As the only official regional Burning Man event in Africa, AfrikaBurn continues to draw people from all walks of life and has been doing so since its initiation in 2007. The festival brings over 13,000 people together annually, making it the biggest arts festival in Africa. Each year has a theme that inspires the art installations set up onsite.
Afro-tunes had the pleasure of speaking with Travis Lyle from the festival to understand the story behind its origination.
Afro-tunes: Tell me about your involvement with AfrikaBurn, what do you do at the festival?
Travis Lyle: I am the head of communications. My role ranges from looking after our media channels which include our website, social media, radio, to managing documentary projects. Recently I have started managing the communications for a community outreach program called the dignity project.
This is a program where we took toilets that were to be used in the festival this year back to Cape Town for homeless people to use during lock down. As you can imagine, it’s a bit hard to wash your hands and stay safe when you don’t have running water, so we have managed to make a difference.
AT: That’s great and how long have you been involved in AfrikaBurn?
TL: I have been with the festival for 6 happy years.
AT: Interesting, so what did you do before you joined AfrikaBurn?
TL: I started out organizing events in 1999 while simultaneously working in advertising as a copy writer. As things started to change, I moved into community management, content management and social media management around 2008/9.
AT: Ok, so you had you had side hustles and a main job.
TL: That’s right. It has enabled me to gain the right combination of skills that I need to do my current job, which I absolutely love.
TL: Burning Man started in the US in 1990 and it is a big event that takes place in Nevada desert. AfrikaBurn is essentially a regional version of Burning Man. That means that we follow the same framework and principles from Burning Man.
AT: What inspired the start of a regional Burning Man?
TL: It was a culmination of two factors which helped us decide. 1 – South Africa has a history of holding outdoor art festivals. 2-There were people in that festival community who had been to Burning Man in the USA, enjoyed it and simply wanted to bring that experience to South Africa. When these guys came back from Burning Man in Nevada desert they discussed how they could make it happen in South Africa. These discussions started in 2005 followed by finding the event location in 2007.
AT: You hold the festival in Stonehenge Private Reserve in the Tankwa Karoo. How far is that from Cape Town?
TL: A lot of people don’t know about this place. It’s a desert in the Northern Cape province of South Africa. The event location is around 350 km away from Cape Town and has no electricity, water and phone signals, so the experience can be very extreme for someone that is not prepared.
AT: Is AfrikaBurn a 1-day festival or does it occur on multiple days?
TL: Ticket holders can attend the event for a week period. However, our crew and some of the artists making pieces for the show can be in the desert for up to 2-3 months.
Given that we have to build everything from scratch, there is a big logistic exercise to transport a lot of materials to the desert.
AT: Do you provide accommodation for attendees and participants?
TL: No, we only provide the bare essentials such as onsite clinic, toilets, streets and street Lights and water. Attendees have to bring their own tents and anything else they feel they will need during those 7 days. We do provide a survival guide to attendees several months before the festival to prepare them
AT: Does the festival organisation have any community outreach programs?
TL: We have a range of social development initiatives which stem from AfrikaBurn principles of ‘civic responsibility’ and ‘communal effort’.
A percentage of the ticket sales are used to assist communities in need. This assistance can take the form of providing food to local schools.
We also give out seed funding for community art projects through our ‘Spark Grants’. The art projects selected for this grant are required to bring the principles of our event alive in their local area. The grant is usually 5000+ Rands depending on the size of the project. There is also the Dignity Project which I mentioned earlier.
AT: How has the festival dealt cancellations and lock downs due to COVID-19? Do you plan on changing the way you do your event?
TL: : To keep the community alive we’ve been hosting online events, in fact, we have one coming up soon on July 4th.
AT: Thanks so much for that TL. I leave you with this short video on the festival
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