Art Outside 2011, Part 1 – Friday

Kit attended Art Outside for the first time this year. Here is Part 1 of his experiences. Part 2 will follow tomorrow.

I returned Sunday early from Art Outside. Until rain, wet clothes, and the effect chilly weather has on my fibromyalgia chased us back to Austin, Mizz Honey J and I had a wonderful time.

Kit O’Connell attended Art Outside for the first time this year.

Art Outside is an art and music festival held not far from here in Texas at Apache Pass. This is a neighboring parcel of land to Apache Pastures, current home of Burning Flipside. It is not a Burn event — it is a commercial event with vending, trash service, and paid performers. It is, however, inspired by the playa’s creativity and draws extensively from the Burning Man community for artists, musicians, crafters, performers, and volunteers.

Honey J and I arrived with the help of a new friend in the late morning on Friday. We were both scheduled to volunteer later that day. Neither of us arrived at our best — we were very overtired from too little sleep in the previous days. I think this made the culture shock and the adjustment to being at the event a little harder than it otherwise might have been. Art Outside isn’t a Burn, but it is similar enough to be jarring at times — you can dress freakishly fabulous but you can’t go naked. The vendors are largely Burners and freaks themselves, but there is still a strong element of commerce unfamiliar to the playa.

And though it’s an event with many volunteers, the volunteers have a very different role to fill. At Burning Flipside everyone must purchase a ticket, even the members of the Limited Liability Corporation who are theoretically (legally) “in charge.” I couldn’t have afforded Art Outside in that case, but it changed what volunteering means. In a recent article on Flipside, event founder St. Tiki said the Flipside way of doing things, “enforces the idea of volunteering for joy of contributing rather than for a form of compensation.” Making volunteering a form of compensation sets different expectations on both sides — the organizers feel like volunteers should be grateful for whatever they get since they are getting in free already, while the volunteers can easily feel upset if they feel like something they are “owed” has gone away or is difficult to come by.

In the end I really have nothing bad to say about the leads who make this event happen — I see how hard Cheyne, the volunteer coördinator worked, along with everyone else in key positions on the crew. I also know from others that the event has shrunk its offerings since earlier years and struggled under the failing economy like so much else. I’m not going to elaborate on my specific issues that made Friday difficult. Once we adjusted to the differences in culture, started seeing the positive effects our work was having, and heard the gratitude of crew and regular ticket holders had for our work, the event started to feel a lot more fun.

One of Charlie Smith’s fire sculptures. This was part of a set of four sculptures which premiered at Burning Man. Creative Commons photo by Adam Rice.

The key insight I took away was about the difference between commercial events vs. burns. At Burning Flipside, communication among leads is key and, because the volunteers are central, no decision would be made at their expense if it could at all be helped. The inclusion of commerce, by its nature, both changes and reduces the importance of volunteers while simultaneously keeping the event moving despite inefficiencies that would seriously hamper a Burn.

Commerce also allows for a greater diversity of attractions for an event this size. Both events feature great DJ’s, burlesque and installation art, but Art Outside has far more live music, stand-up comedy performances, a formal art gallery complete with docents serving wine, formal yoga classes, and a series of lectures presented by experts in their field. All of these things and more are probably found at Burning Man, but we’ve never pulled off this all of this simultaneously at an event like Flipside. I heard some of my fellow Burners making jokes about the event being a “Burner Mall” (I called it “Burner Disney” at one point) and I definitely missed many of the playa’s luxuries, as well as its lack of MOOP. Yet I found myself enjoying the other luxuries that a commercial event allows.

I volunteered at the Pavilion Stage, which is under a permanent structure at Apache Pass, decked out with comfy chairs, couches, and cushions as well as gallery art and a dancing or hooping area next to the stage. I helped clean up, and then helped other volunteers and crew wrestle with a huge projection screen in the blustery winds. The first act on the stage was a fun DJ in a tiger mask named Galapagos.

