The Art of Giving

The City of Reno is looking for $70,000 to purchase the art installation BELIEVE. It seems the people like it so much, they want to keep it.

From Capital Public Radio:

believe renoTwenty-foot-tall capital letters spelling the word “Believe” are bolted into downtown Reno’s City Plaza. It’s one of 8 sculptures the city has displayed temporarily from the Burning Man festivalNow the city wants to buy it. “Believe” will cost $70,000.

Reno Cultural Affairs Manager Christine Fey, is asking for donations to pay for it. “For heavens sake we might put together a penny drive for children,” says Fey. “It is interesting the way that you can get a community to raise funds for something they believe in.”

Fey wants Reno to become a public art destination. She says the city already has $4 million worth of sculptures in its collection.

reno biggest little cityReno is a great town, “the biggest little city in the world”. There are a lot of Burners there, it even has a Burner Hotel. Making it a public art destination would have a big impact on the struggling local economy. It seems to me that this would be a worthy cause for the Burning Man Project to support.

$70,000? This is chump change for the Burning Man Project, for what would effectively be a permanent billboard for Burning Man. It would be great if some of the money they raised went to projects like this.

So why don’t they? Where do our donor dollars go? If Burners want to help spread Burner culture in the world, should they donate their money to the Burning Man Project, or directly to the artists and communities that need it?

Let’s take a look at what BMOrg have done so far, in the four years they’ve been going in their new non-profit form, then you can decide for yourself.


Downtown San Francisco

The Burning Man Project archives start in October 2010, with James Hanusa talking to Triple Pundit on “Social Entrepreneurship in the Era of Burning Man”. They claimed Black Rock Solar, Burners Without Borders, and Hexayurt as initiatives of the Project.

These organizations were created by Burners independently of BMOrg and have done good things. It’s not clear that the Burning Man Project wrote checks to any of them. This story about the founding of Black Rock Solar in 2007 says that their first installation was at no cost to Burning Man due to government subsidies, and this story says that they continue funding it with subsidies and donations – but there is no information on the Internet about the Burning Man Project donating money to Black Rock Solar. The large projects require a massive amount of input from Burners, in terms of volunteer hours. BMOrg also asked Burners to add a little extra to their tickets, in order to donate.

Hexayurt founder Vinay Gupta says his first funding came from other sources:

He’s a Burner who gets it, he has shared his designs free for the world. There are 13 different models now. They’ve been featured at the Pentagon, and last year there were more than 1000 hexayurts at Burning Man. Vinay Gupta is not a household name, but he should be.

Burners Without Borders began when some DPW crew went down to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Scribe told the story of its formation, there’s no mention of any checks from BMOrg:

It became a Burning Man thing, but it didn’t really start out that way,” Scott said. “People came down here because they had a connection.”

Can you see the pattern here? Burners do the work and spend the money. If it works, it “becomes a Burning Man thing”, and BMOrg claim the credit in the media any chance they can.

James Hanusa referred to Burning Man’s desire to “create an urban community center on the 6th street corridor”. Revitalizing the mid-Market area was one of the conditions for the payroll tax break they got from the City of San Francisco for relocating their headquarters to Market St. Larry Harvey told Laughing Squid at the time:

If Burning Man can turn a desert into an oasis, they might help revitalize the mid-Market. “We want to bring our culture there,’’ Harvey said, “without unduly gentrifying the area.”

“We’d like to recreate our hometown,” Harvey said. Noting that the area has beaten all attempts at revitalization, he said, “The city fathers have decided to send in the artists, you know, like ‘Send in the Clowns.’”

flowermarket2As far as we can tell, the main thing the gentrifying clowns did was a temporary installation of a flower sculpture. 3 years later they moved out, relocating to the Mission.

The story got bigger in July 2011, with an NBC TV story “Burning Man’s Burning Desire”. They said “The founder of Burning Man has big plans to light a fire in the heart of San Francisco.

