Board of Supervisors President David Chiu will take a day off from his busy mayoral campaign next week to attend Burning Man, which he'll fly into on a small private airplane along with Sup. Jane Kim and spend less than 24 hours on the ground.
“For several years, I've wanted to visit the Black Rock Desert to learn about how Burning Man is building 21st Century community, creating art, and fostering sustainability,” Chiu told the Guardian after we learned about the trip from several sources.
Black Rock City LLC, the company that stages Burning Man – an arts and cultural extravaganza that began in 1986 on San Francisco's Baker Beach and now takes place in Nevada's Black Rock Desert – has long sought to woo influential city officials to the event, offering free tickets to elected officials and some board aides. With this year's move into a new Mid-Market headquarters space and creation of the new Burning Man Project nonprofit, both the LLC and City Hall have more reason than ever to seek stronger ties.
Sup. Eric Mar, who attended his first Burning Man last year, will be returning this year on his own to spent most of the week on the playa. By contrast, Chiu and Kim will fly into an airport set up at the event on the morning of Sept. 1 – accompanied by activists Sunny Angulo and Dan Nguyen-Tan, who will essentially staff them during their visit – stay in accommodations set up by supporters and the LLC, and fly out the next morning.
“It'll be a super quick trip,” Chiu said, but he says that he's excited to experience the event because, “Burning Man is an extension of our San Francisco community.”
Neither Kim nor Angulo returned calls for comment. Sources who helped set up the trip say they are trying to keep the value of the contributions to each supervisor under California's $420 limit on gifts to public officials, and that if the value of the tickets, flight, and accommodations exceed that, Kim and Chiu will pay for the difference.
Organizers of the trip were also trying to woo another mayoral candidate, Sup. John Avalos, who considered it but ultimately decided against it. “Can't pull away, what with being from a working family and with the kids and campaign and all,” he told us.
Tickets to Burning Man, which runs from Aug. 29-Sept. 5, sold out for the first time in its history this year, setting off a mad scramble for tickets that belied the event's focus on a decommodified gift economy. To deal with that escalating demand, the event is expected to grow from a population of around 52,000 this year up to 70,000 within five years.
To learn more about the event and the culture is has spawned, check out our recent guide; read my book, The Tribes of Burning Man: How an Experimental City in the Desert is Shaping the New American Counterculture; or listen to the podcast of KQED's Forum that I was on last week with event founder Larry Harvey and celebrated artist Karen Cusolito.