Does Burning Man Need a New Home?

by Whatsblem the Pro

Whither goest thou, Man, in thy arty car in the night?

The struggle to allocate dollars for education and road projects has been heated between Northern and Southern Nevada in this session of the State Senate, and now Burning Man has come to the government’s attention as a ripe plum to contend over.

With over 60,000 participants annually and a ticket revenue of some 30 million dollars, “That Thing in the Desert” has become a sought-after cash cow for local and federal agencies.

Nevada State Senator David Parks

Nevada State Senator David Parks

State Senator David Parks, a Democrat representing the 7th District (which includes Las Vegas), made strong overtures toward the Org’s lobbyists after a committee meeting in which a presentation was given on the economic and cultural boost that Burning Man brings to Nevada.

“We have a lot of dry lake beds in Southern Nevada,” purred Parks seductively to the the lobbyists. “Have you ever contemplated, perhaps. . . off I-15, we’ve got the Ivanpah Lakebed.”

“It is definitely bringing people into our state,” said Black Rock Solar representative and lobbyist Tom Clark in reference to Burning Man. Clark also mentioned that a Regional event was at one time held in the desert outside of Las Vegas, but had to be canceled when the federal government began demanding permit fees for the event.

Ivanpah Dry Lake Bed

Ivanpah Dry Lake Bed

It remains to be seen how the Org intends to handle the problems presented by keeping the event in the Black Rock Desert. The cost of running the event has risen significantly as more and more city, county, state, and federal agencies have come to the table with their hands out, demanding larger and larger slices of ticket revenue.

We’ve also got a law enforcement problem on the playa; the number of on-duty officers from various agencies tripled on the playa between 2011 and 2012. Radical expression being arguably the most important of the ten principles, this is a situation that cannot be ignored for long.

Clearly, Burning Man needs to move. . . but where? Relocating to the Ivanpah Lakebed could be just the thing, or it could be going from the frying pan to the fire. There has been talk of purchasing Fly Ranch in the Hualapai Valley, but like Ivanpah, there are some serious challenges with that plan, not least of which are environmental. Private property, however, does seem to be in our future, given the decreased fees and increased freedom that holding the event on private property would bring.

But when?

Fly Ranch, Hulapei Valley - Photo by QPY

Fly Ranch, Hulapei Valley – Photo by QPY

Moving Burning Man would be good for all of us in many ways. Given the inroads made on our freedom to express ourselves and have a good time by the rapidly-growing law enforcement presence on the playa, you’d think this would be the Org’s top priority. . . but do they even care? They don’t seem to mind wasting literally years worth of our collective time with half-baked ticketing schemes, even though that problem could be (and should have already been) solved easily. Does the Org feel the pressure to move, or is that just our problem? They make their money either way; tickets will be in demand either way. . . but if we stay on BLM land, the rank-and-file burners will continue to find it increasingly difficult to find true freedom at Burning Man.

Fly Geyser - Photo by Jawsh

Fly Geyser – Photo by Jawsh

Relocation would also, I think, tend to invigorate our culture. People are highly prone to regarding things as sacred once they become traditional, and this is a corrosive influence. It starts with angry shushing at Temple Burn, and ends with Burning Man transmogrified into the Rainbow Gathering. Moving the event to new digs would help, for a while, to break that unwanted bond of holiness some of us seem so prone to forming with alkaline dust.

What would the downside of moving the Man be? The main reason we are tolerated at all by harrumphing officialdom is because we are a cash cow. If we move to private property and sidestep all those fees and permits, how will that affect, say, the way that police and highway patrol units treat us on our way in, or during Exodus? Local municipalities will continue to love us and our influx of dollars no matter where we go, but moving could have a chilling effect on the way State and federal authorities view burners. Would we rather be interfered with and potentially harassed on the highway coming in and out of Burning Man, or on the streets of Black Rock City itself? That may be the choice that must be made.

37 comments on “Does Burning Man Need a New Home?

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  2. Burning Man should be moved because despite all the gushing “we love you”‘s to the locals, Northern Nevada is perhaps the most ultra-conservative, intolerant place in the whole country. This is not in the spirit of Burning Man. It should be held in California. Period.

  3. nice piece, thanks for the bit about officers tripling. I’m glad that wasn’t my imagination.

    The playa is a magical place. Been to a lot of deserts and a lot of pretty special pieces of earf, but nothing quite like the playa. Moving the event would lose something. It needs to be fought for first.