In August 2011, they got Mayor Ed Lee involved to tell them “Welcome home” out the front of City Hall. I was there in the crowd, and back then I was still drinking their Kool Aid I guess, because I believed him that a bit of Burning Man was just what the city needed. From the SF Examiner:

The Burning Man Project plans to build an “urban cultural center” in San Francisco that will provide, among other things, collaborative gathering and gallery spaces, classrooms, and sites for ritual and ceremony, according to the group.

“It’s one thing to put up a sculpture somewhere, which is good, but we’ve never had the opportunity to look at a whole group of neighborhoods like this as a potential for our endeavors,” Burning Man founder Larry Harvey said.

Fast Company ran a story on “Burning Man’s Big Plans to Reshape a Depressed Neighborhood”

Burning Man–that once-a-year sojourn to the Nevada desert–is much more than a hedonistic experiment in self-reliance, art, the sharing economy, and psychotropic drugs. It’s also an event that has spawned a tight-knit worldwide community that has created a number of Burning Man-related organizations, including Burners Without BordersBlack Rock Solar, and the Black Rock Arts Foundation (a group that brings public art installations to cities). It’s only fitting that the Burning Man community’s latest do-gooder venture–the Burning Man Project–will work on revitalizing a down-and-out area of San Francisco, Burning Man’s home city.

The project, which is largely funded by Burning Man parent organization Black Rock City, LLC, aims to use the 10 principles of Burning Man to change urban environments for the better…The first Burning Man Project effort will tackle the “civic participation” principle in the Central Market Street corridor of San Francisco, an area that borders the troubled Tenderloin district. Black Rock City, LLC just moved to the neighborhood this past May. “It’s an area that’s been pretty much boarded up for 20 years. We thought it was a place that could use some help and skills that the Burning Man community can bring to bear,” says James Hanusa, an advisor for new initiatives at Burning Man.

The Burning Man Project’s first grand plan is to turn Central Market into an arts and innovation district, complete with art walks and festivals, as well as pop-up retail stores and galleries (though there are no plans for a giant, flaming effigy).

The Burning Man Project plans to spend the rest of the year on the Central Market project. But that’s just the beginning. The project also envisions working on everything from a social enterprise program that teaches businesses how to employ the 10 principles (a la Toyota’s Production System Support Center) to an educational program that offers certificates in dispute resolution and leadership training.

In a 2011 interview, Burning Man founder Harley Dubois laid it out in black and white: “the mission of the Burning Man Project is to put people in [a] state where they’re empowered to give more”.

She commented on all the hype around their Central Market plans.

“Can we nurture the same kind of vitality here in our city of San Francisco? It’s an opportunity to really put our money where our mouth is, but…we’ve never done it before…We’ve had to struggle to stay alive. We’re the largest users of public land in the United States, and so we don’t fit into neat boxes for the Federal Government and the Bureau of Land Management, so we’ve had to work really hard to still be here. We’re used to working hard. We’re used to making relationships. We’re used to working with bureaucracies and finding ways to work together. Luckily the situation here won’t be as difficult as it was at the beginning, because the city’s really excited about having us here. Everybody’s really looking to us right now, and I’m sure we’re going to do a lot of good…We’ll create a vessel together and see what comes out of that. I can guarantee it will involve children, and art, and civic responsibility.”

She also said:

” We don’t use the word festival when we talk about Black Rock City and the Burning Man event. Festival implies…something organized around commerce, and of course Burning Man is not commercial…we sell t-shirts, calendars and hats. The coffee shop just barely breaks even on the Playa, and the ice sales all go to donations to the local neighborhoods communities in Nevada”.

Her statement is at odds with Burning Man co-founder Larry Harvey, who has repeatedly said “we have never said we’re against commerce”.

It’s also untrue. We broke this down for you before in the post Ice, Ice Baby. The cost of goods sold for the Center Camp Cafe is covered out of ice sales, and whatever is left at the end gets split between nearly 50 charities. In the past this has included many in California and some controlled by BMOrg themselves. Last year local donations dropped 17%, to $199,329, even though the event population increased 24% and profits increased 65% (estimated). I asked Arctica, the ice people, how much ice was sold in 2013, but they penned a lengthy reply using “transparency” and “fair disclosure” as justifications behind BMOrg changing their policy to prevent them from answering directly. The 2013 Afterburn report says 55 truckloads, up from 43 in 2011. We estimate that as 2,326,500 lbs of ice, sold for $1,163,250 – an increase of 8.7% on 2012. It was $199,000 that was donated to local charities, not $1.16 million.

