Our culture encourages consumption of passive entertainment. Even when we escape the home, we attend events where everything is guided for us — we are either audience or performer, spectator or creator. We pay money to passively watch music events, theater, movies, and so on, always knowing the limits of our role. At other festivals, paid entertainers play while others consume, not only limiting the creativity of most attendees but also setting a value on involvement, whereby some people are ‘official’ or ‘professional’ and others strictly amateur.
When speaking of an attendee of an event in the Burn community, one does not refer to a visitor, ticket holder, viewer, audience or spectator but of a Participant. A Burn is part concert, part dance party, part fashion show, and part art gallery but these things happen because of the efforts of those who attend. A Burner fashion show typically consists not of outside models, but of individual Burners showing off their finest outfits, often acquired freely through the gift economy. Though there are art grants, they often require addirtional fundraising by artists and the creations themselves are often participatory, encouraging viewers to push buttons, turn levers, write, draw or otherwise interact. Musicians perform not because they are paid, but because they made their own way to the event (or were paid to come by the fundraising efforts of other participants).
Though That Thing in the Desert has a limited number of year-round, paid employees, all events are almost entirely run by volunteer labor. Though the BMORG (or its local equivalent) may deal with the hurdles of ticketing and permitting, it is participants who build the temporary city, from its airport and post office to its nightclubs and pancake camps. Participation breaks through the filters that keep people separate and plunges the one into the many and the immediacy of the experience. Participants look at Burn events as a chance to push boundaries, try new things, and expand personal horizons through experience.
Greeters often ask new arrivals what they plan to give; No Spectators is one of the community’s rallying cries. Many have experienced the rush of looking around at the wild debauchery of Burn Night and realizing they helped create that moment through their hard work. Some can afford to volunteer year-round for their community, others give much less. The Burnier-than-thou often judge other Burners on the degree of their involvement, overlooking the many kinds of participation — a concert is just a private jam session without an audience and a DJ is pointless without people to listen or dance.
From Kit O’Connell’s amazing Burner Lexicon! http://kitoconnell.com/writing/lexicon