Burning Man Talks Netherlands & Where The Sheep Sleep Festival

Burning Man in Nevada
Jim Rankin/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Burning Man in Black Rock Desert, Nev. 

Last week, a Dutch publication wrote a story about Where The Sheep Sleep, the inaugural event from the Burning Man Netherlands, which will happen in the country next month on a nature reserve. Though this was the first time Burning Man’s new Netherlands affiliate got attention in the media, the festival had actually announced its new Dutch wing in a blog post on May 18.

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Billboard Dance caught up with Megan Miller, Burning Man’s communications director, to speak about the growth of Burning Man over the years, how the connection developed with the Dutch Burners, and the first edition of Where The Sheep Sleep.

How does Burning Man Netherlands differ from the festival’s other affiliated regional events?

It’s not a new thing for us to have events all around the world. The longest running one is in Texas, called Flipside outside of Austin. The largest one is in South Africa, it’s called AfrikaBurn. Some of the other longest running ones are in New Zealand and Australia, and some of the fastest growing ones are in Israel and Japan. What’s new is that this affiliate in the Netherlands has created itself using the name Burning Man Netherlands.

Why did they get to use the name?

The conversation started a couple of years ago with this group of Dutch Burners who are very engaged and involved and organized. They put together a proposal for us and we’ve been working with them for a couple of years on that proposal. They’re the first ones to organize in that way and to ask. We really think there’s a lot of value in Burning Man events taking on their own unique flavor and name and being true to the cultural context in which they grow. That’s always been our approach. We don’t necessarily need to see the Burning Man name used in these events around the world, because it’s really rich for them to take on their own unique flavor. With this one, it wasn’t just about the event that they’re producing, it’s also about the non-profit that they’ve created and the work that it will do year round in the Netherlands to cultivate culture and secure funding for the arts and do civic engagement projects. It’s much bigger than just this event. They put together the proposal, and we’re really doing it as an experiment to see what is possible.

Do those other affiliated events you mentioned have to do something officially to connect with you?

There’s hundreds, if not thousands, of events that are inspired by Burning Man. There’s a difference between an inspired event – you could even say festivals like Lightning in a Bottle would fall within that category – versus an official event. In order to qualify you have follow a number of different stipulations and there’s a contract involved and you have to conduct your event in the spirit of the ten principles. There can’t be anything bought or sold. There’s a number of different requirements.

It starts with a regional contact tasked with managing Burning Man culture in your area – a Facebook group, an email list. You facilitate engagement, whether that’s a meet-up at a bar once a month or a full-on multi-day camping event. Usually an area will have one or two or three of those before they produce a larger scale event.

Do you worry about the dilution that can come with expansion?

That’s why we’ve taken a really measured approach to growth over the last thirty years. Some might feel like Burning Man has grown fast, but actually, 1986 is when we started. 1990 is when we were in the desert. The original network has taken 20 years to the point where it’s at today. It’s growing in a very sustainable way, in a way that allows us to keep the culture intact, in a way that allows the principles to flourish. We absolutely are aware and intentional about how we do that and the relationships that we develop and the regional contacts that we select and the events that get the official designation. It’s an active conversation.

What kind of non-profit activities will the Netherlands’ group be doing?

They’re really going to act as a nexus for community projects, regional events, and civic activation efforts. They’ll be in their geographic location more than say, the Burning Man Project can from here.

And there’s an oversight aspect?

Yes, our CEO has a seat on their board of directors. We wanted it to feel collaborative, but we want to have input. We have a very open dialog, and they’ve been very open to our feedback so far.

What can you say about Where The Sheep Sleep?

It’s gonna start smaller than 1,000 people, so pretty small scale. It’s taking place on a nature reserve, and we will have participants from the Burning Man organization at the event. Were excited.

Are there goals you feel like the new event needs to meet?

Same as our other regional events .we hope to see people really celebrating and honoring the ten principles. That would mean that it feels radically inclusive and there’s lot of opportunities to participate. It’s a "leave no trace" event, so people are taking care of the land around them. there’s not certain milestones we’re trying to reach. I’d be surprised if anyone thought they were gonna grow their event to the scale that ours is. I don’t think that’s the intention.