Art Budget Shenanigans [Update]

A Burning Man artist has responded to my request for feedback in yesterday’s post Follow the Money, with a most interesting tale.


From Anonymous Burner:

BMHQ Artists meeting, 2014

BMHQ Artists meeting, May 2015


This picture was taken at the Follow Up Artists’ Summit held last May at BMHQ.  This was the second meeting after the first one in 2014 where a group of artists tried to make changes in the artist contract for the event but were met with a meeting facilitator that broke everyone up to bitch in different sessions.
Then last May they held the follow up meeting.  Whereas there were upwards of 50 at the first meeting, this one was poorly attended.  Besides myself there was 2 other “Playa” artists and a bunch of newbies.  No one would show up because they knew nothing was going to come out of this meeting. They had tons of food…
Looking at the pie chart, they state that for 2015 they would spend $3M on the art.  For ease of discussion, look at 40% Grants, 40% Services, and 20% Administration.
1.2M for Grants (now includes Man and Man Base)
$600k on Admin?  Pick a number of FTEs for BRC art at $100k each.  They don’t have 6 FTEs working on BRC art and they sure as hell aren’t paying them $100k
$1.2M on Services?  For the heavy equipment thats used to build the site and is already out there?
They won’t feed the artists at the Commissary.  The art projects have to pay for water, fuel, light towers, wood, DG for burns, Etc, Etc.  Plus pay for Port-o-Lets, feeding their crew, and everything else.  How are these service and Admin amounts calculated?
Here’s the problem these folks have:
They can’t raise money for the BM Project because if you donate to it, what is your donation doing?  I see lots of folks flying around the world talking.  What specific programs can they point to to make a case for donating money to the BM project?
That leaves them trying to run the non-profit on the back of the event.  Yes the event makes money, finally – they ran the outfit out of a cigar box for years –  but leaves them unable to increase funding for the artists.  And given the way these lemmings throng to get a spot on the cliff, why should they even consider it.
And now that they have to raise money for the BM project, where do they go?  To the folks that have been funding these pieces and supporting the artists.  It is a very shallow donor pool.  The result is “donor fatigue”  these folks are weary of being badgered by the Org and look for more permanent art installations.
At the same time, they have to be careful in getting the community to support the artists more – Larry’s latest efforts are lame in that he keeps referring to the moneyed class and most folks say “he can’t be talking about me, I don’t have any money”.  My wealthy friends that have supported art projects in the past have been insulted by his “let the rich folks pay for it”.  Many are taking the year off this year, as am I.
Well, I found that somewhat cathartic.  Thanks for hearing me out.



Thanks very much for sharing that. The artist raises some good points.

Specifically, from a $3 million budget, the numbers work out to:

$1,290,000 Art (43%)

$570,000 Admin (19%)

$1,140,000 Services (38%)

Heavy Equipment Rental was $2.45 million in 2014.

From a $1.2 million Black Rock City art budget, in 2016 they are paying for:

60 Honoraria art projects. Partial grants, artists have to raise most of the project costs themselves

33 Guild Workshops. Regional projects. Projects required to raise almost all the funding and supply personnel themselves.

The Man

The Piazza

The “Turning Man” contraption

The Temple. Partial grant, artists who “win” the project have to raise most of the funding themselves

4 Belltowers

A blacksmith shop

Possible other sculptures

Is the $90,000 what gets spent on art across Burners Without Borders, Black Rock Arts Foundation, Burning Man Arts, and all the other non-Playa activities?

[Update 3/15/16 5:44pm]

The artist has responded to some of the questions raised in our comments. emphasis ours

A question was raised about tickets and that was a good point.  I don;t know how the value of the tickets given to artists/art projects is calculated or categorized.  Here is what I do know – 
Registered art pieces (funded and non-funded) get access to free tickets, vehicle passes, early arrival passes and the coveted 12 mile (aka Point 1) access privilege
In addition to the free art project tickets, there are also half price (aka staff tickets) that are made available to the project depending on project scope, schedule, and staffing.  And if that isn’t enough, the Org can also press the special button and grant full price tickets to the artists as well.
When the Org gives an artist a free ticket (or a half price ticket) how is it categorized in the accounting?  I would bet that in the calculations for the BRC art budget that the tickets are added to Administration or the Services figure at face value ($390).
One way artists can take advantage of the Org is to have a high profile project start to go bad.  When that happens the tickets and vehicle passes can really start to flow.  A case in point is last year’s Temple – they had like 150 people in their build camp – due to physical constraints they really couldn’t have more than about 30 people working on the Temple at a time.  Even allowing for a generous support crew there was still upwards of 50-75 burners early to the event getting the party started early.
The other question that was raised had to do with the construction of the Man Base and The Man.  One of the reasons the contractors category has been growing is that the “traditional” Man Base and Man Build crews have been terminated.  The Man and the Man Base are now basically built by hired carpenters – the Org has outsourced the construction function under the guise that “professionals” were needed to build the infrastructure for the city.  They got rid of the Man Base crew in 2013 (Cargo Cult) and the Man Build crew in 2014 or 2015 depending on how you define the termination.
Another change for contractors happened this year when the Org eliminated the DPW Power Crew and outsourced the electrical grids to Agreko.  They kept a small crew of former DPW Power folks in supervisory roles, and the end result is a little more Disneyfication of the event.  Eventually they’ll outsource gate and perimeter to a security firm and the event will have all the charm of a visit to Ikea.
The shark was jumped in 2012 with the ticket lottery.  When we look back 10-15 years from now I believe we will acknowledge that the year tickets became scarce was the year the Org stopped caring.
This is an interesting point about the accounting. If a $397 ticket is sold for half price, do they write it off in the books as $200 of “Admin Costs” (claiming full revenue for the ticket, then the lost revenue as an expense) and then claim that they are contributing this towards arts?
Why is the only time this “$3 million on art” figure appears in a small, quiet meeting with artists – and all the press discussion is of $1.2 million or $1.5 million? Why do they feed artists generously  (and unnecessarily) at HQ, yet shut them out of the Commissary during their builds?
Thanks very much to the artist who has been contributing here, I can confirm that I have also heard what they are saying about entire crews being sacked and replaced with contractors from other sources. People who have given a decade or more of their lives to physically constructing Burning Man have been shunted out the door, while newcomers get to cash in. One consequence of this corporatization/Disneyfication is that it is more scaleable and movable. As I said recently to VICE, let’s take this show on the road!