Sales are not the same as profits, and a ship with 6 Captains does not always sail in a straight line. Let alone one with 5000 captains.

Back to Larry’s “big plans to light a fire in the heart of San Francisco”. BMOrg used all the press attention and the scaleable idea of urban gentrification to chase big dollars from mega-banks and private foundations – that is, the ruling oligarchs of this country and this world.

In January 2012, they tried to leverage their locality into some cold, hard cash:

 “Central Market Arts Activation,” a collaboration between the Burning Man Project, Black Rock Arts Foundation, Gray Area Foundation for the Arts and the San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development has been named as a finalist for support from ArtPlace, an unprecedented private-public collaboration of nine of the nation’s top foundations, eight federal agencies including the National Endowment for the Arts, and six of the nation’s largest banks.

Who are the private organizations behind this grant? Oh, no-one special.

Participating foundations include Bloomberg Philanthropies, The Ford Foundation, The James Irvine Foundation, The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, The Kresge Foundation, The McKnight Foundation, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, The Rockefeller Foundation, Rasmuson Foundation, The Robina Foundation and an anonymous donor. In addition to the NEA, federal partners are the departments of Housing and Urban Development, Health and Human Services, Agriculture, Education and Transportation, along with leadership from the White House Office of Management and Budget and the Domestic Policy Council. ArtPlace is also supported by a $12 million loan fund capitalized by six major financial institutions and managed by the Nonprofit Finance Fund. Participating institutions are Bank of America, Citi, Deutsche Bank, Chase, MetLife and Morgan Stanley.

Rockefellers and Rothschilds are Burners, and BMP Board member Rae Richman is also a director of Rockefeller Philanthropy. Despite this heavyweight backing, BMOrg still need us to give to them. Give them our art, our costumes, our music, so they can film it and sell it exclusively for royalties. Give them our donations, so we can get a scarf or a calendar. Give our support to all the Arts Honoraria projects, which are a drawcard to the festival and receive a token amount from BMOrg, but mostly rely on Burner funding to actually be a part of Burning Man.

Artplace funded 5M to the tune of $777,000, which was focused on the area around 5th and Mission – Hearst land. There is nothing on their web site about the Burning Man Project winning the grant, but BMOrg sure were quick to claim credit for all the events:

October was a big month for arts engagement in San Francisco’s challenged Central Market district, with multiple events at the heart of them – 24 Days of Central Market Arts Festival, 2 Blocks of Art, and the Urban Prototyping Festival, to name a few. Of course, we can’t help but get involved – we love art and participation, both of which are much needed just outside of our front door! We worked with these events to make it all happen – thanks to many efforts from our team of incredible volunteers and volunteer performers. We look forward to many more.

The next day was the San Francisco Urban Prototyping (UP) Festival, produced by the Gray Area Foundation for the Arts (GAFFTA). Like 24 Days of Art/2 Blocks of Art, UP also activated the space in Central Market, with particular focus on the 5M district  – a collection of blocks at the intersection of 5th St. and Mission. The event showcased a series of digital, physical, replicable, open source, documented, replicable, and affordable projects, all designed with the intent of improving San Francisco and cities with similar problems. We provided entertainment for festival-goers in Hallidie Plaza, featuring Gamelan X and Bad Unkl Sista.

What does that mean, “worked with these events to make it all happen”? It makes it sound like they played a crucial role, and worked their butts off; but digging deeper into it, it seems more like they mostly provided some Burners who were prepared to volunteer their time in the spirit of Gifting and Civic Responsibility.

GAFFTA lists a bunch of partners for the UP Festival. The Burning Man Project is not mentioned. They are in the general partners list for GAFFTA – along with 60 other organizations.

