Art World Rocked By Burning Man’s Latest Move

The Black Rock Arts Foundation is on the way out. The BuMPy Burning Man Project will be taking it over. When? It’s already happened, but details are “coming soon”…of course.

Let us translate the doublespeak, exaggeration and misdirection for you. From the official blog:

What if I want to make a donation to Burning Man Arts moving forward?

At this time you can still donate through the BRAF website, here: In the very near future there will be a new way to donate to art programs through the Burning Man Project. While details are yet to be determined, donors will have the option of directing support specifically to arts.

“Very near future” probably means “after we get back from Caravansary”, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it turns out to be “sometime in 2015″. They’ve been working on this non-profit thing since 2010. They announced it was completed in January of this year, which has turned out not to be true. This latest announcement is just another example of how much non-profit transition still lies ahead of us. How hard can it really be? How many more details are there to determine?

Burning Man today announced a reorganization of its arts programs to place more art in communities around the world, make more art available for the annual event in the Black Rock Desert, and create more opportunities for artists and donors.

More art, more opportunities, in more communities around the world. Sounds good. Will this actually happen though? I mean, I’m sure there will be more opportunities for donors. No doubt about that. BMOrg’s line of scarves and calendars and above-face-value-tickets will expand to other merch items, and every issue of JackedRabbit will be jam-packed with pleas for us to give them more money. “For the good of the artists”, we’ll be told, “to help the community”. Is there actually some sort of  plan with quantifiable goals behind these lofty statements? Like, “100 art works in 3 years”? Or is it just “eventually, we’ll do more?” Perhaps the thinking is along the lines of “when we increase ticket prices to $650 next year, we will also increase funding for art grants from $800,000 to $1 million”.

Black Rock Arts Foundation, which is now a subsidiary of the non-profit Burning Man Project, is joining forces with Black Rock City’s art department to create one program called Burning Man Arts. The mission of Burning Man Arts is to change the paradigm of art from a commodified object to an interactive, participatory, shared experience of creative expression.

“This change breaks down the barriers. Art for the playa and art for the world will be one and the same,” said Burning Man’s founder Larry Harvey. “It makes it easier for artists to apply for grants and support, and it enables donors to contribute to the entire spectrum of expressive culture that is pouring out of Burning Man.”

Err…and how exactly will it do that? They don’t know, the details are “yet to be determined”. Let’s just go ahead and execute a merger of two corporations, don’t worry about how it will work, that’s just details, details don’t matter, we can figure all that out later…we’ll drop some acid on an art car in Deep Playa and the answer will come to us.

There is plenty of “art for the world”, and the Burning Man Project’s merger takeover announcement is not suddenly going to make the Art World and the Playa the same. No-one is talking about what a problem the commodification of art is except Decommodification, LLC. Andy Warhol painted 32 different flavors of Campbell’s Soup cans in the 60’s, and that work is considered iconic. The art world is doing just fine without Burning Man. According to Bloomberg:

Global art sales approached their pre-crisis high last year, led by record prices for postwar artists and a jump in U.S. auctions. Sales of art and antiques increased 8 percent to $65.9 billion…Boosted by a 25 percent increase in sales, the U.S. confirmed its position as the international art market leader, representing 38 percent of the market by volume, a 5 percentage point increase from 2012, according to the report.

“Most high priced works in postwar and contemporary art are being sold in New York, both at auctions and in dealer sales,” Clare McAndrew, a cultural economist who compiled the report, said in a telephone interview. “It’s not just the U.S. buyers. People from Latin America and Asia are buying in New York.”

Is this just another big pie for Burning Man to stick their fingers into, in the name of “non-profit” – like oil? Will we see art galleries on the Playa soon, like at most other festivals?

So far in 2014, the Black Rock City art program has provided more than $1 million in grants and support to artists preparing works for the annual event in the Black Rock Desert during the last week of August.

Since its creation in 2001, Black Rock Arts Foundation has funded 149 projects worldwide, providing more than $2,500,000 in grants and support to artists. BRAF has awarded more than $430,000 through its Grants to Artists program and installed or otherwise supported 38 projects (with direct grants of $770,000) through its Civic Arts program. BRAF has also produced 82 memorable events and provided collaborative public art consulting services.

The word “partially” is missing from in front of “funded”. The artists still have to raise money themselves, grants above $20,000 are rare.

