How Burning Man Gets Built: A Mad Maxian Story of Dog Days in the Desert

Originally published on August 29th, 2017 for 7×

A GPS leads a group of dusty shirtless men and women in steel-toed boots to a nondescript patch of Nevada desert. It’s no different than the swath of sand to its left or to its right, until a spike is driven into the ground.

This cast of construction workers who look like characters from Mad Max are the volunteer desert dwellers and full-timer staff of the Department of Public Works (DPW). And this is Golden Spike Day, a celebratory and sacred day. The center has been chosen and Black Rock City will be planned and erected around it. As of July 31st, Burning Man officially began.

This year’s throng of costumed and barely clad burners arrived in the desert this week—the annual event kicked off August 27th and runs through Labor Day weekend—and already pictures are circulating of the event’s iconic larger-than-life installations—a gigantic takeout box with flame-throwing chopsticks is serving late-night dumplings to the hallucinating masses. But Burning Man, with permanent headquarters in San Francisco’s Mission District and a full-time staff of 100 or so perfectly normal-looking professionals, is a year-round endeavor more on par with a large-scale corporation than the breathless art exhibition meets drug fest in the desert might suggest. In fact, Burning Man is one of the largest funders of individual art in the Bay Area. The New York Times called the festival “anarchy so well organized that there are registration forms, a media contact and a press kit.”

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