You may have heard of “Burning Man,” the iconic event in Nevada’s isolated Black Rock Desert that sees a temporary city of 80,000 rise from the dust. For eight days starting in late August, the alkali flats pulse with a cacophony of sound, art installations and at the end, a towering wooden sculpture of a man on fire. Then it all vanishes without a trace. Now there’s a way for the whole family to get a glimpse into this phenomenon at the High Desert Museum in Bend — Oregon’s high desert, about 360 miles northwest.
Called “Infinite Moment: Burning Man on the Horizon,” the interactive, family-friendly exhibit (open Feb. 1 to Oct. 4, 2020) explains the spectacularly unique and wildly imaginative culture of Burning Man since its inception nearly 40 years ago, with art installations, borrowed artifacts and photo displays from past festivals.
“For the museum, exploring the unique art, culture and community of an event so centered in the high desert was a natural fit,” says Heidi Hagemeier, communications director at the museum, which has been sharing the art, culture, history, science and natural worlds of the high desert since 1982. Beloved by young and old alike, the museum lets visitors spy raptors swooping overhead one minute and then consider the work of a contemporary indigenous artist like Rick Bartow the next.
Here’s how to get a glimpse into the transformational event known as Burning Man in this new, original exhibit, supported in part by the nonprofit Burning Man Project. DayGlo paint, goggles, and bandanas are welcome but not required.
Interact with the Art
Inside the High Desert Museum’s exhibition gallery, art pieces invite visitors to play, explore and interact with others — much like at Burning Man itself. The concept of art that is truly hands-on is core to the Burning Man experience. One piece, called “Light Chimes,” reacts to movement with lights and sounds. Another original creation is a vehicle inspired by Burning Man’s giant, elaborately built “mutant vehicles” — resembling a dragon or sea creature or pirate ship, for instance — that adds to the surreal atmosphere. The artist-created vintage vehicle lets visitors interact with the car inside and out in surprising ways. Another piece is a modified art bike with a bench seat, which one person pedals to recreate the sensation of biking across the playa. Members of the local Burning Man community have collaborated on some of the exhibit’s artwork, as well.
Delve Into Burning Man Culture
Part of the magic of the art that attendees bring to Burning Man is the fact that there is an immense effort that goes into each intricate art piece, only to be dismantled or burned after the week’s festivities. At the end of the event, the entire temporary city is taken down and left spotless, following one of Burning Man’s 10 Principles, Leaving No Trace. Similarly, visitors to Oregon follow Leave No Trace principles when recreating outside — staying on trails, picking up after pets, leaving places cleaner than they found them and respecting all trail users and wildlife, among other practices. In addition, Bend visitors have their own “Pledge for the Wild,” an initiative to help keep the region’s wild spaces pristine for all to enjoy.
Stimulate the Senses
There is never a quiet moment at Black Rock City (the home of the Burning Man event), whether it’s drumming in the distance or techno next door to your campsite. Although electronic music is the dominant form, you might find everything from live country to orchestral music. In the High Desert Museum’s exhibit, light is especially key, and visitors can get a sense of the nighttime festival experience through arrays of moving lights and sounds. Various art installations encourage visitors to interact with them in whimsical ways.
Perhaps the ultimate way to stimulate the senses is to engage with the community. When you build a city from scratch in the desert, neighbors become essential and everyone pitches in. If you have something you can give, there is someone who needs it. Just as Burning Man attendees have an insatiable curiosity and appetite for adventure, visitors to the High Desert Museum tend to as well.
If You Go:
Look for special events, such as artist speakers, to be scheduled during the exhibit’s run, from Feb. 1 to Oct. 4, 2020. You can easily spend an entire day exploring at the High Desert Museum, and after hours of fun grab a bite at the onsite Rimrock Cafe. There are picnic tables outside if you choose to pack your lunch. The museum is open daily except for Independence Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Check out their website for rates and hours, and find more inspiration for Winter Trips in Central Oregon.