Art, music and flames: Local 'burners' bring Burning Man to downtown Phoenix

The exhibition, IGNiGHT, will feature art from the Burning Man community

A local group of “burners” is bringing the art, music and the flames of Burning Man to downtown Phoenix with a month-long art exhibition called IGNiGHT!

Those who have attended the original arts festival, where tens of thousands of people gather in a temporary makeshift city in Nevada's Black Rock Desert, are referred to as “burners.” The eccentric event is known for its interactive sculptures, “mutant vehicles” and the burning of a giant wooden effigy of a man.

IGNiGHT, which is being held at the Alwun House on downtown Phoenix's Roosevelt Street and its neighboring Green Art Park, will feature art galleries, performance art, climbable sculptures, live DJ’s, lectures by members of the “burner” community and fire performers.

The event will run from April 19 to May 10 and provides attendees a more accessible version of Burning Man while introducing them to its core principles.

Ron Russell, an event producer for IGNiGHT and a long-time member of the Burning Man community, said he is most excited for the event-goers to see “who we are” and “what we do." The event, he said, will share the ten core principles of Burning Man with the attendees.

Illustration published on April 9, 2019.

The ten principles were written in 2004 by Larry Harvey, the co-founder of Burning Man, and Russell said they are at the heart of IGNiGHT. To follow the "radical inclusion" principle, the event is free and open to all ages to make it as inclusive as possible.

“My daughter who is eight is going to be there,” Russell said. “She is a part of the community and that’s part of exemplifying those principles that are so important.”

Kristin Wesley, one of the founders of IGNiGHT and an ASU alumna, said that she wanted to highlight the unique opportunity that provides attendees to be engaged in an art experience, rather than simply viewing it.

“You’re not a bystander, (and) you’re not a visitor or a viewer," Wesley said. "You’re a participant.”  

Katherine Thatcher, IGNiGHT’s art consultant who worked for the Smithsonian museums in Washington D.C. and Sotheby’s in London, said that she values the interactivity that sets Burning Man and IGNiGHT apart from other traditional art experiences.

“People aren't really interacting with art as much in a more formal and academic situation, so the interactivity of Burning Man really just warms my heart,” Thatcher said. “What a great gift to humanity.”

Wesley said another way people can participate at the event is through taking part in its “gifting" practice, where attendees share something among each other. She said this can be your own art, talents or just taking the time to talk to new people. 

“We encourage gifting ... not only by the people putting on the event, but the people who are coming as well,” she said. 

Thatcher said Burning Man can seem too “out there” for people, but that IGNiGHT is a way to dispel anxieties and misconceptions that some may have about it. 

“(Burning Man) made me really want to be an advocate,” she said. “Maybe it’s speaking out against the stereotype that it’s all sex, drugs and rock and roll, because it’s really a warm, friendly, inclusive environment, full of art and art enrichment.” 


Reach the reporter at wpmcclel@asu.edu and follow @wpmcclelland on Twitter. 

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