Art, Burning Man, and the Maker Movement

Shipwreck by Georgia Rose Collard-Watson

Shipwreck by Georgia Rose Collard-Watson

There’s a new story over at Boing Boing from NK Guy, Burning Man: The Art of Maker Culture .

nk guy art of burning manNK recently published “The Art of Burning Man”, (adding to the library of books such as The Tribes of Burning Man, the Jewelry of Burning Man, and of course This Is Burning Man).

This year’s Turning Man theme, Da Vinci’s Workshop, seems perfectly geared to tap into this rising new Silicon Valley meme/industry. It’s a movement? So are we! Oh, you make shit! So do we! Please donate now.

NK says:

Burning Man’s chief cultural legacy may be inadvertently helping to stoke the fires of the modern “maker” movement. A loose and freewheeling reaction to the corporate universe of sealed iPhones and locked-down operating systems, makers are keen on wresting mass-market technology out of the grasp of large companies, and building homegrown micro-utopias of 3D printing, cheap CPUs and open source code. Countless fascinating projects have had their origins in a Burning Man-hosted idea. The event has become a place for social networking, for beta testing new projects in a very unforgiving environment, for technofetishists to bond while partying in the desert. Just as importantly, the “how did they do that?” sentiment changes quickly to an inspired “I can do that too!”

But just as the rise of tech firms, and the increased flow of highly selective rivers of cash, have split and divided the Bay Area, so funding of Burning Man projects is a key area of contention. Playa projects have ballooned in scale and ambition, and so have the costs. A single big project such as a Temple can easily costs hundreds of thousands of dollars. These costs aren’t easily covered by a casual passing of the hat, or even a Kickstarter or Indiegogo begathon.

Burning Man itself will contribute partial budgets to certain projects each year, following a grant process, but will almost never cover the entirety of a work: the organization has expenditures to cover elsewhere. Accordingly, though Burning Man prohibits the overt display of corporate logos, many projects have been quietly funded by wealthy benefactors; individual and corporate. While the results are undeniably awesome, they do also represent a step away from the proudly amateur and naive roots of the event, just as personal computers of today barely resemble their garage-built ancestors. And these controversies also have hit the builders of the stage upon which the artists perform – the Burning Man org itself.

Read the whole story here. There are some great examples of the Maker Movement intersecting with Burner art.

Dance Dance Immolation by Interpretive Arson

Dance Dance Immolation by Interpretive Arson

henry chang MisterFusion

Mister Fusion by Henry Chang

CS Tere by Captain Andy

Clock Ship Tere by Captain Andy

 

Not all of the wealthy benefactor corporate sponsorship is so quiet – or, perhaps, YMMV on the definition of “quiet”…

Doodle, by ABC.XYZ

Doodle, by ABC.XYZ

tesla prototype 2007

Roadster, by Tesla

Magic Foam Experience, by Dr Bronner’s

petit ermitage

Pop-up Hotel, by Petit Ermitage

SiMan, by Intel

SiMan, by Intel

bm_ghostbusters

Bank of (un)America, by (Burn) Wall Street

chip fest 300 hqdefault (1)

Festival site, by Burning Man Project Director

BurningManArtOnFire

Best-selling book, by Burning Man Project Director

spark movie background_47371

Movie and iTunes soundtrack, by Burning Man Project Director

Merry Christmas, Burners! Have a wonderful holiday and perhaps we will see you at New Years

2014 Afterburn Report: The Death of Transparency

spend_money_good_time_442305We’ve been duped, Burners. For 4 years now, we’ve been sold on a “pie in the sky” vision. Burning Man would no longer be about exploiting volunteer labor and the financial and artistic contributions of Burners, to create profits for a small group operating in near-secrecy without oversight. Instead, it would now be a charity, with our tax-free deductions supporting an altruistic vision to bring Burning Man’s Principles to the world. The Founders would step down, but leave the infrastructure in place to maintain the integrity of Burner values into the next century.

A noble vision, but here’s what really happened:

  • the Founders set up a private company and transferred the main assets of the business to it; this company earns royalties for the use of the Burning Man name, logo and trademarks
  • the Founders each got a $1 million+ tax break for passing their share of future profits from the LLC over to the new tax-exempt non-profit
  • transparency was removed, except for public IRS Forms which were filed late.
  • people who had given substantial amounts of their lives volunteering for Burning Man, were arbitrarily shunted out the door to make room for new, paid employees.
  • ticket prices went up, revenues doubled
  • it got harder for veteran Burners to attend, while remaining relatively easy for Virgins

bravenewworld_cover_large

Rather than the transparency we’ve been promised for so many years, and a new BMOrg focused on charitable works, we get higher ticket prices, more revenue streams, and more secrecy. I’m not so sure that Burning Man has jumped the corporate shark – it seems more like it’s been eaten by it.

