What is a Burning Man theme?


The Burning Man event is known for its magnificent art pieces, flamboyant costumes, and decorative tents that typically center around innovative themes. The yearly themes are highly influenced by popular pop culture as well as famous philosophers. These are also inspired by art as well as science.

For this year’s Burn, the theme was Metamorphoses to celebrate change. Many people say that the Burn has been very transformative for them. It helped them take a look at who they really are and what they want to be not only for themselves but for the people around them. The theme also celebrates Larry Harvey, the founder of the Burning Man, and the changes that can happen after his death last year.

For 2020’s Burn, the theme is going to be Multiverse and its endless realities and possibilities.

How did the Burning Man themes start?

The first theme (or theme camp, for that matter) popped up in 1993 with its Christmas Camp. The participants, at that time, numbered at around a thousand. Two of the participants wore Santa Claus costumes and gave away eggnog as well as fruitcake.

By 1994, several other theme camps appeared. Their different and unique themes made them stand out from the crowd, and their lavish decorations created a visually stunning presence in the middle of the vast desert.

By 1995, the Burning Man had its first central but unofficial theme called “Good and Evil.” The theme explores the stark contrast between good and bad. But the start of the official central themes though began the year after, in 1996, with Inferno.

What were the previous Burning Man themes?

Let’s take a quick tour through all the different Burning Man themes.

1996

Theme: Inferno
About: This theme was about corporate takeovers and how they try to propagate and encourage mass consumption.
Theme Camps: Unknown
Participants: 8,000

1997

Theme: Fertility: The Living Land
About: The previous year’s theme was pretty dark, so the organizers opted for a lighter one in 1997. This theme was about the land’s fertility and how Black Rock City is fertile with creative people whose ideas are not hindered by society.
Theme Camps: 51
Participants: 10,000

1998

Theme: Nebulous Entity
About: Opting for an otherworldly theme, 1998’s Nebulous Entity was about aliens and entities that love to consume information but do not really understand them.
Theme Camps: 348
Participants: 15,000

1999

Theme: Wheel of Time
About: The theme centered on how everything is a cycle. This theme also celebrated the event’s return to Black Rock Desert. The camp was divided into three – The Primordium, the 20th Century, and the Future - where art pieces showcased the time's era. The theme encouraged the participants to let go of their hurtful past, live in the present, and look forward to their future.
Theme Camps: 320
Participants: 23,000

2000

Theme: The Body
About: The theme was about our relationship with our own body and how we belong to a greater body.
Theme Camps: 460
Participants: 25,400

2001

Theme: Seven Ages
About: The theme for this year was about attaining wisdom. There were seven stations that the attendees had to pass through where they can choose to participate and learn some life lessons.
Theme Camps: 466
Participants: 25,700

2002

Theme: The Floating World
About: This year’s theme was about the unknown, how we navigate our way through it, and how the process can be a journey of discovery.
Theme Camps: 29,000
Participants: 487

2003

Theme: Beyond Belief
About: The theme explored faith beyond what we know of our religions and beliefs. It explored faith beyond the rituals and ceremonies. The theme encouraged participants to reinvent their faith based on their experiences, realities, and emotions.
Theme Camps: 504
Participants: 30,600

2004

Theme: The Vault of Heaven
About: The universe is massive, so this year’s theme centered around the universe and the heavenly bodies. Interactive art displays encouraged the participants to think of their existence in relation to the vastness of the universe.
Theme Camps: 503
Participants: 35,700

2005

Theme: Psyche: The Conscious, Subconscious, and Unconscious
About: An interesting theme, it focused on psychology and encouraged participants to explore their consciousness, subconsciousness, as well as unconsciousness.
Theme Camps: 485
Participants: 35,600

2006

Theme: Hope and Fear: The Future
About: We all have hopes and fears, and 2006’s theme pushed its participants to confront their hopes and fears and understand how these shape and create the future.
Theme Camps: 570
Participants: 37,000

2007

Theme: The Green Man
About: 2007’s theme explored man’s relationship with nature and how it has a hand in defining who as well as what we are.
Theme Camps: 681
Participants: 47,100

2008

Theme: American Dream
About: The theme celebrated love for country and how we should value our identity as well as nationality. It encouraged participants to set aside their differences and value patriotism.
Theme Camps: 746
Participants: 49,600