The word “support” is in there several times, and it’s crucial. This year’s Art Honoraria grants were $800,000, 2.6% of revenue – $10 from every ticket. So how do they get from that to “more than a million”? If a Burning Man staffer goes to project meetings, this appears to count as “in kind” contributions. So $1.2 million of cash sponsorship gets inflated to $2.5m in “grants and support to artists”. Most of the artists I’ve spoken to don’t really feel supported by the Burning Man Project, or feel any need to employ them as consultants. Many feel like they have to battle against BMOrg and their selectively enforced rules to make their projects happen. If they use the words “Burning Man” or photos of their artwork on the Playa in fundraising to get their art to the event, the kind of support they will get is more likely to be from the legal people sending them threatening letters, or demanding they take our insurance policies.

Perhaps this is all going to change in the new system, and Burning Man will raise money on behalf of artists and pass those funds through to the artists without taking a cut. Maybe Burning Man will take out a blanket liability policy for art at its event, and pay the artists’ share out of ticket revenues.

pigs fly

Unfortunately, their track record suggests otherwise. Burning Man Arts tells us one story on their web site, but the IRS filings of their non-profits from Guidestar paint a very different picture.

Black Rock Arts Foundation Assets Revenue Expenses Profit Grants Efficiency
2012 $560,917 $621,359 $477,525 $143,834 $114,449 18.4%
2011 $588,129 $735,147 $577,706 $157,441 $219,080 29.8%
2010 $392,205 $478,567 $461,961 $16,606 $169,274 35.4%
2009 $364,588 $405,762 $278,003 $127,759 $80,349 19.8%
2008 $237,910 $439,353 $498,831 -$59,478 $105,906 24.1%
2007 $268,433 $532,346 $352,662 $179,684 $116,790 21.9%
Total $560,917 $3,212,534 $2,646,688 $565,846 $805,848 25.1%
Burning Man Project
2012 $368,249 $591,672 $259,925 $331,747 $36,378 6.1%

woman-stacking-money-in-pyramid_webFor an organization whose very foundation principle is Gifting, they don’t appear to be very good at The Art of Giving. They seem quite good at stacking up the cash in their bank account rather than spending it on grants, though.

Believe who you want, Burners. Believe BMOrg, telling you that everything’s wonderful, and that centralizing art grants within the Burning Man Project is going to be good for artists and donors. Or believe us, showing you what 6 years of IRS Form 990 filings say. According to the IRS, BRAF spent $805,848 on grants between 2007-2012 – not $2.5 million.

For donors, this development means that financial gifts to art projects for the Burning Man event in the Black Rock Desert can be tax deductible and opens up a wide range of new opportunities for supporters of the arts

Donations to the Black Rock Arts Foundation were already tax deductible. That’s why we can see the IRS data. So, what gives for the givers? “A wide range of new opportunities”…such as? “Coming soon”.

it’s not technically a merger. Legally speaking, Black Rock Arts Foundation is becoming a subsidiary of Burning Man Project. Operationally, the two organizations are bringing their resources together to create one robust art program that will work on projects both on and off the playa

It’s not technically a merger, it’s technically a takeover. The new program will be run by BMP, who will bank all the money. BRAF board members who recently left are not being replaced.

I wonder if the real reason behind this is that BMP needs to do something “charity like” to maintain their tax-free status. Maybe the bean counters cautioned that sending founders to San Mateo for panel discussions where they took credit for charities they didn’t provide grants to wasn’t quite enough?

BMOrg provided us with a handy FAQ for their announcement. It uses a lot of words to explain that there are no new initiatives, programs, tools, or sources of funding and support for artists, and there are no new opportunities for donors to give. In fact, pretty much nothing’s changed. However, “ideas are being explored for the future”. Clearly a lot of thought has gone into how this merger could help artists and donors.

What are the benefits of doing this?

This change will benefit artists and donors, and will ultimately lead to more art being created and enjoyed by more people around the globe. It breaks down the barrier between art on playa and art in the world, and instead creates one entity that will work in the interest of both. Artists will have more opportunities to receive funding and other forms of support, and donors will have a new range of options for supporting the arts.

What is the timeline for this to take place?

The legal transaction was completed on July 24, 2014. The transition and restructuring of the entities will occur over the coming months and into 2015.

What happens to the BRAF Board?

