For the last 5 years, tens of thousands of residents of Las Vegas have enjoyed the annual Halloween Parade. This has featured Burner art cars like Dancetronauts Strip Ship, and has been linked to a Burner-fuelled
gentrification revival of Downtown Las Vegas. It is organized by Cory Mervis, who three years ago was hired by the Burning Man Project as their cultural attache for Las Vegas.
From Fox5 Las Vegas:
Organizers of the Las Vegas Halloween Parade, which has marched for the past five years, decided to cancel the 2015 event, citing increased costs.
“We’d been negotiating for months with a potential partner who could help offset our expected increase in infrastructure and security costs,” said event founder Cory Mervis. “Unfortunately, we couldn’t agree on a plan that met everyone’s needs and time ran out.”
In 2014, the parade took place along East Fremont Street in downtown Las Vegas. Organizers said about 70,000 people attended the event, which took place on a Saturday. A turnout of 100,000 was expected.
The parade’s focus will be placed on the 2016 event, with organizers hoping to bring in additional sponsors and support.
Cory was appointed by BMOrg with great fanfare ago 3 years ago. The Burning Man Project had ambitions to transform an entire city by working with the real estate developer, Billionaire Burner Tony Hsieh (he sold Zappos to fellow Billionaire Burner Jeff Bezos, who names Amazon’s products “fire”, “kindle”, “burn”, etc). The Downtown Project bought Burning Man art like the Praying Mantis to be the front piece of their shipping container shopping mall, and transported the BMOrg-funded YES Spaceship art car to their office lobby. Across his business empire, Hsieh embraced the same
Hippy Operating System self management system called “holocracy” that empowers BMOrg’s force of 70 full-time staff to make themselves look busy year-round while achieving little in the way of measurable output.
BMOrg CEO Marian Goodell came out to Las Vegas to give a speech (at Electric Dasiy Carnival’s attached business networking conference). She 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.”
She then described the partnership with Cory Mervis, the Downtown Project and the Burner-inspired company behind First Friday, noting that Art Cars were a key part of the vision:
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.
“Hiring” means BMOrg is paying for this – which means we, the community, are paying for this. To my knowledge, this is the first time Burning Man has hired a full-time cultural attache to represent them in another city.
The Las Vegas Sun published a lengthy article in 2012 about all the links between Las Vegas and Burning Man, promoting it as an example of how the official Regional events can be used to accommodate the culture’s growth beyond available tickets to the Gerlach burn:
The main spark…came when Vanas, an event planner, was invited by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh to invest in First Friday and handed a ticket to Burning Man. It was there that Vanas had his epiphany and chose to commit to First Friday LLC, a decision he says was based on the creativity and community experience he saw at Burning Man. Vanas and other locals in the Burning Man community want to see some of the event’s large-scale, interactive sculptures planted downtown.
This month’s First Friday festival, held on the “Burnal Equinox” (halfway between annual Burning Man events), might be the gateway to more Burning Man-inspired activities, motivated by the community-building principals of Black Rock City, which pops up in Northern Nevada for a week each year with theme camps, the burning of The Man and 50,000 attendees.
“It’s just the beginning,” says Bocskor, who, along with Mervis, runs the Society for Experimental Arts and Learning, a creative group inspired by Burning Man. “That’s why the name Flames of Change is so wonderful. What’s happening here in Vegas is setting new examples of what we can do. … With the first build of Lucky Lady Lucy, we had stagehands, accountants, bartenders, chefs, kids — all working together.
“It’s important for regional activities to go on that have the sense of Burning Man culture because the attendance is capped. There are more people who want to go than there are tickets.”
[Source: Las Vegas Sun]
The Washington Post (also bought by Bezos) wrote breathlessly about Larry Harvey’s genius for urban renewal:
These days, Harvey — now in his mid-60s, dressed in a gray cowboy hat, silver western shirt, and aviator sunglasses — is just as likely to reference Richard Florida as the beatniks he once met on Haight Street. Most recently, he’s been talking with Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos, who shares his vision of revitalizing Las Vegas, one of the cities hardest hit by the recent housing bust. “Urban renewal? We’re qualified. We’ve built up and torn down cities for 20 years,” says Harvey. “Cities everywhere are calling for artists, and it’s a blank slate there, blocks and blocks. … We want to extend the civil experiment — to see if business and art can coincide and not maim one another.”
