Update: This story has been updated to include corrected times for the basket viewing as well as information on viewing the Sunday, Sept. 13, live video broadcast.
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Homer’s annual Burning Basket will happen this year, but the actual burning will be streamed live, and not open to the public.
Artist and Burning Basket Coordinator Mavis Muller said she had considered two options: Plan A, hold the event as usual, but with COVID-19 safe restrictions, or Plan B, a virtual event with a public interactive element.
“We have decided to go ahead with Plan B,” she said on Monday. “I still have lots of dots to connect. That’s a reimagining of the whole project.”
People still will have an opportunity to see the completed basket in person and interact with it by placing objects and written material on it. “Reimagine,” the name of this year’s basket, will be displayed from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 12, and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 13, at Wisdom, Knowledge, Faith and Love Park on Pioneer Avenue. Members of the drumming circle who have played in the past will be at WKFL Park during the public interaction.
“This is the basket that will give us an opportunity to recognize the loss of hundreds of thousands lost to this pandemic,” Muller said.
“Reimagine” will be moved off site on Saturday night, and then on Sunday, after the public interaction, it will be moved to a private location for its broadcast ceremonial burning that night at about 8:30 p.m. Muller plans to include a slide show of past baskets as well as poetry readings and other activities that will start at 7:30 p.m. It can be viewed as a Facebook live video at facebook.com/BurningBasketProject. It also can be viewed on YouTube by searching for “Homer Burning Basket 2020.”
Last month, Muller announced that the annual impermanent art project would be held at its traditional location at Mariner Park on the Homer Spit. In light of the pandemic, Muller planned to hold the events with conditions, such as spreading out on the beach, mask wearing and no interactive materials table.
However, on Monday, Muller said that in thinking further about how to keep the community safe with an event that could attract large groups, she decided she will not go forward with a live burning of the Burning Basket.
“It does seem like the right decision not to hold a public gathering like that,” Muller said. “… It’s not a sacrifice. It’s, oh boy, we get to do it different this year.”
Muller had applied for a large special event permit for Mariner Park from the City of Homer. It’s a requirement for any large group activity, but she has now pulled that application. Mariner Park is a city property and required an event permit for the space as well as a permit to burn the basket.
Muller’s application was being processed by the city, with department heads reviewing the application before sending it to City Manager Rob Dumouchel. On Monday, Dumouchel said he had not yet made his final decision, but had heard that Muller was withdrawing her application to hold the Burning Basket at Mariner Park.
Dumouchel said that he had been considering at approving the permit with conditions.
“We do have the ability to set certain conditions as far as operations, number of people, locations,” he said. “… If she were to go forward with that on the site proposed, what I wanted to do was meet her on site and discuss her COVID safety plans and best practices, and see if there was a balance that could be met there to make it safe and just get the general feel of the event.”
Now in its 17th year, the Burning Basket has become a community art event and fall tradition. Instigated by Muller, in past years the project has started with a week of building the basket on site near the Mariner Park beach. Volunteers help Muller build a frame and then weaved a large, 6- to 10-foot wide, multisided basket using natural materials like alder, bluejoint grass and fireweed. Portholes were built in the basket sides for people to leave notes and mementos. On its last day, the basket was presented to the community for interaction.
Billed as an opportunity of remembrance and unburdening, people were invited to write messages or post photos of lost family and friends. Drummers laid down a beat during the last hours leading up to the burning. A labyrinth built with help from Fireweed Academy students also offered a means for people to contemplate the meaning of the moment. At sundown, the basket was lit.
Even before Muller decided on the virtual event, she had made some changes. The basket was to be built in sections at her home and then moved to the Spit. In 2016 and 2015, vandals damaged the basket in progress when it was left in Mariner Park during the building week. In 2015, one vandal completely destroyed it by yanking it apart with a chain pulled by a truck. Both times, volunteers made last-minute repairs and the burning went on as scheduled.
While Homer’s special event permit system does cover issues like crowd size, Dumouchel said no one had anticipated setting further limits on crowd size or other factors during a pandemic. The code does say that approval of a large event is conditional that it “will not be detrimental to the public health, safety or convenience.”
“As these situations arise, it gives us something to think about and possible modifications to code if something like this (a pandemic) occurs in the future,” he said.
This week, Muller and volunteers have been building “Reimagine.” Initially it was to be a six-sided larger basket to be built in sections and reinstalled at Mariner Park. With the new plan, it’s a smaller, four-sided basket built on a pallet so it can be easily moved. Muller said the challenge of creating the Burning Basket in the pandemic has sparked a new perspective on the annual art project.
“You know the phrase I like to use, ‘prepare for opportunity disguised as loss?’” she said. “This is opportunity disguised as loss. We are not going to be able to gather shoulder-to-shoulder basking in the fire light of the basket.”
Muller noted that 10 years ago the basket was named “Imagine.”
“This year we are reimagining how to let this basket tell a different story — not a lesser story, a more intimate story that involves an in-depth look at the phenomena of this project,” she said. “… Imagination is not a finite process It’s not like you imagine it and that’s how it will be. There is flux and there is change.”
Reach Michael Armstrong at firstname.lastname@example.org.