WASHINGTON (AP) — Coming soon to the National Mall: a 70-foot-long metal dragon on wheels that doubles as a stage. A wooden temple that will be set ablaze. And events called "cascading into compassion" and the "consciousness hacking meet-up."
That's the vision for Catharsis on the Mall , a three-day event that seeks to bring a small slice of the famed Burning Man festival to the foot of the Washington Monument. The event starts Friday afternoon and will continue round-the-clock through Sunday with seminars, events and performances in tents, stages and camps.
Organizers envision a scaled-down version of Burning Man, the raucous festival in the Nevada desert that draws thousands each year and features outlandish costumes and the burning of a massive wooden figure. However, they say the Catharsis event is designed to be more of a political protest and spiritual vigil than the controlled chaos of Burning Man.
"There's a deeply spiritual side to what we're trying to do," said Adam Eidinger, a local activist who has helped organize Catharsis events in Washington for the past three years. "Having sacred fire on the mall is a very religious thing."
The massive metal dragon, known as Abraxas, is itself a Burning Man veteran and will roll through the streets around the Capitol during a protest march at dawn Sunday. On Saturday night, a small wooden temple will be set ablaze under the close eye of fire marshals.
The burning of the temple is at the heart of the catharsis concept that provides the event's name. Visitors will be encouraged to leave notes or pictures in the temple that symbolize traumas or pains — the burn will symbolize the release of that trauma.
This year, the event carries feminist themes and a focus on women's issues in general. One emphasis will be on the Equal Rights Amendment, the proposed constitutional amendment guaranteeing equal treatment under the law regardless of gender. It was approved by Congress in 1972, but never ratified by the necessary 38 states. The ratification deadline expired in 1982, but activists hope to revive it.
One aspect that won't be part of the event is R-Evolution, a 47-foot-high sculpture of a nude woman in a yoga pose that was featured at this year's Burning Man. Organizers worked with the National Park Service on the issue for months and in September received permission to erect the sculpture and leave it up for about four months. However, the Interior Department abruptly reversed course and in an Oct. 25 letter the Park Service rejected the sculpture, saying the permission had been "issued to you in error."
The rejection letter said the sculpture could damage the National Mall's grass and was "likely to have an adverse effect on the aesthetics, including the cultural identity, of the area."
Organizers believe their plans were rejected for political reasons. They say early publicity may have hurt them: An artist's rendering of the statue that was widely printed in the media depicted a sculpture that looked to be nearly half the height of the 550-foot Washington Monument.
National Park Service spokesman Michael Litterst said that "a number of new facts and circumstances" were brought to the attention of the NPS, resulting in a "reconsideration of the initial approval."
Litterst, in an email to The Associated Press, said the sculpture was deemed to be larger than originally proposed and the crane that would be used to erect it judged to be "significantly heavier than originally proposed" and likely to damage both the grass and the concrete near the Washington Monument.
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