Tag Archive | transformative festivals

Rainbow versus Burning Man

The idea was compelling, study the really exciting festivals and celebrations, take the best pieces of these cultures and combine them into a beautiful Frankensteinian creation.  The tricky part is establishing which are the finest parts and figuring out if (and how) they fit together.

Central rituals are a major difference between Burning Man and the Rainbow Gathering.   At Rainbow thousands of participants hold hands in silence in a giant ring on the 4th of July.  When the moment feels complete the children run into the center, break the trance, and thus commences wild dancing.  At Burning Man there are two central rituals, the effigy burn and the temple burn, both of which revolve around fire but have very different flavors.  The former is a pyrotechnic exhibition of tremendous scale, with fire dancers and a giant man which blazes for hours leading into a bacchanalian celebration of wild dancing in the desert.

Burning Man Fire Breathers

Photo Credit: rosehalady0 from Pixabay

The temple burn is a more somber and self reflective ritual which is powerful like a brilliant funeral can be.  It is all about letting go of things, your sadness at a deceased friend or relative, your addiction to online games or a dysfunctional relationship, or realize it really is finally time to quit the job which is not working for you.

We decided to embrace the Burning Man central rituals.  There were several reasons for this, the first is an effort to bring people who are familiar with or excited by Burning Man culture to the event.  It feels like especially the temple burn is potentially quink inducing, and a bacchanalian celebration is practically guaranteed to be a good time.  While the rainbow ritual is elegant, accessible and unifying, it did not feel powerful enough for us to embrace for Quink Fair. One of the key ideas of Quink Fair! Is to introduce creative people from mainstream cultures to the intentional communities (and especially income sharing) movement.

Free is nice, but quite limiting

Tickets are another important cultural aspect, and major cultural difference.  Part of the brilliance of the regional and national Rainbow Gatherings is that they are free to attend and no one is “controlling” a gate that keeps some people out.  Despite it’s inclusion principle, Burning Man is a privileged event. The low income tickets are $240 and literally thousands of people pay over $1,000 to be assured to get in. This is before you pay for a camp and gear, and transportation to this remote site- it’s quite normal to spend $1,000 or more on these expenses, especially if you’re traveling from far away.  The advantage of the paid ticket model is organizers can pay for porta potties and event insurance and art grants, and what ever else is important.

Burning Man preaches “radical self-reliance” which means a number of things, but near the top of the list is “bring everything you will need” and packing for attending this harsh desert event is a complex and expensive affair.  Rainbow Gather’s unofficial motto is “Welcome Home” and true to this tagline is the idea that when you go home you need to bring the fewest things of any journey, since your stuff or your support network is already there. From a festival organizers perspective, when you have well stocked and equipped participants you reduce costs and you share the provisioning burden for the event.  But if you can welcome almost anyone, including people who have little gear or money, then you are a more diverse and inclusive crowd and you provide a more full service experience.

This is where the Fair part of the name comes from

The Quink Fair! “disorganizers” made the choice to have ticket prices, but make them fairly low ($90 for three days) and include work exchange options.  And of course we hope we have the money we need for porta potties, insurance and art grants and more.

Photo Credit: Karolina Grabowska from Pixabay

Kitchens and food are another major cultural difference.  At the Rainbow Gatherings perhaps 1/3 of the camps are free kitchens serving to anyone who comes to them.  At Burning Man people are responsible for bringing their own food to this difficult environment and preparing it.  There is some food being given away at BM (clever DC friends are doing a pizza delivery service this year), but it would be an odd diet and an organizing struggle to attend this event without food or a camp which provides it for you.  

For Quink Fair we’ve gone with a hybrid model around food. Haven House theme camp (run by one of the disorganizers who threw a temper tantrum upon hearing food wouldn’t be provided) will provide 3 meals a day, plus drinks and snacks between meals.  This is free and available to all who want or need food, or who just enjoy sharing meals with a group. But some (perhaps most) attendees will still bring some of their own food and/or cooking equipment, either for their own use or to share. It’s a combination of Burning Man’s freedom with Rainbow’s safety net, which we hope will bring the best of both systems;

And Rainbow was a huge influence.  We want to make food accessible, we want to decentralize organizing as much as we can, we want anyone who really wants to attend to be able to come.

