Petaluma to the Playa

The vision of the Petaluma Arts Center (PAC) is to build our community’s creative capacity. We believe that this exhibition is a catalyst, supercharging that vision. With an eye towards our mission of building community through art, this exhibition is supplemented by tours of the studios of local artists, a speaker/presenter series, workshops, and opportunities to come together in joy and celebration.

Inside the Gallery at PAC

Petaluma to the Playa is about local artists who create for and document Burning Man. When you stand at the front door of the Petaluma Arts Center, imagine seeing half-a-dozen studios within walking distance of Burner artists. Many works of art are visible from the streets. The display of these artists has spilled out of the gallery, into the plaza and into the town. These pieces may be from the design process for large-scale pieces, artworks created for Burning Man, or they may reflect on the history of the festival, or document some of the art and artists involved.

On display is sculptures, maquettes, jewelry, sections of large sculptures, books on Burning Man, journals, costumes created for the festival, and mutant vehicles. Come interact and peruse the remarkable creativity.

Experience Burning Man vicariously from videos and photographs illustrated by seasoned photographers and Burners. Spectators Welcome!

Outside the Gallery at PAC

  • Sculpture: Large sculpture pieces displayed around PAC grounds
  • Mutant Vehicles on display
  • Works of art in-progress

Studio Tours

  • Visit Studios of Petaluma artists near PAC
    • Michael Garlington
    • Reared in Steel
    • Mind Shaft Society

Gallery Hours

  • Wednesday – Friday 10:30AM – 4:30PM
  • Saturday 10:30AM – 9:00PM [extended hours!]
  • Sunday 1:00PM – 4:30PM

Petaluma to the Playa Events


Burning Man exhibit brings playa to Petaluma, no dust necessary

by Vicki Larson | Marin Independent Journal


For the longest time, the only way to see the amazing art at Burning Man — the annual nine-day spectacle that includes artistic performances, installations and music in the Nevada desert — was to attend the event itself.

But the notorious dust storms, heat, crowds — more than 70,000 people attended in 2018 — and pricey admission, assuming you can even get a ticket, keep many people away.

Which makes the “Petaluma to the Playa” exhibit at the Petaluma Arts Center, through Jan. 25, such a treat for burners and those who will never be burners. Curated by Mill Valley’s Freddy Hahne, it features wildly creative sculptures, photographs, jewelry, artifacts, maquettes and interactive artworks all made by North Bay artists, including several from Marin.

The goal, he says, is to give people a taste of what Burning Man is like.

“It’s an immersive way to experience Burning Man vicariously,” Hahne says.

Hahne also helped with the construction of a 40-foot-tall “Temple of Reunion” by Petaluma-based sculptor David Best and the Temple Crew for another, much larger traveling Smithsonian exhibit, “No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man,” at the Oakland Museum of California through Feb. 16, the show’s West Coast debut and final stop on a national tour. The two shows differ in that a good number of the artworks in Oakland were inspired by the playa, whereas the Petaluma exhibit features actual pieces from the playa as well as maquettes of what burners can expect this year, such as Mill Valley residents Marco Cochrane and Julia Whitelaw’s “Gaia” and “Babel,” a temple by Michael Garlington and Natalia Bertotti.

It also includes three large color photographs by Woodacre resident William Binzen, as well as a master diagram of Desert Siteworks, the festival’s precursor and a site-specific art event that he conceived, directed and co-produced in the 1990s.

The studios of numerous Burning Man artists are within walking distance of the Petaluma Arts Center, so Hahne had no problem gathering people to submit some of their artworks. “They were very enthusiastic about it,” says Hahne, a board member of the Rex Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the Grateful Dead, and president of the board of directors for the Black Rock Arts Foundation, created by Burning Man’s founders. “I had a vision of what I’d like to see.”

And that includes the personal shower Hahne re-creates every year to at least attempt to remove the never-ending desert dust, a video of images he’s taken on his phone over the year as well as his vibrantly painted art car, dubbed Huracan, which is outside the center along with two of Alex White’s mobile teapots from “The Lost Tea Party; “The Ovule” by Zoe Fry, Nicki Adani’s “Taking Flight” and an interactive drumming tree.

The idea that Burning Man art should be experienced outside the playa might not have occurred to burners had it not been for an ill-fated artwork that Best, Burning Man’s renowned temple-builder, installed in San Rafael’s Canal District in 2005.

Best was a day away from finishing “The Chapel of the Laborer,” a scaled-down version of the massive sculptures he builds on the playa that was dedicated to the Canal’s day laborers. After weeks of prepping for the chapel, and a few days erecting it in front of a Mexican grocery store on Bellam Boulevard, San Rafael city officials ordered Best to stop construction and dismantle it after the market’s property owner complained.

After that, Black Rock Arts Foundation board members decided they would make sure art from the playa was available for all to see. “Our mission was to export the spirit and the artwork of Burning Man beyond the playa, and that became our stepping stone to start generating works of art from Burning Man to be placed outside of Burning Man,” Hahne says.

He’s hopeful the “Petaluma to the Playa” exhibit conveys that spirit.

“My goal really was to reach out to people who would not go to Burning Man. They get to see this without getting dirty, without spending every weekend of the year building something,” he says. “I’ve watched many people walk through the exhibit and walk out saying, ‘Thank you. Now I see what goes on there.’ To see the volume and the enormity and the creativity that is Burning Man.”