Radical Sherpa Reliance

A look inside BMP Director Chip Conley’s ultra-luxury “top of the pyramid” camp, Maslowtopia. It’s based on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and being the highest version of yourself you can be.

Looks like regular food safety violations going on amongst the multiple workers in their gourmet kitchen. All that money, and no-one could afford gloves?

Tim Ferriss, author of The Four Hour Work Week, gave some insight into who Chip’s guests were:

My camp, called Maslowtopia and organized by famed hotelier Chip Conley (author of Peak), gathered a motley crew of around 100 all-stars from around the world, including incredible artists, organic chefs, and wise Fortune-100 co-founders…

One of those all-stars was an A-list entrepreneur and former top-tier investment banker. Trained at Harvard as a lawyer and forged into the consummate dealmaker, she had literally built economies from scratch

Hexayurt creator (and legendary Burner) Vinay Gupta tweeted a photo of the camp from the air:

image: Vijay Gupta/Twitpic

image: Vinay Gupta/Twitpic

Chip says he put the camp on for his 50th birthday in 2010, so presumably it was a gift and he doesn’t think he “lost money” on it like Jim Tananbaum says he did on Caravancicle.

The extensive credits at the end of the video certainly suggest a large contingent of paid help. Is it Radical Self Reliance if you hire an event production company, catering firm, a team of sherpas to build your camp for you, and a videographer to professionally record the experience? Is it Decommodification if the companies involved promote their Participation in their subsequent online marketing?


maslow cartoon

Social Alchemist Seeks Sherpa for Startup Shenanigans

This year, just before Burning Man, the New York Times published an expose on rich people trying to one-up each other at Burning Man with luxury camps and paid employees. They featured an interview with an insider, Tyler Hansen, who worked for a large luxury camp as a sherpa. Not a Big S Sherpa, one of the noble mountain people of Nepal; a small s sherpa, someone employed as a guide. Before this high-profile NYT article, I had never before heard the word sherpa in conjunction with Burning Man. Now it seems every Commodification Camp has a team of sherpas. How did this word enter Burning Man’s lexicon?

After Caravansiclery wrapped up, we heard from another sherpa who worked at the luxury plug-n-play camp created by mega-rich Burning Man Director Jim Tananbaum. According to documents from Megas Inc, camping spots cost $13,000 per head. According to the whistleblower, it was $17,000. What was the difference – tips? Or were some “products” provided that weren’t suitable to be listed in the contract?

This mountain looks pretty big...where's my sherpa?

This mountain of “ice cream” looks pretty big…where’s my sherpa?

The camp featured Mistresses of Merriment, some of whom claim “playmate“, “pasties”, and “no pants” in their profiles.

2014 alyssa arce caravancicle 2 caravancicle tweet

2014 bella hunter2014 bella hunter wig

2014 amber nicole

KBand published a list of people involved with Caravancicle, something we have decided not to re-post as it could be considered “doxing”, an online practice that is frowned upon. You can search out the list for yourself. We reference it because it contains a link that inspired this story – one that connects Commodification Camps, BMOrg, and Sherpas.

Burning Man’s Social Alchemist and Global Ambassador, Bear Kittay, is named in the list of Caravancicle associates. What was his role in the camp?

Despite being paid to be a Social Alchemist, Bear is not permitted by his employer to make an on the record statement to social media. He camped at First Camp, and doesn’t know why he is named in the Caravancicle list.

A silent ambassador? Sounds more like a secret agent to me. Why does BMOrg need secret agents to spread its culture, if it’s all for charity?

Bear’s mentor is a Silicon Valley venture capitalist whom he brought out to the Playa to do deals. Shervin Pishevar,  formerly of Menlo Ventures, has now branched out on his own with a new $154 million startup. Its name? Drumroll please…

Sherpa Ventures. @Sherpa.


Is this merely yet another ironic coincidence, like BMOrg Directors selling luxury elite camps on K Street while brochures for the same type of amenity-laden retreat are being handed out in the Souk? How many more coincidences do there need to be, before all these connections seem like more than just random chance?


Here’s some of the back story. Who is Bear Kittay?