Image found at https://www.pinterest.com/pin/481181541408416340/

Rainbow, Burning Man and the Communities Conference (which we draw inspiration from) all have workshops offered by participants.  The communities conference curates them by selecting headliners and scheduling open space separately. We did not want to go this way.  There is a large collection of workshops, some given by event disorganizers, most by participants and there is no distinction between which are organized by who.

There is a lot of experience in the group of disorganizers who are trying to pull this event together, but we can’t be certain that we have made the right choices.  We’ve likely made wrong choices but that’s part of the adventure of a new event. We have been talking a lot about our own quink experiences and how they can be replicated at this event.  Almost everyone we talk with is enthusiastic about the idea.

Lots more information to be found at www.quink.org where you can also buy tickets.  If you are excited or intrigues you, go to the facebook Quink Fair! 2019 event and click “interested” or “going” and we will send you more information.   If you have questions, suggestions, or want to lend a hand, drop us a line at quinkfair@gmail.com.   

Other blog posts about Quink Fair!



a Polite Funological debate – can festivals save the world?

At the current rate of traffic to this site, it will break the 1/4 million hits threshold by April Fools.  But as satisfying as this is, it is less important to me than what happened the day before yesterday.  Which was being politely, but formally debated on another blog about whether festivals can change the world.  I am excited about this debate because Rosie is actually part of the Burning Man organization and while she is not speaking for BM inc. in her post, she is certainly an insider, with perspective and experience which many participants can’t have.  And i am thrilled about the debate, because i want her to be right and this exchange of perspectives will hopefully help our shared wish for these events to be high in positive impact and world transforming.  And of course controversy spikes web traffic, and i love traffic.

Let me try to summarize her points here (but please read her article linked above):

  • BM builds community, inspires resilience and resourcefulness.
  • BM connects people to feeling empathetically connected to humanity
  • BM encourages contribution to crafting a better world
  • BM is an antidote to isolation
  • BM has sparked many civic and artistic endeavors

Boringly, we don’t disagree on any of these points.  As i have written in this blog, i think Burning Man is a tremendously significant event for these and other reasons.  Rosie is right to challenge me on the trite phrase “Save the World”.  In the ways mentioned above these transformational festivals (like BM) are increasing our chances for survival, empowering and transforming individuals and taking on some political issues.  And to be fair, BM actually does this better than any festival i have been to.  It is more transformative, it has more active external political initiatives and importantly is memetic in that it replicates regional burns of the same structure (so that everyone does not need to go to Nevada for this experience).  So in this sense Rosie is right.  Specifically she sez:

And looking at doing the hard and hostile work, let’s again, point to the work of Burners Without Borders:  Here is a group of people that formed and built relationships with each other at Burning Man. The individuals that generated this group, likely without knowing it, were in effect training themselves with useful skills by building survival systems in the harsh desert where Burning Man is held.  ”Following the 2005 Burning Man event, several participants headed south into the Hurricane Katrina disaster area to help people rebuild their devastated communities” (source)You’re going to have a very tough time convincing me that a festival wasn’t in part responsible for the existence of this humanitarian aid group that is out there in the world doing “the hard work which needs to be done…”

Where i think BM and the other transformational festivals fall short is the notion that these events and the things which they inspire are enough work for us to get where we need to go.  I feel that there is a certain type of “lazy activism” in which participants can go to these events and party and perhaps partake in these civic and political parallel projects and think that they have done their share of world fixing.  The hype of the Bloom video seems to encourage this “we can do it all if we can make it to these festivals” feeling.  Or more simply put, Bloom makes saving the world sound easily accessible.  This feels naive to me, i am not sure of Rosie would agree.

Get on the bus: Burners do help improve the world.

Get on the bus: Burners do help improve the world.

We dont really have a disagreement on diversity.  Rosie says:

Yes, the majority of music & art festival attendees at this point in time are white…. I had a desire for the event to be more diverse because I believe diversity creates strength and interesting variation in an ecosystem. However, as someone once told me, “You can’t force diversity. You CAN steward it, but it has to be generated by the interest of minority groups/individuals themselves, and then supported by the ecosystem of the event.”

If BM can attract a more ethnically diverse base of participation, that is fantastic.  And i also believe that you can’t force diversity.  And i am a bit skeptical that this expensive, remote, dominantly white event can morph into something far more inclusive – and i would be happy for Rosie to point out how i was wrong in this, including BM inc.’s plans to deal with this.

And the most dangerous part of the Bloom project (which Rosie does not mention) is the idea that these festivals can play a role in re-indigenization.  My intimates who work on cultural appropriation issues are completely unconvinced that this can be pulled off.  My view is that i really want to understand how this might work, but i start from a somewhat skeptical place.

