C2 CONVERSATIONS: Burning Man CEO on why building community is key to survival of events

C2 Editorial Team
The Takeaways: reimagining Burning Man a conversation with Marian Goodell
Burning Man is not a camping experience. And it’s not a festival.


“This is a community teaching us how to show up,” says Marian Goodell, an executive facilitator and CEO of the Burning Man Project, who capped off the first C2 CONVERSATIONS — LIVE series with her online talk on May 29.

“Black Rock City [a temporary space erected in the Nevada desert each year since 1986] provokes a ripple effect of connectivity, where people want to take that culture back out to the world and be innovative, creative, communicative and to work with other people…”

“So we are sort of a cultural institution.”

The Burning Man Project’s flagship Black Rock City event has without question become one of the most highly anticipated dates on the global cultural calendar. However, due to the COVID-19 crisis, the 2020 edition, originally slated to run August 30 to September 7, has been cancelled.

But Marian says that, due to circumstances brought on by the pandemic, the organization discovered that Burning Man had actually prepared their participants for this moment.

“We are a culture of resilience,” she explains, “so what we’ve done is, first of all, look for where we are necessary in a crisis like this… The organizational work that Burners Without Borders are doing around the world is leading the story.”


The 10 Principles of Burning Man

Burning Man’s 10 Principles are intended as guidelines, not to dictate how people should be and act, but as a reflection of the community’s ethos and culture since the event’s inception. They include Radical Inclusion, Gifting, Decommodification, Radical Self-Expression and Civic Responsibility.


Bring your event home

For Marian, directing Burning Man’s energy towards participants’ own communities is the point.

“We want to see people take the connective energy and build it into their own homes, towns, communities and neighbourhoods,” she says, giving the example of an Austin-based group who organized a “reverse-parade,” whereby art was created in Burners’ yards for a procession of cars to safely drive through.

“The magic of Burning Man is that it should be accessible for everybody and the transformative experience that you get from it changes the way you exist in the world.”

Indeed, Marian says what the Burning Man organization has realized in light of the pandemic is that the participants’ desire to connect “is much more powerful than the organization.”


Find opportunities for community building

While many events stay connected with participants, “you don’t really feel like a community,” Marian says. “This [pandemic] is an opportunity to lean into building community, and that will help carry the event into its next iteration as people feel a sense of commitment.”

“Don’t just go online — that’s too simple,” she adds. “Develop a thread of community and connectivity through what you are doing.”

Marian also believes that community-building will help event organizers create the trust and security necessary to bring people in when we’re able to convene again.

“People feel safe when they share the values and intentions that others do,” she says. “If I was [in the event industry], I would find ways to bring people back together in small ways, build trust and eventually build [the events] back up again to the size that we all love.”

That's what we all need to do: we need to be our best selves right now – Marian Goodell


Be the Burner you wish to see in the world

In cancelling their annual event, Marian says Burning Man pivoted to become “a fundraising machine.”

Whatever Burners would have brought to their community in the desert and adjacent events around the world is what they should still be bringing to the table, she says. “Do [Burning Man] in the ways you can in your own community; whatever [you can do in terms of] connectedness, innovation, playfulness, art and storytelling, this is the time.”

“The world needs the Burning Man trust and the way in which we appreciate humanity and are not afraid of change,” she adds. “We lean into adventure. This is a time for [Burners] to say, ‘Where am I needed and how can I show up?’ and to then show up.”


Check out Marian’s full C2 Conversation

Questions or comments? Drop us a line at editorial@c2.biz


Special thanks: Canada government, Québec government, City of Montréal