12 comments on “Art Budget Shenanigans [Update]

  1. Thank you, anonymous artist, for your information and discussion of this rubbish, it is sad the manner of which the Borg treats the artists, and most others.

    The accounting of the prior free, and $190 staff tickets, to the artists, is not on the 990 forms, except of the cash gained in due of the $190 tickets, in due of the tickets were of zero cost to the Borg in due of artist contractors and staff were not included within the permitted prior 70,000 paid population cap within 2014, and 2015. Perchance, the imaginary accounting of the tickets might be within the artist support services number.


  2. Kudos to the anonymous artist for this letter upon these matters. The manner of which the Borg treats the artists is most appalling.

    ‘Here’s the problem these folks have:
    They can’t raise money for the BM Project because if you donate to it, what is your donation doing? I see lots of folks flying around the world talking. What specific programs can they point to to make a case for donating money to the BM project?
    That leaves them trying to run the non-profit on the back of the event. Yes the event makes money, finally – they ran the outfit out of a cigar box for years – but leaves them unable to increase funding for the artists.

    In addendum of them trying to run the non-profit on the back of the event, by simple maths upon their numbers, they took all net cash towards their pockets prior of donating the BRC LLC to the Project for their Retirement I of $4 million of each year of 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2012, and they are of the need of cash for their Retirement II of paying themselves for the Burning Man(tm) trademarks, and other IP, and they are of the need of cash for their 100 year plan of a combination of Bohemian Grove, Esalen Institute, Renaissance Faires, and the prior Harbin Hot Springs.

    It most difficult to pay the costs of the Burning Man event, and treat artists, and other Burners, in a fair manner in due of this rubbish.

    Liked by 2 people

    • In regards of ‘and they are of the need of cash for their Retirement II of paying themselves for the Burning Man(tm) trademarks, and other IP

      Within April of 2011, from the prior SFBG newspaper, Larry Harvey stated In about three years, depending on how the new nonprofit forms up, the LLC will turn over management of Burning Man, while holding onto control of the logos and trademarks for another three years after that, Harvey said. And that’s when the six board members will officially cash out., of which they refuse to disclose the details of this massive conflicts of interests to donors of cash, stock, art, and labour.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Anonymous artist, I am curious of might some of the support of which the Borg claimed, be free tickets to the burn in due of terming some artists ‘artist contractors’, of which they were not included within the prior 70,000 paid population cap, thus the tickets were of zero cost to the Borg? Within 2016, the permitted paid population cap is 72,000, of which the Borg has stated of the manner of which 68,000 tickets are to be sold. By appearance, some of the other 4,000 tickets are to be sold to people assisting the artists in the manner of ‘labour on our art for free and thus we will sell you a ticket to the burn’.


      • I have seen this 72,000 number elsewhere on the Internet, wondering where you’re getting it from. From the tickets page, there are 66,000; I have low income down as 6,000 which I guess includes performer tickets. This gives 68,000.


        • The 72,000 number is in due of the Reno Gazette Journal article of Most Burning Man 2016 tickets to cost between $424 – $1,306 states ‘In total, 72,000 tickets will be available for purchase …’ My belief of the raise from 70,000, to 72,000, is in due of the raise of low income tickets from 4,000, to 6,000, in due of the Borg raised the number of hours volunteers must labour for them to gain the $190 low income tickets, thus it is near to the same number of people on the playa, but a smaller number of free tickets are for volunteers. The $38 million number I have been stating for 2016 ticket sales is in due of the near to $35 million within your post of Burning Man Tickets $1500, in addendum of mailing and will call levies, and near to $2 million of cash in due of the 4,000 tickets.

          Larry stated within his Turning Man theme of 2016 of that he desires a conversation on money, and I am in agreement with him in these regards.

          Liked by 2 people

          • A “conversation?” Give me a break. Regardless of the actual “conversation,” here is what my NPD ball says will be the Borg’s announced result:

            “After the stimulating Turning Man conversation on the role money plays in the arts, it is clear that artists are enabled and empowered by money. And more money comes from recognition of the artist, and the patron. Just as we have been pioneering naming artists in their presence off the playa, so we will now pioneer naming their patrons off the playa to recognize what they give to the broader community.”

            Drink Coke.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Most awesome. I am in agreement of that will be their pretending of having a conversation, ignoring of the elephants within the room.


  3. That is interesting. The MAN is part of the “art fund”? That doesn’t make sense since the Man is constructed by the Org itself and should be part of its operational budget. I guess they could then reduce the Art allocation by that much but it might show that they are spending even LESS on Art than they were thought to be spending. And if the Man construction isn’t included in the rest of the BM budget, then why is IT growing so rapidly too? Definitely weird.


    • I guess they could then reduce the Art allocation by that much but it might show that they are spending even LESS on Art than they were thought to be spending. Most brilliant.

      There is more discussion in regards of this matter within the comments upon the prior post of Follow the Money.


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