The new Afterburn report is buried deep in the new web site. If you read “Voices of Burning Man”, the section of the new site that seems to actually update, you’d have no clue about it. If you go to burningman.org, there’s nothing on the main page. If you navigate their menu system – The Culture, The Event, The Network, Stuff & Things – you will have to really dig to find anything about it (the correct sequence is Menu, The Culture, Historical Archives, Black Rock City History, Afterburn Reports, 2014 Afterburn Report). Basically, to read the Afterburn, you need to subscribe to the Jackrabbit Speaks or click this link.

This year’s report begins with the type of statement we’re used to seeing from this crew:

Our AfterBurn reports will continue as they have since 2001, except they’ll now be consolidated, and focus exclusively on the production of the event in Black Rock City.

“Continue as they have since 2001” in OrgSpeak means “be completely different from how they have been since 2001”.

The word “consolidated” in this context means “much smaller”. Significantly, BMOrg are no longer publishing Burning Man’s financial chart. This was always an incomplete document, since for some reason they didn’t share their revenues; we had to make assumptions based on ticket and ice sales. At least it highlighted things like BMOrg spending more on travel and costumes for themselves than they did on donations and art for the community. Read our analysis for 2013 and 2012, as well as the IRS returns for Burning Man Project 2013 and Black Rock Arts Foundation 2013.

BMOrg continue to insist that transparency is still “coming soon”:

Separately, Burning Man will begin producing an annual report, in addition to the yearly IRS Form 990 financial reporting. That report will focus on Burning Man’s nonprofit activities and year-round global programming, as well as updates about Burning Man’s organizational infrastructure and support departments (such as Communications, Technology, Legal, Accounting, Human Resources, etc.).

Given that we just got the 2013 information in February 2015, it seems unlikely that we will be able to have any meaningful discussion about Burning Man 2014 for a year and a half after the event. What’s the point of that? It seems like it would be fairly straightforward to ask the various department heads to write a brief report on the event by December 1, then post these to burningman.org. What do we gain by waiting a year and a half? This is all for charity, right – so why not have openness, sharing, participation, communal effort, civic responsibility, radical self expression, radical inclusion? Why run it like a typical profit-driven corporation, where any disclosure of information must be signed off by the Board and PR team? The event is sold out, so it’s not like their revenues are at risk. At this point, the global culture will grow from participation and authenticity, not exclusion, hypocrisy and secrecy.

BMOrg have just had professional auditors going through the books for 2013 and 2014: will these accounts be published? It seems very, very unlikely.

It is now well more than a year since Larry Harvey said

larry worldIt has been asked if we intend to reveal the financial records of Black Rock City LLC. The answer is yes; that too will happen at about the same time as the Burning Man Project reveals its information—these two entities will then become a clean well-lighted suite of rooms thrown open for inspection.

So will there be an event in the future when “the Burning Man Project reveals its information”? Or did he just mean the IRS Form 990 filings? I’m not holding my breath. Right now, it seems that there is no intention to EVER reveal the financial records of Black Rock City LLC.

In January, Communications Director Megan Miller told the Reno Gazette-Journal:

megan miller“It is definitely incomplete information,” said Megan Miller, communications director for Burning Man Project.

While all of the information required from the Internal Revenue Service is in the documents, Miller said, Burning Man cannot yet disclose revenue information from this past year’s festival, nor the one prior since the organization currently is undergoing an outside audit for 2013 and 2014.

All of this missing information that Burners have been seeking should be available before this year’s end, Miller said

The audit has been signed off, so what are they waiting for? Still counting the money? Or perhaps, so busy counting the $30.5 million from 2015’s ticket sales that what happened in the past doesn’t occupy much attention any more.

The increase in ticket prices and population cap over the last few years has led to a massive windfall for BMOrg, but only a slight increase in the number of art projects sponsored by Burning Man. Artists still have to raise funds themselves, half to two-thirds of project cost.

Screenshot 2015-04-03 09.34.23

For 2014, $800,000 was spent on art, across 61 projects – an average of $13,115 per project. There were another 200 art installations placed on the Playa without any financial support from BMOrg.

And what of the giving back to the community? It’s now more than halfway through the 2014-2015 Burn year, and more than a year since BMOrg “fully completed their transition to a non-profit”. So we should be able to point to lots of great outreach activity, right? Maybe I just can’t find that section of their website. There’ve been a few TED talks and panel discussions.

They’ve gone from “the only things we sell are ice and coffee, and all proceeds from that go to local charities” to “the Arctica volunteers donate their tips to charity” – which was about $13,000 last year.

