AfrikaBurn desert creativity heads to Cape Town's streets
Streetopia is a community-based and family event in Observatory, Cape Town, founded by the AfrikaBurn festival team in 2015 to fill the creative vacuum left by the demise of the long-running Obsfest.
AfrikaBurn is the second-largest regional Burning Man event in the world. It attracted 14,000 "burners" to the 11th edition in April.
"In essence, Streetopia is bringing the principles that guide the AfrikaBurn event to town, transporting what we do in the desert back into the ‘default world’ as it were and seeing what happens," says co-founder Monique Schiess.
Burning Man is a leading "transformational festival", with regional events all over the world. The principles arose out of the Bohemian climate of challenging norms and seeking experiences exemplified by Burning Man founder Larry Harvey and the "Cacophony Society" in San Francisco in 1986. "In San Francisco during the hippy movement, the symbol of wearing the flower in the hair is that you have to go and find others like you. With the first Burn, we found the others," says Schiess.
The first AfrikaBurn was attended by 1,000 people and the event in the Tankwa Karoo National Park has grown exponentially. It has added a guiding principle — each one teach one, which extends the principles of self-reliance to community awareness, while growing the community and the bottom-up management of the organisation.
"We wanted to carry across the message that it is every person’s duty to acculturate others into the ethos and spread the culture rather than think that it belongs in a centralised authority," she says.
A guiding principle is "radical inclusion". Participants define the event. The organisers are the enablers of the projects.
"These events work well as they invite archetypal impulses of the participants to play and create. Participants are playful, happy, irreverent, serious or whatever, and are collaborating. This is a catalyst for change."
Participants "gift" their content. This creates connections and friendships and builds the community and the event. Artwork, services, performances, live music, trays of cookies and sculptures are some of the gifts contributed to the experience.
After 10 years of AfrikaBurn, Schiess has witnessed many exciting and innovative projects, such as the artwork of a mining engineer: a "beautiful, flaming, singing washing machine". "He never ever thought of himself as an artist," says Schiess. "One of the things I love about AfrikaBurn is that it is a place of no judgment and everyone is a creator or artist.
"When you free that side of people, anything becomes possible. It becomes collaborative and playful. It is like exercising a muscle of working together. It is a change agent where fun is the vector for change. People are so inspired and so full of joy."
AfrikaBurn has built strong connections between collaborators, who contribute to their communities. The social and community health impact is monitored and evaluated using frameworks such as the gross national happiness parameters from Bhutan and the Julie’s Bicycle analysis tool.
"With AfrikaBurn, the city infrastructure to creative project ratio is inverted. A town that is dominated by creative projects feels like a healthier space. With Streetopia, we are attempting to do that inversion in town," says Schiess.
From its Salt River offices, AfrikaBurn plans its first excursion into the streets of Cape Town.
Streets around the Village Green and Lower Main Road in Observatory will be closed to traffic and opened to pedestrians, cyclists, buskers, live music stages and creative projects. The streets will become a blank canvas for inclusive and collaborative creative projects.
Iconic artworks of the AfrikaBurn community — such as mutant vehicles, giant sculptures, techie playfulness and an aerial art piece — will add to Observatory’s vibrant cultural diversity. Businesses such as the vintage clothing store, record stores, small eateries and cultural venues are encouraged to flow out onto the streets and decorate their pieces of pavement.
• Streetopia takes place on November 25 from 10am to 7pm.