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Burning Man: Art and Technology

Sat February 23rd 2019, 2:00 - 4:00pm
Event Sponsor
Bill Lane Center for the American West, Stanford University;
The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco;
Stanford Arts Institute
de Young Museum
Koret Auditorium
50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive
Golden Gate Park
San Francisco, CA 94118
Burning Man: Art and Technology


Synopsis and video available
Read a synopsis of the symposium and watch the complete video: Burning Man: A Journey Through a Desert Oasis of Art and Technology.

This program explores the creative spirit of Burning Man as an original western cultural movement and its innovative paradigm of art as a participatory and interactive experience, not attached to traditional museums or commercial art markets. Technology has increasingly become a component of Burning Man art. We intend to explore the affinity between art and technology with the rise of Silicon Valley and the parallel evolution of the Burning Man movement. Both are pillars of contemporary art and technology based in the Bay Area that have a global reach.

The keynote address will focus on the cultural and maker movement aspects of Burning Man and its synergy with the rise of Silicon Valley fueling the opportunity for new development and beta testing at Black Rock City in the spirit of utopian art.

The other three presenters will trace the evolution of the Burning Man movement from a beachside festival to a temporary full city exploring the linkage between the art and technology, the institutional and curatorial responses to the art produced there, and its organizational challenges, successes, and ethos.

Photographs by Scott London



Keynote Speaker

Fred Turner, Professor of Communications, Stanford University, “What Burning Man Does for Silicon Valley”
Turner will explore the connections between the rise of Silicon Valley and the parallel evolution of the Burning Man movement based in San Francisco, both as cultural movements with a universal status that links art with emerging technology. Bio


Scott London, Scott London Photography, “The Ephemeral City: Reflections on a Decade of Burning Man Photography”
London, an award winning official photographer of Burning Man, will present a slideshow of images from the event that captures the last ten years of its development and transformation. Bio

Nora Atkinson, Curator of Craft, Smithsonian American Art Museum & Renwick Gallery, “When the Man Met the Man: Burning Man’s Journey from the Desert to the Museum”
Atkinson will address the institutional approach to Burning Man as an art movement that values collective creativity, yet outside of commercial art markets. How can museums and other cultural institutions respond to this unique challenge of interpreting, collecting, and preserving the record of the art produced at Black Rock City and the synergy of the art and technology that underlies these works. Bio

Katherine K. Chen, Associate Professor of Sociology, The City College of New York, and the Graduate Center, CUNY, “Enabling Creative Communities: How Burning Man Catalyzes Creativity and the Arts”
Chen will focus on the organizational sociology of the Burning Man movement looking at its accomplishments, challenges, and limitations. Chen is a Stanford graduate (AB, MA 1995). Bio


The event is sold out.


Speaker Biographies


Color headshot of Fred Turner

Fred Turner

Harry and Norman Chandler Professor of Communication
Stanford University
Fred Turner is Harry and Norman Chandler Professor and Chair of the Department of Communication at Stanford University. He is also Professor by courtesy appointment in the Departments of History and Art & Art History. In 2012, he was appointed the Akiko Yamazaki and Jerry Yang University Fellow in Undergraduate Education in honor of his commitment to undergraduate teaching.

Turner’s research and writing explore media, technology and American cultural history. He is especially interested in how emerging media have shaped American life since World War II. He is the author of three books: The Democratic Surround: Multimedia and American Liberalism from World War II to the Psychedelic Sixties (Chicago, 2013); From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism (Chicago, 2006); and Echoes of Combat: The Vietnam War in American Memory (Anchor/Doubleday, 1996; 2nd ed., Minnesota, 2001). His essays have tackled topics ranging from the rise of reality crime television to the role of the Burning Man festival in contemporary new media industries. They are available here.

Turner’s writings have won a range of awards, including the PSP Award for the best book in Communication and Cultural Studies from the Professional and Scholarly Publishing Division of the Association of American Publishers and the Katherine Singer Kovács Essay Award from the Society for Cinema and Media Studies. They have also been widely translated.


Scott London

Scott London Photography
Scott London is a Bay Area journalist and photographer. His work has appeared in books, newspapers and magazines worldwide. His publishing credits include Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, Newsweek, The Atlantic, GQ, Architectural Digest, The New York Times, and National Geographic Traveler. His work has also been the subject of features in Wired magazine and on CNN and the Discovery Channel.