Many of the BRAF Board members have stepped down and we thank them for their dedication and service building a vibrant, successful arts organization over the past 13 years. A scaled down version of the BRAF Board will continue to exist. We are working with members of the board to engage them in new ways with Burning Man Project and Burning Man Arts.

How will decisions on grants be made?

Burning Man and BRAF grant programs will continue to award grants based on the same criteria as before. While we will create some additional efficiency by merging these programs and sharing tools and other resources, we don’t anticipate making immediate changes to our grant criteria or decision-making bodies.

How are current BRAF programs being affected?

We don’t expect the transition to have any major immediate effect on existing projects, grants or grant applications. They will be completed within the framework of BRAF in collaboration with Burning Man Project.

What new programs are being planned for?

None at this time, but there are some ideas being explored for the future.

What Are You Packing?

Too busy to pack for Burning Man? Maybe you’re a burgin, and you have no idea what to bring (hint: a lot of blinky lights and batteries). Or maybe you’re an experienced veteran, who can never quite get it right.

One guy has the answer. For $80, he’ll pack for you. Don’t be fooled because he looks like he forgot to pack his shirt…those are some serious lederhosen and knee-high socks right there.

Thanks to Playa Slumlord for finding this, if you’re still looking for a good deal on an RV check them out.

From Craigslist:

Packing Consultant for Burning Man

image 1image 2image 3

packing consultantPlaya Packing Consultant

Are you a ‘burgin’, or even a returning Burner, but a bit too frazzled to get everything in order for the big trip to Black Rock City? I can help you pack for Burning Man, whether you’ve got your ticket or not.

I’m a sixteen-year veteran who’s seen all sorts of weather and packed for untold themes and occasions. Whether for a compact car, or a rental truck, I can help you organize the big list. And we can even work on the tetris-puzzle of compacting it all into a sensible load.

Are you joining a village? Are you breaking out on your own? Let me hit all the points of what’s really going to be important once you’re out there.

List Consulting:

Compact Car: $80 day meeting

Rental Truck: $80 day, minimum two meetings

Actual Packing:

$80, must take place on or before Aug 23rd.

I’ll help you choose desert-safe containers, best choices for nighttime cold, and the best menu for round-trip and compost-free eating. (No, you don’t want to end up with a pile of neglected veggies, in a garbage bag, next to you on the ride home in the SUV.)

Let’s Take This Show On The Road

The Man Burns is a play set at Burning Man, to be performed outside Burning Man. The playwright is David Vernon, who grew up in a showbiz family: his dad was the voice of Frosty the Snowman.

It’s quite an interesting vision. For those who may or may not be going to Burning Man this year – perhaps you’re still waiting for tickets – this is an art project you can support, and be a part of, and get to enjoy. You can bring friends and family to it, to give them a taste of Burner culture without making them breathe and bathe in Playa dust. It meets the Burning Man Project’s mission of facilitating the extension of Burner culture through the world, so you can feel all Burnier-than-thou and Ten Principally about backing it too.

It’s a Kickstarter, so if Burners don’t fund it, it won’t get made. Which would be a pity, because it sounds like a fun evening’s entertainment. They’ve hit 10% of their funding goal already, so any support you can give them would be appreciated. For any aspiring actors, young and old, for a mere $350 you can get a part in the production.


From Kickstarter:


THE MAN BURNS is a mystical, joyous theatrical observation on Burning Man and a glimpse into the lives of people who make this epic trek once a year. This interactive play breaks down the walls and gives you a night at Burning Man

This is not a play that will be performed at Burning Man-this will be performed off-playa, in your city, in a theater.

You walk up to the theater to see a performance of a new play, “The Man Burns.”  Out front is an art car playing music and getting the evening going. When you enter the theater the first thing you notice is a group of people gathered around a costume exchange picking out free colorful clothing accessories like a faux fur mantle or a set of glowing devil horns to wear inside the theater. If you brought an extra costume piece you can leave it behind for someone else.

A costume tent at Burning Man. Photo by Layne Kennedy
A costume tent at Burning Man. Photo by Layne Kennedy

Next, you’ll come across an old tiki bar called MAKIMAKI, the kind of bar you might accidentally happen on the esplanade at Burning Man. MAKIMAKI is decorated with well-traveled thrift shop tiki items. The house cocktail is of course, the MAKIMAKI, but there are other playa-themed cocktails as well. And a jar of pickled eggs on the counter.

