Burning Man Table of Contents

Don't vandalize the art at Burning Man

Reprinted with permission from Jack Rabbit Speaks


Over the last several years, Burning Man has seen a disturbing trend growing in Black Rock City: more and more art installations are getting vandalized or damaged every year, including everything from tagging to outright destruction.

Artists work exceptionally hard to create artwork for the playa at great personal expense. Understandably, they are deeply affected when their work is destroyed or damaged & and participants who would have otherwise experienced the piece as it was intended are also affected. While some participants may see vandalism as their personal form of "radical self-expression," ultimately, personal expression needs to be tempered by the realities of co-existing within a community, which requires mutual respect to thrive.

Please help us spread the word: if you didn't make it, don't break it! Help stop mindless vandalism to artwork on the playa.

Some of the artists tell their stories below, in a letter to our community from Kate Raudenbush, who created the Guardian of Eden last year. We reprint them for you here, in the hopes that their words speak more persuasively than any missive we could craft. We know that most JRS readers are unlikely to be the culprits of vandalism; we hope you will help by taking time to share in watching out for the artwork in our city.

Kate writes:

"Dear Burning Man family,

My fellow artists and I were comparing stories and notes about our creative efforts from the 2007 Burn. As wonderful as this year was, we all noticed a disturbing pattern of behavior that has grown over the years and seemed to come to a climax this year. I am talking about the vandalism, tagging, willful destruction, and deliberate arson of our artwork. It made me think that some of us come to Burning Man and don't really get what it's about. Some people seem to think that the expressive freedom that you are afforded at Burning Man can come at the expense of others. It doesn't work that way. With freedom comes respect: tagging, breaking, burning, pissing on our art is an act of disrespect, not creativity.

Some people might think that tagging is some form of radical act of 'stickin' it to the man' but in this case you are sticking it to your own family. You have no idea how hard we work making this art for you, yes, YOU. We don't get paid to do this; we do it because we love it. Months of work, sometimes the better part of a year's worth, is destroyed in a few minutes, and entire teams of artists and builders are devastated. Here are a few examples (there are many more):

'Three people loaded on to the front of the sculpture while some guy grabbed the end of the tail and repeatedly jerked it up and down until the tail buckled and broke off.'
- Bryan Tedrick, Artist

Museum of Reused Items
'On Monday night the entire exterior of the structure was ruined basically by the ugliest bulls**t tagging you've ever seen in your life. I knew this would happen to some extent, but I was still devastated when I saw it. I hadn't even been able to take hi-res pics of it before it happened. I was down in the dumps for days. Some of the a**holes who f**ked it up even put their playa addresses. Can you believe that?'
- Treiops, Artist

Guardian of Eden
'The glowing mirrored light fixture above was stepped on, then fixed, then not 24 hours later crushed beyond repair, the vandal leaving their underwear and trash and cigarettes in the broken mirrored dome afterwards. The sculpture light was ruined for everyone for the weekend of the burn. Also, some one set up their personal hammock between the lower legs and lounged there all afternoon creating a bend in the metal where it was attached.'
- Kate Raudenbush, Artist

America Empowering the World ... Again
'Early Sunday morning my futuristic Statue of Liberty had become a 10' cinder; my trailer, generator, scaffold and all of my tools were bent, melted and mangled wreckage. The arsonist(s) had dragged the generator to the trailer, removed the gas cap and dumped it upside down on top. A spent, pocket-sized butane canister lay among the wreckage. I welcome any evidence from the community. It has seriously affected my ability to support myself as a carpenter, and to express myself through my artwork.'
- Matthew Welter, Artist

'The metal skin of the sculpture was heavily damaged by people trying to climb it. It was clearly not intended to be climbed.' - Michael Christian, Artist

Big Rig Jig
'Just hours after the piece was opened, the crew smelled spray paint and caught a guy tagging the base of the sculpture. He said he thought it was ok because it was the base! The crew refrained from strangling him, and instead made him clean off the paint and succeeded in educating him as to how devastating tagging is to the artists.'
- Mike Ross, Artist

Burning Man is not just a party in the desert. It is a community, a family & and a sacred, absurd, erotic, liberating, empowering, humbling, enormous, ecstatic canvas of possibility. That is why we are part of this community. We all need to realize how special that is and celebrate, teach, and live it, not destroy it. As artists we build art not just for us, but as a gift, for you. This is our act of gifting to the community. And we love sharing it with you; this is why it hurts so much when this act of generosity is taken for granted and vandalized. I know that we as a community are better than this. Please spread the word. Taggers: Feel free to tag YOUR OWN ART! Build a wall and have at it. But please respect the art of others.

- Kate Raudenbush"

This is not the official Burning Man site. That Web site is located at Burning Man.