Re-Writing History for the Banksters

Art historian, PhD student Stephen Mack, has written an excellent de-construction of the Burning Man 2016 art theme at The Daily Dot. The Medicis had a unicorn horn in their art collection. Who knew! And BMOrg are playing fast and loose Lorenzo Mediciwith history. Who’d have thunk it!

Please read it in its entirety – here’s the conclusion for TL;DR:

There actually is something about this period of the Florentine Renaissance thatwould appeal to the Burning Man crowd: The Florentine art patrons believed genuinely in the idea that money could be spent virtuously and they felt that spending on art was virtuous. Several scholars have gone into this idea in some depth. I think that many people in the Renaissance looked to art to engage them in learned discussion—perhaps to contemplate morality, to visualize and understand religious concepts, and even, I think, to contemplate on the ideas of nature and of representation. Spending money on art wasn’t virtuous simply because it provided the masses with beautiful objects, but because, in the Renaissance (as in most periods), to engage with a work of art was, in effect, to seriously contemplate both the world they lived in and the spiritual world beyond this one.

I imagine that the organizers of Burning Man had this type of contemplation in mind when they conceptualized the “Turning Man.” I’m sure many bros will have wonderful acid- and shroom-induced journeys staring up at Turning Man, and may indeed come out of it with a challenged view of the world. This is a great thing. And, ultimately, it is for exactly this reason that we should spend money on art in the first place. (Well, not so much the drug-culture part, but the challenging-our-view-of- the-world part. Not that the drug part is so bad, either.)

But the fanciful utopian history Burning Man has written to underpin this journey is an utter farce. And rewriting history to our own ends is never a good thing. 

That said, the Renaissance did their own rewriting of history, too. The learned elites idolized Classical Antiquity in much the same fanciful way that Burning Man now idolizes the Renaissance. In this way—though it was likely unintentional—Burning Man actually has done a decent job emulating the Renaissance. 

Read the full article at Daily Dot.

In the last year the non-profit Burning Man Project – which we’re told was created as the ultimate gift to us, giving Burning Man back to the Burners – has assimilated other charities BRAF, Burners Without Borders, and Black Rock Solar. Control of these networks is now cemented in the grip of the Project and the Ruling Group behind it. The Rulers get to play Medici in the economy of Black Rock City. They bank all the money from the Gerlach festival ($34 million), tax free (even though it’s not a tax deductible deduction for us buying tickets). They take a gallery commission on art sold outside the Playa by Burning Man artists. They get a share of the revenues of more than 100 licensed vendors approved to sell things at Black Rock City. They grant about $800,000 in cash and a couple of hundred thousand “in kind” in their patronage of the arts. Most artists are expected to raise two-thirds to three-quarters of the project costs themselves. And work for free.

My sincere hope is this “creative Maker artist” theme flavor will signify a new era from Burning Man’s owners founders controllers. Let’s hope for much more generous patronage of Burner art from the Medicis Ruling Group, both visible and invisible. 10% of revenues would be a great start – and let the artists pay themselves.

We will get a hint of the direction we’re heading soon, when the long overdue IRS public filing for 2014 for the Burning Man Project is made public. Perhaps we will get to hear soon about some of the activities and achievements of the Burning Man Project in taking our contributions to execute its mission.



2013 Charity Results Released [Update]

Last weekend, Burning Man Arts – the new organization that is a merger between two of the non-profits in BMOrg’s empire, Black Rock Arts Foundation and the Burning Man Project –  threw its Eighth annual Artumnal Gathering event.

I would love to be able to tell you the story of what a great job Burning Man’s non-profit subsidiary is doing in supporting the Arts, how much money it gives to poor artists and how little it keeps for itself.

Sadly, that story would be a fairytale: the evidence paints a different picture.

Today, the IRS Form 990 filing for 2013 for BRAF was released. We’re still waiting on BMP’s information, when it’s available I will write another post.

Their overall efficiency score was 20% – meaning that if you give $1 to the Arts via BRAF, only 20 cents of it will go the Arts. The rest is absorbed into salaries and overheads.