From About.Me:

Bear Kittay is a social alchemist who exists to activate human potential. As Burning Man’s Global Ambassador, Bear initiates global experiences with cultural pioneers from the realms of entrepreneurship, government, science, and art to accelerate innovation and cultural transformation. As an entrepreneur, he’s founded, discovered and currently advises several venture-backed Silicon Valley technology companies, including Shaker, Organizer, and Sponsorfied. He’s raised more than $20M in early stage venture funding from top tier firms including Founders Fund and Menlo Ventures. A singer and multi-instrumentalist, Bear’s secret sauce is his music. He’s studied and performed music in venues throughout the world and founded Music for Democracy, a PAC organizing musicians for progressive causes

From The Burning Man Project:

Bear Kittay serves as Social Alchemist and Ambassador for Burning Man Project, visiting burners around the world, capturing their stories and sharing information from other groups  creating positive change around the world. So far Bear has attended AfrikaBurn in South Africa, KiwiBurn in New Zealand, Nowhere in Spain, and visited burners in Australia, Maui and London. He has represented the Project at the SXSW premiere of Spark, at a festival on human rights in Croatia and at a social innovation festival in Oaxaca, Mexico. He’s just recently returned from a whirlwind trip that included KoreaBurn, Burning Japan and Burning Seed in Australia.

He was also sent this year to Midburn, a Burning Man event which humbly aims to bring peace to the Middle East.

In 2010 I brought two of my best friends to Burning Man for the first time, after trying for about a decade to convince them to go. They absolutely loved it, we camped with Villains and Vixens and Overkill. Bear was not so close a friend, but I had previously entertained him in my home in Australia and suggested he should go to Burning Man and experience for himself magic happening in real time. 2009 was his first burn. In 2010, he came to visit our camp in some sort of wetsuit with his dick hanging out of a flap in the front. Wetsuit cocking, a new one to me. Millenial innovation, no doubt. Luckily he brought a beautiful woman with him. She was immediately whisked into the fanciest RV on the Playa, while Bear remained with us drinking at our camp’s fully stocked bar. And yes, we too had top shelf vodka – $29 for a bottle of Grey Goose at Safeway, fancy. Show up, and we pour you a drink. Doesn’t get much more Radically Inclusive than that – although, if you want to use the bathroom in my RV, you’re gonna need a wristband.


Bear and Dr Molly – not a couple! Photo by Snorky

In 2011, Bear created a Burning Man camp called Kundavi. It was tied to a real estate venture in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. I joined them and pitched in where I could, mainly contributing the sound system. This was the first year I’d brought my own RV, an old one I found for a steal off eBay, an economical alternative to the nicer vehicles I’d rented previously. Bear brought out his parents for their first Burn. Dr David Kittay, a lecturer on religion and technology at Columbia University, later would host the infamous “The Founders Speak” panel discussion in New York with Larry Harvey, John Perry Barlow, and Peter Hirshberg, the recordings of which mysteriously went missing despite BMOrg’s promise to share them with Burners.

Bear brought some friends to Camp Kundavi that he wanted to get together for business reasons. Earlier in the year, Bear had asked Shervin, his mentor, what he should do with his life. Shervin had said “go and travel the world, and if you find any interesting startups, bring them to me”. In Barcelona (or was it Tel Aviv?), Kittay randomly met some young Israeli entrepreneurs with a social media startup called Shaker.

Shervin was the guy who did the Uber deal for Menlo Ventures, which turned out to be such a stellar success that he can probably trade off that one deal for the rest of his life. He brought celebrities like Ed Norton and Burner Will Smith in as investors in their Series B round.

Bear saw an opportunity – here was a deal he could broker for Shervin, and maybe get a piece for himself. And it could all go down at Burning Man.

shervin uberShervin showed up fresh from Las Vegas. It was his first trip to the Playa, and not his natural environment, but he was an “out there” VC, prepared to do whatever it took to close on the next big deal. He would shave Uber into his hair if that was what it took. Before hopping on his Black Jet he had spent 3 hours in the hairdresser, getting his jet-black locks turned into a rainbow mohawk.

Shervin was frustrated because he was in the closing stages of an $800 million deal, and his Blackberry reception was patchy. I lent him my satellite phone but it wasn’t enough, he needed to get back to Vegas to close this deal. Time was limited. Bear seized his opportunity to bring his mentor and his protegés together.

Here’s SF Gate examining Burning Man’s new role as a deal destination for the captains of tech:

Burning Man founders are happy about the changes – even courting them. Those captains of tech also fund the enormous temporary art installations in the city center and support the Burning Man nonprofit efforts.

“What we’re seeing are many more of the Fortune 500 leadership, entrepreneurs and small startups bringing their whole team,” said Marian Goodell, Burning Man director of business and communications.