As a photographer, Scott is perhaps best known for his images of Burning Man, a series spanning a decade and a half. The photographs appear in the coffee-table book, Burning Man: Art on Fire, a collaboration with writer Jennifer Raiser and fellow photographer Sidney Erthal. It first appeared in 2014 and an expanded Second Edition came out in 2016.

Scott’s photographs have also been exhibited at museums and shows across the U.S. and Europe. Highlights include the “Living” exhibition at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark and the “Art in an Ephemeral Age” show at the Institute of Art and Ideas in England. In 2018, several of his photographs were featured at the Smithsonian as part of its “No Spectators” exhibition at the Renwick Gallery.

In addition to his photography, Scott is known for his print and radio journalism. He has contributed to many books and magazines and is the former host of “Insight and Outlook,” a weekly cultural affairs program heard on National Public Radio stations across the United States.

Scott was born in Washington D.C. At the age of five, his family moved to Stockholm, Sweden, where he was raised and educated — and where, as a teenager, he taught himself photography. He returned to the U.S. in his mid-20s. He has been living in California since 1993. Scott's website is


Color headshot of Nora Atkinson

Nora Atkinson

Lloyd Herman Curator of Craft, Renwick Gallery
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Nora Atkinson is the Lloyd Herman Curator of Craft at the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and was recently named Washingtonian Magazine’s 2018 “Best Boundary-Pushing Curator” for her work on the critically-acclaimed shows, No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man(2018) and Murder Is Her Hobby: Frances Glessner Lee and the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death (2017). Atkinson joined the Renwick in 2014 and was part of the team responsible for the gallery’s major two-year renovation. She has curated four original exhibitions at the Renwick, as well as a reimagining of the museum’s permanent collection galleries, and has authored two publications for the museum: Craft for a Modern World: The Renwick Gallery Collection (2015), and Visions and Revisions: The 2016 Renwick Biennial. Atkinson has written and spoken extensively on her work, and was honored to be included in the 2018 TED Conference, “The Age of Amazement,” in Vancouver, BC. Her research centers on contemporary art and craft and the role of the handmade in the digital age.

Before joining the Smithsonian, Atkinson was curator at the Bellevue Arts Museum, Bellevue, Wash., from 2006 to 2014, originating notable exhibitions such as Fragile Fortress: The Art of Dan Webb (2014), Making Mends (2012), Lisa Gralnick: The Gold Standard (2010, traveled) and The Book Borrowers: Contemporary Artists Transforming the Book (2009). Her critical essays and writing were featured in five publications produced by the museum.

Atkinson earned a bachelor's degree (2002) and a master's degree (2006) from the University of Washington, Seattle. She is a 2018 graduate of the Getty Leadership Institute’s executive leadership program.


Color headshot of Katherine Cheng

Katherine K. Chen

Associate Professor in Sociology
The City College of New York, and the Graduate Center, the City University of New York
Prof. Katherine K. Chen’s main research specialty is the study of organizations. Her ethnographic studies include research on the growing organization behind the annual Burning Man event. Her award-winning book, Enabling Creative Chaos: The Organization Behind the Burning Man Event, shows how an enabling organization can support members’ efforts without succumbing to either under-organizing’s insufficient structure and coordination or over-organizing’s excessive structure and coercive control. She has also published about storytelling, artistic prosumption, and communification at Burning Man.
In addition, Prof. Chen has researched how fields of organizations coordinate supporting older adults who are aging in place in NYC. Currently, Prof. Chen is undertaking an ethnography of how a growing organization, which originated out of the democratic free school movement, communicates its unfamiliar mission and practices to contemporary generations of prospective and current stakeholders.

Prof. Chen received her Ph.D. and M.A. in Sociology from Harvard University and an A.M. in Sociology and an A.B. in Human Biology from Stanford University. She is an associate professor in sociology at The City College of New York and the Graduate Center, the City University of New York.



Free street parking is available on John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Drives near the museum during February. Paid parking is available in the Music Concourse Garage located directly under the museum and its entrance can be found at Fulton St. at 10th Ave.


Additional Resources about Burning Man