Here is an updated table of their giving for the previous 7 years:

Black Rock Arts Foundation Assets Revenue Expenses Profit Grants Efficiency
2013 $626,574 $508,442 $428,860 $79,582 $101,556 20.0%
2012 $560,917 $621,359 $477,525 $143,834 $114,449 18.4%
2011 $588,129 $735,147 $577,706 $157,441 $219,080 29.8%
2010 $392,205 $478,567 $461,961 $16,606 $169,274 35.4%
2009 $364,588 $405,762 $278,003 $127,759 $80,349 19.8%
2008 $237,910 $439,353 $498,831 -$59,478 $105,906 24.1%
2007 $268,433 $532,346 $352,662 $179,684 $116,790 21.9%
Total $560,917 $3,212,534 $2,646,688 $565,846 $805,848 25.1%
Burning Man Project
2012 $368,249 $591,672 $259,925 $331,747 $36,378 6.1%

The total amount of money the charity raised in 2013 dropped 20% from 2012. They kept their salaries about the same, and reduced the amount that actually gets paid out in grants.


2012: $114,449

2013: $101,566

Gifting dropped by 11.3%.

The grant money was split between Individuals (US and non-US), and Organizations.

Individuals (US): $36,370

Organizations (US): $46,696

Individuals (non-US): $18,500

16 un-named individuals split $36,370; 11 got an average of $1,306 each, and 5 received larger awards, $4,400 average.

The overseas figure is made up of $12,500 to the Czech Republic, split between 2 recipients; and $6,000 to someone in London.

Of the Grants to US Organizations, the breakdown is:

The Exploratorium $10,000

The Box Shop $6,000

Urban Matter, Inc $6,000

Engineered Artworks Ltd $11,100

The $10,000 is a mere drop in the bucket to the Exploratorium, which raised $40 million in 2012 and has $138 million of assets. But it is the second largest grant handed out by BRAF, representing almost 10% of their total grant allocation.

12 works of art were donated to the group, recorded as a non-cash contribution of $50,000 – $4,166 each.

The charity still sits on most of the money given to it. Net Assets increased 15.7%:

Net Assets

2012: $507,753

2013: $587,335

They ended the year with $478,088 in cash – 4.7 times what they gave out to artists.

Almost half of the organization’s revenues went to salaries, which increased slightly:

Salaries (% of revenues)

2012: $209,461 – 33.7%

2013: $211,491 – 41.6%

This was more than double the amount of funds they paid out to the cause they represent.

They were charged $40,000 for accounting costs – a number that seems extraordinarily high, for filling out a 34 page form. More than $1000 per page – and many of the pages are blank. I wonder if the charity was forced to shoulder some of the burden of the complexities related to their “transition to a non-profit” – which included carving out the only real assets of the business, its trademarks and related royalty streams, to Decommodification LLC, a new for-profit company owned by the 6 remaining founders of Burning Man.

Note that the overall “non-profit” group paid a staggering $1.43 million to its accountants and lawyers in 2013, according to their Afterburn report.

BRAF paid $25,154 for rent and office expenses, $1,707 for travel, and $4,303 for insurance.

Like BMP, there are 18 directors of BRAF. Each put in 2 hours per week – except for Freddy Hahne (President) and Tracy Burton (Treasurer), who commit 4 hours each. Of Burning Man’s 6 remaining founders, only Larry, Harley, and Will & Crimson are listed as contributing their time to BRAF.

BRAF’s Artumnal was their only fundraising event during the year.

According to the IRS form, BMP Director Chris Bently’s building charged a whopping $8,345 for the use of the Bently Reserve venue: 8.1% of the money that was raised at the event. Mr Bently inherited the $47 million building and many other assets including a $45 million coin collection and a 50,000 acre cattle ranch.

The 2013 Artumnal Gathering grossed $185,780.

$38,684 was spent on food.

$33,315 was spent on entertainment. Some of the entertainers (listed below) are salaried employees of BMOrg.

$102,936 went to BRAF as contributions. For any sponsors wondering how much of their Artumnal ticket or table donation is tax-deductible, it appears to be 55% – but don’t take my word for it, I’m not an accountant. You should seek independent, professional advice, rather than telling the IRS “Burners.Me is my financial advisor”.