Perhaps when we finally get to see the 2014 financial information for the Burning Man Project, it will describe some wonderful things that the self-appointed custodians of Burner culture have done to promote it, and we can all feel like we’re saving the world together. Maybe we’ll see a new, fair contract for the artists, when the art grant recipients for 2015 are publicly announced.

Remember 6 months ago, when the community was outraged about the Burning Man Project Director running an expensive Commodification camp with dozens of paid employees? The Minister of Propaganda told us:

(shhhh, just between you and us …) we’re working on a really really BIG project that will serve to tell the Burning Man story as it is today and into the future, and it’s gonna be RAD. You’ll know it when you see it.

Could we get the rad thing now, please? Pretty please?

tanabaumBuried within the latest Jackrabbit was the news that Jim Tananbaum has stepped down from the board of the Burning Man Project. This could’ve been a positive, if it had happened in response to the crisis, showing that BMOrg listened to the community.  Instead they published his statement blaming all his paid employees for his camp’s problems, and lecturing us on what a great example of the Ten Principles it all was. The resignation now comes as too little, too late to have any meaning. We’ve seen what BMOrg’s real response to the AirBnB-ing of Burning Man has been: “camps that get placement have to have an interactive element”. Or, in OrgSpeak: “all systems go, plug-n-players! Charge as much as you like, employ as many sherpas as you like, just buy the $800 VIP tickets. Get your Citibank Gold festival packages now!”

 

JT Finally Speaks

Caravancicle and the Lost Hotel

Caravancicle and the Lost Hotel

It only took 3 1/2 months – and, quite probably, me spending an hour yesterday talking to a reporter from Bloomberg Business Week, then passing his details on to Caravancicle’s manager – but finally the community gets to hear things straight from the horse’s mouth. Burning Man Director Jim Tanabaum has issued this statement at caravancicle.com (re-posted at burningman.org, which is lucky because Caravancicle has now taken their whole site down):


 

A Statement from Jim Tananbaum

Burning Man Project board member and Caravancicle founder Jim Tananbaum has addressed questions raised about his 2014 camp in Black Rock City.

The following was posted today on Caravancicle.com … we’re reposting it here for your convenience:

The Man himself

The Man himself. Image: Google+

I am writing to respond to a number of posts regarding Caravancicle, a camp of which I was a member in 2014 – I also helped envision and fund the camp.

I first want to apologize broadly to anyone who felt disrespected by our camp or concerned about the implications of our camp’s operation to the long-term health of Burning Man.

I have been attending Burning Man every year since 2009. Burning Man is a singularly impactful event for me and, since first attending, I have become deeply moved by the 10 Principles, the potential for these principles to change the world, and the environment of the playa as an embodiment of the principles. This is the reason I joined the Burning Man Board of Directors. It is also the reason why I wanted to create a camp environment that would help enable my friends to share the transformative experience of Burning Man. In addition, we wanted to introduce a more sustainable, communal and aesthetically pleasing alternative to RVs to the playa. It was always our intention to provide an open environment, which welcomed everyone and was consistent with the spirit of Burning Man. It is clear based on blog posts and comments made online that not everyone experienced what we intended.

For that, I would like to apologize. Despite our best intentions and efforts, some things did not turn out as planned. 

Caravancicle is the third camp I have been involved with at Burning Man. My experience has been with larger camps requiring some workers to provide the infrastructure. Our camp was constructed by a long-term Burner with deep respect and care for the community, who was hired to manage the camp. He also led the build for the camp we did the year before. We have worked with people in the past to build out our camp who were hired by the camp organizers and then would enjoy the Burning Man experience when they were not working. Our campmates would staff the bar, greet people, give out gifts, etc.  This year, our plan was to gift a neighboring camp infrastructure in exchange for their assistance in building ours. We were trying to build community through sharing resources.

To make a long and painful story short, our partners were not able to complete our build and our remaining staff was left having to build out toilets, showers and other infrastructure (without having planned to and therefore not having the proper resources to do so). During this crisis, many people in our camp rose to the occasion, but a few, like “SherpaGirl,” decided to leave and then wrote a disappointing account of her few hours in our camp. Another person in camp posted a sign asking for help without asking anyone else. We had some first time Burners in the camp, including the person who posted the sign. We also had many return Burners in the camp.  I think most people attending Burning Man have had some unexpected situations; we did, and we tried to adjust to these in the moment.

The hero of this unfortunate situation was our camp’s manager who worked tirelessly for 2 days along with other camp members to help provide basic infrastructure for all of us. While the crisis was going on, all of us were greatly distracted and weren’t able to properly respond to the many people coming through our camp. Our supplies were also dwindling. Since the camp was so large, we used wristbands to help manage the food, water, and booze supply during non-public hours. It was really sad for me to read the accounts of people who visited our camp and were turned down for drinks during the day (including a number of my friends). Ughh….  If we had simply posted a sign providing details on camp gift times, it would have made a big difference.