Like a corporate retreat?

A little bit like a corporate retreat. The event is a crucible, a pressure cooker and, by design, a place to think of new ideas or make new connections.”

She said that, contrary to what people may think, she is not particularly liberal and, as a sign of her conservative cred, added that “my sister’s godfather is Antonin Scalia,” the staunchly conservative Supreme Court justice. “Burning Man on the outside has very liberal and socially strong principles, but I’ve been running it with very fiscally conservative policies.

These new burners, she said, are to be celebrated.

“If you’re in the longtime Burning Man community, maybe it’s easy to frown on certain types of people coming. But the more we have a variety of influencers – folks from London and New York – the better off we will be and the better off the Burning Man Project.”

shaker 2011 disruptWhen Bear Kittay, 26, who runs a camp with an innovation theme, met five Israeli entrepreneurs in Barcelona, he told them to come to the desert. On the spur of the moment, the young men, founders of a virtual reality startup, took time off work and joined him.

On the playa, Kittay introduced them to Shervin Pishevar, managing partner of the venture capital firm Menlo Ventures. And there, coated in desert dust, Pishevar agreed to lead the first round of funding – $15 million.

That company, Shaker, won the prestigious TechCrunch Disrupt conference award for best new startup in 2011.

“It’s a big testament to Burning Man,” Goodell said

Typical BMOrg, claiming credit for any thing any Burners do any where. We’ve gone from “commerce is banned at Burning Man” to “we never said we were against commerce” to “if commerce happens that’s a big testament to Burning Man”.

The Burning Man component of the Shaker deal was no more than 5 minutes of conversation. Here’s how it really happened.

Bear brought Shervin and the Shaker team together, in the shade provided by my RV. Perhaps it was a coincidence that the meeting went down right outside the window of the main early-stage tech investor in the camp, or perhaps this was all part of some master plan. Later, off Playa, I did offer to make a token investment into Shaker but by this stage I was small fry, they were on to bigger and better things after winning Tech Crunch Disrupt and a $15 million round led by Menlo Ventures. Like most of these Millenial-led tech companies that boast how they don’t need anyone’s advice or money, they haven’t amounted to much. They did a partnership deal with Live Nation, whose biggest shareholder owns QVC (Home Shopping Network), home of Burning Man Director Matt Goldberg. Last I heard Shaker had “pivoted”, and is now an online gaming play.

Shervin didn’t actually do the Shaker deal in Black Rock City, but he made plans to meet with the guys in San Francisco the next week. Tech Crunch Disrupt, which was featured in Mike Judge’s hilarious Silicon Valley show, occurs the week after Burning Man. As arranged on the Playa, Shervin met the guys in the morning before the competition and at the end of the meeting they shook hands on a deal. Later, when they presented and won, Tech Crunch founder Michael Arrington said he wanted to invest also.

Here’s Shervin describing how it all came about to Uncrunched:

here’s the crazy story of how I met them. I was working on scouting a Jedi Council retreat in Cabo. I met these amazing guys from Mexico at Summit Series who are were working on an entrepreneurs resort. I began mentoring one of them, Bear. He wanted to learn how to become an investor and VC in the future. My advice was to go forth and travel around the world scouting for amazing startups and bring it back. I didn’t expect to hear from him for months. Instead, a mere 3 weeks later he had traveled to Egypt and Israel, and I flew into Burning Man. He said, “Shervin, I listened to you! Thank you! And I found this amazing startup, Shaker. And they are flying into the Playa tonight and they are competing in Techcrunch Disrupt!” That night I met them and was very impressed with them and their vision. But with no connection I had to wait until the following Tuesday to get the demo at a Samovar in San Francisco. Within a minute, I knew what I saw was the future. I had been looking for this for years. Their product execution was nearly flawless. A very hard feat to accomplish given the vision. The next day I brought them in to meet the rest of the Menlo partners. They agreed and we were off! Meanwhile, while we tried to come to an agreement on an investment, Shaker won Disrupt! I actually got the term sheet done and signed from the streets of Haiti the following weekend while I was volunteering in Haiti for jp/hro! Hopefully, there will be karma in that and all of the serendipity that brought us together.

Pre-planned serendipity and engineered karma: is this Social Alchemy in action?

This year, Shervin has launched his new venture, called Sherpa Ventures. From Business Week:

Here’s what happens when you set out to profile Silicon Valley venture capitalist Shervin Pishevar.