When you go inside you’ll notice that the theater is decorated like the inside of a Mongolian yurt with beautiful tapestries lining the walls. The play begins. If you’ve never been to Burning Man you will be transported to this far-off, mysterious place. If you’ve been to the playa before you will find yourself back home, in the middle of a conversation about connectivity, overwhelming art, accidental sharts, (or accidental art and overwhelming sharts),  late night poutine and Burning Man urban myths.

During intermission and after the play there might be a marching band or or someone playing jazz songs on their ukelele or grilled cheese sandwiches being handed out. The party will change from city to city because YOU  are the party.


It’s too hot. It’s overrun by naked hippies. It’s too far away. There are no real showers. It used to be better ten years ago.

Those are some of the reasons I’ve heard from friends and relatives about why they’ll never come to Burning Man. But they love hearing stories about the playa and looking at all the photographs. Selfishly, I thought that by making “THE MAN BURNS” an interactive night with some fun, exciting elements of Burning Man, I could give all of my friends a Burning Man night. And you can too. Everyone has at least 5 friends or relatives who say they’ll never go. Bring them to see “THE MAN BURNS” and share the experience with them.

Author of The Man Burns, David Vernon
Author of The Man Burns, David Vernon

My name is David Vernon and I grew up in a show biz family. My dad was a comedian and the voice of Frosty the Snowman. I spent my childhood backstage at The Ed Sullivan Show, The Tonight Show and wondering why my father was never the “Secret Square” on The Hollywood Squares. I also grew up with a love of story. I would read a play then perform them with my sisters Barbies. In fact, her Barbie dream house was redressed many times and became the set for “A Streetcar Named Desire” and “The Glass Menagerie” and “The Merry Wives of Windsor.”  Eventually, I took my love of story to the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU where I studied Film and TV.

I have been a professional writer for the past twenty years.  I’ve written short fiction (which has been widely anthologized), screenplays (a film I wrote, “The Mostly Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green” premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and  was released by Regent films.)  I was recently commissioned to write three short scripts for an upcoming feature film anthology about the city of Berlin by the producers of “New York, I Love You.”  I’ve written essays on Salon ( …I didn’t know it at the time but all of these projects and jobs were training grounds for my most challenging and exciting project to date.


A whiteout is announced at Burning Man over the radio.  People are warned to take shelter. Within moments several strangers run into a Mongolian yurt to get away from the wind storm.

photo by Ian Norman
photo by Ian Norman

The strangers include: ANDY and BUNNY EARS, a gay couple that own the Mongolian Yurt and were preparing for a hot sexual encounter with someone they met on the playa. FIREFLY, a virgin burner who just dropped her first ever hit of MDMA and was on her way to a dance club, PERSEPHONE, an Australian sci-fi actress looking for a ride share to Venice Beach after having another disappointing day on the playa, MOWGLI, a bouncy, energetic young guy dressed entirely in blinky lights who communicates only through motion, MARY ANIMALS, a 60 year old woman who comes to Burning Man on her own and sets up a coffee stand (with the worst coffee on the playa), that is destroyed in the white out, and an ex-marine with an unfortunate sense of direction, known as McRIB, who is dressed in a sketchy Ronald McDonald outfit who was on his way to fight at Thunderdome but got lost.


The result is some funny chaos as these characters, and a few others, spend the evening connecting, disconnecting, arguing, and telling their Burning Man stories; some heartbreaking, some extraordinary.


“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”

― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, author of The Little Prince

I’ve been going to Burning Man for the past eleven years and have also been active in the Burner community. During that time I’ve witnessed many fascinating Burning Man stories unfold in front of me. I’ve also met  so many fascinating and unique individuals. Their stories inspired me to write “THE MAN BURNS.”

The people who go to Burning Man travel a great distance and experience great joy, and sometimes hardship in search of….what exactly? A unique vacation? An opportunity to meet like-minded people? A chance to become part of something bigger than ourselves…part of an artistic experiment? After years of taking notes,  I became passionate about writing a play that explored these questions.

For many people, “THE MAN BURNS” might be the closest they come to attending Burning Man. For others it might be their first introduction to this amazing place. For Burners, I hope the play might be a catalyst for them to further discuss their own experiences and stories.

Photo by Lindsey Sterrett
Photo by Lindsey Sterrett

…I decided to rededicate myself to only telling stories that mattered–to me, and hopefully to others. I wanted to dream big–bigger than ever before. The concept for THE MAN BURNS came to me about a week later. And this has been my dream ever since.

