Final Entry Lights for Africa

September 01, 2012

Tweets from the recent Emerging Leaders Certificate Program launch event exposed CPA Bryan Carpenter, an audit senior at LevitZacks Certified Public Accountants, as one of the minds behind a Burning Man exhibit/charitable project that has helped schools in Africa. California CPA decided to investigate further and find out more about this young emerging professional and his participation with, and found him just gearing up for the 2012 project and festival in the desert.

How does an audit senior end up at Burning Man?
Being blessed to grow up in a place such as Jackson Hole, Wyo., I have always had an affinity for the outdoors and experiencing new activities. I had heard great things about the Burning Man festival from multiple people of all walks of life. It intrigued me that a gathering as big as Burning Man could thrive under one unifying theme: “Participate.” I knew this was something that I needed to experience.

What is a Flutter Tunnel?
The Flutter Tunnel is a 1,000-foot long sculpture illuminated by 200 solar powered flashlights. It is made up of roughly 100 steel arches. Each arch consists of two, 25-foot decommissioned sucker rods coupled together. Sucker rods are strong, but flexible, steel rods that are used for oil drilling. We drill two, two- to three-foot-holes, and the sucker rod is bent and each end is placed into the holes. The tension from the rods is enough to create an arch. The solar powered flashlights are attached to each arch, charge during the days and light the project during the nights. The tunnel is wide enough for Burning Man participants to walk or ride their bikes through. After the festival, the sucker rods are returned to the vendor for a restocking fee. In 2009, with the help of Books for Africa and Schools for Salone, we shipped the 200 solar powered flashlights to Maforeka in Sierra Leone. We will be doing the same this year.

What was the genesis of the idea?
I must credit my childhood friend Bland Hoke with the initial conception for the 2009 and 2012 Flutter Tunnel projects. Throughout his life he has created multiple large scale and innovative art projects ( with the concept of using recycled, reused and re-purposed materials. In 2005, Bland Hoke, Ben Roth and Felicia Resor created the “Ranch Bow,” which was 700 feet of arches from sucker rods. In 2007 Bland and I first attended Burning Man. We purchased a decommissioned hot air balloon and used sucker rods to create a giant tent for our living quarters. Our group made hammocks out of the remaining material and gave them away to participants at the festival. We were intrigued by the large-scale art at the festival and vowed that if we ever returned it would be with a large scale art project. After a year of brainstorming, Flutter Tunnel was conceived.

How did Flutter Tunnel turn into a charitable project?
Burning Man has two requirements for art projects: Leave no trace and the project must be lit at night. We determined that solar powered flashlights would be the best method to light our project since it didn’t require the use of a generator or batteries. The theme for Burning Man in 2009 was “Evolution.” We wanted our project to “evolve” art in such a way that would create zero waste and benefit society once the project was finished. Thus the concept of donating the solar powered flashlights.

What was the most challenging part of the process?
The fund-raising. With little experience in this realm, it was initially difficult for me to ask friends, family and strangers to contribute to the project. Especially back in 2009, because it was a new concept and many people doubted the project would be completed. In 2012, we were under a greater time constraint to raise the funds. I’m pleased to announce that we were able to attain our goal and have already purchased 200 solar powered flashlights for the 2012 project!

What’s the most challenging part of working in audits?
The most challenging—but also rewarding—part has been time management. As is typical with most careers, increased responsibility is undertaken the further one progresses. My personal motto is to strive for constant improvement. I believe there is always room to be more effective and efficient with time. It has been rewarding to see myself progress in this manner and will continue to do so in the future.

Has your Flutter Tunnel experience taught you anything that you’ve taken back into the workplace?
Accountants have stereotypically been classified as introverted people. I consider myself to fall into this category, and have always been shy—especially around people I’ve just met. I became especially aware of this when my current firm, LevitZacks, began encouraging all employees to become active in the networking community. Working on the Flutter Tunnel projects have forced me to get out of my shell and talk to people. Through these experiences, I’ve found myself much more comfortable at networking events. Although I still get nervous whenever I enter a room full of people I’ve never met before, the skills and confidence I’ve developed from the successful fund-raising activities provides me with the strength to be proactive and meet new people.

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