Who’s The Best Burning Man Talker?

In 2011, BMOrg announced their change to a non-profit on a mission to save the world. Since then, we sure have seen a lot of panel discussions and jetsetting from Larry & Co. I guess what they’re doing must be working, since they claim 160,000 people wanted to go to Burning Man this year. The well-crafted pop culture campaign mixing print media, references in The Simpsons and other mainstream shows, celebrity endorsements from P.Diddy and politicians and Generals, has all combined to make it harder than it’s ever been before for Burners to go to Black Rock City. We’re hearing reports that many camps have been absolutely decimated this year by the Hellish ticket situation, even if they were on the list. And it can only get worse, not better.

Not to worry, we’re told: “just be After-Burners now“. A bit too old, a bit too jaded, don’t really care if you can’t afford a ticket any more, just look back fondly on your time there – and make way for the starry-eyed virgins and cashed-up yuppies to arrive. The borg wants new minds to mold.

Clearly, there’s no need for any more promotion. So, junkets. Panel discussions. Is it promoting regionals? Is it asking for donations?

The mission of The Burning Man Project (from Guidestar):

Burning Man Project provides the infrastructural tools, educational programs, art programs and other frameworks that allow people around the world to apply the 10 principles of Burning Man in many communities and fields of human endeavor.

And, buried within their new web site (to find it I clicked Menu, The Culture, Philosophical Center, About Us – a faster way would be Menu, The Network, About Us):


The mission of the Burning Man organization is to facilitate and extend the culture that has issued from the Burning Man event into the larger world. This culture forms an integrated pattern of values, experience, and behavior: a coherent and widely applicable way of life.


The Burning Man organization will bring experiences to people in grand, awe-inspiring and joyful ways that lift the human spirit, address social problems and inspire a sense of culture, community and personal engagement.

So, is that working? Are We The Burners, through this our community vehicle, bringing experiences to people, and inspiring awe? Are the ambassadors representing us and our values, or speaking for themselves?

See for yourself and please let us know in the comments.

Who gave the best talk? Who best represents Burner values to the world? We report, you decide…

Harley Dubois at The Feast, 2014

Crimson Rose, 2009

Crimson Rose, Panel Discussion, 2014

Will Roger, 2014


Bear Kittay TEDxTokyo (and Robot), 2014

Bear Kittay TEDxBlack Rock City – 2014?

Bear Kittay TEDxOaxacaca, 2013

Bear Kittay TEDxStockholm, 2015

Larry Harvey, TEDxBlack Rock City, 2011

Larry Harvey, Charlie Rose 2014

Larry Harvey, Le Web London 2013

Larry Harvey, John Perry Barlow, Le Web London 2013

Marian Goodell, TEDxBay Area 2014

Marian Goodell, TEDxTokyo, 2014

Chip Conley and Marian Goodell at the Commonwealth Club, 2014:

Larry Harvey, Marian Goodell, Jenn Sander, Kelly Anders in Paris, 2013:

Danger Ranger, San Mateo 2014

Burner Julia Wolfe, age 9

What do you think, Burners? Should we donate so there can be even more promotion of Burning Man, so it gets even harder to get tickets?

Who is representing Burner values to the world the best?

Charity Versus Tax-Free

image: Bearman/Flickr (Creative Commons)

image: Bearman/Flickr (Creative Commons)

In the comments to our BMOrg Hath Spoken article, Burner Cooter raised an interesting point.

This is a slight tangent but the deal with the non profit status is really starting to irritate me as it seems to get inserted every time the ethics of the Borg comes into question. Being a nonprofit organization in no way makes any implications on the honesty or ethics of the company. All it means is the profits get reinvested in the company since there are no share holders. 99% of the time this mean profits get spent on the salaries and benefits of top executives. Some of the most unapologetically corrupt companies in the world are non profits. Think FIFA or the NFL. But every time the topic of ethics comes up it is subtly pointed out that the Borg is a non profit. It doesn’t mean anything.

Sorry to irritate you, Cooter. While your general point is technically correct, and “non-profit” can simply mean “tax dodge” rather than “charity”, for the specifics of the Burning Man Project we need to look at 2 things:

1. The ByLaws of the Burning Man Project

2. The Statements of the Founders about the transition to a non-profit.

The NFL, chaired by Roger Goodell (Marian’s cousin?) is an unincorporated 501(c)6 tax-exempt trade association, based in Washington, D.C. Its tax-free status is quite controversial. FIFA is incorporated in Switzerland. The Burning Man Project is a 501(c)3 California Public Benefit corporation. According to the IRS:

Organizations described in section 501(c)(3) are commonly referred to as charitable organizations… 

The organization must not be organized or operated for the benefit of private interests, and no part of a section 501(c)(3) organization’s net earnings may inure to the benefit of any private shareholder or individual.

