As the Chief Philosophic Officer and founding member of the annual Burning Man festival, Larry Harvey knows more than most about hosting a huge cultural event. More than 70,000 participants from across the globe meet in the middle of Nevada’s desert to build Black Rock City, a temporary metropolis dedicated to community, art and self-expression. In its most recent editions, many have flocked to the festival in anticipation of the monumental, participatory and immersive art installations sited throughout the vast natural landscape, each making an ephemeral, yet memorable, mark on the temporary community.
In a video by Design Indaba, Harvey – a conference speaker at the 2015 edition – reflects on the spiritual impact Burning Man offers for those who experience it, the culture of sharing and gift-giving, and how the international event has courageously changed the face of the art world.
Harvey is concerned that modern economics is negatively impacting the value of art in society. ‘The art market is largely about commodity transactions,’ he says. ‘I think the economics of the art world have grossly distorted art and made it much less relevant to people’s lives.’ This kind of thinking makes art more about the creator’s accolades than the work itself. the collaborative art typical of burning man therefore has a lower market value, since its assembly is comprised by teams of people, rather than a single artist.
‘We changed the face of festival cultures, because they’re all doing art now. Many people come for the art and stay for the community.’ The Burning Man project, which funds artists building installations at the event, has widened its support beyond the event to include interactive artworks in cities around the world. Burning Man champions art by people with no credentials or recognition in the traditional art world. ‘We are a nursery for art. we are making it more possible for artists to sell their art such that they can live off their art. And that’s a terribly hard thing to do. That’s like trying to become a movie star!’