On Monday, July 7, Scooter Braun, Justin Bieber’s manager, calls at Pishevar’s request to attest that the Iranian-born entrepreneur has brought him several high-profile investment opportunities and had a hand in introducing him to his future wife. On Tuesday, DreamWorks Animation Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Katzenberg rings to praise Pishevar as “a great networker” and says, “There is nobody more loyal.”

On Wednesday, Elon Musk, founder of electric-car company Tesla Motors is on the phone recounting how the pair traveled to Cuba last year with Sean Penn and ended up negotiating (unsuccessfully) with the Castro government for the release of an American imprisoned there. On Thursday, it’s Edward Norton, who says Pishevar advised the actor and his wife on building their charitable-giving website, CrowdRise, and later persuaded Norton to make an investment in the booming ride-sharing startup Uber. Finally, on Friday, New Jersey junior Senator Cory Booker calls to explain how Pishevar has become a crucial link between Washington and Silicon Valley—bundling donations for President Obama’s reelection campaign and spearheading an effort to create a new kind of “startup visa” for foreign entrepreneurs. “There are guys that can write big checks, and there are guys that can bring people together to write checks,” Booker says. Pishevar “inspires people to give and does it in a way that is not icky.”

shervin-pishevar-haircut-fab-summit-basecamp-via-chester-ngPishevar, in case it’s not already clear, is one of the most excessively networked guys in Silicon Valley. The former tech-entrepreneur-turned-investor has backed Uber, e-tailer Fab.com, and eyeglass purveyor Warby Parker, among other startups. Now he’s running his own venture capital firm, SherpaVentures, which has raised $154 million from a group of investors that includes Condé Nast and the private equity firm TPG Capital. In the process, he has turned himself into one of the most visible members of the California technology and media scene, frequently showing up onstage at tech conferences and backstage at Hollywood awards shows. When Obama met with a select group of technology executives last December to discuss revelations about National Security Agency surveillance, Pishevar was at the White House, standing Zelig-like next to tech luminaries, including Tim Cook and Marissa Mayer.

Pishevar, 40, embodies a new kind of venture capitalist, bringing contacts and visibility to his startups in addition to—or perhaps instead of—operational or technical know-how. A tireless self-promoter who prefers a Los Angeles-style hug over a handshake, he’s based in fashionable San Francisco instead of the stuffy suburban enclave of Menlo Park, the traditional cradle of the VC industry. He’s also known for his public displays of enthusiasm: He once shaved the initials of several of his portfolio companies into his hair.

His exuberance and ubiquity have come at a price, though. The gossip website Valleywag once referred to him as a “humble-bragging, attention-grabbing startup financier” and suggested he’s obsessed with being liked and famous. Pishevar admits that a rival investor once called him “a clown” to his face.

A new kind of venture capitalist: the Burner capitalist. Burner Shervin even purchased a trip to space with famous pal Ashton Kutcher, who is also now a big-time tech investor in AirBnB and others.

The name TPG Capital has come up in this blog before. They recently invested $300 million in AirBnB, which now advertises rooms in Burning Man camps and boasts 2 of Burning Man’s 18 Directors as its full-time employees. So they’re backing both Sherpa, and AirBnB. A very powerful behind-the-scenes player.

What does Sherpa do? They’re “vague by design“. This slide from a recent presentation gives a clue to the opportunities they see:

sherpa ventures new market

From the Wall Street Journal:

Sherpa, in many ways, is representative of a new class of boutique firms: young, city-based, and striving to differentiate themselves from earlier generations.

Located in the heart of San Francisco’s downtown — many miles from the famed Sand Hill Road where many venture firms reside — Sherpa’s office of roughly a dozen employees is filled with plush Herman Miller chairs and black-and-white murals by local artists.

…Half of the group is an investment vehicle, SherpaVentures, and the other half is SherpaFoundry, a vehicle to incubate new companies and to connect their portfolio companies with larger, often public, companies.

“We felt like there was an opportunity to create a guild-like model,” says Stanford. “It’s our name. We like to be in the background making magic happen–hauling the bags up the mountain, enabling great success, the ones behind the camera at the summit.”

The Burner Capitalists are pouring in to the Playa – which is also by design. In 2012 Bear co-founded IDEATE, “Burning Man’s tech innovation camp”. Although the camp was conceived at the last minute, and chock full of virgins, they had no problem getting prime real estate next to First Camp, and all the tickets they wanted.