I was at 6th and Market just last week. There’s no Urban Cultural Center. BMOrg have moved out, but there are still very visible boarded up areas in the neighborhood. Burning Man has claimed credit for [freespace], who have moved there since BMOrg moved out. They are a project of, and although many Burners volunteer their time for both organizations, that doesn’t mean BMOrg is helping them in any way. These charities rely on donations to survive, whereas Burning Man will survive with or without donations. If they need more money, they can just raise ticket prices, come up with new taxes like the vehicle pass, or create new companies to pay licensing royalties to. Does any of that money go to [freespace] or Reallocate? Nope. For all the hype on Burning Man’s sites about how they are “supporting” these Burner charities, they have not actually done anything tangible. There was some discussion over the past year about a $2000 donation, but it never materialized (confirmed today with the CFO). All talk, no action; all fund-raising, no donation.

Over the four Burning Mans in the period 2010-2013, BMOrg’s gate revenue was in the vicinity of $100 million. Did any of Burning Man’s fortune go to the depressed neighborhood surrounding them in the Tenderloin? Again, no, not as far as we can tell. And why wouldn’t they tell us? They don’t waste any time boasting of a free panel discussion, or claiming involvement in any Burner activities the press wants to write about.

What about the educational program for businesses, the certificates in dispute resolution and leadership, the training like Toyota? [crickets]


Northern Nevada

In July 2012 the Black Rock Arts Foundation (NOT the Burning Man Project) got a $75,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. This was used to put sculptures into Fernley, Nevada. They’re still there.

bottlecap-gazebo-jerry-mansker-editedThe Black Rock Arts Foundation is working with the City of Fernley to pilot an initiative called Big Art for Small Towns. Over the next two years, two pieces of large-scale sculpture will be installed in a new city-owned park in Fernley. One of the artworks will be an existing piece of sculpture, selected by the Fernley community for temporary display in the park. The second artwork will be an original piece created by local residents working with a competitively selected lead artist to reflect Fernley’s character, heritage, and culture. Programming includes a series of public lectures, workshops, and youth learning opportunities focused on the community-building benefits of public art.

What about the series of public lectures, workshops, and youth learning opportunities? Well, a year after getting the grant, BRAF put out a Request for Proposal that outsourced all of that to the winning artist. Insurance and transport costs were also outsourced to the artist. They claimed that this was being financed by themselves and private donors, yet somehow the total maximum budget was $75,000, the same as the NEA endowment (which technically required matching funding).

The Black Rock Arts Foundation (BRAF) invites you to submit a proposal for our new project “Big Art for Small Towns.” A project of BRAF’s Civic Arts Program, Big Art for Small Towns seeks to share the cultural and economic benefit of public art with rural towns in Nevada and beyond.

Big Art for Small Towns is funded by generous private donors, in-kind contributions from the City of Fernley, and by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Our Town grant. [NOTE: not by BRAF or BMP – Ed.]

This two-phase project will happen over the course of two years.  In Phase 1, the City of Fernley, Nevada, the Burning Man Project and BRAF are working together to install two pieces of large-scale sculpture in a new city-owned park in Fernley. These works are scheduled to be installed either the winter of 2013 or spring of 2014, pending park completion.

This Request for Proposal is for the design and fabrication of the second work of art (Phase 2), to be installed in June, 2014. As the Lead Artist for Phase 2, you will work with local residents to create an original public artwork that reflects Fernley’s character, heritage, and culture. You will also work with the City of Fernley and BRAF to create additional project programming including a series of four public lectures, and at least one public workshop. These should incorporate youth learning opportunities focused on the community-building benefits of public art. Other programming may include exhibitions, performances or other art displays, hosted at the public art park.

By March 2014, they had chosen two existing Burning Man artworks to display temporarily, and selected one local artist. They threw a 2-hour reception and presentation in Fernley.

TSunrise-Tortoise_18-293x440he first two temporary projects are existing works, the Bottle Cap Gazebo by Max Poynton and Andrew Grinberg and Rockspinner6 by Zachary Coffin.

For the third, permanent work of art, will be a newly created work by local artist Pan Pontoja. An established and respected artist and teacher, Pontoja will work with community members, mostly students, to build a large desert tortoise. The shell of the tortoise will be comprised of hundreds of 4” x 4” painted ceramic tiles of images which reflect the culture of Fernley and the surrounding area.

