School of Black Rock

ae leadUnScruz returns to bring Burning Man home 

The spirit of self-expression and inclusiveness is the prevailing culture of the Burning Man community, and with tens of thousands of people flocking to Black Rock City, Nev., every year, its influence has spread around the globe.

Santa Cruz has its own subculture of people dedicated to abiding by Burner values, and this weekend’s two-day celebration of music, dancing and art known as UnScruz puts it front and center.

“In a nutshell, UnScruz is a Burning Man regional event that abides by the 10 principles of Burning Man,” say Mandy Whiting, Regional Contact for Burning Man in Santa Cruz. These 10 principles, which include radical self-expression, radical self-reliance, communal effort and decommodification, are what make Burning Man events the peaceful, anything-goes gatherings they are. Whiting explains that the UnScruz event, now in its fourth year, is a showcase of what Burning Man is all about for people who may not be able to make it out to the Nevada desert for the main event.

In essence a mini-Burning Man, the UnScruz weekend at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds will include many things that Black Rock City has become famous for including music, dance, creative costumes, art—and of course, lots and lots of fire.

“We want people to experience that same feeling of community and open mindedness, friendliness and peacefulness,” Whiting says. “Our events are extraordinarily peaceful and whimsical and creative. They have a really unique vibe.”

At Burning Man, “you’re not the weirdest kid in the classroom,” as one Burner memorably put it, and that spirit of individuality and inclusiveness is what defines UnScruz, as well.

“There are so many factors to the Burning Man community,” Whiting explains. “There are people who like to build large-scale art, people who like to do dance performances, people who like to play music and people who just like to camp and hang out by a fire. The UnScruz event really has all of that,” she says.

This is the first year the event has been held at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds, which will allow even more people to participate in the festivities. Samba Stilt Circus and Nocturnal Sunshine Fire Conclave are among the groups that will be performing, mutant vehicles will be on display, and music and art from many members of the Burner community will be present in one creative way or another throughout.

If you’ve never attended a Burning Man event, be prepared for some surprises. “The whole ethos of UnScruz and Burning Man in general, is that we provide a canvas, a big blank space, and then say ‘OK guys, come fill it with who you are and what you want to contribute,’” Whiting explains.

In addition to UnScruz, the local chapter is doing its part to keep the Burning Man spirit alive and well in Santa Cruz all year round.

“The goal is to involve the community in many different ways,” Whiting says. “UnScruz is one of those events, but we also do beach bonfires, Burner happy hour once a month, and last year we did a screening of a Burning Man documentary called Spark at the Del Mar Theater. The cool part about Santa Cruz is how the Burner spirit is already engrained. There’s a lot of art, a lot of creativity and a lot of whimsy,” she says.

While Whiting knows some people perceive Burning Man and its related events as a hedonistic free for all, she says UnScruz is really about art and community and being precisely who you want to be. “There are crazy things that happen, but that’s not necessarily your journey. Your journey is to go and see what you want to contribute,” she says.

The fourth annual UnScruz Burning Man regional event, Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds, Saturday and Sunday, May 3 and 4. Tickets are $35 per person in advance, or $45 at the door. Visit unscruz.com for more information.

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