Early artist rendering of THE MAN BURNS set
Early artist rendering of THE MAN BURNS set

I have been developing the story and working on “THE MAN BURNS” for the past three years.There is still more work to be done to get the play up and running…I will be counting on the passion of tight knit community of artists to help bring this dream alive on a limited budget.

Any money raised beyond my goal will pay for more faux fur rugs. I’m only half joking. The design of the inside of the yurt is based on I Dream of Jeannie’s bottle and needs to be as ornate as possible. And more tapestries to decorate the set. And more fake playa dust to fly through the yurt door whenever someone opens it. It will also be used to give the creative team more options to create a bigger, better evening. We would also be able to perform the play for more than one night in each city. We’d like to put more items on the clothes exchange rack. And more importantly, paying the creative team a little better for all of their hard work. All of the money will be up their on the stage. So if you can afford to donate generously, please do. The more money the more elaborate the production.

Photo by Mick Jeffries
Photo by Mick Jeffries

I’ve written the play. …Kickstarter is an all or nothing proposition–if I don’t reach my goal I don’t receive any of the funds donated. This is a dream that can’t happen without you.

photo by Lindsey Sterrett
photo by Lindsey Sterrett

Please Consider Helping Chris Wallace’s Widow

RIP Chris Wallace

RIP Chris Wallace

Chris Wallace was the man who died on the fire at Utah’s Element11 regional burn on Saturday. His family have started an online campaign to help pay for the funeral and end of life costs. They have asked that rather than sending flowers or condolences, the best thing the Burner community could do would be to help out with a donation of $35 (or whatever you can afford to give).

Burners in Utah can also go to a public fundraiser on Friday the 18th, a Gallery Show from 6-8pm at Mod-A-Go-Go, 242 E South Temple Salt Lake City. This is being put on by Chris’ wife’s sister.

gallery show chris wallaceJohn Christopher Wallace passed on Saturday July 12th unexpectedly. In lieu of flowers, please consider making a donation to help his wife pay for a funeral & end of life costs.

Chris was a great person with wide impact. On Saturday July 12th, Chris passed from this world at the “Burning Man” Element 11 event in Utah. His wife and family are still dealing with the shock and sadness of this news. 

Chris did not have life insurance, and any funds you may be able to contribute toward his funeral, and end-of-life costs is a great blessing…The financial situation of his widow is VERY uncertain—no one plans for these type of tragedies.

chris and his wifeThis link will take anyone who is interested to a page where they can donate to Chris’s funeral, memorial, and end-of-life costs. 

I’m sending this…with the hope that you can somehow give this information to the burner community, while pleading that anyone who responds to the knowledge of this link is respectful, non-speculative, and understanding that Chris’s loved ones may always be searching for closure relating to this unfortunate event.

[Chris' wife] is going to be destitute—health issues prevent her from being able to work full time & Chris was the bread winner.

Please be respectful to the family’s wishes. If you really feel the need to radically express yourself with nasty comments or personal opinions about this tragedy, you can add them to the discussion at the original story here. I will be deleting them from this page, as Chris’s family are in more than enough pain already, and still trying to process the terrible events of the weekend.

Nothing can bring Chris back, but maybe the Burner community can help out a little, and show the family that there is more to us than snark and armchair speculation. I have checked it out, believe it to be legitimate, and have donated.

Anderson Mobile Estates. Photo credit: Peter Ruprecht

The Grand Burners.Me Ho-tell

This is the 1000th post on this blog, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to reflect a bit.

The official Burning blog has 1,771 posts. Their first two are from September, 2001, and liken the explosion of fire and dust of Burning Man to the collapse of the World Trade Center, asking if the images we saw were just another Hollywood special effect.

Writer Jon Fox said:

Burning Man has become another symbol of home — an androgynous man who presides over his domain, welcoming weary travelers every year. The only constant being his own fiery destruction…

This city, immense in scope was built purely on the spirit of all that works about humanity. Black Rock City is about possibility; about creating from within for no other reason than because we can. It is about art and connection; about freedom, peace, adventure and destruction as a release of that which binds us. There is no time, no money, no politics, no good, and no evil. There is what there is and it is all brought in by the citizens of the city, for when there is no city, there is nothing. Each person brings a gift, whether an engraved necklace with a picture of the man, or a song, or back rub or drink of water. Why? If you ask, you don’t understand.

