PhilamonjaroMy friend, Philamonjaro, is one of the most networked, likable people I know. We worked together when I first came to Chicago, and he is responsible for introducing Handsome Hunk and me to the Burning Man experience. He’s an entrepreneur, an artist and a great friend!

Philamonjaro, how many times have you been to Burning Man?

Eleven times, 1999 was the first year. I heard about Burning Man in the fall 1996 issue of Wired magazine and wanted to go from that point on. Up until then I had been going to Bumbershoot Arts & Music Festival in downtown Seattle. In 1998 my friends, Pat & Debbie, had just come back from Burning Man (it was their honeymoon) and said they were returning the next year. I asked to go along and the rest, as they say, is history. This was the beginning of many great friendships and more fun memories than I ever could have predicted.

Other than the increasing attendance, how has BM changed over the years?

Now there’s a huge emphasis on the regional network (formed around 2003) and more year-around activities off the playa. There were barely any art cars in 1999. Much more national media coverage now, more independent DVD releases and books, more pop-culture references in TV comedy and a much broader base of attendees than just the San Francisco bay area/west coast. Burning Man is now in the pop-culture conscience. Back in 1999 it seemed like a creative incubation from the San Francisco bay area being held in the permissive wild west of Nevada.

What is it that attracts you to the event?

It’s the large-scale, collaborative outsider art that reminds me that I too can be creative even if I do not have a career as an Burning Man 2005 088artist. And of course the huge group of diverse friends from all over the globe, mad-science, steam-punks and fire art. It’s a festival that treats itself as a city. And the humor! Oh, and all that dust.

Has your experience evolved?

Yes, in a big way. It was very overwhelming at my first Burn. I wanted to see everything and party through the whole week. It rekindled my creative bone with a sledgehammer. The event helped me see more possibilities. Over time my participation really helped me not care about being an outsider—knowing that I have found my peeps, the crazy fringe that really isn’t as fringe as the mainstream would like us to believe. More recently it has been about community, using art as a way to share the best of what we have to offer to each other, and a certain reckless excitement about actively creating and sharing arts.

Can you remember one jaw-dropping moment that has stayed with you?

Well there are many so I’ll stick to just a few. In 2007 watching from a 1/4 mile away the Crude Awaking installation unleash god-knows how many pounds of liquid propane in a mushroom cloud of fire I conservatively estimate to have been 350-400 feet high. David Best’s Temple in 2004 was an estimated 1/4 mile long art installation. And the Temple of Gravity in 2003, plus the  story about how Burners Without Borders got started. On a subtler note, participants of all ages and walks of life come together to create a temporary community with everyone  getting along for the most part.

Any advice to someone who hasn’t gone yet but is interested?

Do it! I hear so many people say, ‘”someday I want to go,” but they don’t. There is a certain temporary quality about all the things that line up to make Burning Man happen. Just maybe it will all end—over, no more! And like a sand mandala, all the years of work will be blown away in the wind. Life is temporary, experiences are even more temporary. You may miss out one of the greatest experiments in art and community we will ever have a chance to participate in shaping. Before going, plug into your local/regional burning man community, meet people, ask questions, get involved, take a risk, start a project. It’s a year-round community and a great way to get your feet wet, er…dusty beforehand.

Burning Man 2005 061Anything else you want to share with us?

Burning Man is what you make it. The more you work on your projects(small or large)/gifts/preparations/costumes/camp, the more you will get out of it. Plug in to other burners in your local area, it’s generally great fun with like-minded creative people. Read the survival guide. Learn about the festival’s 10 principles. And remember, dust is a condiment.


Thanks Philamonjaro, regional co-contact for Chicago!  At the very least, I recommend that you checkout the Burning Man site for wonderful photos and information about the 2010 event.

Note: The Burning Man photos in this article are the property of Lia and are not the installations/projects referenced in this article. You may be able to find those photos on the Burning Man site.