Art District:

First Friday ignites Flames of Change at Burning Man-inspired event

Fri, Mar 2, 2012 (2 a.m.)

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The original Lucky Lady Lucy went up in flames at last year's Burning Man. Her sister effigy will burn March 2 in downtown Las Vegas.

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There will be a spectacle, that’s for sure — flames, scads of flames, shooting from a 20-foot showgirl effigy. There will be lighted costumes, electronic music, mutant cars and “radical self-expression” unleashed on the streets of downtown Las Vegas.

Yes, tonight Lucky Lady Lucy will burn while Dancetronaut DJs dressed in space suits blast music from a 100,000-watt sound system attached to a glowing spaceship built on a 30,000-pound hydraulic scissor lift. Add to that performances by a Burning Man-inspired opera company and an afterparty by L.A.’s Project Alma, and you have First Friday’s first official “burn”: Flames of Change.

“It’s going to be a spectacular collaboration of artists and entertainers,” says Joey Vanas, managing partner of First Friday. “All the Burning Man folks are coming. The founders (including Larry Harvey) are coming. We’re hoping that this is the first of many of these types of events to take place here.”

One could say this was inevitable, that the universe was somehow aligned to bring elements of Black Rock City’s annual Burning Man event to the Las Vegas Arts District. Burners have dotted the First Friday landscape with art cars and costumes the past five or six years. Fire spinners have found a home on the patio of Bar + Bistro. Las Vegas artist Anthony Bondi — one of five Burning Man regional contacts — has trucked his art to Burning Man and has brought his Human Car Wash to First Friday. The Las Vegas Halloween Parade, launched in 2010 by event planner and Burning Man enthusiast Cory Mervis, incorporated art cars and clusters of burners marching down Fourth Street in costume.

Burners in town started a weekly gathering at Bar + Bistro called Burning Mondays more than a year ago. And last May, Mervis and husband Leslie Bocskor worked with Nikki Doran and her husband, Merritt Pelkey, on the Circle of Regional Effigies (CORE) Project, for which the community built the first Lucky Lady Lucy that was torched at last year’s Burning Man.

The main spark, however, came when Vanas, an event planner, was invited by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh to invest in First Friday and handed a ticket to Burning Man. It was there that Vanas had his epiphany and chose to commit to First Friday LLC, a decision he says was based on the creativity and community experience he saw at Burning Man. Vanas and other locals in the Burning Man community want to see some of the event’s large-scale, interactive sculptures planted downtown.

This month’s First Friday festival, held on the “Burnal Equinox” (halfway between annual Burning Man events), might be the gateway to more Burning Man-inspired activities, motivated by the community-building principals of Black Rock City, which pops up in Northern Nevada for a week each year with theme camps, the burning of The Man and 50,000 attendees.

“It’s just the beginning,” says Bocskor, who, along with Mervis, runs the Society for Experimental Arts and Learning, a creative group inspired by Burning Man. “That’s why the name Flames of Change is so wonderful. What’s happening here in Vegas is setting new examples of what we can do. ... With the first build of Lucky Lady Lucy, we had stagehands, accountants, bartenders, chefs, kids — all working together.

“It’s important for regional activities to go on that have the sense of Burning Man culture because the attendance is capped. There are more people who want to go than there are tickets.”

First Friday, Bocskor says, is a great impetus. The event that draws thousands downtown each month for arts, crafts, music and everything in between inspired Bocskor and Mervis to move to Las Vegas while here on a business trip.

“We were absolutely nothing short of astounded,” he says. “There was a performance troupe in the street, an art car with flamethrowers, lights, music, art, culture and people interacting with each other in a social context. They were reclaiming public space to do something community-oriented. We saw that there was not only an opportunity to do things here, but also something already going on here. That was sort of a tipping point of why we moved to Las Vegas.”

That was two years ago. Around that same time, Doran and Pelkey also moved to Las Vegas (from San Francisco) and met Mervis and Bocskor. Doran is Burning Man’s artist advocate and is on the Burning Man Art Council. She registers art projects headed to Black Rock City, discusses the works with the artists and helps map out where they’ll land on the playa. As a Burning Man regional contact, Doran also organizes Burning Mondays in the Arts District and partners in projects such as Lucky Lady Lucy.

“The dream is to have a warehouse space where people could work on projects throughout the year,” says Doran, a clothing designer whose Wild on the Inside makes Burning Man-inspired outfits.

Pelkey is the designer behind the Lucky Lady Lucy effigy and is overseeing the build of the version to be burned tonight. He considers the community’s building of the first giant showgirl a galvanizing point for what’s happening in the region and for Burning Man’s influence, particularly when it comes to spreading the festival’s Ten Principles, ideas like radical self-reliance, gifting, leaving no trace and civic responsibility.

“I see more of these types of events happening here,” Pelkey says. “With the ticket issue, that’s going to be even more important to have this on a smaller scale.”

But, he adds, “This is a Las Vegas thing inspired by Burning Man. This event is all about Las Vegas. We’re hoping this is something Las Vegas can grab onto and make its own.”

A version of this story originally appeared in Las Vegas Weekly, a sister publication of the Sun.

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