For the second year in a row, Burning Man officials cancelled the festival due to the pandemic. Last year, hundreds of Burners gathered for an unofficial celebration on the Black Rock Playa.
For the second year in a row, Burning Man officials cancelled the festival due to the pandemic. Last year, hundreds of Burners gathered for an unofficial celebration on the Black Rock Playa.
Due to COVID, Burning Man should be less of a burden on Pershing County for the second year in a row. Burning Man Project CEO Marian Goodell said Black Rock City has been cancelled but not Burning Man and Burners are still allowed to camp on Black Rock Playa for free anytime.“We’ve made a difficult decision based on the best information available to us. We’ve decided to focus on our energy on building Black Rock City 2022,” she said in the three minute statement. “It’s too important to do half(way) so we’re doubling down on next year.”

The reaction was mixed to Goodell’s previous statement that COVID vaccine cards would be required at the festival gates and that participants might be tested for coronavirus inside the festival. Some Burners said the vaccine mandate supported the festival’s principle of “civic responsibility” while others claimed it violated their principle of “radical inclusion.”

Other concerns included less ticket sales, fewer staff and volunteers to build Black Rock City and fewer teams to provide the entertainment including theme camps, art cars and art projects.

“Building Black Rock City requires the concerted effort of thousands of dedicated staff and volunteers,” says the Burning Man website. “The COVID-19 pandemic continues to create many unresolvable challenges that put us into a position of creating something that isn’t really Black Rock City. There are simply too many points of uncertainty for us to move forward right now.”

Goodell suggested Burners organize events in their own communities and join the virtual “Burn Week” in the fall. The Bureau of Land Management told festival organizers the Black Rock Desert is open to Burners planning to camp on the playa anyway, as hundreds did last year.

“We recognize your need to be in community so we suggest that you create community,” Goodell told Burners. “Take this moment, gather together, this is the time...We’re going to celebrate Burn Week online and offline. We’ve heard the questions about the Black Rock Desert. The Bureau of Land Management has said public lands will be available all summer.”

The BLM allows “dispersed” camping on public land for up to 14 days in a 28-day period as long as it does not conflict with other authorized uses or in areas closed to camping. The rule is to “prevent damage to sensitive resources caused by continual use of any particular areas.”

Last year, Pershing County Sheriff Jerry Allen said numerous Burners camped in dispersed groups on the playa even though the festival was cancelled. Law enforcement and emergency services were required but there were no funds for those services due to the cancellation. Allen did not respond to a request for comment regarding this year’s potential non-event on the playa.

“I have been told there are about 300+ people on the playa as of yesterday morning with several more still coming in,” he told county leaders in September 2020. “They are camping in groups but smaller groups than the festival. We have already had to call out deputies to respond to person-on-person crimes and property crimes, obviously not at the same level as a normal festival year but, with our limited resources and funding, it is difficult to manage.”

This year, Goodell reminded Burners to be on their best behavior if they go to the playa.

“Show up as a responsible Burner, remember leaving no trace, civic responsibility and radical self-reliance,” she said. “This is your chance to be ambassadors for the Burning Man culture.”

Meanwhile, organizers are hosting online forums in response to criticism that the event should be more “inclusive” and “sustainable.” In the past, the majority of Burners were white. Event traffic impacts roads and playa species, burning structures throughout the event release carbon into the atmosphere and, after the festival, Burners dump trash along roads and in communities.

“Let’s bring it back in 2022, better than ever,” Goodell said. “No, we’re not cancelling Burning Man, we’re just not doing Black Rock City. Remember, we will always burn the man.”

The Burning Man website says tickets were not sold to the 2021 festival but a thousand “Invitation to the Future” reservations, at $2500 each, were available. Those with the reservations will be able to purchase tickets for the 2022 and 2023 events, if they happen.

After Goodell’s update, most of the comments posted by Burning Man supported the decision.

“Keeping event staff and everyone else safe was the right call,” A.J. Jennings wrote.

Others predicted a “non-event” could happen on the playa despite the cancellation.

“I find myself conflicted at your announcement,” RockPaperSissors wrote. “I think that your decision not to have an organized event will result in a huge, disorganized event where there is no medical infrastructure, no sanitation, etc. I feel like the org holds some responsibility and accountability toward a non-event that will no doubt happen.”