Blazing Grace: The Gifted Culture of Burning Man

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The thirty-year experiment, Burning Man, is mounted annually in the Black Rock Desert, Nevada. Today attracting 70,000 participants and otherwise known as Black Rock City, Burning Man is typically identified as an arts-based “gift culture,” with gifting holding privileged place in its principled ethos. Lewis Hyde’s classic The Gift is shown to be among the most evocative literary endorsements for Burning Man, notably in the way it invokes the transformative power that affects recipients to identify with the gift itself (in this case, Burning Man). This article demonstrates how this unique culture of gifting and gratitude has been challenged by a recent crisis impugning the ethos of Burning Man as enshrined in event principles like Participation, Gifting and Decommodification. With the growing influx of wealthy “tourists” and their service providers, the so-called “sherpagate” crisis prompted redressive responses from the Burning Man community—in particular through the 2016 art theme, Da Vinci’s Workshop. While such cultural reflexivity has reaffirmed Burning Man as a gifting (and gifted) culture, it also offers an ambitious attempt to reconcile those spheres where art circulates (as gift) and accumulates (as commodity). Such efforts are consistent with the propensity of the recently formed Burning Man Project to propagate Burning Man culture in a transnational movement context.
Original languageEnglish
JournalNew American Notes Online NANO
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2017
Externally publishedYes


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