Radical Stagnation: A Call for Creativity

Chris Colley at Justburnus has written a great op-ed about where Burning Man is today. He also offers some ideas for the future, something I think this community needs to hear more of.

It’s worth reading in its entirety, but here are some highlights:

image from justburnus

image from justburnus

There has been a lot of talk in the past few years about how Burning Man is changing, about how it is expanding across the globe. The people who own Burning Man spoke loudly and proudly about a great change as they moved Burning Man to what was to be a non-profit. The spoke about how the regionals were the future of the burn. They lauded the actions of Burners Without Borders and Black Rock Arts Foundation as things that would spread burner culture. But through all of this, not much has changed on any front.

Burning Man seems like it is on autopilot. That might not reflect well on it, as the organizers seem to tout the fact that it is cutting edge and constantly innovating. But, even with this apparent slowdown in creative ideas it seems that Burning Man has been very financially successful. Just how that is so is a bit more complicated than “burning man is fun.”

…The hopes for this wonderland were peaked when it was announced in 2011 that burning man was going to transform in to a non-profit. There was talk about gifting burning man back to the community (though the founders now claim this didn’t happen). There was talk about a year round art center for burners near the event site in northern Nevada. There was talk about more money going to art. But, here we are in 2014 with the transition complete and not much of anything has happened. The new non-profit has done essentially nothing. Meanwhile the event is still arguably for-profit, as the tickets are sold by a for-profit LLC, and a for-profit LLC owns all of the intellectual property.

The only thing innovative the organizers have done in the past few years was in an office with their accountants and lawyers. A lot of hope for the future which they hyped went up in smoke.

During this recent period we’ve seen the embrace of for-profit operations running at burning man itself, a divisive issue in the community. The founders OK’d selling all-inclusive packages on-site. We’ve seen the ever growing amount of big dollar corporate media projects (the recent Spark film has been sold by amazon, itunes, netflix, microsoft, sony, and available on ShowBox). A founder said that Rolling Stone magazine and Vogue magazine were asked to pay $100,000 fees to make photographs at the event. With all of these ventures the organizers of burning man get a cut of the proceeds. But, little to nothing ever comes of that money which comes in.

It seems a shame that at a time of apparent unprecedented profit and success for the business that little seems to be going back in to it. The infrastructure has been mostly the same for the past 15 years. The organizers still refuse to fully fund any art pieces but The Man (3.5% of the projects at burning man get a small stipend which doesn’t cover the projects total cost).

…Imagine a burning man with a vastly different layout each year, where you couldn’t always predict that your neighbor camp was going to be next to you, because the organizers don’t even know what the city would look like next. Imagine a burning man where the art was more well integrated in to the city itself, by the organizers themselves, who paid top dollar for amazing creations that the community would have difficulty funding and achieving

Read the whole piece here.

Creativity, fun, and helping others are a great start. What other principles and ideals do you think are important? We could do so much better. Let’s mix it up a bit.


5 comments on “Radical Stagnation: A Call for Creativity

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  4. I think Burning Man is beyond repair. There were attempts by the community to fix it but all failed. The best thing to do if you want to re-create the magic of the early burns is to do it on the down-low with your community of friends. Make your own TAZs, but fixing BM is no longer possible.

    The consumers have discovered the event, and they are unrelenting in their pursuit to consume. They have unlimited funds and numbers. It’s their event now. Many of them will have a great time on the playa this year and in the future, can’t fault them for that. But they will have it in their own, lackluster way.

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