Every summer, Element11, a completely volunteer-run organization, makes way for one thousand plus Utah and Burners from the region for a weekend in Stargazer Ranch—a 170 acre ranch overlooking the Great Salt Lake in Northwestern Utah near Park Valley (about a three hour drive from SLC). This is Utah’s regional Burning Man event, a “dress rehearsal” for the real Burning Man in Black Rock City, NV in August.
The five day, four night art event, July 12-16, allows a smaller congregation of Burners to enjoy community, art, and music founded on the 10 Principles of Burning Man: radical inclusion, gifting, decommodification, radical self-reliance, communal effort, civic responsibility, leaving no trace, participation, and immediacy. The Element 11 Survival Guide puts it best: “This is not a party or a concert, but a radical celebration of shared values, art, and effort for the good of all.”
Stan Clawson, Element 11’s chairman, explains this year’s theme “Orpheum,” a word that derives from Orpheus (the legendary musician, poet and prophet of Greek myth) and also harkens back to the days of Vaudeville. “Element11 is always seen as the canvas, the community provides the art. In this way we are setting the stage, bringing the show to the people,” says Stan. “If we really wanted to simplify, we would have called it vaudeville, but Orpheum is the name of the original theater chain that vaudeville was birthed from. Just like we have Megaplex Theatres, back then it was Orpheum,” says Stan. “It’s very different from the typical Burning Man-type theme. It’s very open to interpretation. It’s a history lesson, and the first year in recent memory that people go, ‘What is that?’”
The main event will always be the burning of the effigy, this year in the shape of a giant upright piano, says Stan, and this year there will be a bigger emphasis on center camp as a hub for seminars, activities, and performances. Perhaps the most important upgrade to the event this year will be the roads— the event was hanging in the balance due to poor road conditions. This spring, volunteers put in an 18-hour day rebuilding the roads on the ranch. With the help of the volunteer crew and Stargazer Ranch’s owners, Box Elder county officials inspected the work and approved the event. Given the tremendous effort put into the roads, this year Element 11 is especially encouraging people to carpool by introducing the $20 vehicle pass.
This event is an all ages event, kids are allowed with parent supervision. Leave pets at home and bring more food and water than booze. Bring respectful attitudes, but leave at home feathers, excessive glitter and flaky costume material that will easily become MOOP (matter out of place, in plainer words: stuff other people would have to clean up given this is a leave no trace event).
The Survival Guide has plenty of helpful information for anyone interested in attending. I recommend taking a look.
Having attended three E11’s before my first Burning Man, I came to appreciate the E11’s uniqueness: the homegrown community where everyone seems to know everyone, and how much smaller and less stressful it is navigating this event versus Burning Man. Here, just as at Burning Man, the social confines of the “default world” fall away, making room for self-introspection, self-acceptance, and acceptance of others in a beautiful way. People dress up in “costumes”, but you get the feeling people are putting on attire that represents their truer selves, as if to say the clothes they wear to work are actually the “costumes.” Art cars, or “Mutant Vehicles”, delight on so many levels, whizzing by, bedazzled in lights, playing music, and usually resembling some fantastical creature. The effort and art that goes into the event each year is astounding. Reminding us of why following our passions is so important amidst the everyday grind. Element11 is one of the only places you can witness adults at play, returning to joy, and allowing the power of childlike wonder to loosen the constraints and responsibilities of adult-life.
“E11 has become a beautiful partnership between the property owners, the local officials, and Burners,” says Stan. “We just want to continue to maintain an event that is successful. And as always, we want people to be safe and have a good time. We encourage people to be really careful. This is about art and community before anything else”.
Tickets are still available here. The event often sells out, so time is of the essence. This year capacity was expanded by 100, totaling 1,400 tickets. Only a few remain.