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Lessons From The Playa: Burning Man Founder Michael Mikel

Holly Hutchings
Michael Mikel joined Burning Man in the very early days and has seen the festival change and grow in his 30+ years of involvement. He says Burning Man is built to endure the evolution well.

Michael Mikel is a co-founder of Burning Man, the international anti-establishment festival in the desert, and has been involved since 1988. He still attends and has a small camp on the outskirts of the playa, where he says it feels more like the Burning Man of the early days; fewer people and a clear view of the expansive desert canvas. Ideas of the festival’s future come more freely to him there. He says they’ve developed systems that allow the organization to change and live on long after he and the other originators are gone. Our reporter Holly Hutchings sat down with Mikel to talk Burning Man.

To Burning Man co-founder Michael Mikel, the effects the week-long festival in the blistering August heat last long after the playa dust is washed away.

“Burning Man teaches a very diverse group of people how to live in a community together,” Mikel said. “And they go back to where they came from and they change in some way, to start living their life they way that they should be. To enjoy it more.”

Mikel says the inhospitable and harsh city they create from scratch two hours north of Reno is the perfect place for growth. And the radical ideals gleaned on the barren desert, like participation and communal effort, don’t discriminate.

“At Burning Man, you’ll find cowboys and rocket scientists working together side-by-side on an art project,” Mikel said. “I think that’s something people learn out there with such a diverse community. I think part of it is the harshness of the environment. There’s heat. There’s cold at night. There can be these tremendous dust storms. But there’s a common sense of bonding that the environment brings people together.”

Burning Man lasts from August 25 to September 3.

Holly Hutchings is a former reporter at KUNR Public Radio.
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