The Phoenix and The Man

I posted a comment on SFist yesterday, regarding a rant that SFist had on Burning Man. The comment was a rather limp agreement with what they were saying, and I wanted to write more about what seems to be going on at Burning Man.

First of all, I have to state that I have never been to Burning Man. I have really wanted to go each year, and each year something has made it at the least awkward, and at the most impossible to go. I am fascinated by the art that is shown there, and each year I spend a lot of time perusing photos of what was there (this year I?m sure I?ll be living vicariously through My Friend Flikr). I just love the idea of building big art, and doing it just to get it seen.

That said, a few years ago there was an editorial I read somewhere (one of the weeklies I think) where the idea was put forward that San Francisco would be much better served if all of those artists, instead of spending time and energy and money to take the art to Black Rock, would put that energy to use making and showing art here, instead.

Yes, of course, there are plenty of post-burn events where what came back from the desert is shown, but that?s always an afterthought, and the best stuff usually can?t be reproduced here once it has been packed out to Nevada, standing up to several sandstorms and the burn itself, and then carted back.

It got me thinking about what could happen if all that energy was put to use here, turning San Francisco into a public art center for a few days, with huge sculptures and public performances.

And that got me to thinking about where one would do such an event. This was just after the bust of the dotcoms and there were all of these empty spaces everywhere. In particular I noticed all of the empty lots that lie around this city, and I wondered what it would take to create some sort of city-wide large-scale art event using the various vacant lots in the city.

This was several years ago, and today many of those vacant lots remain vacant, as do many of the office and shop spaces around town. There is one on Noriega and 25th or 26th Avenue that has been vacant for as long as I can remember, and I can just imagine putting some big twisted piece of sculpture there, for all to see, and how much better the neighborhood would be with something like this.

The Phoenix
has long been a symbol of San Francisco. Long before the earthquake and fire of 1906, San Francisco rose from its own ashes several times. Because of this the Seal of the City, which was first adopted in 1852, depicts a phoenix.

I thought that the phoenix would be the perfect symbol for such an art festival. It represents the city rebuilding after the economic fall post-dotcom. It represents art rising from the ashes of the burned man, bringing the wonder and beauty out of the desert. After reading about the ?We Have a Dream? petition and the Borg2 experiment, it seems to me that bringing something to this city out of the ashes of the man is more than just a metaphor.

So what I imagined was the San Francisco Phoenix Arts Festival, where artists around the city build sculptures and art installations in vacant lots. Maps are made available of all the vacant lots around the city that host the art, and folks travel from neighborhood to neighborhood to see it.

Now, again I have never been to Burning Man, and I still want to go someday (this year is again, not the year), but I would much rather participate in something that brings some magic back to this city. I have no idea how to go about creating such a festival, nor do I think I would be good at that sort of organization. I haven?t the first idea about what sort of permits, waivers, insurance, and permissions this sort of festival would need, and the rest of the logistics are well beyond me. Still the idea excites me.

Anyone want to try it?

One thought on “The Phoenix and The Man

  1. Jon says:

    Hey JTony,

    As the one who posted the rant, I’m glad you picked up on one of my complaints. For all this talk about great artwork and all the talent and passion brought forth to it, it does seem like a bit of a waste if it all goes to something that gets torn down in a week or two. It’s, well, a bit masturbatory. It’s a lot of talent, passion, and energy going to, well, waste in a way. Would our arts scene by totally hopping if all that energy went into creating that art scene here?

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