    And lastly the silence at the temple is one bit that should remain sacred. It’s the only time a pause in the onsalught is requested throughout the entire week. Have a little respect for the sheer amount of human force that went into creating a week and reflect without running your overeducated or inebriated mouth for a few moments. The temple burn last year was just another sign that something that once meant a lot has been marketed and sold to a lot of rich folks who will never understand.

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  6. Just my two cents worth, looking at google maps the adjacent Smoke Creek Desert may be an acceptable alternative? Yes I know of the closure order for Smoke Creek in 2011 but that wasn’t for Burning Man. It is BLM land and in Washoe County which in my understanding is a lot more friendly to Burning Man than Pershing is and the area seems large enough to hold such event.

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  9. People continue to ignore that the Bmorg is a for-profit enterprise. It looks and acts like a non-profit but it is not. It releases an anual financial statement that is a joke to anyone with even modest accounting skills. 6 people are sitting on a cash cow and have complete secrecy over what they do with literally millions of dollars. Do you trust them? Trusting anyone with that kind of cash in secrecy is a fools game. Try asking how much money is in the bank? Reporters have actually had access to the Bmorg refused becasue they would not sign a non-disclosure form WRT financial issues at BM. The 6 will divvy up the pot the day before BM goes non profit and no one will ever know how much money they walked away with.

    Have they earned the right to a payday? Sure! They have devoted their lives to this cause. But why keep it secret? The only viable reason is that the sums of money involved are much larger than the general BM populace would find reasonable.

    Nex, try asking what their total compensation package is for any recent year. This is yet another never-discussed secret.

    The list goes on.

    But the point is that as the change to non profit status approaches the motivations of the 6 have become increasingly focused on their treasure hoard. And like any dragon they cannot see the bigger world any longer.

    Don’t expect any significant change until after the dragons leave with their treasure.

    • well said. too many people get angry when someone asks for transparent finances from a place that lists decommodification as part of its ten suggested practices

  10. You may not be aware of the lawsuits that Pershing County filed against Burning Man last summer? (or maybe Burning Man filed a suit over excessive fees and then the county counter-filed a suit). Anyway, you should look into those. Basically, at this point, the federal nexus is probably the only thing that is keeping Burning Man in Nevada, and really only because they make the money to jump through the federal permitting hoops that are necessary to use “our public land”. Burning Man guarantees its existence (to the extent that it can) by also paying fees and donation to the THREE counties that have their hands out (one county because they are located there, the other two because they have made unilateral decisions that their police forces are necessary for the security of the event). If BM were to be held on private land, it would be entirely up to the county in which the land is located for permits. And if it’s Pershing County (or probably any other county in Nevada), say goodbye to all that. As Maggiemayday pointed out, BLM was able to scare the Las Vegas regionals away by imposing huge fees (and some good ol’ fashioned harrassment, too), because they didn’t want “another Burning Man” in Nevada. She’s also got some really good points about logistics. Also, Burning Man currently exists on the playa more because of established relationships. If they approached the BLM de novo in 2014 (as you’re suggesting they do for the Ivanpah site) and said “we’d like to put a 60,000 person event at the end of a long and dangerous two-way road, it would probably be denied just on that basis.

    You raise good points, and it’s a valid discussion, but you might want to do a bit more research about the county laws you’re assuming would be used to permit the event.

    • Thank you for your comments.

      Of course I’m aware of Pershing County’s lawsuits. You’ve made the mistake of thinking that I am suggesting we move to Ivanpah, when I’ve done no such thing. Personally I think Ivanpah would be a terrible place to have Burning Man, but it’s newsworthy that a State senator suggested it, and shows that our value as an economic bloc has made an impact on the Powers That Be. Off the top of my head, though, I can think of four or five good reasons why BRC at Ivanpah Dry Lake Bed would be a total disaster.

      • OK, I see your point. I thought you were advocating for a move to private land in your piece, and *my* point was that would probably be a worse plan than dealing with the public land issues. I like the dusty playa just fine, and really I can’t think of a place where that many people can go year after year and have such a minimal and restorable impact (note I didn’t say “no” impact).

      • I am advocating a move to *somewhere* else, yes. With all the problems presented by moving to any of the current candidates (not that Senator Parks’ suggesting a site makes it a candidate), I’d say it absolutely has to be somewhere nobody has suggested yet.

        If we recognize what a prize we are for local governments, we should be able to negotiate some kind of deal that is advantageous to everyone involved. It seems to me, though, that minimizing the number of agencies we have to deal with is key. I don’t know where we go for that. . . maybe we should start our own permanent town somewhere, and have Burning Man in the city limits?