Is this what the city of the future looks like?

Is this what the city of the future looks like?

Rosie says:

They are a useful source of inspiration, of bringing people more alive than they were before the event. This aliveness, this enthusiasm and passion for life is something they can take back to “their regular lives.” I contend that festivals can be an inspiring part of the continuum of one’s life. There is no “regular life” or “default world.” All of your experiences are part of your life and your world.

i totally get her point, and we will have to respectfully disagree.  Until participants have significantly transformed their lives (which many have already done, but i don’t think most have) there is a “default world” which they are returning to, which is frequently spirit crushing and strongly discourages the type of radical self expression that BM is so good at promoting onsite.  

i cant go back to my straight job dressed (or thinking) like this.

i cant go back to my straight job dressed (or thinking) like this.

Where we are highly aligned is when it comes to her posts conclusion.

Festivals serve as a tool in helping individuals connect both to a part of themselves that may have been lost since childhood, and also connect to a tribe that they resonate with. Technology combined with your passionate desire and your aligned action will keep you connected to your tribe, and if you want to be a bigger contribution to the world, you can.

Absolutely, my thoughts precisely.

Can Festivals Save the World?

Abigail forwarded me this trailer for a web series on transformational festivals called Bloom.

It left her feeling uneasy and self critical.  She wants to support festival culture, but is concerned by what she perceives as self congratulatory and over hyped claims of saving the world.  And she is right.

I think festivals are hugely important, I have seen them change lots of peoples lives mostly in positive ways.  They can be significant models for all manner of new societies we want to create.  And you can’t just dance oppression away, you can’t party away economic injustice and you can’t vacation your way to sustainability, especially in the middle of the desert.

The Bloom Film team

Don’t get me wrong.  I am excited about Bloom.  If the trailer is any indication, these are very thoughtful funologists.  They are looking at the need for rituals in current culture, they are challenging the commercialization of daily life, they get that festivals can heal participants and catalyze personal transformations.  They understand that these festivals are a chance to model new behaviors and cultural norms.  I applaud this approach and their investigation into the power of these events, especially festivals that are cash free internally.

But there are hazards in promising too much while not significantly shifting things and even reinforcing problematic ideologies in the dominant culture, while deluding ourselves that our good time is much more than what it really is. There is a dangerous new age mix in which mostly white and mostly affluent people can think that festival culture is the key to a better world.  The message that comes through to people who are watching it casually is “hey we can solve our problems by going to festivals and dancing and making art.”  Which is not true, and feels like a dodge of the hard work which needs to be done in more hostile environments.Burning Man

These events can be escapist experiences disconnected from peoples regular lives.  Where people don’t quit their straight jobs or break out of their stuck relationships and instead save up for the year to spend a week in the wilderness having the experiences they wish they could somehow have all year.  The Bloom points out the power of co-creation at these events and that important lasting relationships are built.  But largely individuals go home alone – we have not yet successfully exported festival cooperation to the daily lives of most participants.  Important work undone.-


Also especially around gender roles, beauty standards and sexual violence.  The Bloom pitches the idea of “gender alchemy” with some wonderful words about respect, healing and understanding.  Some of these transformational festivals are doing amazing things in these areas, and it is still the exception rather than the norm. I don’t want to throw out this important tool, and i think overall with regard to sexism and reinforcing the corrupt values around objectification, these festivals are mostly setting us backwards.

Where it gets really dangerous is the novel notion of re-indigenization.  A word i had not even heard before i saw this trailer.  The theory is fantastic: “How transformational festivals honor and support a deep connection with the earth.  And the way this is catalyzing a cultural re-encounter between neo-tribal festival communities and representatives of indigenous communities in right relationship.”  But, we have to wonder, who chooses these indigenous representatives?  What about problems of cultural appropriation and on-going genocide of these indigenous people?  I have been struggling with these issues for the past year, and i am confident i am working on them harder than most festival goers and have made pathetic progress myself. So the short answer is “No. Tranformative festivals can’t save the world.”  At least not the ones of which i am aware.  The Bloom is dangerously over-promising.  Yet it still makes sense to have these festivals, to work on these issues, to recognize that we do need models and experiments and to change the lives of participants and the dominant culture.  They are important tools, but no substitute for less pleasant, more self-critical and self-sacrificing work which needs to be done in less comfortable environments.