The festival, known as a burn, is a regional offshoot of Burning Man, a massive week long art festival held annually in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert that saw 50,000 participants create a temporary city out of a barren landscape this year. Alchemy will host 3,499 participants of all ages in the scenic rolling hills and woods of Cherokee Farms.
Alchemy, held from Thursday through Oct. 1, is not a traditional art festival. As a burn, it is guided by the 10 principles of Burning Man, which include radical self-expression, civic responsibility, participation, radical self-reliance and radical inclusion.
Juan Lara, 29, works as a chef at Harvest Moon Café and Curlee’s Fish House and attended his first burn, Euphoria, in 2011 at Cherokee Farms. Euphoria is a sister-burn to Alchemy, held in the summer while Alchemy is held in the fall.
Lara said the environment of camping with attendees — known as burners — who are dedicated to including others around them and sharing, makes an immense impact on him. The ability to exist with others in an atmosphere that required no monetary transactions was a new idea that inspired him.
“I learned about myself in a way and to grow up in myself,” said Lara. “There’s so much going on in a burn that you feel a warming feeling inside yourself. By going to a burn, I’ve figured to become more artistic, not only in a drawing way but also expressing it.”
The highlight of Alchemy and other burns is the effigy burn on Saturday. For a week before the event, burners come together to build a pre-planned, multi-level wooden structure that will serve as a type of city center for the festival.
Saturday night, the crowd will gather in a large circle around the effigy, cheering as fire spinners dance and perform around it before the entire structure is set aflame. The burn can be compared to a large bonfire, but it holds a special meaning for many burners.
Georgia Highlands College student Justin Deal, 25, said the biggest draw for him is the burn night itself. His first burn was Euphoria in 2011, and he said the immense heat of the effigy burn put him into an introspective state of mind.
“The heat of it for some reason translated into this emotion,” said Deal. “It felt like it opened me up, and everything that was on my mind at that time just melted away. I felt this calm and really in touch with myself.”
Euphoria and Alchemy are as focused on community as they are on the individual. The burns are designed to create a space where people can freely take stock of their desires and drives in life while surrounded by a culture of supportive peers. “For me, it pushed me in the direction of school and to further educate myself, so that I can possibly do something in the future to make it better for everyone,” said Deal.
Holding to the idea of an art festival, many burners plan projects months in advance to share at the burns. Justin Majors, 29, and his fiancé, Karissa Teitsch, 28, will share a full-sized replica of a Lite Brite toy that was originally made from small colored pegs and a light board.
Dubbed the PowerBright5000, the project took 15 hours of construction between the two of them and will feature recycled plastic water bottles as multicolored pegs on a wooden board with cutout holes.
“One of the things that we love about Alchemy or any burn is that everything you see, do and hear is because the participants of the event bring it,” said Majors. “For us, being able to create and bring a project that allows people to play, use their imagination, and work together to create art is awesome!”