According to the Burning Man Project, the $75k NEA endowment was matched by the partners.

In 2012, the Black Rock Arts Foundation, the City of Fernley, Nevada, and the Burning Man Project collaborated to launch their new joint initiative, Big Art for Small Towns. The partners were awarded a National Endowment for the Arts grant (BRAF’s second N.E.A. grant), an Our Town grant, in the amount of $75,000. The Our Town grant is a matching grant, and the partner organizations raised money to match the N.E.A. funds

What does that mean? BRAF and BMP each wrote a check for $25,000, and so did the City of Fernley? Well, according to the City of Fernley, BRAF wrote a check for $75,000, and the City of Fernley provided “in kind” matching value. What did the Burning Man Project do? Who banked the NEA check?



In September 2012, the Burning Man Project partnered with the Peralta Junction project in Oakland. The SF Bay Guardian said “Burner Built Peralta Junction Brings A West Oakland Lot to Life”. We said “Burning Man Project to Fuel Community Creativity in West Oakland”. Jessica Brown from the Peralta Junction project commented on our story, and she was NOT impressed with Burning Man trying to take credit for the community’s work:

Did you interview ANYONE involved in the planning of this project? Did you fact check AT ALL. This is NOT a Burning Man event. Do you even know who the artists are who painted that fence? Did you even ask what the purpose of this space is for? Do you have any idea what the intention of the VOLUNTEER COMMUNITY OUTREACH COLLABORATORS AND PRODUCERS had in mind for this project? Please, get your story straight before you post unrelated information in your blog. Your photos of pictures from the playa have nothing to do with the project. The Peralta Junction Project has the support of many members of the already established community of West Oakland and the greater East Bay and Bay Area as a community space for FREE workshops, FREE music and artist venue, a place of COMMERCE for truly local crafters and artisans. There are people in this neighborhood, who have lived here for generations, who did not just move here in the last couple of years and call themselves from West Oakland, that fully back this project and LOVE what is being done to make an inviting and open outdoor space that is ALL INCLUSIVE. Check your facts before posting next time. There are a good many people involved with the creation and management of this evolving community event that have nothing to do with Burning Man. Burning Man has it’s own thing going and I’m sure a lot of people who are involved with that are amazing and not amazing and have all kinds of political and social issues. But, this is not them.

We provide an open dialog on this blog for anyone interested in Burner culture to share their views. We find stories on the Internet relevant to Burner culture, and offer our opinions on them. As you can see, our comments aren’t censored, unlike the official Burning Man blog. I endeavor to reply to everyone commenting or asking me questions, also unlike BMOrg who cherry pick the easy questions and ignore the harder ones.

Jessica and several of her colleagues made it clear in the comments to our story that Peralta Junction was yet another case of the Burning Man Project trying to take credit for the efforts of others.

Nick Mays Praying Mantis_0Downtown Las Vegas

Around the same time – we’re talking nearly two years ago, September 2012 – BMOrg announced their collaboration with Billionaire Burner Tony Hsieh’s Downtown Las Vegas project. Maid Marian said:

“Las Vegas provides a rich landscape ripe with opportunities for civic participation and public gathering, and we look forward to engaging in this collaborative effort.”

The partnership will enhance First Friday in Las Vegas by providing more opportunities for participation and interaction, strengthening the event’s civic-minded emphasis, and developing ways to keep attendees connected. The partnership would also like to provide storage, or a museum space, for art cars in Las Vegas so that they can participate in the First Friday and other public art events. In order to facilitate this process, the Burning Man Project is hiring a liaison, or “cultural attaché” that will be based in Las Vegas to work closely with Downtown Project.

art car warehouseI’ve been to Vegas a few times, and Civic Participation was the last thing on my mind. There is a storage space for Art Cars in Las Vegas, but I know for a fact that they didn’t receive a cent in funding or support from The Burning Man Project. They have to pay themselves to bring their art cars to Burning Man, and if they want to throw a fundraiser, they can’t use any photos of their art cars at the event, or the words “Burning Man”, “Black Rock City”, or “Decompression”.