  11. Some people seem to think private property is less regulated than public property, that is just not true. The cost of burning permits, explosives permits, permits to hold an event, etc would probably exceed what we are paying for now. Anyone who suggests moving to an indian reservation has clearly never tried to negotiate with an indian tribe. While Black Rock has its problems, it is still the best choice because it is so far away from anything. This is a counter-culture; by definition we’re going to have to dodge “the man” a bit. That’s what we signed up for. Certainly there is nostalgia associated with Black Rock, but that isn’t any more illegitimate than pie in the sky dreams of a perfect spot somewhere else.

    • We’re certainly not dodging “the man” now.

      You seem to be saying we should throw our hands in the air, give up, and resign ourselves to Disneyland-in-the-Desert.

      • What I’m saying is “the rules” will follow you whereever you go. You can’t run away from them, you have to confront them. I don’t actually know anyone who has been prevented from doing what they want out on playa, unless it’s smoking a 20 foot bong out front of the temple. As for the fees the localities charge, who cares? As long as the Borg can aford them, who cares if communities, who clearly need the money, make a boatload. What are we saving it for? The more money they make, the less likely they are to pass ordinances that will drive the festival away.

  12. Great post.

    The authorities are going to continue to encroach on our freedom and right to radical self expression no matter where we go. They will just do it a bit slower if we are the hand that feeds them. Once the cash is cut off… wow… ever seen a pissed off power-tripping junky? Now instead of drug dogs at the gates and 600 armed assholes arresting people for inhaling burning flowers and putting pills in there own bodies, there will be a gauntlet of every available revenue generator who feels the need to exercise authority over other humans, lined up at every turn on the way to and from BM. Imagine the swarms of George clintons atomic drug dog clones ready to rib into the thousands of pounds of mexican mafia weed and truckloads of cocaine and heroine being smuggled in all those crazy art cars. Ohhhh wait… wrong party. Yep… all that police power, all the expense, and what is the yield… half gram here, a joint there… smart use of funds. I wonder what the actual numbers look like… I would guess the formula to be… BM has to pay for the police+++, then they write tickets and collect fines++, they get increased fed budget allowance for all the “extra” work they have to do+++++, they get increased fed budget allowance for “all” the extra drug busts++++++, then you have to subtract the cost of destroying all the drugs-, and court costs errr nope we pay those. Hmmmm ….. Its a win for them and a big lose for the guy or gal with a great job who gets fired and permanently marked (read as: for the rest of their lives) for getting arrested with a couple of pills or a bag of weed.

    How about spending some of that budget on rape kits? Ya rape kits. Its becoming a problem on the playa, I think the number was 6 last year and there are no rape kits on playa. They only cost $1500-2000 each. The problem is they have to be processed in a clean lab so you need one of those also ($20,000). Thats like 100 tickets or the cost of 4 cops for the week. Four less cops, in trade for a new rape lab? Sounds like a good trade to me.

    The point is as most of us know it is not about “Protect and Serve” any more it is about control and revenue. They have become the “authorities” rather than the public servants they are. They are militarized and feared rather than respected and appreciated (by design). It is time we get out of a fluoride fog, grow our balls back and stand up for what is right. The politicians and the police work for the people, not the other way around! They trick us into believing they are the moral majority and we are the ones who have to ask for permission. It is up to all of us to use our voice, write and tell them how it is. Speak up while you still can. Support the constitution and the rights it has protected for all of us. Free Burmingham!

    PS. The second amendment has nothing to do with hunting!!


    • Agree 100% regarding the rape kits. I have an article in the works about that, but I’m holding it back because there’s more to the issue than meets the eye.

      • No, don’t agree with it. I’m sorry, but the “we need rape kits on the playa” mentality has to stop. It’s doing nothing but a disservice to any victims (which there actually *very* few of on the playa in reality) – even RAINN says this: ” It’s important that law enforcement and investigators receive special training on the handling of DNA evidence to avoid contamination or destruction. DNA evidence can be contaminated, for instance, if it comes into contact with another person’s DNA, or is exposed to heat, humidity, bacteria, and other environmental conditions.”

        Nevada has special facilities in place to handle this. Provisions to take a patient to & from such facilities is already in place too. If the patient chooses to not leave the event and have an exam performed, that is *their* choice, like it or not.

