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Milwaukee Group Makes Impact at Nation’s Strangest Festival

by Eric Griswold

In the aftermath of the 9-11 tragedy with its new restrictions on freedoms, there is one haven of freedom still going strong. It’s the Burning Man Festival, and it’s held every fall in the Nevada desert. Extensively covered by Time, Wired, and CNN, the week-long gathering attracts more than 25,000 participants to its “experiment in temporary community.” Within days they build the fourth largest city in Nevada, Black Rock City, a fanciful blend of extreme art, innovative technology, and radical self-expression. There are laser beams, Mad Max cars and costumes of light. There are robots, fire sculptures and interactive art. It began nearly 15 years ago with a few dozen people on a beach in San Francisco. Today it’s a city with two daily newspapers, a dozen radio stations, a fire service, volunteer security force, Department of Public Works, and even a DMV (Department of Mutant Vehicles) which “licenses” the dozens of “art cars” at the Festival. When it’s all over, the city is dismantled and every scrap taken off the desert. There might seem little connection between such a decidedly “left-coast” event and stolid Midwestern Milwaukee. But a local group has been gaining influence at the festival, and has created a related arts organization here in the city. It is called the BurningSnow center for the ExperiMENTAL arts, devoted to bringing a distinct Midwestern voice to this important event. They have already organized groups from all over central North America to form Snowflake Village, one of perhaps ten official Theme Villages at the Festival. “We didn’t think it right that Midwest artists should miss out on this incredible opportunity,” said Eric Griswold, Director of the BurningSnow center. “It’s the chance of a lifetime to work with some of the most creative people on the planet, to visit a place where the line between art and technology blurs and melts away. So we set up Snowflake Village, designed to let visitors from our area get a toehold at Burning Man. “I really think that Burning Man is one of the most important artistic and cultural events going on in the world today. And I say this having documented events from all around the world. There’s nowhere else you can find that critical mass of raw creativity as well as the desire to make practical solutions for the future.” In addition, he says, the Midwest has a lot to give back. “Our culture is a practical culture. Every Utopia needs its share of practicality in order to survive, and our insights really help out there. Our goal is to make it easier for local artists to get out there…so we do rideshare, information share, and provide a place friendly to first-timers.” Eric says, “There’s a lot more going on in Milwaukee than most people imagine. It’s just that artists from Milwaukee tend to be quieter about it. Maybe it’s just that legendary Midwest modesty or something.” Check out the BurningSnow Center at www.clevian.com/snowflake.htm Riverwest Currents – Volume 1 – Issue 8 -September 2002
by Eric Griswold