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OMCA Goes to Burning Man

OMCA Staff recount their adventures at Burning Man just in time for our newest exhibition.

OMCA Director and CEO Lori Fogarty and Deputy Director Kelly McKinley embarked on a new journey in 2018, attending Burning Man in preparation for our upcoming exhibition, No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man. As excited first-timers, they learned about Burning Man’s Ten Principles, explored the desert, and, of course, experienced incredible artwork. 

Kelly and Lori recount some of their favorite memories from the playa, and how it helped them plan for No Spectators‘ arrival this fall. 


Q: What made you decide to go to Burning Man?

Lori: For all of our exhibitions, we want to really immerse ourselves in understanding the community that’s at the root of the project. We felt that if we were going to be credible as a museum presenting this exhibition, we had to experience it. If we’re going to undertake this exhibition and speak about its relationship to OMCA’s mission, then we definitely needed to see it first-hand.


Q: Tell me about the moment when you knew “Yep, I’m definitely at Burning Man”?

Kelly (to Lori): Steam bath?
Lori (to Kelly): Yup.
Lori: Part of the expectation and ethos of Burning Man is everybody volunteers and everybody takes part in making the camp run, gifting to the community, cooking, cleaning, picking up trash (or MOOP, Matter Out Of Place, as it’s called). The whole ethos is participation. We were assigned to different volunteer duties since this was our first year, and Kelly and I staffed the steam bath the first afternoon. 

Kelly: Our neighbor camp builds and runs a 24-hour wood-fired steam bath every year on Playa — the term that Burners use to refer to the desert and Black Rock City where Burning Man takes place. Immersing oneself in steam is an amazing, cleansing experience after being out in the dust.

Lori: Kelly was the concierge as people lined up to get in, and I spritzed people with cold water as they came out.

Kelly: All ages, all genders, and everyone is just standing around naked as if they’re in line at Safeway.  It was quite the initiation to “radical participation!”


Q: Why did OMCA decide to bring this exhibition to OMCA?

Lori: Burning Man was founded in the Bay Area, and a lot of the artists are from the Bay Area, in particular, the industrial arts community in Oakland. I think what resonated with us was the Ten Principles of Burning Man, with concepts such as Participation, Civic Responsibility, Radical Inclusion, and Self-Expression. We started to understand the Principles and how similar they are to the values of OMCA. That’s where we realized it’s not just about the art that is made, it’s also about a community with deeply shared values that resonate for the Museum.

Kelly: Part of our mission is “To inspire all Californians to create a more vibrant future for themselves and their community.” The power of human imagination to be able to create that event in the desert for one week for 70,000 people, it’s a kind of utopianism. It’s very Californian in spirit and linked to what we hope people will be inspired to do when they interact with OMCA.


Q: How is our presentation of No Spectators unique?

Kelly: We’re going to have Burners in the exhibition talking to visitors. One of our goals is to create a sense of welcome and belonging for people who have never gone. Having Burners there to be able to talk to people, not just about the artwork but about the experience of being on Playa, was very important to us. 

Lori: We’re also creating a gifting workshop in the exhibition with local artists where people can make gifts and put them in plastic balls, kind of like bubble gum machines at the grocery store, and then put them in the Gift-o-Matic by ACE Monster Toys. Someone else will get your gift when they visit the exhibition. You can come and take a gift, and you can make something and leave it. The ethos of Burning Man is to give with no expectation of anything in return. Another unique aspect is our 40-foot temple by David Best, outside on our terraces here at the Museum so more akin to what you’d experience on Playa.

No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man opens on October 12 at OMCA. Tickets on sale now. Learn more about timed ticketing for No Spectators here.