Our camp breakdown was also compromised because the group responsible for providing the infrastructure was also responsible for part of the breakdown. In the end, our camp manager and some other members of the camp, plus breakdown staff, cleaned up our camp by Saturday after the event. We took a photo of our campsite before we left the playa and it was free of MOOP. We then learned that a camp next door was having significant issues with clean up and we sent trucks back to help them. It is unclear to me as to why we remain with some red marks on the MOOP map.

To specifically answer questions:  I did not profit from Caravancicle (in fact I gifted money, as I do every year). Our bar was open to the public at night but not during the day. We should have posted a sign to make this clear. On Friday night, used up all of our booze to gift a huge party for anyone who visited our camp. We regularly gifted very yummy homemade popsicles and herbal tea but were not able to set up the gift stand in front of the camp as originally envisioned because of the build crisis we had. We regularly gifted drinks, water, and electrolytes at night.

Regarding questions on the 10 Principles of Burning Man:

1. Radical Inclusion: Burning Man welcomes people from all walks of life. Referring to Caravancicle campers or members of any other camp as “the rich people” is creating a class system within Burning Man, which I don’t believe is beneficial to the community. Our camp welcomed people from all walks of life. Sometimes we had art cars that were filled up with our camp members and would not have been safe to include others. During other parts of the days, these art cars welcomed anyone to come on board until they were filled to safe capacity.

2. Gifting: Burning Man is devoted to acts of giving. Caravancicle gifted popsicles, tea, booze, water and electrolytes, but at the beginning of the week we did not serve non-camp members drinks during the day and failed to make it clear to non-camp members that we would be offering drinks during nighttime hours to everyone. We did gift a blow out Friday party with full bar and snacks. We could have greatly improved our communications on this matter.

3. Decommodification: Our community seeks to create social environments that are unmediated by commercial sponsorship, transactions, or advertising. Caravancicle was in no way affiliated with any third party sponsorships. We hired a team to produce the camp (as many camps do), but Caravancicle did not participate in any advertising. The ‘promotional materials’ and website were sent to guests who were invited to join the camp. We did not actively promote the camp. No one in Caravancicle made money off of the camp.

4. Radical Self-reliance: Although many of the more physical aspects of self-reliance were lost on the Caravanciclers, camp members were encouraged to exercise and rely on their inner resources. Just as in other camps, many members spent extensive amounts of time reflecting and self-exploring out on the playa. They faced many of the same challenges every other Burner faces at the event.

5. Radical Self-expression: Caravancicle was an act of creative expression in and of itself. The camp had months and months of planning and effort put into it, including help from many of its members. While not all members of the camp participated in the creative aspect of building the camp, each brought their own unique personality, costumes and contributions to Burning Man.

6. Communal Effort: While I can’t argue that Caravancicle members had significantly less work to do as far as cooking and maintenance, all members were still responsible for chores around camp including, but not limited to, picking up trash and being responsible for washing their own dishes. We also created a beautiful space open to the public that fostered cooperation and collaboration.

7. Civic Responsibility: Caravancicle assumed responsibility for the conduct of our events. We refused alcohol to minors and to people who didn’t have cups in order to limit MOOP. On one specific instance there were so many bikes parked outside one of our parties that the Rangers had to come inside and let us know. We killed the music and shut down the party immediately, making sure the mess was cleared up right away.

8. Leaving No Trace: Our clean up was delayed because of our co-dependency on a partner camp. We were able to clean our site, with pictures taken that document a clean site on Saturday after the event. It is unclear to me why we received red marks on the MOOP map, but I think we were generally docked points because we were late in leaving. We also sent back help for a neighbor camp that was having difficulties cleaning up.

9. Participation: Members of Caravancicle participated and achieved through “doing”. I urge everyone to remember that for some of our campers, this was their first burn. Personally, I contributed substantially less my first year than I have in years since. This year, however, I allocated vast amounts of time, effort and money to create something beautiful to share with the community.

10. Immediacy: Most Burners agree that Immediacy is the touchstone of value in our culture. Just like every other participant in this community, I wish to overcome barriers that stand between us and a recognition of our inner selves. I did not get it perfectly right, but I did make my best effort to create something beautiful and creative, unique and innovative.

Regarding other questions that have been raised about me and my camp:

Plug and Play: While a lot of personal responsibility was deflected onto camp employees, I have worked tirelessly since the beginning of the year planning, organizing and executing a camp that brought beauty and value to the playa. Although some of our campers were “plug and play” participants per se, the act of judging them or excluding them goes against everything that Burning Man stands for regarding radical inclusion.

