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Out of AfriKa(Burn)

By Helena Sheridan

I got infatuated by the concept of Burning Man in 2012. At the time I had no idea it would lead me to experience Burns on three different continents.

I didn’t realize it would suck me so deep into a culture of people so diverse, yet so similar, that I would eventually draw a (small) salary from it and get to be involved all year round in creating spectacular events and experimental communities.

DPW in Tankwa Town.... (Photo credit: Adriaan V Zyl)

DPW in Tankwa Town…. (Photo credit: Adriaan V Zyl)

In 2015 my involvement as the Coordinator of AfrikaBurn’s Department of Public Works gave me an opportunity to travel to Australia and work with Red Earth City’s Department of Planning and Infrastructure.

The setting, the faces and the accents may change, but at its core the spirit of the people, who give so much of their time to put on an event of this nature, remains the same. This is my tribe.

Same / Same, but Same, but Different

To date I’ve been lucky enough to work at Nowhere, the European regional Burn in Spain (2012 and 2013) with around 1000-1200 participants and at AfrikaBurn, the world’s biggest regional, in the Tankwa Karoo of South Africa (2013 to 2015) with numbers in the range 8000 to 11,000.

Burning Seed 2015 was a fantastic middle ground in terms of participants (3,400 or so) and I really enjoyed the sense of community I found at Red Earth City.

....meet DPI at Red Earth City

….meet DPI at Red Earth City. What is it with this crew and containers??? (photo credit: Andy Flint)

Interestingly the concerns and issues that plague the membership and the Operations Team at AfrikaBurn HQ in Cape Town also resonate with the Burning Seed team in Australia.

The rapid growth of the events, the constant need to reinforce the message of consent, conflicts between the Ten Principles, keeping everyone happy in a radically expressive environment and burn-out amongst key team members seems to be all too evident both sides of the pond.

Meeting the Challenges of Event Growth

How does a decommodified event start to pay key crew-members? To what extend do we rely on volunteerism and how does involvement not become exclusive if only certain people can afford the time to work on the event? How do we keep growing our events while making sure the culture and Principles of the movement are not lost in the influx of virgins? And at what time can we expect big sound systems to shut up for a while so we can hear the sounds of the beautiful environments in which we find ourselves?

I certainly got new insight on some of these questions during my time at Seed 2015 and I hope I provided the crew on that side with some new perspectives too.

For one thing, I was really inspired by the amount of time, money and effort the citizens of Red Earth City put into theme camps (at AfrikaBurn there are no theme camp grants and there’s a lot more focus on mutant vehicles and big artwork).

With the rascals at the Grong Grong

Helena (centre) hanging out with the Red Earth rascals at the Matong local

It did me good also to see how the communities in Sydney and Melbourne hang out, get creative and take Burner culture back to the cities where they live. Seeing how involved people get in their camps or artworks allowed me valuable perspective as someone who has always just seen the practical, infrastructure side of such creative events.

Come say Aweh

I hope more of the core crew and participants from Seed can come visit us in South Africa to see how much we do with so little. The third world (and our location 3hrs from ANYthing) certainly makes us think outside a lot of boxes and a lot more ‘McGuyvering’ is implemented.

I think our two events can learn a lot from each other and together we can all take big bold steps into the future.

I want to thank everyone who hosted me, offered me a couch, a tent, a sleeping bag, a meal, a drink, a puff, a pill, a good time. I have much admiration for the crew putting on this spectacular event without a cent to compensate the time they put in and I have made a whole lot of fantastic new friends.

Come to Tankwa Town, I will look after you!
Yours in dust and deet…. Helena

AfrikaBurn takes place between 25 April and 1 May 2016 – at the time of writing, tickets are pretty close to selling out, so get in quick.

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Prez’s pilgrimage to new Burn horizons

[bra_dropcaps style=’dropcap2′]S[/bra_dropcaps]eed’s event coodinator — our beloved Prez — recently jetted off to seek new Burn horizons, taking her crustie Burner butt and her eagle event-manager eye to this year’s AfrikaBurn and Blazing Swan. Her mission? Seek, explore, make copious notes and bring it all back to make Seed even more successful.

