THE 747 BIG IMAGINATION FOUNDATION FRONT MAN TALKS ABOUT
BIG DREAMS, CHANGING LIVES AND THAT BOEING.
By Saida Mouradova.
747 Big Imagination Foundation is not only about bringing a 747 Boeing, possibly the biggest moving art project this world, to Burning Man, it’s about dreaming big. It’s about building on the foundation of a concept that big ideas generate big ripples! This is not just about the experience that a 747 Boeing will provide on the Playa, it’s also about giving back to the world. 747 Big Imagination Foundation is an ongoing, year-round project that will emphasize on progressive education and creating the most incredible events and workshops.
Myself and one of our behind the scene contributors Anya Khalamayzer, sat down with camp leader, Ken Feldman, to talk about big imagination, Unicorn Charlie, saving lives and changing the world.
Twenty Five Hundred: 747 Big Imagination is an art car, a Burning Man camp, but it is also a charity foundation. How did this entire idea come about?
Ken Feldman: The concept of an art car made out of an airplane came about in 2009. In 2014, we decided we would go for an entire airplane. (Project partner) John Teo and I thought we could go even bigger, and John created the Big Imagination nonprofit with the goal of incubating and supporting projects that are visionary, bold, and inspiring.
TFH: What does it mean to you to dream big?
KF: For me, “Dream big” means doing something that will have a large impact across a large number of people. You can imagine and dream all you want, but you have to put it into action – it can be a nice dream, but you have to make it real.
TFH: I remember the story you told me about your friend whose life was saved because of an art car that you were working in at the time. Was that also a pivotal moment for you in any way?
KF: My first art car, Charlie the Unicorn, was built in 2004. Many people at the time told me that it was stupid, just as many people now tell me that the 747 is stupid. At the time that I was planning on building the unicorn, I met someone who wanted to work on my art car. I called him up about six months later to ask if he could lend a hand in it. He came down to help me build it and we became really close friends. About a year later, he told me that at the moment that I called him, he was sitting with a gun in his hand, contemplating suicide.
He thought, “I could either kill myself or I can go work on your car.”
He was a veteran and was afflicted with PTSD, and this project became therapy for him.
It was proof that this can impact and inspire lives. It’s absurd to take 747 from the Mojave Desert, drag it 500 miles to another desert, and turn it into a mobile extravaganza. There’s no money in it. We are doing it for the love of it, for the art, to affect people’s lives. And to have fun.
“What is unique about art at Burning Man is that it is very interactive.
It has to be built in a way that it survives people and an extreme environment.”
TFH: We are used to seeing art as something that brings beauty to our lives and can be therapeutic. However, one important point is often overlooked- art can also change the world. Do you think that art at Burning Man has a stronger voice? And if so, how can we make it louder?
KF: It’s not for me to say whether art at Burning Man is stronger than other art. Everyone has a different way of evaluating the success of their art. The important part is the intent of the artist and whether the artist thinks they’ve accomplished their intent.
What is unique about art at Burning Man is that it is very interactive. You get to crawl under it and on top of it, smell it, touch, it, and feel it. It has to be built in a way that it survives people and an extreme environment.
It’s a very different experience than going to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I can’t rub my skin on a Picasso; I’ll go to jail.
I think that the people who take Burning Man art on tour make it louder. There is a lot of high-quality art at Burning Man that is moving around so people can see it, feel it, and touch it in person. Over the years, there have been bigger, better-funded, and better-built projects that are transportable. It’s important that art not be contained, that the sheer genius that goes into these projects breaks out of the festival.
“The family that we built is the most gratifying, satisfying, and important thing that has come out of Burning Man. That came about because of the festival, but it now exists whether or not Burning Man exists.”
TFH: I believe that to do something really well one has to understand it, almost feel it. Not many people know this about you, but you have experience building camps from scratch at Burning Man. Would you mind sharing more about this part of your past?
KF: I have had experience doing production for theater, film, television, concerts, events, and political campaigns. I was with Robot Heart in 2008. Putting it on isn’t that hard – there are just a lot of boxes to check off. It’s about getting together a great team of people, which we have been doing since last year. Now the infrastructure is in place.
“A 747 is one of the craziest projects to go to Burning Man or anywhere else.
I’m the luckiest man on earth right now.”
TFH: That’s a lot of money. Why so big? Why not settle for a smaller idea?
KF: The Boeing 747 is iconic. Because of its size (two stories), it made international travel for the masses possible. Up until that point, it was said that you couldn’t put enough people on a plane to drive the average cost down enough for families to travel to another country. Billions of people have flown on the 747. It made international travel possible and created a deeper understanding across societies, civilizations, and countries.
TFH: And what happens if 747 Big Imagination doesn’t get fully funded this year? Where will the money go and what will happen to the project?
KF: We’re coming this year. We have already passed our first fundraising goal. We are now doing everything we can to bring the whole plane.
TFH: You have mentioned that you will never start another Burning Man camp ever again.
KF: Not a chance. It is a tremendous amount of work. I’m committed to do this until the entire plane is there. I wanted it to be a year, it was 3 years. It’s a huge portion of my life. I’m going to climb this mountain. Once I climb it, I won’t climb it ever again.
TFH: Besides living in the desert while working on the plane every day, taking numerous conference calls on daily bases and basically permanently living out of a suitcase, tell me about some of the other effects this projects has had on your life.
KF: I have made amazing friends and learned a lot about myself, both good and bad. I get to create. I’m blessed. It’s crazy hard work. But how many people can say they have done something like this? A 747 is one of the craziest projects to go to Burning Man or anywhere else. I’m the luckiest man on earth right now.
A secret donor announced yesterday that they will be matching every Indie GoGo dollar collected in the next 3 days, until the campaign ends. Please consider contributing to the 747 Big Imagination Foundation.
And remember- #DreamBig!