Profit: There have been suggestions that our camp was for profit. I can assure you our camp generated no money and was not, in any way, a money making venture. Additionally, the Burning Man organization was in no way involved with the planning or production of the camp – it was an entirely personal project.  Our website was meant to be viewed by 60 or so people who were planning to participate in our camp and was password protected. The material which referred to artists was produced by our partner camp and not us as a way of describing what they envisioned. Our partner camp described this as fully endorsed by the artists they included. I am sorry that people outside of Caravancicle camp were able to gain access to our website and share our draft material without our authorization. I am also sorry about artists whose names they included without their authorization. Caravancicle was trying to create an environment which shared the beauty of our architecture and design with other creative forces on the playa.

Burning Man Project Board of Directors: I joined the board of directors because I’m passionate about the impact Burning Man culture can have on the world, and because I believe my professional experience and perspective is valuable to the new nonprofit at this early stage of its development. I believe Burning Man and what it has to offer the world is still very nascent and am thrilled to be working with other board members to steward its growth and development.

I believe there is a silver lining in the discussion our camp has engendered because it has caused a healthy dialog about the implications for Burning Man’s evolution. I am proud to be a Burner. I am proud that my fellow Burners felt passionate enough about the sanctity of Burning Man to push this discussion, and I look forward to taking new ideas and lessons learned into the future.

 


Burners.Me:

It wasn’t his fault, see. He blames all his staff. The paid workers didn’t do a good enough job, the camp next door who he paid to build his camp for him didn’t do a good enough job, and he lost money on the whole deal. They never used any artists names in their marketing materials without permission, that was the camp next door’s fault. The MOOP? Camp next door. Although they were allowed to stay until Saturday cleaning up (not Tuesday), they got no special treatment from BMOrg. Anyone can bend the rules if they like, hey, like Larry says, they’re not rules, just an ethos.

If “Sherpagirl” hadn’t left when she did, it all would’ve worked out great.

Their camp brought “beauty and value” to the Playa.

I allocated vast amounts of time, effort and money to create something beautiful to share with the community.”

– what, Jim? What? Please tell us what were the beautiful things that your camp shared with the community. Popsicles? The bingo?

We refused alcohol to minors and to people who didn’t have cups in order to limit MOOP”

– right. Not because of the laws of the land, or physics.

In one breath he says

Our camp welcomed people from all walks of life…We also created a beautiful space open to the public that fostered cooperation and collaboration.

and then straight away he says:

Sometimes we had art cars that were filled up with our camp members and would not have been safe to include others….at the beginning of the week we did not serve non-camp members drinks during the day and failed to make it clear to non-camp members that we would be offering drinks during nighttime hours to everyone. We did gift a blow out Friday party with full bar and snacks

Of course, we also see the familiar “straw man” misdirection:

Referring to Caravancicle campers or members of any other camp as “the rich people” is creating a class system within Burning Man, which I don’t believe is beneficial to the community

I haven’t seen this issue being raised from any Burners in the community, actually. Just 3 of the Board of Directors now, and a couple of the shit-stirrers on the state-sanctioned forum ePlaya.

It was always our intention to provide an open environment, which welcomed everyone and was consistent with the spirit of Burning Man

Yep, they brought 70,000 wristbands. And money. They gifted us money.

MOOP #fail

MOOP #fail

It is unclear to me as to why we remain with some red marks on the MOOP map.

Actually Jim, your entire camp got yellow. That’s bad. Red is really bad.

So not even a Director of Burning Man can explain how they got their score on the MOOP map. In that case, who can? It seems that the MOOP result is rather arbitrary, possibly politically with no recourse, oversight, or explanation.

I’m not impressed. What do you think, Burners?

 

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

“Failure!” – Tananbaum Gets Called Out by BM Director

Image: Beverly & Pack/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Image: Beverly & Pack/Flickr (Creative Commons)

A couple of days ago, BMOrg finally posted their response to the many concerns raised by our community after this year’s event. You can read our analysis here: BMOrg Hath Spoken.

Many Burners felt that this whitewash of the major issues didn’t go nearly far enough. The only real policy change was to stop their VIP Donation Tickets program. They completely ignored whether any of the 25 12 Commodification Camps were also offered invitation-only tickets in the Directed Group sale, and whether that might happen again in the future. “Commodification Camps will be held to the same standard as theme camps” – but that was already their policy. Stating what the rules already are is not the same as changing the rules.

Something that has particularly rankled many Burners was the involvement of one of the Burning Man Project’s Board of Directors this year in running the most notorious 50-sherpa Commodification Camp, Caravancicle – which was also ignored in BMOrg’s post.