2009

Theme: Evolution: A Tangled Bank
About: The theme talked about the chaos that is evolution. It encouraged the participants to think of where we, as human beings, came from. The theme also challenged the participants to think of ways in adapting to the new world.
Theme Camps: 618
Participants: 46,600

2010

Theme: Metropolis: Life of Cities
About: The theme honored the cities and the citizens that give the cities their souls. 2010’s theme not only celebrated Black Rock City and its citizens, but it also celebrated the importance of its citizens.
Theme Camps: 700
Participants: 51,600

2011

Theme: Rite of Passage
About: 2011’s theme honors the first settlers of Black Rock City. It tells of the first time the Man burned in the city and how another Man will rise the next year. The theme also celebrated the Burning Man, how it is a rite of passage, and how it can initiate change and force us to acknowledge that change.
Theme Camps: 920
Participants: 54,000

2012

Theme: Fertility 2.0
About: 2012’s theme talked of how fertile the Black Rock City is in terms of creativity and ingenuity. It talked of how the Burning Man’s culture has spread to other parts of the globe.
Theme Camps: 978
Participants: 56,200

2013

Theme: Cargo Cult
About: Our ancient history is filled with people bearing gifts and wonderful creations of technology. Their presence prompted a time of abundance, so to speak. Our modern world is similar to their time of abundance, with gizmos and gadgets and electricity and internet. But if we lose our comfortable way of living, do we have the capacity to recover what we have lost? 2014’s theme pushed its participants to think of these possibilities and how they can help people with their unique gifts and talents.
Theme Camps: 1056
Participants: 69,600

2014

Theme: Caravansary
About: Hundreds of caravansaries served as sanctuaries to people who travel along the Silk Road. Similar to these ancient caravansaries, the Burning Man also served as an oasis, a place where you can trade gifts. This year’s theme celebrated this special Burning Man feature.
Theme Camps: Unknown
Participants: 66,000

2015

Theme: Carnival of Mirrors
About: The 2015 Burning Man theme encouraged its participants to look past the brands, logos, and commercial ads. These are illusions common in this media-saturated world and prevent people from discovering who they really are.
Theme Camps: Unknown
Participants: 68,000

2016

Theme: Da Vinci’s Workshop
About: 2016’s theme was inspired by Leonardo Da Vinci and his inventions that pushed modernity. The theme also honored the city of Florence for its social mobility as well as advancement in science and technology. Staying true to the theme, the Burning Man emulated Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man.
Theme Camps: Unknown
Participants: 67,300

2017

Theme: Radical Ritual
About: 2017’s theme was all about creative and interactive rituals, ceremonies, processions, etc. But these rituals did not concentrate on beliefs and religion. Instead, the rituals were for the now and the participants' immediate experience.
Theme Camps: 1395
Participants: 69,500

2018

Theme: I, Robot
About: The Burning Man theme for 2018 focused on artificial intelligence – from the smart phones that have integrated themselves into our day-to-day lives to the automated machinery that work for us. We are surrounded by technology, and Burning Man theme forced its participants to question themselves who the real master and the slave are in the relationship.
Theme Camps: 1472
Participants: 70,000

2019

Theme: Metamorphoses
About: Burning Man 2019’s theme was Metamorphoses. It celebrated change and embraced uncertainty. The theme aptly captured what many attendees experienced during the Burn, a life-changing event.
Theme Camps: Unknown
Participants: Info not yet released

What is the Burning Man theme for 2020?

The Burning Man 2020 will run from August 30, 2020 to September 7, 2020. The theme, according to the organizers, will be The Multiverse and highlights the infinite possibilities of alternate worlds and parallel universes. It will encourage the participants to face their “what-ifs.”

It’s amazing how a gathering of friends celebrating the Summer Solstice by lighting a bonfire could balloon into this one-of-a-kind event. From less than 50 during the mid-1980s, the Burning Man is now home to over 70,000 participants and over a thousand camps. And for nine amazing days, they gather in the Black Rock City and become one community unified by a central theme and guided by the Burning Man’s principles.

With a capacity of 80,000 attendees and an exciting theme, 2020's Burning Man is bound to be even more memorable.


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