The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The Burning Man of D.C. is coming to the National Mall, minus the alcohol and drugs

Fire spinners performed at Catharsis on the Mall in November 2018. They'll be back again this year. (Victoria Pickering)

Every year since 2015, the organizers behind Catharsis on the Mall have staged a weekend-long, miniature Burning Man beside the Washington Monument. This year, they are offering an addition to their typical festival of lectures, all-night dance parties and flammable art: decent weather.

“It has been unbearably cold in past years, because it was in November, so we moved it to the spring,” spokesperson Lauren Berlekamp says. “We are hoping the sun will keep shining for us through the weekend, despite any current forecasts.”

Starting Friday at noon, Catharsis on the Mall will offer 48 hours of nonstop programming loosely centered on the theme of environmental protection — or, as the organizers put it, “Our Mothership.” Lectures on climate change will happen side by side with interactive art installations like “Primordial Soap,” where attendees can frolic in biodegradable soap bubbles and contemplate the importance of clean water. The organizers also raised about $23,000 to bring in “Ichiro Sacred Beings,” a huge dinosaur-skeleton sculpture covered in multicolored beads.

As with Burning Man, Catharsis on the Mall’s main event is the ritual immolation of art built specifically for that purpose. On Friday, “A Well Rooted Woman,” a 5-foot-tall sculpture of a pregnant woman by artist Quest Skinner, will be burned at about 8 p.m., and on Saturday, a 5-foot altar made by Michael Verdon will be set aflame sometime between 8 and 10 p.m. The altar will be filled with pieces of paper and wood written on by this weekend’s Catharsis attendees.

“It’s an invitation for people to dig down and leave messages that are anonymous and honest and hopefully give themselves room to feel and breathe and let go of pain,” Verdon says.

National Mall, near 16th Street and Constitution Avenue NW; noon Fri. through noon Sun., free.