It seems that at least one Burning Man founder felt the need to single Tananbaum out for his actions. Michael Mikel, who goes by the pseudonym “Danger Ranger”, took to his Facebook page with a late night rant sharing his personal views on the situation to his 1000 followers. As well as spreading a bunch of lies about myself and this site, which he had no interest in correcting before he blocked me, the knives were out for Jim Tananbaum.

Here are some excerpts from his lengthy diatribe.

MM:

BURNING MAN BROKE CARAVANSICLE

The post-burn forensics of this internet-fuled drama of rumors on top of rumors has been challenging and time consuming…We are now at a point where there is enough information to answer some of the questions that have arisen. Larry, always the consummate lucubrationist, has posted to the Burning Man blog about this issue. I have also conducted my own personal investigation into this matter and have come up with answers that may be more specific than some of those presented thus far.

“Lucubrationist” means some who speaks pedantically or overly elaborately.

Why do there need to be “separate investigations” within BMOrg? This is an annual party that goes for a week, put on by Burners. It’s supposed to be all in good fun. If it is so hard to get to the truth that 3 months of “forensics” are required, shouldn’t the forensic investigation at least be co-ordinated? If these people can’t even trust each other, why should we trust them?

MM:

My conclusion is that Burning Man broke Caravansicle. I might add that the individual who profited from Caravansicle will not be allowed back into Burning Man.

Many Burners will be disappointed to learn that the individual he’s talking about is not Jim Tananbaum. He remains on the Board, and it looks like they are absolving him of any responsibility for commodifying Burning Man with a multi-million dollar for-profit camp – despite the requirement in their Bylaws that all Directors must uphold the Ten Principles.

MM:

When I was finally able to confront Mr Tananbaum face-to-face, my first words to him were; “You really stepped in some shit.” I believe that he truly regrets the wreckage in the wake of his camp. Mr Tananbaum started out with the best of intentions. Caravansicle was not intended to be commercial in nature. His goal was to fund and produce a large camp for friends and associates, much like the camps that he had done in the two previous years. But this year it was going to be grander and larger. His first mistake was to hire a professional camp producer from the commercial EDM world with no Burning Man experience. This is what brought in the sherpas and wristbands.

A camp with 120 guests and 50 employees that charged $17,000 per person was not intended to be commercial in nature? You really expect us to believe that?

The first time we saw public use of the word “sherpa” in relation to Burning Man was in a New York Times story before the Burn which had nothing to do with Caravancicle. They were far from the only camp or art car at Burning Man to have wristband-only VIP sections.

MM:

His second mistake was having a bar so big and so public that it ran out of liquor. Nothing is worse than a half-drunk lynch mob. 

This is the first account I’ve seen of Caravancicle having a large, public bar. It differs remarkably from what Burners have been reporting about Caravancicle. “A bar so big and so public that it ran out of liquor”? Where does Mr Mikel get his facts from? We are relying on whistleblowing testimony from one of the sherpas employed by the camp, as well as comments from other Burners who went there. Here’s what the sherpa said:

Popsicle camp advertised to customers and to Placement that they would build a lounge out on the street in front our walls that would be cooled to 45º and contain a bar inside where hot and dusty passers by could enter to cool down and indulge…The front of our camp was advertising that a second  iced tea/water lounge would be on the street and all of our customers would be there from 2-4pm every day passing out even more popsicles to people.

Neither of these structures had been built. There just happened to be more important priorities, which revolved around making sure that the paying customers never needed to use a porta potty.

The bar that was built did not run out of liquor to serve the public; rather, it was fully stocked, but wristband-only from the very beginning.

The sherpa:

We had a massive dome built that would be open for the public to enjoy. There were specialty drinks, music, dancers, couches, coffee tables with Alex Grey paintings, snacks, and much more. This we did have, and it was BEAUTIFUL.  I only ended up bar tending one shift…While serving our guests, there were random visitors and the folks from the missing motel. I was told that only our members that had paid to camp there were allowed to have drinks. Considering that we had a visible full bar and a menu containing our specialty cocktails, you could imagine the embarrassment I felt when telling some people they can not have those advertised drinks, and telling others they can. Suddenly our public dome contained some VIP options. “Only those with the VIP wristbands can have a drink, can I offer you a peanut?”

MOOP #fail

MOOP #fail

Doesn’t sound like a large public bar with no booze in it to me.

Apparently, all the MOOP of the combined Caravancicle and Lost Hotel camps was the fault of the one scapegoat, and nothing to do with any other camp organizers, or Mr Tananbaum.

MM:

And I’m sure that the professional camp producer was surprised to discover no trash dumpsters at Burning Man. None-the-less, the camp producer took the money and ran.

Most of the MOOP at Caravancicle was actually left by the Lost Hotel. The Lost Hotel built 90% of the structure of Caravancicle, and seems to have profited by renting the rooms for Tananbaum’s camp to sub-let.

