Q&A with Harley K. Dubois from Burning Man

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Harley K. Dubois is the co-founder and Chief Transition Officer of the Burning Man event

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Photo by Ales Aka Dust To Ashes

Self-expression, community co-operation and a leave-no-trace policy are some of the main ingredients in the Burning Man festival.

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Photo by Pete Slingland

The Black Rock Desert of Nevada turns into a playground for trial-and-error approaches and experiments.

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Photo by Will Roger

The Burning Man event in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada, America.

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Photo by Ricochet

In Black Rock City, people are encouraged to participate by making, designing and creating everything from interactive sculptures and mutant vehicles.

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Photo by Scott London

The Burning Man event turns the temporary community into a playground.

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Photo by Scott Williams

The Burning Man event includes a wide variety of art every year.

Published
03.11.2015

During the RISING Architecture Week in Copenhagen in September, we sat down and had a talk with keynote speaker Harley K. Dubois, who is the co-founder of one of the first creative maker events – the Burning Man event in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada, America.

First held in 1986, making it the bedrock of the maker culture, Burning Man is described as an experiment in community and art, known for its temporary city, Black Rock City, where over 70,000 people gather from the last Monday of August to the first Monday of September. Self-expression, community co-operation and a leave-no-trace policy are some of the main ingredients in the event, which includes a wide variety of art every year.

In Black Rock City, people are encouraged to participate by making, designing, building and creating everything from installations and furniture pieces to interactive sculptures and mutant vehicles, turning the temporary community into a playground for trial-and-error approaches and experiments. People become more creative this way, according to Harley K. Dubois.

DANISH™: What is the primary strength of temporary communities, like the one at Burning Man?

Harley K. Dubois: The strength is that you can experiment and do something that might fail, trying it on for size. The temporary nature gives you the opportunity not to have the pressure to create something immediately perfect. If you start temporary, you can always move to permanent.

You can test anything; you have more minds to draw on when co-creating, so developing a better solution to whatever the problem might be.

In temporary communities, you simply find better answers to questions and have the freedom to try without pressure.

DANISH™: One of the ten principles behind Burning Man is radical self-expression. Why is self-expression so important?

Harley K. Dubois: Radical self-expression is an easy stepping stone to some of the deeper places we need to go in human relationships – both in the community and in personal relationships. It is about having the confidence and being free to tell everyone who you are. And once you do that, people’s walls come down and it becomes easier to have frank conversations triggered by real emotions and real thoughts. It is all about finding your true creative self. For me, it is exciting and liberating. If you are vulnerable yourself, other people will be vulnerable too. Or if you are expressing who you truly are, people will say, ‘I resonate with that’ or ‘I do not like that; why do you do that?’

DANISH™: What can architects and designers learn from Burning Man?

Harley K. Dubois: I think that more-equal status among professionals would be helpful. Some professionals believe too much in hierarchy. I believe in hierarchy too, but not hierarchy to make somebody feel good – only enough hierarchy. The generation of professionals growing up now is aware of this and that is positive.

Today, everyone can see that every contribution is valuable. Some contribute more than others, but everyone is valuable. The best solutions will always be found by having the most voices heard.

DANISH™: How can Danes become more creative and participative – what is the main ingredient in building a successful maker culture?

Harley K. Dubois: It starts with children. I believe that the Danish education system is better than the public school system in America. Schoolchildren in America do not have the freedom to experiment physically to understand things that they have been taught. If you are given the confidence to experiment, you can figure out almost everything later in life, because you have become a maker. You know, humans are makers. That is why we have thumbs – we are supposed to make.

It is important to hold on to the practical aspect of education, when technology is making education more digital these days. Kids still need to learn how to use their hands, and to solve challenges without the help of technology. I believe that makes them creative – to think and create with their hands.