Reno Burners Struggling with Connection, Finding Artistic Outlets Amid COVID-19

An avid burner herself, Jayme Souza, looks into Reno’s Burning Man subculture and how some members have struggled to find outlets for art and creativity as well as connection with others during the ongoing pandemic.

Burning Man’s 2020 ticket stub sent out to those who purchased tickets prior to the cancellation of last year’s event. Photo Credit: Jayme Souza

Missing the Collaboration

Niki Newbold and Nick Parkey are two friends, as well as fellow burners and campmates.

Having been immersed in the culture and going to the event nearly every year since 2007, 2020 would have been Niki’s twelfth year at Burning Man.

Taking years off here and there prior to 2020, Niki didn’t find the cancellation of the event to be too detrimental in itself. The struggle for her community of burners since then is another matter entirely.

“It’s really affecting everyone’s ability to get together and Burning Man’s built on large art and collaboration and it’s taken away that ability to have that spark, and that fire that’s ignites between people with being more distant. You know, it’s not just the art, it’s not just the party, it’s the community, it’s all about togetherness, and all of this makes it a lot harder to access that.”

One wall in Niki’s home dedicated is to Burning Man, including tickets, stickers, gifts and other trinkets collected during previous editions. Photo Credit: Jayme Souza

Lacking the Usual Recharge

Despite only going to Burning Man once in 2019, Nick Parkey has been a part of the Burning Man music scene personally and worked in Reno’s music and event industry for the past ten years.

Nick feels similarly, in that, all the means of in-person communication have been taken away from our community and stripped us of our creativity through togetherness.

“We’d always go to the club and there might be someone painting, or having an art event mixed with music, and that’s where everyone gets together and shares their art,” he said.

He also said that aside from the obvious repercussions of the lockdowns of bars and clubs on the music scene in particular, it seems as though people are making less and less art and music the longer the restrictions persist. “I think Burning Man is a huge part of the local culture here, despite its worldwide reach and with it being cancelled this past year it really left a lot of artists without a big project to do. It’s a recharge for many people, professionals especially where they can really let loose and it left a lot of people feeling left out of their community this year.”

The Ten Principles of Burning Man, many of which are brought back home by the Reno Burning Man community.

Uncertainties About the Next Edition

This lack of connection and expression has been something the Burning Man community in Reno has been dealing with for almost a year now, with no clear end in sight. Mid-February is typically the time that burners update their profiles on burningman.org and register for ticket sales that begin in early April, but this year it’s unsure if the event will even happen at all.

Dealing with the customary pushback from the Bureau of Land Management, lack of funding due to cancelling the event in 2020 and the seemingly never-ending pandemic, organizers have yet to make a concrete statement as to whether they will hold the event or not later this summer.

One thing is sure, however, which is that there will be a turnout to Black Rock City during the last week of August, put on officially or not. Last year during the weekend the man was set to burn, there was a gathering on the Playa that, much to the delight of long-time burners, resembled the early days of Burning Man in the Nevada desert — something which many hope to see happen again this year if the official event is called off again.

Reporting by Jayme Souza for the Reynolds Sandbox

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Showcasing innovative and engaging multimedia storytelling by students with the Reynolds Media Lab in Reno.