The Artist Behind the Temple of Burning Man

The burning man of the Burning Man Festival

The burning man. Photo: Shutterstock

If there’s one thing that everyone knows about the Burning Man festival, it’s that a man burns. A wooden man of course. It’s the culmination of the festival into one crazy last night.

It is much less known that on Sunday night, there is a temple that burns. The temple burn has an entirely different tone than the night that the man burns. Throughout the week people flock to the temple to leave messages or trinkets that they want burned with it. These can be photos of lost loved ones or messages that could never be said to those they are addressed to. And it’s all burned Sunday night in a cathartic closing to the weeklong festival.

David Best is the artist and vision behind the creation of the temples at Burning Man. He was born and educated in the Bay Area and was known for his large-scale plaster figures and for the art cars he created.

Best’s philosophy on art is that it should reflect the community, not the economy. Those who work for him are volunteers and he works primarily with scrap materials. He uses Kickstarter and fundraisers to fund material and transportation costs. Best does not expect his volunteers to be highly skilled, just safe and courteous—he wants to work with people who love what they do and help people learn to love the work as well.

His first Burning Man was in the year 2000 after one of his friends was killed in an accident. The group he attended the festival with built a tribute to him as part of their grieving process, and this was the first temple. Many other people added names to the sculpture before it was burnt.

Best was later asked by the Burning Man organization if he would come back and build another, bigger temple. He decided to dedicate it to those who have lost someone to suicide and called it the Temple of Tears.

Each year since then, the temples have grown in size and attracted a large number of visitors, all bringing various personal artifacts or stories. It has become an integral part of the Burning Man culture in the 15 years since his first burn.

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