The cultural attache they “hired” is a lady named Cory Mervis, a former New York regional contact who moved out to Vegas with her family.

Cory and her family were drawn to glittering Las Vegas because they saw a vibrant and growing arts community. Cory had been creating community events and organizing ideas into action since 2000. After she moved to downtown Vegas, she immediately attended a monthly coffeeshop meeting and shared the idea of a Halloween Parade with the Mayor of Las Vegas, Oscar Goodman. He loved the concept, and since then [2010], she has been producing this massive event, with much support from the city government. The parade has grown by leaps and bounds to 12,000 attendees, and each year it unites people of all types to create art together and ultimately participate in claiming their culture and community.

Beginning Nov. 1, 2012, Cory has brought the same excitement and enthusiasm for community-building to the collaboration between Downtown Project and Burning Man Project. Cory’s role is to serve as a consultant and project manager around areas of interest for Downtown Project.

In September 2011, First Friday LLC (allied with the Downtown Project) acquired the First Friday event, which is produced monthly by a very talented team of artists, producers and extraordinary organizers. Today, Cory is working with the team to help as needed with programs like manifesting a Leave No Trace ethos for the event.

So is she employed by the Burning Man Project, or the Downtown Project, or First Friday LLC? She has her own company, Flying Pan Production LLC. It seems more like she is a Regional Contact for BMOrg who moved to Vegas, than one of their fully paid employees, a dedicated cultural attache using Burning Man Project funds to help spread Burner culture to Sin City.

The next big event for the Burning Man Project was announcing the Youth Education Spaceship. Although claimed as something to help the underprivileged kids of the Bayview/Hunters’ Point and Tenderloin areas, it ended up in the Zappo’s HQ:

yes spaceshipLongtime Burning Man artist Dana Albany is working with San Francisco Boys & Girls Clubs and burner families on a spacecraft made with recycled materials that is traveling to local schools, art and science centers and will eventually make its way to Black Rock City.

Burning Man Project teamed with Black Rock Arts FoundationThe CrucibleExploratoriumBlack Rock City, LLCMaker Faire and Albany on the creation of the Youth Education Spacecraft (Y.E.S.) Project.

“This is a great example of what can be done collaboratively with other mission-aligned non-profits,” said Project Board Founding Member Harley DuBois.  “We’re excited to take the lead in helping to make this happen.”

The spacecraft is 12’ in diameter and 8’ high. Burner families and children involved in San Francisco Boys & Girls Clubs created mosaics made from repurposed, found and salvaged materials and fastened them to the ship.

“This is an incredible opportunity for children from diverse backgrounds to build something out of the realm of their consciousness, beyond their wildest dreams,” Dana said.

To build the spacecraft, kids (and their parents) worked with metals and mosaics, built molds, tried their hands at glass fusion and glass blowing, and worked with photography, videography soundscape creation, robotics and solar technologies. They also incorporated elements of education on ancient civilizations, space travel, astronomy and environmentalism.

The spacecraft is made to be explored, and kids are encouraged to interact with video and audio equipment installed in the spacecraft’s interior.

Now on tour, the spacecraft is making visits to Maker Faire, Exploratorium and ultimately the Burning Man event in Black Rock City, where children who participated in its creation will help serve as guides.

BMP took the lead, says the Highly Dubious chair of the BRAF Grants to Artists committee. What does that mean? Funding? Project Management? Or just handling the media so they can take the credit?

Y.E.S. was built by Artist Dana Albany and 75 local kids from the Bayview District at Shipyard Trust for the Arts -an artists colony at Hunters Point. BMP says “and kids from the Tenderloin”, we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt that’s true, even though the spaceship wasn’t built there. The Burning Man Project did provide some financial support, as did The Crucible, The Exploratorium, and Maker Faire.

