Attention Bay Area Nonprofits! The Burning Man People Are Opening Their Checkbook

Let's play a word association game, shall we? We'll start. Burning Man. What comes to mind?

Quite a lot, we imagine.

Without digressing into a philosophical debate about the meaning of Burning Man and the communities surrounding it, we'll simply say that the event and people who operate it have tapped a wellspring of creativity that attracts visitors from all over the world. Not bad considering the event began with just a few hundred folks hanging out on San Francisco's Baker Beach.

In fact, as the old saying goes, a rising tide lifts all boats. Burning Man's success is to the benefit of artists everywhere, particularly in the Bay Area.

Which brings us to the SF-based Black Rock Arts Foundation (BRAF). The foundation was created in 2001 by the founders and producers of Burning Man and its mission reflects the festival's ethos of community, interactive art, and civic participation. As such, BRAF "works with communities in the Bay Area and around the world to collaboratively produce innovative, relevant, and pioneering works of public art that build community and empower individuals."

The foundation has begun accepting Letters of Inquiry for its 2014-2015 grant cycle. Organizations familiar with Burning Man will likely have a hunch as to what the foundation is looking for. Nonetheless, here are just three examples of projects funded across the 2013 grant cycle:

  • The Press Street Arts Collective in New Orleans netted $5,000 to fund "Draw-a-thon," an all-ages, 24-hour drawing academy.
  • Boston's Festival of Street Art at Bartlett Events, meanwhile, was awarded $4,000 to host a series of interactive community events at the 8.5 acre Bartlett Bus Yard in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood in an effort to "un-blight" the area.
  • Artist Hung Viet Tran was awarded $5,000 for this "Forever Our Change. Dream Your Mind" project, a collaboration of American and Vietnamese participants to create an interactive structure and architectural form that will incorporate performance, video, sculpture, media, and the English and Vietnamese languages.

Of course, for interested parties, a closer read of the application criteria is in order. The foundation is particularly keen on "highly interactive, community-driven, collaborative works of art that are accessible to the public and civic in scope."

As such, they are not interested in "static" work — sculptures, paintings, photos, screenplays, musical productions — that lack an "interactive component." Furthermore, they're not interested in art that will subsequently be shown at Burning Man itself. There is a separate grant for that.

Ultimately, the foundation is looking for proposals that, among other things:

  • Require human interaction to complete the piece.
  • Involve the community and the audience in its creation, presentation and display.
  • Prompt the viewer to act.
  • Can be experienced in more ways than visually.

Individuals, groups and 501(c)(3) nonprofits may apply. Grants range between $500 and $10,000; the foundation most commonly awards grants between $2,000 and $6,000. They receive about 300 proposals a year and fund between 10 to 15.

Oh, and clothing is optional.

Just kidding, of course. (Sorry, we couldn't resist.)

And while you're at it, click here for more new and analysis around Bay Area-related funding.