Here’s some recent coverage from Recode:

In yet another “cuddle puddle” — a sort of non-sexual group snuggling that seems to be the favored daytime activity at Burning Man — entrepreneur Tim West explained to me the mission of the 200-person tech and innovation camp, Ideate. (I’m also camping here at the annual Nevada desert festival this week.)

“It’s about bringing tech people to Burning Man, and helping them understand it,” said West, who was wearing an Air Force jumpsuit and carrying a headless Barbie in his pocket. “And then bringing Burning Man back to the default world.”

Some Ideating going on at Burning Man

The special relationship between Burning Man and Silicon Valley is not an accident — it’s by design. A group of young tech entrepreneurs created Ideate three years ago, in collaboration with the Burning Man founders, to support the concept.

Its members are meant to serve as liaisons and teachers to the flood of new tech workers — and tech money — coming into the festival. In some ways, the camp was born out of an anxiety: The Burning Man founders are aging, and they needed to find a core next-generation troupe and ideas for the weeklong event’s next chapter.

What’s perhaps most interesting is that they chose a group of young people who are explicitly focused on entrepreneurship.

“The most important piece of why Silicon Valley exists in the first place is Burning Man — this is a place people go to confront problems and make solutions and prototype,” West said. “Why is innovation happening here in Silicon Valley more than anywhere else in the world? Burning Man.”

…”Ideate is where we can think of and test these ideas, and then bring them to the world. And people are ready for it.”

“Burning Man is not a sub culture anymore,” Delaune said.

“It’s the dom culture,” Hanusa added.

The Peninsula Press discussed Bear’s big role in Burning Man’s future:

While transitioning the project to nonprofit status, Burning Man’s directors are exploring ways to expand its culture globally, focus more on technology and innovation, and lean heavily on the ideas of young Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. “We’re at an absolutely critical time in our change and our morphing, and we’re going to be relying on others to help us,” said Marian Goodell, one of the six project owners since 1996.

Conversations about the future have been brewing for months. Bear Kittay, a 27-year-old entrepreneur and musician, has taken the lead in organizing meetings for up-and-coming Bay Area start-up types with Larry Harvey, the founder and director of Burning Man, and Goodell. Kittay is also helping figure out how to spread the project’s 10 principles to other parts of the world.

Goodell calls Kittay their “hyper-connector.” His resume includes being the co-founder of a company called Organizer, which created a clipboard-like mobile platform for use during political campaigns, and a partner (and designated “social alchemist”) in the Avalon Hot Springs eco-resort north of Napa Valley.

Over Memorial Day weekend, Kittay organized a retreat at Avalon. He invited Harvey, Goodell and about a dozen others…

There are longstanding cultural ties between Burning Man and Silicon Valley. It is no secret that Google’s founders are avid “burners,” with entire walls at the company’s Mountain View campus covered in photos from the festival…

But the Avalon retreat initiated an active conversation between the two cultures and two generations of burners — baby boomers and millennials.

Those talks continued and led to the formation of the IDEATE innovation camp, which participated in this summer’s festival. Each camp has a different focus, such as dance, meditation and clothing swaps. IDEATE differed from typical camps, as it operated with an unprecedented mission: to be “an [ideas] incubator in the center of Burning Man,” according to Kittay.

Kittay said IDEATE brought together bright minds to figure out how to offer the tools of Burning Man culture, including collaboration, sustainability and inclusion, to start-up projects around the world.

Burning Man founders paid special attention to IDEATE, which was given a block of tickets even though the idea emerged long after tickets were sold out. Goodell placed the camp close to First Camp, where the founders make their desert home each year.

Goodell said her thought was, “We should take all this brain power around us in San Francisco—dot-com and entrepreneurs…[who] care about Burning Man, and let’s get them all together…and see whether anything could come of it.”.

The majority of the 210 people who camped at IDEATE were new to Burning Man and were young entrepreneurs from companies such as TED, a nonprofit committed to spreading worthwhile ideas; Summit, which hosts an annual four-day event for 1,000 of the world’s leading change makers; and Singularity University, which seeks to educate a new generation of leaders in technologies that will exponentially advance human capability in years to come.

So did anything come out of it? Well, Shaker got funded, IDEATE is still going and people there still have ideas, and now we have sherpas, Sherpa Ventures, Caravancicle, ironic real estate sales, real hotels, ironic AirBnB sales, real AirBnB sales, real gasoline sales, and a dedicated Burning Man staffer to manage the booming new market segment of Commodification Camps.

