Burning Man’s recent announcement of a “successful transition” to a non-profit, implied that this transition has now been completed. The Reno Gazette Journal said “completed“, SFist said “fully transitioned“, and the Huffington Post called it “official” and said “the new nonprofit will unify the two entities, solidifying its cultural stronghold”. Burning Man founder Larry Harvey said “the truth is…we’ve surrendered all rights of ownership”.
We (and others) raised the question “wait a minute – how does Decommodification, LLC fit into the picture”? This privately held for-profit company is independent of the non-profit Burning Man Project and its wholly owned subsidiary Black Rock City LLC, which operates the festival. Despite controlling the “crown jewels” of Burning Man, its trademarks and other intellectual property, it was not mentioned by BMOrg in their announcement. They also neglected to mention the transfer of the Gerlach properties from Black Rock City LLC to Black Rock City Properties LLC, and the recent formation of yet another private company controlled by the founders, Gerlach Holdings LLC.
The subsequent Internet discussion has prompted Larry Harvey to come forward to share further information about what is actually going on. It seems that, in fact, the transition has not been fully completed, and won’t be for at least three more years, when the transfer becomes subject to a unanimous vote of the six founders:
I will address two lingering perplexities. It has been asked if we intend to reveal the financial records of Black Rock City LLC. The answer is yes; that too will happen at about the same time as the Burning Man Project reveals its information—these two entities will then become a clean well-lighted suite of rooms thrown open for inspection. But I cannot guaranty that even this amount of disclosure will satisfy everyone. Even then, I suppose that some will look for skeletons in closets, or search for sliding walls that might conceal a dungeon.
So let me make one last comment regarding Decommodification LLC, which is viewed by some as a sort of sinister outbuilding that is separate from both the event organization and the Burning Man Project. My fellow founders and I are the sole members of this entity whose chief property is the name “Burning Man”. This too will be transferred to the non-profit in three years time, unless the partners elect “not” to do so by a unanimous vote. This arrangement is designed to force our hand.
The Burning Man event organization has used this trademark power to protect our community’s culture from being exploited. We have done this very diligently over several years (it is a right of ownership that must exercised, or it will perish). Furthermore, we have not relied on licensing this intellectual property as a source of revenue. The reason for this 3-year interval is that even we do not invest blind faith in the new non-profit’s workings, and we want to be perfectly sure that it can be relied upon, in the face of temptations that arise within any organization when dealing with power or money, to pursue the policies that we have practiced.
I want to thank everyone who has participated in this discussion. Regardless of divisions of opinion, it certainly shows that people care. Such discourse will be very helpful when we roll out the entire agreement that governs this transition. It has taken my partners and I four full years, as we’ve confronted stacks of documents written in densely worded legalese, to gain a grasp of what all of this means and how it will function. So I suppose that, when this veritable elephant of information is made public, there will be those who grasp its tail, others who will seize its ears, and still others who will locate a mole on its butt (and then perhaps suspect that the entire creature is cancerous).
This certainly will be a lot to digest, and we plan to develop a very extensive Q & A document that will help interpret it. The issues and concerns that have arisen here, and those that will surface in future discussions focusing on the operation of the Burning Man Project, will help us to create this guide, and whether your initial response is thumbs up, or thumbs down, or somewhere in between, you are all a part of this
This is kind of an important detail to the story! To paraphrase: “we’ve transitioned to a non-profit, except for the actual assets. We put those into new for-profit companies that we control independently. We may transfer them in three years based on a unanimous vote”.
Would they have admitted this without our questioning? Well, they’ve had four full years to, and they haven’t said anything before.
We give Larry and his co-founders the benefit of the doubt that soon we’re going to see a new level of financial transparency from BMOrg, as well as transparency about what their “hundred year plan” is. It would be a shame if Burners had to wait another three years or more to find out what is really going on with the future of our culture.