1. From the ByLaws of the Burning Man Project

Article 1: “The principled means that serve our mission shall always be inherent in our goals and projects”

bylaws article 1



Article 5: “charitable purposes” gets mentioned twice.

bylaws article 5


6:00 & Ring Road “The Directors may not engage in or approve any activity that is inconsistent with the Ten Principles”

bylaws article 6


6:00 to 9:00 & Ring Road: Duty of the Directors

“Directors shall conduct themselves ethically”


bylaws article 6 09

8:30 & Decommodification : Philosophy Committee

“must operate in order to remain true to the Ten Principles…shall become binding on the operations of Burning Man Project”.

bylaws 830d 03


Their latest blog post tries to claim that the “Burning Man event” is different from the “Burning Man Project”, but if the “Burning Man Project” did wholly acquire “Black Rock City LLC” as they claimed at the start of 2014, this cannot be true and the event must be part of “the operations of Burning Man Project”.

Black Rock City, LLC, which operates the annual event in Nevada called “Burning Man”, became a fully owned subsidiary of the Burning Man Project as of January 1, 2014:

On December 27, 2013, the Burning Man Project Board of Directors voted to make Black Rock City LLC a subsidiary and is now the sole shareholder of the LLC, which will continue to manage the event in the desert. The transition became official January 1, 2014.

Of course, they may have pulled “the old bait and switch”, and told us that they had sold “the” LLC to BMP, but actually sold Black Rock City, LLC to someone else. There are a lot of LLCs floating around within this this corporate conglomerate, as well as many registered non-profits. But I’m more inclined to take their statement at face value, which means the Burning Man event is a solely owned subsidiary of the Burning Man Project.

image: Dru/Flickr (Creative Commons)

image: Dru/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Other interesting clauses in the Bylaws refer to “non-voting observers” (Article 3, 6:30 & Inclusion), the right of the Founders to license the trademarks back to the group (Article 5, 1:00 & Center Camp), “a proposed transaction” (Article 5, 4:00 and Center camp), all kinds of allowable Real Estate transactions (Article 4, 10:00 & Center Camp) , Directors making money from the business via consulting, sale of goods and rent “at or below fair market value” (Article 5, 6:00 & Center Camp).

Despite Larry Harvey’s claims that the “10 Principles are just an ethos, not the 10 Commandments”, a Director can be removed “for cause” for failing to cure a breach of any one of the 10 Principles (article 6, page 12).

You read the Bylaws here.

2. Statements of the Founders

We’ve been trying to give them the benefit of the doubt that this is more than just a tax dodge, because that’s how they sold it to us since the idea was introduced in 2011, and that’s how it was promoted in the movie produced by former Burning Man Director Chris Weitz, “Spark: A Burning Man Story”.


The Burning Man Project’s Mission and Vision certainly sound very altruistic:


The mission of the Burning Man Project 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.


The Burning Man Project will bring experiences to people in grand, awe-inspiring and joyful ways that lift the human spirit, address social problems and inspire a sense of culture, community and cultural engagement.

When they announced that their transition had been “fully completed”, they said:

The Burning Man Project is a public benefit organization, and our intention is to build the network of connectivity through relationships with individuals, organizations and government entities. We have great ambitions for what we sometimes refer to at HQ as a “100 year plan.” We’re a little over a quarter century into that plan… and our best days are still ahead.

We are restructuring some of our operations to strengthen our capacity to deliver on our ever-growing potential as a force for creativity and good in the world

Marian Goodell, Huffington Post March 4 2014:

“In our more exciting moments, any one of us who has been to Burning Man thinks it can change the world,” she added. “It brings people hope, and it makes people less afraid of others. It transcends religion and politics. It’s worth it to expose others to what we’ve learned from this cultural experience.”

Larry Harvey, New York Times August 28, 2011:

“We’re going to treat Burning Man like what it always should have been: not as a commodity, but as a gift

Larry Harvey, Burning Blog:

Our mission has always been to serve the community, and a non-profit public benefit corporation is the most socially responsible option to ensure and protect the future of Burning Man

Scribe in SFBG, discussing “Spark: A Burning Man story”

More cynical burner veterans may have a few eye-rolling moments with this film and the portrayals of its selfless leadership. While the discussions of the ticket fiasco raised challenging issues within the LLC, its critics came off as angry and unreasonable, as if the new ticket lottery had nothing to do with the temporary, artificial ticket scarcity (which was alleviated by summer’s end and didn’t occur this year under a new and improved distribution system).

And when the film ends by claiming “the organization is transitioning into a nonprofit to ‘gift’ the event back to the community,” it seems to drift from overly sympathetic into downright deceptive, leaving viewers with the impression that the six board members are selflessly relinquishing the tight control they exercise over the event and the culture it has spawned.

Yet our interview with the LLC leadership shows that just isn’t true. If anything, the public portrayals that founder Larry Harvey made two years ago about how this transition would go have been quietly modified to leave these six people in control of Burning Man for the foreseeable future.

Larry Harvey, the New Yorker:

Burning Man is guided by what initiates call the Ten Principles: Radical Inclusion, Gifting, Decommodification, Radical Self-Reliance, Radical Self-Expression, Communal Effort, Civic Responsibility, Leaving No Trace, Participation, and Immediacy. These ideas, Harvey suggested, might one day form the basis of a new world order

Here’s the official launch of the Burning Man Project on August 5, 2011. I was in the crowd that day, before I started this blog. I believed them to be genuine in what they said: “we want to help change lives”. Larry starts at about 10:00.