Communities and the creation of community art, a conversation with Misel Chrysafo

I attended Burning Man this year as so many did. Not surprisingly, I was amazed at the level of creativity and the many influences represented on the Playa. While not traditionally a fine art event, I could still see how many artists were professionally trained and how that influenced their work. Think fine art meets rogue expression. It was as if they were given the go ahead to do whatever they wanted, and they were and they did. Expecting to see large installations by David Best, I instead saw large installations by the Dream Collective and Christopher Schardt to smaller pieces by WeWanttoLearn and Coyart all of whom received Honoria Grants and support from the Burning Man Org. But what about artists who produce art, drag it out to the Playa and are not supported by the Org? Where do they get their money?; How do they make it happen?; Is it a solo project or groups of friends getting together?

Wondering about this, I biked around the streets of Burning Man and came upon three friends biking together. Two cute girls and a guy, looking like a God, no shirt and wearing very little. Everything you expect from the free expression we see at Burning Man. As I was watching them, one girl peeled off to stop at a bunch of triangles in the playa sand in front of what was seemingly a Burning Man camp. They were all friends, and they were focused on the triangles chatting and gushing on what seemed to be a lot of work for all of them and how well it turned out. 

One of the girls, got up and starting walking away. Clearly, headed to the porta potties, I biked over to her to talk to her about the art in the camp. Her name is Misel Chrysafo, also goes by Michelle, apparently English for Misel. I asked her how the project came to be, how many times she had been to the Playa and if this was her camp. She explained that she worked in the sciences, had been stenciling her whole life and recently enrolled in art school in San Francisco. That in fact, she was starting her first semester at SFAI in the fall. This was her 15th burn but not her first collaboration. She explained that she worked with a group of community friends she only knew tangentially and that they grew to know each other as friends in preparation for bringing the triangles to Burning Man. She was the artist who drew the artwork and her new friends, designed and brought to fruition the triangles themselves using the art she had created. 

I thought what a perfect example of Burning Man this was, bringing talented people together from other worlds, bringing out their inner artist and sharing it with thousands of people at Burning Man. 

One thing I was curious about was how they raised the money to pay for everything. I could see that the work was cut out on stainless steel sheets using CNC, not a cheap way to go. Misel confirmed they had all chipped into to launch a Kickstarter Fund to pay for the expenses. She hinted that some members of the camp contributed to the fund also and were able to be very generous with their donations. But mostly dozens of people gave what they could to make it all happen. All in all, she said, they raised over 7K for the project. 

Friends supporting friends, being self-reliant and sharing their work with Burning Man for no pay. It was truly The Ten Principles of Burning Man: radical inclusion, gifting, decommodification, radical self-reliance, radical self-expression, communal effort, civic responsibility, leaving no trace, participation, and immediacy.

You can still donate to their project to help them cover their costs:

Author: AR, Contributing Writer

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