it, they will come” came to the rescue again. I started promoting monthly gatherings at different bars.

At the first St. Louis gathering, four people showed, and we talked about what we could do. A board member of a St. Louis art installation festival called Arctica was one of the four. He was excited about inviting the St. Louis Burning Man community to help with this event. I was ecstatic! I had attended this festival. It was all about art installations and performances over a weekend among some abandoned buildings in downtown St. Louis, right on the Mississippi River, and I had even made a small piece of art for it. The Burning Man community has now become the focal point for the fire art and performance at the festival. Involvement with Arctica could consume a lot of my time this summer, but I intend to continue to grow the community along with that work.

The Burning Man community is out there and wants to be found, even here in the Midwest. Get out there and make some noise. Trust me, they will hear it — they are listening.

Lohr is the Burning Man Regional representative from St. Louis.