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What does it take to run the Burning Man festival?

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Ron Lussier / Lenscraft

For one week every summer, up to 70,000 revellers gather in the Nevada desert for one of the world’s most far-out festivals.

Wearing anything from neon-coloured tutus, to nothing at all apart from a slick of face paint, they head for Black Rock City, a “temporary metropolis” in the desert, for the Burning Man event.

The aim is for attendees to help “co-create” a huge arts festival, while surrounded by giant interactive art installations and sculptures, such as a 25ft (8m) tall steel coyote, a 30ft-tall spinning wheel, and a temporary ornate temple.

A huge wooden man is then ceremonially burnt towards the end of the event.

With 10 declared key principles, including “radical self-reliance”, “radical inclusion”, and “radical self-expression”, to some outsiders the festival doesn’t so much sound radical, more like a gathering of hippies.

Add the fact that many participants don goggles to guard against the occasional sandstorm, and the event is often described as “Mad Max meets Woodstock”.

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Getty Images

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Many attendees wear goggle to protect their eyes from sandstorms

While this may sound like hell to many people, it is in fact a supremely popular and very fashionable event, with people paying $425 (£330) per ticket.

And famous attendees in recent years include singer Katy Perry, actor Will Smith, Google’s Larry Page, and electric car maverick Elon Musk.

With this year’s Burning Man drawing to a close on 4 September, Marian Goodell, the chief executive of the event’s managing organisation, Burning Man Project, spoke to the BBC about what goes on behind the scenes, and the festival’s history.

Burning Man was founded in 1986 when friends Larry Harvey and Jerry Goodell burned a wooden man on Baker Beach in San Francisco to mark the summer solstice, inevitably drawing a crowd.

This then grew into an annual festival, which in 1990 was held in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert for the first time.

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Ron Lussier / Lenscraft

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Up to 70,000 revellers gather in the desert for Burning Man

Today the operation is huge. Run as not-for-profit organisation, Burning Man Project reported annual revenues of $37.5m in 2015, of which $30.4m was ploughed back into running the event.

Ms Goodell first joined the organisation in 1996, a year after she took time out from her job as a project manager for a software development firm to experience her first “burn”.

The 54-year-old remembers her first experience of the festival very well.

“It was a big beautiful desert and I remember thinking it wasn’t very crowded,” she says.

“I was walking along and having magical experiences. There was a real opportunity to be creative and engage.”

Her first job at Burning Man was working on its marketing campaigns.

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John Curley

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Marian Goodell has led the Burning Man Project since 2013

Looking back she says: “There were six of us working side by side and we just focused on what we were best at.

“One of my biggest passions was communications, and so my focus was giving Burning Man a visibility and a voice.”

By 2013 Ms Goodell had become the organisation’s first chief executive, and now leads a team of about 100 people from its San Francisco headquarters.

Her remit and responsibilities have widened too.

“I speak out in the world, and make public appearances, and work on development and raising money,” she says.

“It’s a challenge explaining to the world that we are more than just an event in the desert for eight days.

“The rest of the time we’re doing leadership work and creating opportunities to connect with each other.”

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Reuters

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