Skill unlocked

The Key Bearer Project

Jacqueline Evans and Scott Fraleigh stand with one of the large crystals of the Key Bearer Project.

Jacqueline Evans and Scott Fraleigh stand with one of the large crystals of the Key Bearer Project.

Photo/Mark Earnest

The next Key Bearer Project’s Makers’ Potluck starts at 3 p.m. on Aug. 4 at the Generator, 1240 Icehouse Drive, Sparks. Learn more at

Some art is just to study, while other art invites participation and immersion. Burning Man has long been a venue for the latter, and a new project by a group of local artists and volunteers aims to go perhaps a step beyond.

The Key Bearer Project has an ambitious idea behind it, inspired by project lead Scott Fraleigh’s experiences on the playa in his six years attending the event.

What Burning Man attendees will see is a series of large crystals that have thousands of lock boxes on them. While on the playa, Fraleigh and his volunteers will give people keys to those boxes, but with some special stipulations.

“We’ll be bestowing keys to people that we see doing acts of kindness or selflessness, or to loners who look like they are afraid to engage with other people,” said Jacqueline Evans, Key Bearer Project manager. “Then, when they come to our art installation, they’ll be searching for the lock to the key and will hopefully make some life-long relationships in the overlap with everyone else that’s looking.”

“We want to send people on an adventure, and create a commonality and place for people to potentially bond,” Fraleigh said.

The project also looks beyond the two weeks at Black Rock City. Besides a handmade art gift in each box, there also will be pendants with a barcode and information to join up with the project online. After the event, these new project members can vote on a way to “make the world a better place,” with the idea receiving the most votes being put into action by the Key Bearer Project.

Fraleigh said that Key Bearer is in the planning stages to be a non-profit, and he hopes to bring the installation to other cities.

So far, there have been about 18 volunteers helping out with Key Bearer, plus many more who have supplied gifts, locks or materials for the project. They have also been hosting Makers’ Potlucks at the Generator, 1240 Icehouse Ave., Sparks, in order to drum up interest or volunteer work for the project.

The biggest challenge, though, seems to be funding. Through their website and some events at local bars, they’ve raised about a quarter of their $8,500 goal, but they’ve also received some great materials to add to the piece, including the red crystal panels that were recycled from a hotel’s recent renovation project.

Doing this project at this year’s Burning Man is intriguing all on its own. With Bureau of Land Management disagreements looming over it—and the continued perception that it’s just a party for rich Bay Area magnates to fly their private jets into—some Burner believers like these volunteers are hoping Key Bearer brings positivity to the playa.

“In my original pitch for this, I wrote down that I’ve heard a lot of people saying they don’t like what Burning Man is turning into,’” Fraleigh said. “So, I want to set the highest-level example to spread out to the world of what you can do there. The Burn to me is still really special, and I’ve had the best times out there with the most amazing people, and I want to bring something there that has the ability to form connections that go beyond it.”