The Burning Man Organization released a statement on Friday evening announcing that the 2020 event will be canceled in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. The event, which takes place each year in the Black Rock Desert in northern Nevada, would have happened over the week leading up to Labor Day weekend this coming August.
In a statement released on the Burning Man website on Friday, the organization revealed its plans to cancel the event. “After much listening, discussion, and careful consideration, we have made the difficult decision not to build Black Rock City in 2020. Given the painful reality of COVID-19, one of the greatest global challenges of our lifetimes, we believe this is the right thing to do. Yes, we are heartbroken. We know you are too. In 2020 we need human connection and Immediacy more than ever. But public health and the well-being of our participants, staff, and neighbors in Nevada are our highest priorities,” the organization wrote in a blog post.
The 2020 event was set to be themed “The Multiverse,” for which a massive effigy would have been erected and then burned at the end of the week-long festival in the Nevada Desert. The event, which attracts over 70,000 people from around the world each year, relies heavily on a mostly volunteer medical staff in order to take place each year. With most of the world’s medical workers already facing extreme stress and hardship in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, a festival like Burning Man faces major infrastructure shortages.
Beyond that, the event is almost entirely created by independent artists and organizations. Group-builds on massive art projects—including the “man” and “temple” art installments would have likely faced major building setbacks over shelter in place mandates around the United States. While the mandates are currently set to end by June in most places, the likelihood of gathering bans extending further into the summer seems a possibility if a vaccine can’t be widely distributed in the near future.
Even then, the financial setbacks and global tragedy imposed on communities around the world means that the event would likely suffer a cultural setback if it were to take place. Where many complain that the event has become a utopia for the rich in recent years (a problem that was addressed in this blog post by the organization in 2019), it would likely only face greater hardship if only the rich could afford to attend after much of the world was forced to leave their jobs last month.
The cancellation of an event like Burning Man—which would have closed out the summer festival season for many Americans—signals a longer period of what many call a “new normal” in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. While President Trump argues on live television that the country could return to its usual economic prosperity by the summer, the cancellation of an event like Burning Man at the end of the summer signals a harsher truth: this may last longer than we thought.