Harvey points out that there’s been long-standing ties between Burning Man artists and to some of the private sector’s most successful executives. Its arts foundation, which distributes grants for festival projects, has received backing from everyone from real-estate magnate Christopher Bently to Mark Pincus, head of online gaming giant Zynga, as the Wall Street Journal points out. “There are a fair number of billionaires” who come to the festival every year, says Harvey, adding that some of the art is privately funded as well. In this way, Burning Man is a microcosm of San Francisco itself, stripping the bohemian artists and the Silicon Valley entrepreneurs of their usual tribal markers on the blank slate of the Nevada desert. At Burning Man, “when someone asks, ‘what do you do?’ — they meant, what did you just do” that day, he explains.
So what did BMOrg just do?
It’s been three and a half years now since this BMOrg-sponsored PR campaign kicked off. The Art Car parade grew, from 1,000 in 2010, 12,000 at the time BMOrg announced the partnership, to 70,000 last year, and an expected 100,000 this year.
BMOrg made an announcement that they’d picked a city to support, and it was Las Vegas. They got some press to write about it, and sent Marian for a panel discussion. They hired a cultural attache.
And this is what it has all come to. Parade cancelled, Burners pissed, 100,000 people disappointed.
With all the skills and talent and resources in this community, with all the Medici style HNWI patrons, with hundreds of art cars on tap and easily summoned to action…we couldn’t even get a parade together?
It’s bad enough that the parade couldn’t be organized by its self-appointed organizers and their financial behemoth partners. What makes it worse is that the cancellation came just 3 weeks before the event. People had already been spending months working on costumes and art cars in preparation.
So, what went wrong?
The estimated budget was $150,000. There are people in Vegas dropping that nightly. Ex-Kardashian Lamar Odom just spent $75,000 for a weekend drug binge with two hookers he didn’t even touch.
Surely the cultural attache of Burning Man can organize a street party, when they’ve been doing it for years, and it has the mayor’s blessing, the people’s support, sponsors, cops ready to go, and all the permits required. Right?
From the Las Vegas Review Journal:
“It really sucks,” she says. “This was heartbreaking to have to call it off. We did everything in our power to make this happen. In the end, it was the smart thing to do.”
Mervis says it came down to not having the financial backing to do the things they wanted to do.
For the past few months, they have been able to acquire some sponsorships. But wanting to make the event bigger than before – Halloween is on a Saturday and Mervis thought there would be a larger crowd – she knew it would take more money.
“We wanted more police officers, more barricades, more marketing and needed more insurance,” she says. “We were looking at about $150,000. I could have finagled the budget, but I really didn’t want to do things on the cheap.”
Mervis says they do plan to return next year. She hopes to spend the next year acquiring more sponsors and up the ante on the parade.
“Ask me where I’m going for Halloween?” she says. “Disneyland. I want to get a few ideas. I want this to be like the Macy’s parade one day.”
It sounds like the money could have been raised, and perhaps even some fat in the budget could be trimmed (for example, save money on marketing, contact Burners.Me) but the standards of the organizers were too high. Couldn’t Burning Man’s full-time cultural attache go to the $34 million parent company and say “hey, we’re in danger of having no parade at all, please contribute”? What about starting a Kickstarter, and marketing that to BMOrg’s nearly 1 million strong Facebook audience? This sounds like exactly the kind of art in community situation that Burning Man Arts should be reaching out and supporting.
Here’s Cory Mervis giving a speech. Note the Beatles-style jacket, just like that usually worn by Burning Man’s Social Alchemist and Global Ambassador, Bear Kittay. Is this a uniform now?
She seems to have no problem riding the coat-tails of the Burning Man brand, network, and social movement. And BMOrg seem to have no problem endorsing her, employing her, and funding her. Indeed Zappos, the Downtown Project, and the City of Las Vegas seem to all have been enthusiastic partners of Burning Man. So a failure like this hurts the global spread of our culture.
Who takes responsibility? Who takes the blame? Who fixes the mess? Who looks at it to say “we fucked up, what can we do better next time?”. Nobody. For the sake of a few minutes launching a Kickstarter, or a couple of phone calls to Larry and Marian, everybody missed out.
Burners were not impressed with the surprise last-minute cancellation. Some had planned international travel to attend the Parade.
Is there, as one of the commenters suggested, more to this story that they’re not telling us? There usually is. Earlier this year the BLM moved against Further Future at the last minute, forcing them to change venue. Those guys are total professionals, and had a Plan B lined up. The Burning Man Project team seems less experienced with event planning.
Nevada politics is a murky scene, but still, a parade doesn’t seem that hard to put together. $150,000? Really?