Sherpagate: Tourists and Cultural Drama at Burning Man

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Rebuilt annually in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, Burning Man is a participatory arts event that has overcome considerable adversities in its three decades of operation. As Burning Man has grown from a small gathering to a large-scale event (Black Rock City) and a worldwide movement, collaborative art projects are among the primary means by which the “Burner” community negotiates challenges to its integrity. Since the mid-1990s, largely through the insistence of primary founder Larry Harvey, annual art themes have shaped the cultural aesthetic of Black Rock City, enabling its populace to navigate their own existential concerns. Drawing on research conducted on the Burning Man movement for the Burning Progeny project, the chapter explores repertoires intended to acculturate participants to a besieged event ethos called the “Ten Principles.” Victor Turner’s “social drama” model provides insight on the role of redressive art in cultural transmission in Black Rock City during a period of crisis. The case examined here is the 2016 art theme Da Vinci’s Workshop, partly triggered by a controversy (“sherpagate”) in which a culture of convenience threatened to undermine the Burner ethos. As this example illustrates, the Burning Man community has evolved a reflexive superliminal framework in which aesthetics across a spectrum of media reaffirm the value of beleaguered principles.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationFestival Cultures
Subtitle of host publicationMapping New Fields in the Arts and Social Sciences
EditorsMaria Nita, Jeremy H. Kidwell
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan, Cham
Number of pages25
ISBN (Electronic)9783030883928
ISBN (Print)9783030883911, 9783030883942
Publication statusPublished - 2 Dec 2021


Dive into the research topics of 'Sherpagate: Tourists and Cultural Drama at Burning Man'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this