Since $101,566 was the amount actually gifted by the Black Rock Arts Foundation over the course of the entire year, basically the Artumnal raises all the money that goes to the artists.

You can see the IRS Form 990 for the Black Rock Arts Foundation here. Hopefully when they release the 2013 Form 990 for the Burning Man Project, it will tell a much better story, one of generously passing donations given to them on to the artists.

[Update 11/25/14 10:12am] Burn After Reading magazine brings us a report from the event, which (ironically) was shut down by a fire alarm.

[Update 12/14/8:15pm] See All We Want For Chri$tma$ Is Your Money for links to further analysis we’ve done on the charitable performance of “we call the whole thing Burning Man”.



Art and Installations

Flowers and Decor

  • Christina Pettigrew
  • Julz (Hookahdome)
  • Marcia Crosby
  • $teven Ra$pa


image: Eleanor Preger, Facebook

image: Eleanor Preger, Facebook

A New Online Art Grant System Is Live


image: Jim Bauer/Flickr (Creative Commons)

A new online system for Art Grants has quietly gone live. It’s buried deep in the blackrockarts site. The deadline is December 1 and you have to pay a fee to submit your Letter of Intent. It’s a little confusing – although it is called “Burning Man Grants for Art”, it’s only for art projects that aren’t going to Burning Man.

For Playa art, they provide a link to Burning Man’s web site, which says the deadline is Feb 15. This information conflicts with the last JRS, which said:

Burning Man Arts — the new department combining the Black Rock City Art Department with the Black Rock Arts Foundation (BRAF) — will launch a new online system in mid-November designed to make it easier for artists to apply for honoraria grants for art destined for Black Rock City.

This year, applicants will be required to first submit a Letter of Intent (LOI), which will allow the Grant Committee to select which projects will be invited to participate in the full grant application process, saving everybody time and effort.

The system will go live in mid-November, and LOI submissions will be accepted for four weeks. The Grant Committee aims to inform artists if they are invited to participate in the full grant application process by the beginning of 2015.

All artists hoping to receive a Black Rock City honorarium will need to participate in this new LOI process.

More information will be made available via the Jackrabbit Speaks and on the Burning Man Arts web pages as the rollout approaches.

Reading between the lines, I figure that both the and sites have incorrect information, and artists who want an Honorarium Art Grant for a project at Burning Man 2015 should treat the Jackrabbit’s information as the most current – and wait for an announcement of the new system.

The other new online system that Black Rock Arts announced in their October newsletter, is for non-Playa art:

Burning Man Grants for Art (formerly the BRAF Grants to Artists program) 2015 grant cycle is underway!  The online form for submitting a Letter of Intent (LOI) is now live. Tell us about your fantastic idea for a community-driven, interactive art project!

We fund projects that incorporate community involvement and exist for public benefit. If you’re hatching an idea for a project that brings people together, prompts interaction, and reaches beyond traditional experiences of public art, we’d love to hear about it!

The deadline for “Burning Man Grants for Art” – which, to be clear, is actually for art that is NOT for Burning Man – is December 1 2014, so artists who want to be considered for that need to pay the fees and get their submissions in, in the next 11 days. They fund 10 to 15 projects a year, between $500 and $10,000, with grants typically being in the range of $2000 – $6000.


We have begun accepting Letters of Inquiry (LOI’s) for our 2014-2015 grant cycle. Read on to find a link to the LOI submission form. The deadline to submit an LOI is December 1, 2014. Late LOI’s will not be accepted, with no exceptions.

Full proposals will be accepted by invitation only, with LOI applicants either invited to submit a proposal or rejected by early January 2015 (exact date TBD).

We prioritize funding highly interactive, community-driven, collaborative works of art that are accessible to the public and civic in scope.

What is ‘interactive’ art?

  • Art that requires human interaction to complete the piece.
  • Art that involves the community and the audience in its creation, presentation and display.
  • Art that prompts the viewer to act.
  • Art that can be experienced in more ways than visually. We are fans of art that is can be approached, touched, heard or experienced, as well as viewed.
  • Art that prompts people to interact with one another.
  • Art that responds to participants and to its environment.
  • Art that causes people to reflect on the larger community.
  • Art that challenges the viewers’ traditional perspective on art.
  • Art that belongs to the public and exists for the benefit of all.