        RAINN information on the kits:

        I think it’s a really bad idea to be pushing the rape kit issue on the playa when existing legally approved facilities already exist. Would *you* want to risk having the entire case thrown out because the examination was performed in another facility? That’s why Nevada has specific facilities for this – they are very legally sound with a lot of experienced folks. I’d rather have that any day than a potentially inexperienced exam on the playa, just so it can be done “on the playa.” FYI the number was *not* 6 last year. In the end, it was lower. The estimate of $20,000 for a clean lab? Laughable. A proper facility, staff, and supplies will cost many times times that, and for what? A week long event? Sorry. I don’t think it’s something to be pushing for. Mental health staff has procedures in place to accompany a victim to & from Reno.

      • There’s more to it than you know about, Janey, and you’ve said a couple of things here that are simply incorrect.

        Keep reading and you’ll get the whole story once I’m satisfied that I’ve got the whole story.

  13. I heard that the main problem with the one year they moved it to private land, was all the permits needed for construction and pyrotechnics. In some places like Marin County or Sonoma County, you can’t so much as put up a gazebo in your back yard without extensive paperwork. Let alone a giant Trojan Horse that shoots rockets out its butt. Another problem is that in SF if your neighbors complain about the noise, the cops can seize your noise-producing equipment. Not sure about the various County regs but this could be a total pay day for cops, rolling around with their very own Robot Heart and the sound system from Root Society…
    I would like to see Burning Man held on an Indian Reservation, if we really care about Gifting then let’s help the indigenous communities. And it’s a damn fine time at the Grand Sierra after Burning Man, so why not chuck a casino into the mix also!

    • Actually, I think the idea of having it on an Indian Reservation has some potential, as usual there will be lots of working with their local authorities involved, but the influx of money they receive can really help them and be put to good use. Unfortunately as mentioned, you would still probably have the issues with the highway patrols in and out of the reservation

  14. I do not think that moving it will help much and only for a year or two as the locals will always have their hands out and the local prudes will still be clicking their tongues. And private property will not make it any different. The way I see it, is to just call their bluff and cancel it for a year or three and watch the worm squirm. Let the Playa heal. Money talks BS walks.

    • Personally I have to question how relevant the event itself really is at this point. If you live in a cubicle 51 weeks out of the year and spend a paltry seven days at ‘home’ then maybe ‘home’ is more of a pretense than anything else. For those who live the culture all year ’round, frequent Regional events and unsanctioned burner gatherings would seem to hold the rosiest future possible in the face of the Disneyfication of the event from within and without.

  15. Singularity/Dark Skies, the old Vegas burn events, were held on Roach Lake. To get onto it, we had to cross casino property and the dirt roads used by the power company. Road building would be involved.

    Too close to I-15 for comfort. Our fires and explosions garnered a number of 911 calls from the freeway. The area is popular with offroaders, several dropped in. Even with a closure and a perimeter, there will be more folks to shoo away there. We were far too close to the train tracks too, a short stroll to watch the freight trains.

    Too close to Las Vegas for comfort. Thousands of Vegas tourists transit that stretch on weekends. Tens of thousands, enough so truckers rearrange their schedules to miss the Sunday/Monday exodus. Add us and the highway patrol will go nuts.

    The Vegas city cops who were present seemed enchanted with us. Our nudity and discreet partying was easier to handle that drunken tourists in the casinos. An think the Vegas drug dealers aren’t going to miss an opportunity such as Burning Man if it is on their doorstep? However, the real problem was the BLM office. I was never privy to the true backstory, but Roach Lake did not last. The organizers got slapped with hefty fees and burners were disinvited from the lakebed. The Vegas community burns are no longer held openly there. Many of them go to regional events in other states instead. Knowing what the BLM there thinks about burners would be vital. Could the BMORG build a new and better relationship? Huge obstacle.

    Moving outside Vegas is pretty pie in the sky….

  16. Fly Geyser will not happen another grandiouse attempt by bmorg they will fail again like all the other schemes. Locals and the County will deny bmorg and NDOT will not permit big rigs and campers on Hwy 34 in the future, Even if bmorg could over come the hundreds of issues to allow it on Fly Geyser a private property.
    The present owner is stringing them along and playing bmorg as the suckers they.
    bmorg is spinning its wheels again…

  17. “What would the downside of moving the Man be?”

    My favorite part of BurningMan is the Black Rock Desert itself. The monochrome color pallete, the vast open flatness… all of this is inseperable from Burning Man to me. The stunning beauty and sensual delight of the event would be lost if in another location IMHO. The only other site that would work is Mars 🙂


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