Chicago Burner Community History
Chicago's Burning community has been growing organically and exponentially over the last decade. Brought together by a common goal - to create an avenue for all-things Burning Man in Chitown, the central states and beyond, Burning Man Chicago was forged from big fires and strange chaos. Strong alliances have formed out of the collective desire to create and sustain a tightly knit, deeply connected family. Often challenging and always inspiring, Chicago has weathered personal dynamics in order to produce 7 summer burns, 10 Christmas tree burns, 6 decompressions (including 4 urban decompressions right in the mean streets of Chicago), 6 multi-tribe, community extravaganzas known as Resonate, numerous theme camp fundraisers, found art workshops, community outreach programs and crazy Halloween parades.
Chicagoans attending The Burning Man Festival in Nevada have taken many shapes and forms over the past several years. Many have planned, traveled and camped together as existing friends and acquaintances. Others were members of west coast camps unaware of fellow Chicagoans on the playa, some attended when they once lived on the west coast and the event is a distant memory, while others are recent west coast transplants. And let’s not overlook those adventurous souls that had traveled to Burning Man on their own throughout the years.
By some accounts, the first notable profile of Chicagoans on the playa was produced by Joe Winston, the host and producer of a Chicago public access program called Joe’s Basement – Just Add Couch. Winston produced a video account of his travels to the Burning Man festival in 1997, titled Burning Man Festival.
According to some longtime active local burners, the seeds of the local Chicago community were planted in 2002 when members of The Burning Chicagoans (Camp Zonation 2000, Womb with a View 2001, WhistleWorks 2002-3-4, Camp Tanabata 2004) met up with a newly-formed group that went by the name SynchroniCity. SynchroniCity planned local burner-style events, but was not specifically interested in being the official regional Burning Man voice for Chicago. The Burning Chicagoan-SynchroniCity meetup might have been the first occurrence of fellow local burners getting together outside of their immediate circle of friends.
In 2004, a new camp emerged at Burning Man made up of locals: Bop Camp. Bop Camp was an amazing show of logistics, touting over 100 members, a majority of whom were first-time attendees. With an offer to provide shipping services to the playa, several individuals and a few camps participated in Bop Camp’s efforts, and again new relationships between local burners formed. In 2005, Bop Camp evolved into Entheon Village.
In those early days, some of the active local burners were so surprised and excited about meeting fellow Chicagoans on the playa that - back home - they made a concerted effort to help each other with work and other resources. The bonds of the network formed.
In 2005, the three major Burning Man groups - Burning Chicagoans, Entheon Village and SynchroniCity – were quite separate. No event had yet been held in which the entire community participated. “Newbies” (new or aspiring burners) would sometimes subscribe to the groups’ email lists, but were often confused, because there was no list representing a Chicago-wide burner community.
In 2005, the three Chicago regional contacts for Burning Man - Brian, Liz, and Groot - began to bring various groups together. These three regional contacts, along with many other self-starting leaders, conceived and produced a community-wide gathering of art, music, and dancing, entitled Resonate.
Resonate helped bring the different groups together, and the regional community grew. During this period, the “announce” email list grew by 30%. To this day, Resonate - along with Chiditarod, a fundraiser involving highly creative teams of urban shopping cart racers - are the single biggest annual events in the region in which large numbers of burners participate.
As the community grew, a social networking website was launched that now boasts hundreds of members:
Starting in 2006, Chicago and Detroit burners teamed up and held Sister-City “Decompression” events in Chicago and in Michigan, which take place after Burning Man both for those who attended and for those who stayed home.
Also in 2006, a Chicago-based steering committee was formed, with the intention that the committee would serve a number of functions: to help spread the decision-making responsibilities beyond the three regional contacts, to respond to the will of the community and help lead it in new directions, steward the funds raised, and form a non-for-profit organization.
Local burners were continuously organizing or participating in events during this time, such as the Chicago Looptopia event, movie nights, meet & greets, and The Green Office Challenge, a project led by the local chapter of the Burners without Borders, a group of burners focused on creatively meeting social needs.
In 2009, Bold Urban Renaissance Network, NFP (BURN) was incorporated. The steering committee formed sub-committees which perform various tasks and - more than anything - have expanded the base of community involvement and provided opportunities for leadership within the community and beyond.
Many of the Chicago area’s burner-leaders have also played a decisive role in the creation and execution of the Great Lakes Region's first official regional burn, Lakes of Fire. Lakes of Fire is co-produced with other Great Lakes Burning Man regions: Milwaukee, Western Michigan, Detroit and Toronto. This means that the network of burners who are becoming friends and creative collaborators is becoming larger and larger, extending far beyond our Chicago-land borders.
In 2010, B.U.R.N. nfp focused on completing 501(c)3 applications, expanded community outreach through monthly Meet & Greets, improved online collaboration and websites, and threw a massive Decompression art event.
In 2011, B.U.R.N. nfp received 501(c)3 recognition from the IRS!