I saw the spaceship at Cargo Cult last year. Days before the Man burned, they were still working frantically to complete the UFO Man Base. I was inside the fenced off safety perimeter with Insane from the highly respected International Arts Megacrew, on a mission to buy propane for the Control Tower. When I walked towards the very cool-looking spaceship, I was quickly told off. So much for exploring. Even once the perimeter was removed, and Burners could explore the Cargo Cult wooden UFO and slide down the slide, I didn’t see any kids there at the Y.E.S. serving as guides. The Y.E.S. spaceship was sent to Vegas after Burning Man. It’s presence at Zappo’s HQ is a sign that the Downtown Project probably paid the moving expenses rather than BMOrg.


Here, There, and Everywhere

valentine for glidesIn February 2013, the Burning Man Project announced its “Volunteer Engagement Series”. They teamed up with the Glide Foundation to serve a Valentine’s dinner and make 750 cards to hand out to diners.

They also hosted a free workshop in their office, limited to 35 people, on “Bringing The Ten Principles to the Classroom”. Huh?

In this workshop, our speakers will share 1) what got them started on this path, 2) why they think the Ten Principles are a compelling framework for reinventing the educational experience, and 3) some practical techniques that they are currently applying to create learning communities at their educational institution – and the results so far. These include:

  • How to use gifting to cultivate stronger, more productive teams
  • How to jump-start participation and radical self-reliance
  • Decommodification by getting rid of grades (which also catalyzes participation, communal effort, and radical self-reliance)

What was the next event in the Volunteer Engagement Series? [crickets]

They put an acrobatic stilt troupe with a social mission on the street outside their office in March 2013. Although this event “Midriff Microhood” was put on by Yammer and The Bold Italic, the Burning Man Project claimed credit for presenting the circus performers who do this all over the world.

In April 2013, they put on a “day” of Maker workshops in their office, which went for 2 hours.

May 2013 saw a trip to LyonParis, for Marian and Larry, who then went on to London; and a trip to Africa for 4 Burning Man Project staffers, spreading Burner culture. Meanwhile, back home, they sent some volunteers to Earth Day to work with Earth Guardians teaching people how to make MOOP bags.

In July, 2013, the Founders threw a fundraising event called “This is Burning Man”, hosted by Brian Doherty, author of the book “This is Burning Man”. The event was described as a success, although details of how much was raised were not disclosed. The 230-seat capacity Z Space Theater provided the space for free, all ticket sales went to the Burning Man Project. The event was priced on a “pay what you can” basis; Tickets ranged from $20-$125.

In October 2013,  the Project highlighted the activities of their Social Alchemist and Ambassador Bear Kittay, who has been sent to South Africa, New Zealand, Spain, Australia, London, Hawaii, Croatia, Mexico, Japan, Korea, Lithuania, Israel, Costa Rica and SXSW in Austin to promote the Burning Man Project. There is no indication that any of these trips resulted in fundraising for the charity. On the home front, Artists David Best and Joshua Coffy put on a free-entry, donation optional fundraiser in Petaluma, with funds split with Transition US.

In November 2013, 300 people showed up at Columbia University to see The Founders Speak. The only official Burning Man founder speaking was Larry Harvey. The event was free, so it’s unlikely that the charity raised much money there. A video of the symposium was scheduled to be released in early 2014, but has mysteriously disappeared.

In January 2014, Larry went to London again, speaking about his manhood. In February, a bunch of BMOrg went to Berlin, for the European Leadership Summit.

In March, 2014 Larry Harvey gave an interview on Charlie Rose. He came across as a psychiatric case, according to one mental health professional.

In May 2014, Burning Man Founder Danger Ranger was on a panel discussion in San Mateo. He spoke for about 4 minutes and 20 seconds, saying:

What we do literally is we take peoples’ sense of reality, and we break it apart. Burning Man is a transformation engine. It has hardware and it has software. You can adjust it and tweak it, and we’ve done that. We take people out to this vast, dry place – nowhere, very harsh conditions – and it strips away their luggage. The things that they had brought with them, the idea of who they thought they were. And it puts them in a community setting where they have to connect with each other. It puts them in this place where anything is possible. In doing so, it breaks the old reality, and it enables them to realize that you can create your own reality, you can do anything.”