Written by Shaye Harty

I had decided to take the whole of April off and just BURN IT UP by heading to both Blazing Swan in Western Australia (1-7 April), where I worked the gate, and AfrikaBurn (27 April- 3 May).

As an 11-year burner, I have seen and done a lot in the community. So, these days I am always seeking out adventures in Burnlandia that don’t fit in my usual status quo. AfrikaBurn has been on my Burn list since I heard about its inception not long after I started burning. And this year everything just fell into place.

I met Travis, the AfrikaBurn Minister of Propaganda, and his wife Abi, the organisation’s Financial Controller, at Burning Man last year when I was working for the Burning Man Project. We hit it off straight away, and they helped facilitate my trip over to South Africa, which BTW is insanely gorgeous and still feels quite wild.

I told the AfrikaBurn organisation that I would be happy to work with the operations team as I wanted to learn as much as I could about the nine-year-old, 10,000-person strong gathering out in the Tankwa Karoo desert, about five hours from beautiful Cape Town and down the most infamous of tyre-eating roads.

Check out more Prez pics here As it happened, the Event Operations Manager that I wanted to intern with resigned before the event, and the AfrikaBurn team asked if I was game to fill her shoes on site. It was the best decision I could have made, because I gained so much insight and knowledge of how better to run Burning Seed, both at our current population and beyond as we grow to larger numbers.

By going to both Swan and AfrikaBurn, I experienced the best of both worlds: to see behind the scenes of an event only in its second year and 1400 people, and to see behind the scenes of an older, more-established event.

They were both equally fascinating, but not without their own set of production problems, all of which is important for us at Burning Seed to learn and grow from.

Personally, going to two events on both sides of the spectrum was such a joy to experience. Every participant loved each Burn, and that is what makes running an event like Burning Seed, Blazing Swan and AfrikaBurn worthwhile.

We do this for YOU, you fabulous burner you! And the best part about it for ME, is that I get to call this professional development and pretty much burn year round.  Burn Bright!

Some lessons for Seed

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Blazing Swan

  • A solid community crew base is a must: Blazing Swan has a passionate core of people putting on the event, but they are working too hard when they could have a lot more help from the community.[bra_divider height=’10’]And while Seed’s own passionate core has expanded, we need to ensure that we also maintain and build our core and community crew so the event can grow.[bra_divider height=’10’]
  • Location location location: The Blazing Swan site is epic: picturesque, only four hours from Perth and supported by the local Shire and community. It can expand exponentially if it is well managed and supported with good infrastructure.[bra_divider height=’10’] Seed needs to get the most out of our current site by continuing to build on our relationships with the local community and developing our infrastructure. But we also need to keep looking for a great new site to accommodate our growth.
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AfrikaBurn

  • Communication is vital: Managing the logistics of a 10,000-strong event can only happen if there is a well-functioning radio network, as well as documented procedures that are easy to follow if someone fills a position that they have never done before.[bra_divider height=’10’]At Seed, we’re making inroads with protocols, procedures and documentation but there is still more road to go.[bra_divider height=’10’]
  • Signage for all services should be big and bright: There should be no question about how to find what you’re looking for. Need medical?  There should be a big, bright red cross that you can see from all the way across the event.  Need information?  Need Ice?  [bra_divider height=’10’]All of these services are located in the Centre Camp area, and while it is easily located on a map, you wouldn’t believe how many people asked me where these things were. The same applies to signs leading to the event from the desolate dirt roads of the desert.[bra_divider height=’10’]Seed’s onsite and street signage could learn a lot from this.[bra_divider height=’10’]
  • Establish resolution processes: Working with a large team means that everybody isn’t always going to agree, so there needs to be ways to come to agreement quickly and without much conflict. [bra_divider height=’10’]The person who led meetings was trained in conflict resolution and proper meeting protocol and wasn’t part of the logistic team. This was a great way to guide everyone to resolution in difficult discussions.[bra_divider height=’10’] Seed’s lead community organisers have developed good meeting processes and ways to work together, which means we don’t have as many conflicts to resolve.
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