The very nature of the event attracts the truly greatest specimens of humanity, for only the truly gifted would be prepared enough and interest in taking on the harsh desert environment to create a gift as magical as a city that is not there.

photo credit: International Arts Megacrew

photo credit: International Arts Megacrew

…So when I see the destruction of today and what is truly possible when a small group of people so committed to something make it happen, I take pause. If this faceless group, so committed to destruction can accomplish what we, safe and sound in America never thought possible, I shudder to think what’s possible if another group did so out of freedom, peace, love and creativity.

Burning Man is indeed a miracle and is something that we shall be thankful for forever and ever. In two short weeks, I have seen all that is good about humanity, as strange and perverse as so-called “normal” people would have us (remember, we’re the weird ones) and all that is bad.

So, I watch my physical home covered in dust and smoke and think of my (meta)physical home all covered in dust and smoke. One explosions over turned by another and the eerie similarity of the two scenes. The background is different. The foreground is different. But somewhere, deep inside at the hottest part of the fire, they overlap. It’s is in here I stand and know that everything is still alright as long as we are all creating and we are doing so together

As you can see, even 13 years ago, in the face of the greatest tragedy America has ever experienced, Burning Man’s self-importance takes center stage.

Bizarrely, the very first words on their very first post are “September 1, 2001″. This was during Burning Man, describing the attacks ten days before they happened. It’s titled “Tale of Two Cities”, by FreshieDoug.

photo credit: Ray Mikota

photo credit: Ray Mikota

The tears swell in my eyes thinking of those who lie dead covered in the dust from a modern marvel that took years to build, but only minutes to destroy. The dust is reminiscent of the playa, a side effect of our own actions out there that is as much a recurring reminder that we have our weaknesses and limitations, as it is a nuisance in the daily living. The dust from the playa brought tears to my eyes, tears of joy from the awaking of my spirit within. The dust I witnessed on the tube 3000 miles away brought only tears of sorrow and pain.

Should I put a picture side by side of the two events? They both look similar, a white cloud that looms close to the earth carrying particles that test the human strength and endurance. Should such an identical image from each event be found, it is unimaginable that the spirit underlying be as opposite from each other as possible. One place, the center of the world, the other as desolate as one can get in our country. In a white out they both look the same.

Either the first words they ever wrote on their blog were a lie, or this is evidence of a vast and deep conspiracy. I’m going to go with the former, given the number of other lies, exaggerations and mis-statements we’ve heard from BMOrg over the years.  Hitler’s propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels said:

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”


photo from Funologist

I’m no Paragon of Virtue, but I’m also not a liar. I am a life-long student of organizational behavior, which mixes business theory and psychology. Propaganda is an established technique for population control, and the few dozen people employed full-time by BMOrg’s 6 (?) founders have a big population to control. Thousands of volunteers, some of whom have put in tens of thousands of hours to the event. The citizens of Black Rock City, all 68,000 69,613 of them last year. The broader community of people who “Like” Burning Man on Facebook, as I write this: 601,666.  The total population of Burners, the cumulative amount of people who have attended the party since it began almost 30 years ago on Baker Beach in 1986: 657,493. Obviously, some of these numbers overlap, but in recent years it has become clear that BMOrg have a deliberate policy of “out with the old, in with the new”. 36.5% were Virgins in 2012, 40% in 2013. 70% have been 2 or fewer times. BMOrg are able to shape these numbers, because their system of Burner profiles and STEP forces Burners to declare how many times they’ve been, before being lucky enough to get chosen by some invisible black box to get tickets.

In just under 2 and a half years, Burners.Me’s online community has grown to 55,200 (Facebook), 1271 (Twitter), and 586 (WordPress) – a total of 57,057. We’re now the second biggest online community of Burners in the world, neck and neck with mobile Burning Man sound camp and East Coast warehouse ravers Robot Heart: 56,956 (Facebook) and 588 (Twitter), total 57,544. We’re bigger than the Burning Man party itself ever has been (56,149), with the exception of last year when the population cap was increased by the BLM to 70,000. Our posts are frequently in WordPress’s Top 100, and some weeks our reach on Facebook exceeds half a million people.

This audience has been built by sharing opinions about stories related to Burner culture found on the Internet, rather than propaganda, deception, and the pursuit of commerce.

