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Art Outside 2011, Part 1 – Friday

Posted in Austin, and Burning Man

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.