Transformation: 1996 to 2000


1996: Helco


One thing most will agree upon. 1996 was a significant year for Burning Man. People died. John Law quit. The event moved locations, returning to its home two years later. The population again had doubled, now to 8,000 and tickets cost $35.

Bruce Sterling wrote a cover story for Wired Magazine (see insert), HBO and PBS also covered the event. It was the year of the first official theme: Inferno. Love it or hate it, 1996 was an inflection point for Burning Man.


1997: Mysteria

1997 was the year that almost wasn’t for Burning Man. The event moved from the Black Rock Desert to Hualapai flat and the Fly Ranch. To find more about this move read the Spring Newsletter article “Back to the Beach.” There were political problems with Washoe County, and a fee for fire and sheriff’s protection was levied at $350,000. Press reports of County Commissioner meetings made it seem as if the event wouldn’t happen, ultimately affecting ticket sales. To make matters worse, 100% of gate ticket sales were impounded at the gate by the sheriff’s office to cover those costs. They never made their take and were onsite until Saturday afternoon. When the dust settled, there were only 10,000 participants and Burning Man was $200,000 in debt.


1998: The Nebulous Entity

Burning Man returns to Black Rock Desert, this time with numbered streets and signs on every corner. Growth has continued, and the first regional burn happens.


1999: Wheel of Time

In 1999, our theme was "The Wheel of Time," and for the first time ever, the newly-formed Art Department decided to map the art in a theme-based pattern. We created a map that represented a clock face, with the Man at the center, and twelve major installations mapped at the hour locations just off the Esplanade.

On Friday night we staged a series of performances, starting at 6 PM, at the 6:00 position. Dana Albany’s Bone Tree led participants around the clock face, where a performance awaited them every hour, on the hour. Of course by about 3AM it was freezing, and the weather put an end to our grand cavalcade of performances. We did learn, however, that arranging the art installations in some sort of logical pattern added theatrical significance and prominence to the art.

Christine "Ladybee" Kristen -Placing Art in Black Rock City