Chicagos Entheon Village reinvents counterculture with art, community, and activism
By Seamus Presley
It is very difficult for the uninitiated to understand what the Burning Man festival is, much less how it has anything to do with the real world. You need to actually leave the Playa and go back to the respective urban centers from which most of the festivals participants hail to see the ethos in action. For even though Burning Man itself is only ten-odd days out of the year, and despite popular conceptions of the festival as an annual bacchanal for West Coast hedonists, if you ask a Burner they will tell you its about so much more. They will tell you that it is about a new set of cultural values and a new way to approach art and community. They will also (naturally) tell you it is about the expansion of consciousness.
The lifestyle and value system that is transmuted from the cultural crucible of the Black Rock Desert to the day-to-day lives of Burners hither and yon comes home to Chicago via the people of Entheon Village, a community of artists and activists brought together a few years ago by Burning Man, who have since worked hard to become largely self-sustaining. Rather than relegating Burning Man to a yearly respite from point-and-click drudgery, these folks, in a manner of speaking, live the Man day in and day out.
Weve created a place for people who dont want to go into the corporate world to be true to themselves, says Entheon member Liz Campanella. We have support systems for our music, art, and organizing, where we are able to go and be a part of this larger community and make money and support ourselves in a truly alternative lifestyle.
The larger Entheon community includes businesses like the new Wicker Park night spot Dulcenea, Yoga Now studios, and the SewOp, a clothing cooperative located in the basement of The Electric Company, an art and community space in Pilsen owned by Entheon member Matt Atwood and his wife, Melissa.
From (L) Matt Atwood, Kokopaulli, Dan Simborg and Liz Campanella. Photo: Thomas Chadwick
Campanella and Atwood are members of Entheons inner circle known as the Hub 8, a group of enterprising young Chicagoans who are working to build a sustainable alternative culture in Chicago. Campanella owns her own event and production company, Arise Productions, and Atwood is the project manager for an Illinois biodiesel start-up (his wife is a pediatrician). They are joined by Dan Simborg, founder of the Chicago art collective Transamoeba, Marvin Marzocco, founder of the local building and design group Artisans in Construction, artist Kristy Scanland, natural health and nutrition instructor Cindy Woodward, club owner Cliff Wilkerson, and Kokopaulli, eco-activist, vegan chef, and founder of the Sew-Op.
These eight came together to coordinate the building and operation of the actual Village on the Playa. The total operating budget for the camp was $100,000, raised in part from a series of four Entheon art and dance parties held over the summer at an old commercial laundry building on the South Side. It took a year of planning, one semi truck, and four 25-foot moving trucks to move all the gear from Chicago, Seattle and Reno to the Black Rock desert. But once there, they constructed a campsite larger and more elaborate than most in the history of the festival.
It was not surprising that Chicagoans designed something so ambitious, Its a testament to Chicagos legacy of making no small plans, and reflective of the core Burning Man principle of radical self-reliance. Brian Burke of Burningmanchicago.com called it one of the wildest, most ambitions camps of the festival, showcasing both Chicagos grit and its new found green identity.
For the better part of a week we fed and housed over 400 people, provided 2 meals a day, snacks, showers, drinking water and good cheer, says Matt Atwood, with a notable pride. Dan Simborg laughs. It was a Herculean feat, damn near a miracle for the middle of the desert!
The entrance to Entheon Village on the Playa
at Burning Man. Photo: Devin Breen
Still, its difficult to understand just precisely what Entheon Village is, and its not made any easier by the Hub 8, who have a tendency to wax poetic and abstract, calling it anything from a state of mind to a moment in time. By formal definition, Entheon is a place to discover the spirit within. The word is derived from entheogen which is a natural or artificial substance or practice that induces alterations of consciousness. In the corporeal, it was of course a multi-building camp space. In the ethereal, Entheon Village was a crucible to meld visionary art and visionary science by discovering the scientist, artist, and therapist within.
At the 06 festival, Entheon Village hosted a lecture series that featured appearances by Rick Doblin, Daniel Pinchbeck, Eric Davis, Robert Venosa and Martina Hoffmann. Entheon also hosted visionary artists Alex & Allyson Greys Chapel of Sacred Mirrors. There was an Open Mind Zendo built by an international Zen community, and then there was Sanctuary, the centerpiece and raison detre of the Village, a treatment and harm reduction facility built expressly to serve the Burning Man festival.
Matt Atwood is the former national president of Students for a Sensible Drug Policy. It was in his work there that he began to forge a relationship with Rick Doblin, the Founder & President of M.A.P.S., the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, a Boston-based non-profit research organization that works with the healing and spiritual properties of psychedelics. M.A.P.S. is the only organization in the world licensed (even by the U.S. FDA) to study the therapeutic aspects of LSD and MDMA. Both Atwood and Doblin have spent considerable time and energy trying to reform drug policy and create harm-reduction programs, and there seemed no better place to establish a presence than on the Playa at Black Rock.
Realizing that there was a need for some kind of official, therapeutic harm-reduction entity to deal with the emotional stresses experienced by some who experiment with psychedelics, the stated goal of the M.A.P.S./Entheon partnership was to assist the Black Rock Rangers (a volunteer policing entity) in the creation and operation of just such a treatment facility.
You see, the giant white elephant in the middle of the aforementioned Playa is the fact that, yes, Virginia, there is widespread psychedelic use at Burning Man. But its within the context of a different understanding of what the role of psychedelics may be in our culture. But you wouldnt know that talking to the Burning Man hierarchy, whose public stance on drug use at the festival is akin to the Bush Administrations stance on global warming: they both claim the problem does not exist. This stance is mainly to protect the freedom and integrity of the event by not giving the authorities an official pretext to raid or shut down the festival. The Rangers, in the words of a festival insider, serve as a buffer between the participants and the law enforcement community.
Our society is suffering from a 40-year old bad acid trip, says Rick Doblin, Founder of M.A.P.S. Psychedelic culture was turned into a pejorative, and so any efforts aimed at harm-reduction in drug use were criminalized. Weve worked hard with [the organizers of BM] over the years to bring this kind of service to fruition in the most responsible and therapeutic manner. Twenty-four hours a day, M.A.P.S. representatives, mental health professionals and trainees served those having psychedelic emergencies, which usually were simple emotional issues where medical assistance (or god forbid, police intrusion) would have been inappropriate and unnecessary.
This is o
ne example of how the counterculture has finally learned how to take care of itself in the 40 years since the introduction of psychedelics into the American consciousness. Todays counterculture is far savvier and more creatively subversive. Standing on the shoulders (and blunders) of giants like Hoffman, Leary, and the other Hoffman (Albert, inventor of LSD), todays yippies are culturally conscious community entrepreneurs offering a complete course in cultural re-evolution.
Seamus Presley is a Chicago-based writer living on the outskirts of Entheon Village. Visit consciouschoice.com to read the full interview with Rick Doblin of M.A.P.S.