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BLOG: On the Lam

with Chrissie Lam

On Finding Community in a Sun-Baked Desert

On Finding Community in a Sun-Baked Desert

The annual community-building exercise known as Burning Man is just 17 days away.

Love Is Project is about more than just a bracelet. While our bracelets are beautiful objects, they’re really physical reminders of the power of love to unite people into one community regardless of the language they speak, the color of their skin, or the country in which they live. If there’s one thing we’ve learned over the past two years, it’s that that community continues to surprise us with its strength, its compassion, and its ability to LOVE.

Burning Man Summer of Love Van life

Though it’s become something of a cultural meme, we can’t help but be intrigued by Burning Man as one of the ultimate representations of the power of organically formed community. This annual event is actually the formation of an ephemeral city in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada, a stretch of sun-parched ground that for one week in August becomes home to a community of self-proclaimed Burners.

You’d never know that the inaugural Burning Man in 1986 would evolve into a nearly 70,000-person festival. One afternoon friends Larry Harvey and Jerry James brought a handmade wooden man down to Baker Beach  in San Francisco, where a small but curious crowd of onlookers watched it burn. By 1993 the gathering had swelled to nearly 1,000 people watching a 40-foot Burning Man immolate in a circle of wagons on the playa. Last year’s Burning Man had over 69,000 attendees, 317 art installation, and 20 shrines sourced from all over the world with a 105-foot tall Man Base housed in the Temple of the Golden Spike. You might say Harvey and James started a movement.

The burning of “the man” isn’t really the point of the gathering. While it’s a cathartic climax every year (and highly anticipated milestone), the real point is the community that’s formed around a set of 10 shared principles: radical inclusion, gifting, decommodification, radical self-reliance, radical self-expression, communal effort, civic responsibility, leaving no trace, participation, and immediacy. While in popular perception that shakes out to images of bohemian tents, wild costumes, and epic dance parties, those are just expressions of Burning Man’s real mission. It’s officially a non-profit gathering of like-minded souls that adhere to the 10 principles and unite in the pursuit of a “more creative and connected existence in the world.”

Burning Man Art Love

The yearly desert gathering (this year it’s August 26th–September 3rd) is just the spark of inspiration that keeps a worldwide network of volunteers connected and motivated for the other 358 days of real life. As a non-profit project and organization, they bring awareness and resources to Burners throughout the year, including a leadership conference, a volunteer branch called Burners Without Borders, and digital communities.

Harvey and James’s principles were important from the beginning, even if they weren’t made explicit until much more recently. The inaugural Burning Man was entirely without sponsorships, built by hand with the help of friends. No one applied for permits or asked for permission. Their vision was to “bring experiences to people in grand, awe-inspiring, and joyful ways that lift the human spirit, address social problems, and inspire a sense of culture, community, and personal engagement.”

In practice, that means that minimal infrastructure is put in place—a city literally springs from the ground and is dismantled over the course of just seven days. No books, entertainment, or corporate sponsorships are provided. Even in the heat of this remote desert, decommodification is taken seriously. Coffee and ice are sold by organizers, but otherwise there are no vendors or transactions of any kind. A “gifting economy” thrives instead, in which everything from washing stations and art installations to food stands and themed camps are provided by the community as free-of-charge “gifts” to fellow Burners.

From large-scale camps replete with bars to signature “art cars” (retrofitted mutant vehicles made to look like anything from mushroom patches to a fire-breathing octopus), Burning Man’s tendency to become a spectacle seems made for the Instagram generation. But for attendees, fur vests, disco balls and art cars are but answers to the event’s invitation to “[create] a culture of possibility” and “[become] a network of dreamers and doers.” It’s one place on Earth where you can walk into a stranger’s camp and be nourished, or take a ride in someone else’s decidedly not street legal vehicle, and know you’ll be welcomed with open arms. Tearing down boundaries isn’t the benefit, it’s the purpose.

Much like those art cars and bohemian costumes, we see bracelets as physical manifestations of this community of LOVE that we’ve fostered. Ours lives not in a remote, sun-baked strip of desert outside of Las Vegas for one week a year, but on your wrist 365 days of the year. Because the impact of your purchase on the lives of our artisans isn’t ephemeral—it’s permanent.

One much-discussed aspect of Burning Man is the inherent irony in an event centered around decommodification that requires so much money and resources to attend. One ticket is nearly $400, which doesn’t factor in cost of travel, lodging, food, and other necessities—bringing an absolute bare minimum total to closer to $1,000. For those patrons of the gifting economy (providing free-of-charge happy hours or supporting large-scale art installations), the investment can be much higher. In some ways, Burning Man has become an event for the well-resourced and well-funded.

That doesn’t detract from the value that Burning Man Project brings to their community of Burners, but it does raise questions of accessibility, ones that are constantly on our minds as a jewelry company. Supporting fairly-paid artisans and NGOs while keeping price points accessible for consumers isn’t always an easy equation. But we feel it’s a balance worth striking, because  your purchase is the match that ignites this supply chain of love around the world, and one that allows us to continue partnering with female entrepreneurs around the globe.

Critically, Love Is Project isn’t a one-way community: it’s not just fans like you that are receiving pretty bracelets made with love. We make it a point to share your photos and reviews with our community of artisans as well, to create that positive feedback loop and remind our artisans of the impact of their work on your lives. We even created a book for them, which is here if you’d like to take a look.

This is all by way of saying that a community is critically important for a sense of well-being, whether you’re seeking it from an ephemeral tent city or from a group of like-minded individuals who care about where goods come from and how they’re made. And the basis of those communities? It’s LOVE.

Burning Man Art Love Is project

Given the importance of community in our lives and yours, we’d love to hear from you: How can we better foster this sense of community? How can we better connect you with our artisans and our mission?

Xo,

Chrissie