This is a guest post from Burner Jill Marlene, picking up on some of our previous posts about the ever-growing divide between Burning Man (the Organization) and the artists who create the 1000+ theme camps, hundreds of art installations, and 600+ art cars every year. This year there were 326 applications for funding for Burning Man art grants. BMOrg distributed $850,000 to 63 projects. This was conveniently rounded up to $900,000 in the Chronicle with Burning Man’s own special style of accounting, but here at Burners.Me we like to call a spade a spade, and we like to call 850 grand, 850 grand. The official sales numbers are 61,000 tickets (out of a potential 68,000 population max), the remaining 7,000 are either handed out free to VIPs, sold in “off the books” transactions, or just not used at all. The official gate total this year is $23, 230, 000 – so the amount of your ticket dollars that go into supporting art at Burning Man is 3.6%, or about $13.68 of your $380 ticket.
Although this $850,000 of grants was a new record, it means an average of $13,492 per chosen project – barely enough to get the artists, build crews and artworks out to the Playa. This year there are 372 registered art works, so 309 of them have nothing to do with BMOrg and are entirely Burner-funded – and even the 63 winning projects are still mostly funded by Burners, not BMOrg.
We’re all getting excited to go to Burning Man, we want it to be one big happy love fest of course. When you look around and see all this amazing art, and hear this amazing music, think about who’s paying for it – and before you hate on the people in the nice RVs, ask yourself how much have you yourself contributed to these art projects? Does the fact that someone gave more, somehow make their contribution worth less? That’s as nonsensical as “people in RVs aren’t self reliant”. Funding art projects is participation. And, quite often, self-expression.
Our position is that BMOrg should encourage artists as much as possible. Help them make money, rather than chase them down for “copyright violations” – while BMOrg exploits the art and cashes in (over and above their $23 million at the gate) with photo shoots, movie royalties, and YouTube revenues. Sure, Burning Man is a successful event, they deserve to make money, they’re entitled to. Good for them. But do they really need to be the ONLY ones making money? Burning Man is made by we Burners, and the Burners should get help, not hatred. If a Burner artist makes money away from the Playa, this is not taking money out of BMOrg’s pocket. A rising tide lifts all boats, and a thriving sub-community of artists+musicians, fashion designers and makers is only going to be a good thing for the party going forward.
Art and bureaucracy don’t mix. But art and money can, and have since time immemorial.
Some of the comments to this post suggest that an artist was commissioned for a design, worked on it for 15 months, and didn’t get paid a cent, a Bitcoin, a peso, a free ticket, some chocolate, nothing. That is just wrong – lift your game BMOrg, or at least have the cojones to come here and defend your actions (rather than the usual “<crickets>” or ad hominem/straw man attacks that we cop from your anonymous Kool Aid-drinking cyber-drones).
Fuck your Function. Erosion of Hard Art and the Disneyfication of Burning Man.
By; Jill Marlene, w/ Lewis Zaumeyer and Brian Smith In honor of the disenfranchised artists and contributors of ManBase.
The principles of Burning Man vie for supremacy in a dialectic battle. This gives rise to conflict that is deeply philosophically rooted. Radical expression, inclusiveness and self- reliance dance around and with one another- at any point juxtaposed so as to appear as incongruent or even ‘opposite to’ one another:. As is the case with all seemingly contradictory values, there is a tension. When that tension is treated as a possible catalyst of evolution, the symbiosis of polarities is revealed and a new form is born. That is hard art.
Burning Man’s explicit values have set it apart as festivals go. These principles insinuate a way of life: A set of ideas, which can be transformative when applied. As a result of the challenging nature of values that appear to be contradictory, people respond to them in different ways. Some are more drawn to the radical inclusiveness, others to the expression and others are most drawn to decommodification and the way that encourages us to value things based on their meaning to us in the context rather than their dollar value. Decommodification brings the exchange of gifts into the interaction. The impact of such a philosophy is that it attempts to liberate us and art from the lowest common denominator; it’s assessed monetary value.
Art at burning man has been inclusive of danger. For many who have evolved with burning man, it is the element of ‘danger’ or pushing the envelope, socially, physically and philosophically that makes Burning Man the safest place for Hard art. Architect Lew Zaumeyer has been an integral part of creating some of the festival’s most iconic art . He and Campmate and Co Creator Brian Smith have participated in the inception, design and erection of the Man base for several years. According to what I have been able to gather in listening to conversations amongst the man base crew, the question, in creating a Man Base, appropriate to such a gathering, has not been “what is easy?” or “what is safe?” but, “What is POSSIBLE?” This year, the organization has decided to choose the easy way. Plans were submitted for a stunning, complex, yet achievable design, but the powers that be- in their insulated circle- opted for the safe and politically expedient way.
At an organizational level, a participant such as myself may be thought to have no real understanding of the machinations of the behemoth that Burning Man as an organization has become. In speaking with Lew and Brian, however, and with what I have witnessed in my short ten years as a member of the community, there is a growing concern for the erosion of the social and artistic function of burning man. This erosion represents a massive violation of the basic principles of BM.
Smith calls it “Disneyfication”. He recalls it beginning about the time when Burning Man began to become a commodity itself. He remembers a time when ‘copyright’ was not on the lips of folks at every organizational meeting and when friendship, history, artistic vision and participation were rewarded with influence and commitment to discovering a shared goal. This community valued members who were pushing the envelope. It is understandable that the rejection of basic and beloved, even “sacred” principles by those who are in control at a bureaucratic level does not reflect the original intentions of Burning Man.
According to Mr. Zaumeyer, “The founders should realize that, as they hand over the reins of their legacy to some managers who have not endeavored to create Art as their vocation, those managers will not have the capacity to effectively manage those who are dedicated to artistic integrity.” He continues, “There are two focus areas of the event, infrastructure and the creation of Art. The infrastructure can be managed by a particular style that produces efficiency. But if the Artists become increasingly frustrated and demeaned by bureaucratic blocking they will stop participating. The result is the event will become little more than a KOA costume party, devoid of any important or exhilarating experiences. Fear based behavior never leads anyone to freedom and freedom of expression is the essential attraction to Burning Man.”Lew and Brian feel that this “Disneyfication” should be called into question. They, among others committed to the longevity of Burning Man as a place dedicated to art and its artists outside mainstream appeal, have been able to maintain a fairly purposeful and integrated vision. They have chosen to stand in opposition to expectation and comfort if only to keep the door open for dangerous or ‘hard’ art to still have a place in spite of the homogenization happening around them.
Brian elucidated that the individuals who “started copyrighting things are now the ones running it”. As a result, the kettle is tainted. The sense of risk and radical expression is being eroded by monied interest and bureaucracy. Artistic voices are silenced when the bureaucracy determines the artistic direction of Burning Man.
When something beautiful becomes co-opted by something selfish and short sighted, and it is used, usurped and claimed, it is painful to watch for those who fought for the integrity of the vision. Its evolution as a pluralistic movement rather than a “show” put on by a few who have found a formula that festival goers seem to want to “buy” is key to its integrity. While there are no direct corporate sponsors visible on the ground in BRC, the commodification is there. Burning man has become its own brand. It has fallen into the trap of becoming beholden to form and forgetting the function. Art has the capacity to do many things for the human condition. We are manipulated. We are inspired. We are moved, our affect is changed and and we can see old things in new ways. Without artists transcending the bureaucracy, this diminishes. When the schema of burning man and its icons no longer challenge the observer, it is no longer functional as transformative, “dangerous” art… it is commodity.