It seems that the starry eyed young Millenials see Burning Man as the next breeding ground for their commercially questionable deals, while the Baby Boomers who back them provide the financial clout and ostensible gravitas to underpin their shenanigans.

I believe the children are our future. Teach them well, and let them lead the way. From Peninsula Press:

The need for collaboration with the younger generation of burners was clear to Goodell, especially as Burning Man moves from being for-profit to nonprofit. The work to become a nonprofit organization by 2013 has been ongoing for two years, according to Goodell.

Serving the public good in this age of digital technology and rapid communication, she said, requires the input of the millennials, who have what Goodell called an entrepreneurial spirit and a thirst for sharing ideas. They’re also the ones who are representing more and more of the Burning Man population each year. In 2011, almost half of Burning Man participants were under 30, according to the Black Rock City Census.

Larry Harvey is in his sixties; Goodell just turned 50. She said the founders should look to hire young people, and young people should step up and “infiltrate the organization and be ready to take things over…and change the world.”

Goodell described Kittay as “not unlike Larry.” She called them both “pied pipers,” saying that, although neither is likely to be “the first one to hammer up a tent stake,” they both “can get really enthusiastic around ideas, and then people want to gather around and help.” 

Goodell issued a caveat concerning IDEATE and the millennial entrepreneurs as a group: They will be given more influence in the organization only if they do something with all their ideas. They need to maintain momentum and prove themselves as able to make it happen, rather than just talk about it, she said.

cevri kaptan 2After the desert festival, which is held from late August to early September, Kittay traveled with Harvey and Goodell to Turkey, where they considered ancient history and its ties to modern life and talked about ways to make global expansion a reality.

There is talk of bringing Burning Man ambassadors to design projects and businesses across the world; holding urban and rural retreats in addition to the existing “regional burns,” or smaller-scale festivals; creating a social network for burners; crowd-funding design endeavors and sharing technologies that will help the world utilize some of Burning Man’s principles as tools, such as “radical inclusion” and “leave no trace behind.”

…Traditionally the project has been “below the radar,” said Kittay. But now is the time that Burning Man is ready to reveal itself as more than just “electronic, dubstep, naked—whatever associations that people have had superficially with it, and move into much more the space of what it truly is at its core,” he said. That core, according to Kittay, is built around “the philosophical principles of collaboration and of incubating human culture and community and experience.”

Although the organization as a whole supports change, some staff members have been a bit hesitant to make any big leaps, including Harvey himself…As the project expands globally into “a capitalist world,” Kittay cautioned, “it could so quickly lose its essence.”

…Goodell calls this moment pivotal. “There’s before IDEATE, and there’s after IDEATE, and then there’s 2013,” she said.

So, Burning Man’s Director starts a multi-million dollar Commodification Camp, employs sherpas, who are terribly mistreated. Burning Man’s Social Alchemist brings his VC mentor to Burning Man to do deals; after doing a big deal at Burning Man, the VC starts a venture called Sherpa. The big money behind Sherpa Ventures is also the big money behind AirBnB, who launched their product into Burning Man this year and directly employ two of BMOrg’s Board of Directors. Sherpa Ventures sees hospitality entrepreneurs as the new future trend to back.

The bottom line? Plug-n-Play is here to stay. Rather than being a fringe practice at Burning Man, it seems that this is BMOrg’s grand philosophical vision for the next century of Burns. Plug-n-play is what will attract all the New York and London moneyed set, who they need for The Project. Is it their money, their minds, or their souls that Hellco BMOrg are most interested in capturing?

Sherpa Ventures, Pied Piper, Tech Crunch Disrupt, Elon Musk…Burning Man IS Silicon Valley…the coincidences continue. The invisible guiding hand of Total Randomness strikes again. Just remember, sheeple, there’s no such thing as conspiracies, they’re merely theories made up on the Internet. No-one in history has ever been part of any kind of plot. No politician has ever lied. Eat your GMO food, drink your fluoride water, and jab yourselves with all the vaccines you can get your hands on, it’s great. The government really cares, that’s why it’s called the Affordable Care Act.

C’mon Millenials! Save Burning Man from losing its essence as it expands globally into a capitalist world. It’s a do-ocracy…so just fucking do it already.


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 Reallocate.org, 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.