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The Temple Master

templejunoDavid Best brings it back with this year’s The Temple of Juno

Have you ever wondered what it’s like as an artist—especially one who creates enormous sculptures and architectural feats, as does David Best, the man behind many of Burning Man’s temples—to see your masterpieces burnt into oblivion? “It’s kind of like those jokes—I built this temple and all I got is this lousy T-shirt,” jokes Best. But although the half dozen temples he has built for Black Rock City have all, inevitably, turned to ash, he actually says he would have it no other way. “The memory of those will last longer than a piece of art,” he says.

When he designed the first temple for Burning Man in 2000, he didn’t foresee it becoming an annual fixture at the event (arguably more beloved than The Man himself). He also hadn’t intended for them to become somber, spiritual spaces where thousands of Burners say final goodbyes to loved ones they have lost, although he’s glad that the community now has such a place.

Now, after a several year-long hiatus, Best is back at the helm, working on what he has dubbed The Temple of Juno (an ode to the Roman goddess and protector of women, which is fitting for the 2012 Burning Man theme, “Fertility 2.0”). Burning Man has grown quite a bit in the years he’s been involved, and the temples have grown along with it—a trend Best wants to curb. “The art is getting better and better—the bar is continually raised,” Best says. “But can you play ‘Stairway to Heaven’ again? There’s a pressure to make the next temple better or bigger. I have to put the pressure of the community out of my mind, and just try to make a piece that is going to be a good piece.”

With The Temple of Juno, he hopes to restore the temple to a more economically sustainable level. “I’m trying to come back and bring it down to a more manageable scale,” he says. “Financially and spiritually, I don’t think it needs to be quite so big.”

But before Best and the “Temple Crew” (comprised of 300 to 400 volunteers, who Best says deserve all the credit) can get busy building this year’s temple, they need to raise the funds to do so. With a partial grant from Burning Man already secured, the project is looking to the website Kickstarter to garner the rest of the funds.

Best looks forward to handing The Temple of Juno—which he says will be his last—over to the community this August, and watching as BRC citizens fill it with memories and prayers, and adorn it with scrawled messages and mementos. “It’s nothing until it’s filled with all those things that people bring,” he says.

After that creation has gone up in flames, he will start focusing on his next endeavor: taking the Burning Man ethos and creativity to the outside world, namely through construction of an unpermitted performing arts center in Detroit, Mich.

“I’m more interested in reaching out outside of the desert with my work,” he says. 

Learn more about The Temple of Juno and the people behind it at templecrew.org. To donate to the project, search for “The Temple 2012” on Kickstarter.com.

See cover story: Beyond Black Rock City.

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