We’ve been accused of bias, and I can accept that: we are biased towards the truth. Often this positions us against BMOrg, but that doesn’t mean we’re against Burning Man. You see, I don’t believe that BMOrg makes the party. I believed them when they said “no spectators”, and it’s clear to me – as I’ve tried repeatedly to demonstrate here – that Burners are the ones who make the party.

trollWe’ve been accused of lying, and this I vehemently dispute. Any time a member of the online shill and troll army accuses Burners.Me of disinformation or falsehood, I ask them to prove it. Or even, just to give us a specific example of it. They always vanish into the ether, or hijack the thread with ad hominem attacks. Yet the meme persists, “Burners.Me is a disinformation site, Burners.Me is just like the National Enquirer”. Ask yourself why is that, and where does it come from? I’m just a guy on the Internet, I have no inside knowledge of whatever happens at Burning Man, but what gets published on this blog is true – and we provide references to our sources. If it’s speculation, or unsubstantiated rumor, we say that; this doesn’t mean that we publish unfounded speculation or simply any rumor that hits our inbox. If a source asks to remain anonymous, we respect that; if something sounds untrue, we do our best to verify it. Believe me, there’s plenty that we haven’t published.

photo credit: Aaron Muszalski

photo credit: Aaron Muszalski

There was one post that turned out not to happen, “Busting Man: RIOT calls for general strike at Burning Man”. Was there really a group of disgruntled DPW volunteers out on the Playa, ready to strike over the excessive police presence? I think there was, but I wasn’t there at the time myself to verify it first hand. Certainly, the police presence last year was stronger than ever, with sniffer dogs being brought in from the US border. Business Insider said “Federal Agents Swarming Burning Man”, Boing Boing said “the pigs are here”, even BMOrg’s own blog spoke of “Holy War”. Although a strike was avoided, right after the event BMOrg suddenly settled their lawsuit and caved to all Pershing County’s demands for money. I’m pretty sure the heavy handed police tactics were a contributing factor to that, we’ll see if things are any better this year. The author of that piece, Whatsblem The Pro from Reno,  has not written for Burners.Me since December 2013, and despite his threats at the time that “your traffic will be nothing without me”, has not written anything at his own Burner blog either.

The haters are vocal, but the Likers are clearly in the majority.

It’s always amusing to me that Burners.Me gets accused of making things up or lying, when all we’ve done since the beginning is expose lies and hypocrisy of others. BMOrg used to be a sacred cow, magically above criticism. Anyone in the community who spoke out against them could expect to be shunned or publicly attacked. Steven Jones, aka Scribe, was openly critical of BMOrg’s stated plans to become a non-profit in his column at the SF Bay Guardian. In the face of all the online backlash, he retreated and penned a piece “how I learned to stop worrying and just trust Larry” – which was promoted in the BRC Weekly.

1998 ticketI have been to Burning Man 11 times now, and always enjoyed it. The first time I went was 1998. Officially, there were 10,000 people there; it seemed more like 7 or 8 thousand. There were some art cars, some naked people, some big art, and some theme camps. There was a lot of fire. Mostly, though, there was a sense of camaraderie – that we had all made this journey to the middle of nowhere, into about the harshest conditions you can find in the United States, just to be together. Just for the purpose of a party. You could walk up to anyone and talk to them, you could walk into any camp site and be welcomed. People would offer you things purely from a spirit of hospitality; there was no Principle that said Gifting was required. The ticket said “no spectators”, but the event itself was less of a spectacle, and more just a bunch of people camping in tents and RV’s. After the Man burned, people used to throw their own things into the bonfire – sometimes even their entire camp, wooden structures built to live in for a week and then destroyed. The idea of “letting go of the past” that is now associated with the Temple, was associated with throwing objects with symbolic meaning onto the blazing pile that was the remains of The Man. There was a real anti-establishment celebration of freedom to the event. We were burning The Man, we had come all this way to get away from The Man and do whatever we want without adult supervision. It felt like a crowd, maybe even a big village, but not a city.

Today, it is a counter-culture phenomenon. It’s most definitely bigger and more city-like. There is an airport and a census, there are hundreds of art cars and thousands of theme camps. There are billionaires and celebrities and Presidential candidates. The Esplanade has become so crowded it’s hard to cycle through it – last year, even the Playa itself between Esplanade and Man was getting crowded. The event has its own language, customs, and rules. There are Ten Principles for Burners to memorize, and castigate others with. There are adults who have been going since they were small children, they have literally grown up living in Black Rock City. It has been wonderful to watch this explosion of culture and innovation.