I didn’t fully appreciate the fruits of my volunteering until later that night when I saw Total Unicorn (also found on Soundcloud) play. Total Unicorn are a duo of electronic musicians (with accompanying go-go dancer) who wore strange glowing horsehead masks while backed by super trippy, colorful visuals. When I told Mizz Honey J that it was one of the most psychedelic experiences I’d ever had without taking drugs, she reminded me that I’d helped wrestle that projection screen I was enjoying so much into place, earlier that same day.

Exhausted from arrival and the week before, Honey and I went to bed early though she had to finish a late shift on trash duty first. It was a breezy night, and beautiful for sleeping with the moonlight spilling into the windows of our tent. Saturday would be a joyous one, full of surreal experiences that would have been hard to come by anywhere else except perhaps Black Rock City.

Come back to Approximately 8,000 Words tomorrow for Part 2, including YouTube videos and Kit’s Art Outside Photo Gallery.

Comments (4)

  1. Mizz Honey J wrote:

    I think the commercial environment had a hand in how moopy the place became. After spending a good four hours transporting waste cans to the dumpsters in the back of the property, my team lead and I started forming hypotheses about the waste habit at festivals. Here are our ideas:
    1. The temporary atmosphere calls for more disposable products.
    2. If people are in an altered state of consciousness tend to be more careless about waste and destruction.
    3. To most festival goers (and really the general public at large) once waste leaves their eyesight, it is gone forever. It’s an odd case of forgetting about the concept object permanence that we learn as toddlers.
    Unlike a “leave no trace” event such as Burning Flipside, where each camp has an earth guardian, a team of volunteer earth guardians are saddled with the duty of setting up waste stations, picking up moop, educating the wasting public on where to put their waste, and finally transporting the waste to the receiving stations. Seeing as how these Earth Guardians come from different camps to team together and take care of the whole festival, there are obviously going to be a lot of camps who do not have someone to oversee the moopiness of their camp. And these tend to be the very messy camps. Also, since the festival is divided into an entertainment section and a camping section, more moop is found in the entertainment section, because (surprise surprise!) we don’t like to shit where we eat.
    Now, if Art Outside used the obligatory ticket buying and optional volunteering model like Flipside, and eliminated the waste service, there would no doubt be less moop on festival grounds. Every camp would have an Earth Guardian and this person would draw up a waste plan that would work for the whole camp. No trash would stay behind, because every camp would be dedicated to not leaving a trace.
    Unfortunately you are correct. This model would not allow for all of the great musicians, performers, visual artists to participate. However, as far as the amount of moop goes, I do believe the core members of the Art Outside upper echelon do need to rethink it’s waste procedures and come up with a strategy that allows the average Art Outside festival-goer to be more proactive in their waste reduction.

    Monday, October 10, 2011 at 5:44 pm #
  2. Kit wrote:

    @Mz Honey: Thanks for your comment, you know I respect your thoughts on waste a great deal. I include some more of my own thinking on this topic in part 2, due tomorrow.

    Monday, October 10, 2011 at 6:36 pm #
  3. Stanley wrote:

    I enjoyed Art Outside. The folks at Apache Pass are to be congratulated and thanked for hosting such events. I was concerned at the amount of trash left behind by some campers. It appeared as though some campers just walked away from tents and gear. Because of the early morning storm Sunday, a lot of tents and pop ups were ripped to shreds. I plan to attend Art Outside again next year and look forward to checking out Flipside.

    Monday, October 10, 2011 at 6:54 pm #
  4. Kit wrote:

    @Stanley: It reminded me of the bad old days of attending Pagan campouts here in Central Texas when people would abandon whole campsites for others to clean up (I’m told the organization has improved since then). I hope next year there can be more education so the volunteers and crew have less to do.

    Thanks for commenting and I hope you’ll like Flipside — the chance to bring “the right kind of people” into our tribe is one of the things which I think makes Art Outside great!

    Monday, October 10, 2011 at 8:45 pm #