Is Dragon Burn a festival? What about Burning Man? It really depends on what you define as a festival. Many Burners will tell you that Burning Man, and by extension Dragon Burn, are not festivals. But why would they say this? What is it that makes a Burn different to a festival?
For me the major difference is always in how the Burn is run. Dragon Burn is sometimes described as a non-profit, volunteer-run festival. But what exactly does this mean?
In a festival the organisers will hire acts to perform. For example a music festival will recruit big-name bands to perform and pull in a crowd.
In a Burn the organisers are volunteers. They don’t recruit anyone, nor do they pay anyone. Rather they create a space where entertainers, artists, musicians, or anyone with any kind of talent can come and share what they do. All the ‘acts’ that show up to a Burn do so because they want to. They are volunteers just like every other participant in a Burn.
In a festival organisers will hire food trucks, alcohol vendors and merchandisers in order to provide sustenance for the festival-goers and to make more money from the event.
In a Burn, everyone brings what they need to survive for the whole event. Even more than that, participants often bring gifts that they can give away to other participants simply because they want to improve the experience themselves. More than that, no money is exchanged at the Burn. There is no commercial motivation for anyone running or attending a Burn. It is a non-profit for everyone involved.
The Ten Principles
When Burning Man started to grow there needed to be a way to define what a Burn actually was. In 2004 Larry Harvey wrote the Ten Principles as a guideline to the ethos and culture for the regional network of Burns.
The Ten Principles in no particular order are:
Anyone may be a part of Burning Man. We welcome and respect the stranger. No prerequisites exist for participation in our community.
Burning Man is devoted to acts of gift giving. The value of a gift is unconditional. Gifting does not contemplate a return or an exchange for something of equal value.
In order to preserve the spirit of gifting, our community seeks to create social environments that are unmediated by commercial sponsorships, transactions, or advertising. We stand ready to protect our culture from such exploitation. We resist the substitution of consumption for participatory experience.
Burning Man encourages the individual to discover, exercise and rely on his or her inner resources.
Radical self-expression arises from the unique gifts of the individual. No one other than the individual or a collaborating group can determine its content. It is offered as a gift to others. In this spirit, the giver should respect the rights and liberties of the recipient.
Our community values creative cooperation and collaboration. We strive to produce, promote and protect social networks, public spaces, works of art, and methods of communication that support such interaction.
We value civil society. Community members who organize events should assume responsibility for public welfare and endeavor to communicate civic responsibilities to participants. They must also assume responsibility for conducting events in accordance with local, state and federal laws.
Leaving No Trace
Our community respects the environment. We are committed to leaving no physical trace of our activities wherever we gather. We clean up after ourselves and endeavor, whenever possible, to leave such places in a better state than when we found them.
Our community is committed to a radically participatory ethic. We believe that transformative change, whether in the individual or in society, can occur only through the medium of deeply personal participation. We achieve being through doing. Everyone is invited to work. Everyone is invited to play. We make the world real through actions that open the heart.
Immediate experience is, in many ways, the most important touchstone of value in our culture. We seek to overcome barriers that stand between us and a recognition of our inner selves, the reality of those around us, participation in society, and contact with a natural world exceeding human powers. No idea can substitute for this experience.
A Burn is part of a global community of people that all believe in the same thing. When you start going to Burns you will find that you become involved with Burners from other countries. Dragon Burn has had Burners attend from as far as South Korea and Finland!
Check out Burning Man’s Regional Network for more information on Burns closer to you.
So is a Burn a Festival?
If you use a looser definition of the term ‘festival’ then you can say that Burning Man (and Dragon Burn) are festivals. But if you look closer, it’s easy to see why people will tell you that a ‘Burn is not a festival’.