Most recently, Midburn – billed as the first Burning Man event in the Middle East, and the second largest Regional outside the US – paid for 2 flights for Burning Man Project personnel to attend their party in Israel, for “ranger training”.


And that brings us up to date. 4 years of the Burning Man Project. A few events, and a great deal of self promotion. A lot of travel for the insiders. Some fund-raising activities, but really very little given the amount of media attention they’ve been getting for their “transition to a non-profit” which is now “complete” (except for the bit about it still being a few years away).

How much money has been raised for charity? Nobody’s saying, but they are required by law to disclose it, so sooner or later we’ll know.

Has the Burning Man Project proven to be effective in its mission? That is: “to facilitate and extend the culture that has issued from the Burning Man event into a larger world. This culture forms an integrated pattern of values, experience, and behavior: a coherent and widely applicable way of life. The survival and elaboration of this culture depend upon a cultivated capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations.” 

They certainly seem to have been extending the culture of BMOrg. How do they quantify and evaluate culture extension? Is it by measuring people who have never been to the party, but have memorized the 10 Principles? Or perhaps, by media impressions?

Hareley Dubois said:

Minolta DSCI’m one of the founders of the Black Rock Arts Foundation, and I chair the Grants to Artists Committee. I created the centerpiece program, which is having money come in and giving it out to people who are doing art in other countries, other places; people who don’t even come to Burning Man… It’s been extremely effective, even though our grants tend to be very small, they’ve been as small as $375, the largest grant we’ve ever given was $10,000; we’ve made huge impacts in small towns and small art festivals that have grown into much greater things…We funded an urn that was supposed to be the centerpiece of a parade…This urn turned out to be absolutely gorgeous, it’s still the centerpiece of this parade, someplace in the South. The city hadn’t really bought into the parade at the time, now it’s their centerpiece, it’s what they all stand behind, that’s what their town is about, is this yearly parade. This cauldron’s at the center of it and they do all this performance art all around it. It’s become this gathering spot and we funded that.”

Wow. Burning Man funds a magical cauldron, and now the entire town is organized around it. And she doesn’t even remember the name of the town. Hubris, much? Note also that she’s talking here about the Black Rock Arts Foundation. Their performance can be evaluated, thanks to Guidestar; for every dollar they raise, less than 30 cents goes to the actual cause they’re raising it for.

In addition to the Ten Principles, Burning Man has the concept of “do-ocracy”. Maybe BMP should consider taking the ethos of do-ocracy on board, rather than radical reliance on their Ten Principles. Speaking for 4 minutes, in San Mateo? That is NOT doing. Getting some stilt walkers to put on a show out the front of their office? Please. BMOrg, you’re going to have to do a lot better than that to get my charity dollar.

Larry Harvey said recently:

The motto of the Philosophical Center, an institution that is now installed at the center of the Burning Man Project, is a quote from William James: “Belief is thought at rest”.

Like many of Larry’s pronouncements, this leaves me scratching my head. What does that even mean? “Thought at rest” – meaning it’s fine to rest and think about stuff? This sounds like the opposite of do-ocracy. Is this what the Burning Man Project is all about? Philosophy?

I’d love to be proven wrong. ANYONE, I mean ANYONE, from the Burning Man Organization is welcome to come on this site and comment. Tell us where we’re wrong. Tell us about all the other great things you’ve done, that we’re not talking about because you forgot to put them on your web site. Open the books, show us how your charity has been performing. Show us the receipts! If you expect us to come into your headquarters so that you can answer our questions in secret, then you’re reading the wrong blog. That’s not how “global cultural extension” works. BMHQ is not Buckingham Palace, and the new (ish) non-profit organization called “The Burning Man Project” is not truly representative of the excellence and awesomeness of Burners.






14 comments on “The Art of Giving

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  13. Ah this is a great writeup. Very disappointed with the efforts around 6th and mission, as someone that was put a knife to their throat over there recently by one of the friendly local crackheads…

    • yep it’s pretty gnarly. I moved out of the area a couple of years back. Living in the city was fun, but I got sick of crackheads. I heard they stay away from the Hearst properties, due to some under-the-table security measures

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