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