The sherpa:

The building crew for the neighboring camp was in collaboration with our camp. 90% of our camp had been built and designed  by the neighboring camp. Lets call this camp “the Missing Motel” The Leader of this camp is a brilliant visionary that seemed to be very passionate about inspiring creativity with his own art. The Missing Motel rented our camp these extremely unique and beautifully constructed canvas “rectangles” that would be homes to myself and guests included. Missing Motel Build lovingly crafted every single detail of  popsicle camp. Everything from our private bathrooms, our rectangles,  and every piece of furniture in it,  the lay out of the camp itself and a majority of the beautiful details

Photo: Lost Hotel/Facebook

Aerial Photo: Lost Hotel/Facebook

The Lost Hotel were experienced Burners, and were surely aware of the requirement to Leave No Trace. Mr Tananbaum as a Director of Burning Man, is required by their Bylaws to uphold the Ten Principles, so he could not have been unaware of this either. Mr Mikel says he had already put together 2 major camps at Burning Man before, so the idea that no-one there knew they had to pick their MOOP up is unlikely.

MM:

The truth is that Mr Tananbaum lost tens of thousands of dollars on this failed project. That is not to say that the captain does not carry ultimate responsibility for his ship. While he has been quite capable of amassing a fortune in the world of venture capital, it does call into question if he is ready and able to help navigate the Burning Man ship. Then again, there is nothing like failure to add to ones experience. I think that having an 18-person board of directors is good in that it allows a larger pool to maintain overall management and guidance, which is certainly an improvement over the past when there were only 6 board members.

Barking up the wrong tree. Image: Ralph Hightower/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Barking up the wrong tree. Image: Ralph Hightower/Flickr (Creative Commons)

There’s a difference between “lost tens of thousands” and “gifted tens of thousands”. The former implies a profit motive. So basically, he’s saying “hey, Tananbaum tried to profit from Burning Man, and didn’t succeed because the guy he hired to manage it ran off with all the money. No problem, maybe he learned something that could help us – carry on”.

The “Turnkey Camps” blog post said that none of the Commodification Camps tried to make a profit – which flies in the face of logic, as well as contradicting Danger Ranger’s statements based on personally confronting Jim Tananbaum. Mr Mikel’s forensic investigation seems to have shown that Mr Tananbaum only failed to make his intended profit because the funds were embezzled by one of his paid employees. The camp charged $17,000 per person, so if Tananbaum is only out of pocket by “tens of thousands”, how much did this un-named lackey actually steal? It seems like keeping the cash from only 2 of his 120 guests would’ve been enough for Tananbaum to break even.

MM:

Bmorg is instituting new procedures/policies next year, which will bring all non-infrastructure plug-and-play camps under the theme camp registration process and hold them to the same standards.

This is exactly what they said in 2012, about the same issue. In fact, their own post of just 2 days ago explaining the Commodification Camps said that they were already required to be held to the same standards. More on that below.

MM:

The transition of Burning Man from tontine to non-profit organization has taken more that six years. Thru all of this, no one in the organization is getting rich off of Burning Man. That will become apparent after the numbers for the non-profit are published. It’s been a very complex process with many moving pieces, some of them not quite in place.

Perhaps no-one in “the organization” is getting rich, but what about “the owners”? Our reader A Balanced Perspective has calculated their take via this Decommodification structure to be somewhere between $35 million-47 million dollars, and so far no-one has been able to provide any evidence or argument otherwise. We also exposed a million dollar plus discrepancy between what BMOrg were saying they were paying the BLM and what the BLM were saying they got paid, which on an annual basis could increase this take even further.

Here’s Danger Ranger’s “tipping tweet” of November 21, 2008, which he credits with starting this whole “non-profit transition”

danger tweet 2008 nov 21

 

Others might argue that Harley Dubois’ surprise resignation was actually the event that triggered the process of unravelling their corporate structure, more so than this tweet.

How much longer will all of this take, before we get to see what’s actually going on? 6 years, and nearly $8 million on lawyers and accountants over that time, isn’t enough to open the books to the public? We still don’t have the 2013 IRS filing numbers for the Burning Man Project, and it’s not looking like we’ll see any 2014 numbers until 2016.  What exactly are these “moving pieces” that are still left to work out before the community gets the transparency we’ve been promised for so long?

The sole purpose of Decommodification LLC is to protect the Burning Man name and I’ve programmed it to automatically dissolve after its mission is completed.

I believe he is talking about the “Dead Man’s Trigger” clause he boasted of inserting into Decommodification, LLC.

MM (in March 2014):

Larry has the last word on the Transition discussion. (But I am pleased to note that I am the one who programmed the deadman switch into Decommodification LLC.)