However, I am under no illusions that anyone is changing the world here. It’s a party, if you go for reasons other than the music, you still can’t deny that the music is a major component of the event. Just like the drugs are a major component: anyone who thinks the majority of the people there don’t consume any illegal drugs is clearly on drugs themselves. It’s a rave, and in terms of area, the world’s biggest. It’s an art festival, but not of contemporary art like Art Basel or the Venice Biennale. A third of Burners consider themselves artists. Burning Man has been called “the Special Olympics of Art”. Larry Harvey likes to boast “no artist has ever put their name on a piece at Burning Man”. Although this is not true, it is indicative of Burning Man’s place in the art world. The after-market for Burning Man art is small, and large sculptures with electro-mechanical components that have been exposed to the harsh alkaline environment of the Playa are more likely to deteriorate in value than appreciate.

Republican-Burning-ManI have no particular ax to grind with BMOrg, somebody needs to organize this event and pay the cops. Are the 17  members of the Board of Directors the ideal stewards to bring our culture to the rest of the planet? I don’t think so. The whole thing is shrouded in secrecy, and it seems like the potential for conflicts of interest is high. Their previous charity, the Black Rock Arts Foundation, has a terrible track record of money raised versus money given away. The Founders are cashing out, and their succession planning is unclear. Many changes have been “coming soon” for years. As they “transition to a non-profit”, it seems like the structure and operations of the organization are becoming more similar to conventional profit-making corporate groups. Like Google and Apple, they use multiple companies governed under one umbrella to reduce their tax bill, maybe even avoid it entirely. Many of the core long-term members of the BMOrg team (eg. Andie Grace, Joseph Pred) have left over the last couple of years. The new generation, like Burning Man’s globe trotting Social Alchemist Bear Kittay, are unproven as leaders. Do the self-indulgent, entitled Millenials even get Burner culture? Can they? Or does all Burner culture worldwide have to change into what Burning Man’s 70% n00bz think Burning Man is today, just because the population of this one annual party is ageing?

I firmly believe that what we’ve collectively created at Burning Man over almost three decades is something amazing. A celebration of human ingenuity, at once funny and inspiring and maddening. Elon Musk complained about the hilarious new Mike Judge TV show “Silicon Valley”, saying “to really understand Silicon Valley, go to Burning Man”. In a way that’s true, but wouldn’t it be great if Silicon Valley WAS like Burning Man? A couple of public sculptures here and there aren’t enough. The Bay Lights cost $8 million, including $1.6 million from WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg. Now the lights have to come down, and they are trying to raise $20 million to put them back up. Think about how much “Burner Art” could be displayed in towns around America and the world, permanently, for that kind of money – benefitting the towns, the artists, and the culture.

google-bus-640-craig-frost-twitter_large_verge_medium_landscapeRight now, Silicon Valley is in the midst of a class warfare battle with the people of San Francisco. Larry Harvey has claimed Burning Man was the impetus for the shift of the tech industry’s capital from Palo Alto in the South, the heart of the Valley, to the city itself. Many people in the city don’t like this latest “tech boom”, and their protests have included slashing tires on Google trucks, bashing glassholes, and puking all over Yahoo buses.

If Burning Man, and Burner culture, could play a part in solving these social problems then maybe there is something good for the world in this. Maybe it is “more than just a party”. Shooting the messenger is not the answer, neither is selling more merchandise. I really appreciate everyone who has read this page and shared their own thoughts and comments, whether they agree with me or not, they are contributing to a conversation about Burner culture that is on the digital record. I’d particularly like to thank repeat commenters Nomad Traveler, A Balanced Perspective, T_Groan, Burner Jim, Senor Spamdump, Blues Bob, Piko, Toburn. And a special giant thanks to our cartoonist Christopher, who has shared his work for free.

Will I keep spending my time and money to give you another 1000 posts about Burning Man for free? I don’t know if I can write another 1000 posts about Burning Man, we’ll see. “If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans”, said Woody Allen. For the time being, I will continue to share my opinions about Burner culture. You don’t have to agree, you don’t even have to read. As they say at That Thing In The Desert: “if you don’t like it, start your own!”