It’s in the middle of the desert, in the middle of nowhere, hot as hell, and so much dust that I haven’t experienced since my days in the army. It’s pretty fair to say that 350 days out of the year, you wouldn’t run into a single living being out there.
At first glance, the distance between Burning Man and any urban community is vast. What exactly could the connection be between Burning Man and a neighborhood in New York City, Berlin or Tel Aviv? Actually, there’s a lot.
For participants, Burning Man is many things: a space for creativity and self-expression, a time of discovery and rediscovery, an opportunity to inspire and be inspired. It’s a temporary city built for an experimental community, but beyond that dry definition, at its heart it’s a rich and vibrant experiment in community-building. It’s a city put up in the middle of the desert for 7 days, with 80,000 participants whose only thing in common is a belief in a culture that’s based on ten essential principles. It’s a fascinating culture that actually redefines the power of community.
What’s it like?
I vividly remember the sense of inspiration I experienced the first time I landed in the crazy salt desert for Burning Man – I remember it clearly, because it’s the same feeling I experienced the day I encountered Venn. Although they are technically worlds apart, I felt an immediate kinship between Burning Man and Venn.
“The best way to understand and experience the culture of Burning Man is to actively take part in it”
The best way to understand and experience the culture of Burning Man is to actively take part in it. It’s a phenomenon where participation leads to inspiration, which leads to participation, which leads to further inspiration. These experiences create strong, healthy relationships between participants. More than an event, Burning Man is a community forged and actively created by community members, for community members. It’s a model that we ascribed to when I was one of the co-founders of Midburn, the Israeli version of Burning Man. It meant that we, the ‘organizers’, stayed behind the scenes, serving as a platform to support the endeavor and the community.
Burning Man and the city
For over two decades, I’ve been investigating and experiencing the world of communities in my professional and personal life. Midburn was one of those communities that I became part of, a vibrant community that grew organically out of a shared a belief in an inspirational culture.
About a year ago, I came to understand that one of the major challenges was how to embrace this type of culture in daily life in the city. How could we develop a culture with a sense of inspiration and participation in our day-to-day communities in a city? How can we foster this strong sense of community and encourage people to actively participate in their communities, in order to improve them and make the world a better place? These are the questions that led me to Venn.
The culture of Venn
A culture that is based on the principle of participation is one that can bring about momentum and change through active experience and ‘doing’. That’s the culture that I so appreciated in Burning Man and Midburn, and that is the culture that I saw reflected in the values of Venn. Active participation, and its power to foster positive impact for communities and neighborhoods, has been essential to my own personal journey. And these are the same values that drive my partners at Venn.
It’s been one year since I started working with Venn, and I’m very happy to admit that the principles at the heart of Venn are indeed producing vibrant, participatory communities year-round in diverse urban settings. I experience it personally in our Venn community in Shapira, Tel Aviv, and I see it in our other communities in Brooklyn and Berlin. Community-led dinners, art exhibits, concerts, volunteer activities, and more – these are concrete evidence of our members’ dedication to reimagining urban community through active participation and creation.
“Venn is a platform for people to forge real human connections and meaningful participation and to live with creativity and intention in their day-to-day lives, so they can learn about themselves, express their identities and make the city a better place to live in.”
Venn is a platform for people to forge real human connections and meaningful participation and to live with creativity and intention in their day-to-day lives, so they can learn about themselves, express their identities and make the city a better place to live in. I’m confident that the way of the future lies in communities such as ours and in organizations like Venn that operate according to the principle of the ‘double bottom line’ – with a focus on social and economic impact.
Burning Man refers to itself as a city created by its citizens who are active participants. We are a neighborhood that lives by the same sentiment. Some might say “If you build it, they will come.” As we like to say at Venn, “If they build it, they will stay.”