As The Burning Man Journal announced on April 10, instead of building the real Black Rocky City in Nevada’s desert of the same name in August, the festival will move online. Organizers have already set up a virtual Black Rock City (VBRC, accessible here) where burners and the public alike can check out this year’s Multiverse-themed festival installations.
Although Black Rock City is an impressive feat of urban planning—so much so that books have been written about the meticulous calculous involved—cramming 80,000 campers into an area the size of a sliver of Midtown Manhattan would have been suboptimal for preventing the spread of communicable disease. In the same article, the festival organizers explained that they had previously hoped that the festival could go on as scheduled due to the multitude of stakeholders, artists, organizers, participants, and municipal planning involved with each Burning Man. However, other than COVID-19, it seems that the festival this year also faced additional restrictions from the Bureau of Land Management (Black Rock Desert is a national conservation area with strict requirements about what festivalgoers can do and bring on-site).
“Beyond our concerns about the coronavirus, new impositions and unnecessary cost requirements from the Bureau of Land Management have seriously threatened the viability of producing Black Rock City in the Black Rock Desert. If Black Rock City is to be built on public lands in the future, we have significant challenges to overcome with the BLM.”
The virtual version of the “Playa”, VBRC, will be available to access for a fee—and participants still need to reserve tickets—and Burning Man organizers have estimated that they’ll see attendance around 100,000 this year as a result. Whatever form the digital festival takes, it will, unfortunately, preclude the construction of some of the monumental pavilions and open-air art pieces Burning Man is famous for. Although there won’t be an Empyrean temple or BIG-designed sort-of mirrored ball going up this year, an in-person meetup event could still be scheduled for the first half of 2021 if coronavirus conditions improve and stay-at-home orders are lifted.