This clause apparently says that ownership of Decommodification, LLC will revert back to the Burning Man Project in 3 years, unless all 6 Directors vote to stop that. As far as I know, this clause is not tied to “completion of the mission” in any way, it’s time based. If Decommodification, LLC was bought by another entity (eg, Foresight Capital, or LiveNation), then different directors could be appointed and this wouldn’t happen. Or if the existing Directors decide they like the royalties that are pouring in to this private, secretive company, they might well vote in their own interests to keep them coming.

It’s hard to see what Decommodification, LLC specifically are doing to protect the Burning Man brand – especially when it seems like the Tin Principles are being chucked out the window now as “an ethos, not rules”. The lawsuit they have been pursuing in Canada lists the plaintiffs as “Decommodification LLC, Black Rock City LLC, and the Burning Man Project, doing business as Burning Man” – so what does Decommodification, LLC really add to the mix, that Black Rock City LLC and the Burning Man Project couldn’t have achieved on their own? Which of the three entities is footing the legal bills in this case?

As for the sole purpose of Decommodification LLC? Article 5, Clause 1 of the Bylaws about sharing of corporate profits prevents the Board of Directors of BMP from profiting from the event, except specifically through the Founders  ownership of the intellectual property which is via Decommodification, LLC:

bylaws article 5

If profiting from this arrangement was not part of their purpose, what is the need for this exemption?

MM:

Today Burning Man is an eight hundred thousand ton gorilla with many mouths to feed. It’s a network of departments and people, sometimes with competing interests. It’s still evolving. It has lost much of its agility, but there are some advantages to size. We are now having an impact on the world at large and we have the power to change that world for the better.

What are the competing interests here? Who’s competing for what? What impact is it that Burning Man is now having on the world at large? Marge tripping on acid and Maggie playing with a syringe on The Simpsons? An art car going into Zappo’s HQ? Grover Norquist and Denis Kucinich using it to appeal to new voting blocs?

Time will tell, and so far in 4 years the Burning Man Project seems to have not accomplished very much at all, let alone changed the world for the better.

BMOrg have admitted in their blog posts here and here that they were fully aware of the for-profit Commodification Camps, and gave them preferential placement, while refusing 58 Burner-operated Gifting-based theme camps.

Initially, in this post, they said that they had placed 25 Commodification Camps; by the time they had “listened to all the feedback”, this was whittled down to just 12.

On October 28 Answergirl said:

We define Turnkey camps as those that offer a public space and interactivity in addition to private spaces for larger groups and are typically built by a producer, rather than a traditional camp lead.

On December 3 BMOrg said:

The term “turnkey” has been used to describe camps with paid teams that set up infrastructure before other camp members arrive. This general definition could be applied to many camps, including many well-known, beloved and highly participatory theme camps…

On the other end of the spectrum are “plug and play” or “concierge camps” (A.K.A. hotel camps, resort camps, commodification camps), where vacation-type experiences are sold in package deals at exclusive prices, often with no expectation or commitment by campers to contribute to the larger community.

These camps have not been banned, or even censured.

petit ermitage

Petit Ermitage, a trendy boutique hotel from West Hollywood, are promoting the pop-up hotel they did at Burning Man with Cirque Gitane – who at least scored Green on the MOOP map, and by all accounts shared professional theatrical performances with the public.

 

BMOrg said:

These concierge or commodification camps undermine the social fabric of our community, which is unacceptable.

Commodification camps are not only in direct conflict with our culture, they are also not allowed by the terms of our permit…A commodification camp operating without a permit risks citations and fines from the BLM. The Burning Man organization is exploring ways of monitoring this more effectively in the future

Not “this won’t happen again”. Just “they need a permit and we’re investigating ways to monitor this more effectively”.

All camps that receive resources from the organization must demonstrate their contribution to the broader community. For 2015, all camps (other than infrastructure support camps) will be held to the same standards in order to receive placement, early arrival passes and access to the Directed Group Sale

Rather than “Commodification Camps won’t get early access passes and invite-only tickets”, this statement really says the exact opposite. In some sort of black box process without oversight, BMOrg will work out where to put them and how many tickets they can have.

What’s the bottom line? Tananbaum gets to stay, just with some public shaming from one of the founders. His employee is made the scapegoat, and accused of embezzlement. Commodification Camps have to go through the Placement team, just like they did in 2014, and the other years before that. All they need to do is say “we’ll have a bar”, and it’s business as usual. If the bar doesn’t materialize? Whoopsie-daisy. If they leave a bunch of MOOP? Naughty, naughty. All the owners have to say is “I didn’t make any money”, and they can continue as before. The VIP Donation tickets program will be discontinued, but the World’s Biggest Guest list  goes on, without any oversight. Transparency? 7 years isn’t enough, they need more time. “Coming soon”.

 

radical inclusion cult