What kind of work does this program not fund?

Although we are open to all proposed forms of media, there are some common projects that typically fall outside the scope of our criteria. The exception to all of the examples listed below would be if the project had a highly interactive element that moves the project outside the definitions of its genre.

We typically do not fund:

  • Static work, such as sculpture with no interactive component
  • Gallery work, such as paintings in a gallery
  • Publications – poetry books, photo books, fiction, etc
  • Photography
  • Screenplays or films
  • Musical, theater or dance productions
  • Social aid/relief efforts
  • Entrepreneurial endeavors
  • Art destined for the annual Burning Man event in Black Rock City. There is a separate grant process to fund playa-bound artwork. Please visit the Burning Man website to learn more about the BRC Honorarium application process. (This program does, however, sometimes fund works headed to regional Burning Man events)

Our grants range between $500 and $10,000, but we most commonly award between $2000 and $6000. We typically fund approximately from 10 to 15 projects a year and receive as many as 300 proposals.

Full proposals will be accepted by invitation only in early 2015. To be invited, you must submit a Letter of Inquiry by December 1st.


  • Our online LOI application for our 2015 grant cycle is live!
  • LOI’s are due December 1, 2014, 5:00 pm, Pacific Standard Time.
  • Selected applicants will be invited to submit a full proposal by early January, 2015 (exact date TBA).
  • Proposals are accepted by invitation only, and will be due in February, 2015 (exact date TBA)
  • Selected grantees are usually announced March 15 of the year of the award.
  • Funds are usually released to new grantees April 1 of the year of the award.

Late Letters of Inquiry and proposals will not be accepted. No exceptions. Please read our application instructions below for more details on how to apply.

Letter of Inquiry Instructions

Our online Letter of Inquiry will give you the opportunity to provide us with the following:

  • Name of contact person, contact person’s phone number, email address and mailing address
  • Name of the lead artist or program manager if different from the contact person
  • Name of project or program
  • An invitation code, which is “GrantsForArt-LOI-2015
  • Brief description of the physical manifestation of project or program (1500 characters, about 250 words or 1 double-spaced page)
  • Brief description of how the project or program fits the program’s grant criteria and definition of interactivity. (1500 characters, about 250 words or 1 double-spaced page)
  • One to three images or other media files
There is a $5.00 fee to submit your LOI. The entirety of this fee is payment to, the online application service we use. You will be asked to pay with a credit card upon completion of the LOI. You will need an invitation code to submit the online LOI, which is posted on this page, above. [Code is: “GrantsForArt-LOI-2015″]

Proposal Instructions

Invitations for proposals will be extended to selected projects in late December 2014 or early January 2015. If selected, you will be invited to fill out our full application online. Uninvited proposals will not be considered.

In our online application, you will have the opportunity to tell us about your project, its goals, audience and interactive potential.

A complete proposal includes:

  1. The completion of the online proposal. We do not accept printed and mailed proposals.
  2. A timeline. Our online application has a form where you may describe your timeline, or you may upload your own format. We prefer you use our online form.
  3. A budget. Our online application will have a link to a template you may use, or you may upload your own format. We prefer you use our template.
  4. Supplemental images and materials. You will have the opportunity to upload images or other media files. We highly recommend you submit visual representations of your proposed project.
There is a $5.00 fee to submit a full proposal. The entirety of this fee is payment to, the online application service we use. You will be asked to pay with a credit card upon completion of the proposal.
image: Carrie Cizauskas/flickr (Creative Commons)

image: Carrie Cizauskas/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Once again, the burden is shifted to the artists, who have to pay to submit a Letter of Intent, and pay again to submit a full proposal. $1500 doesn’t seem like too much for BMOrg to spend on software licensing, to let the 300 artists submitting proposals send them in for free. It’s less than 3 Donation tickets. Sure, it’s only five bucks (twice, if the artist makes it through the first round) – but it’s only five bucks to the corporation raking in $30 million a year, too, and to the non-profit entity with more than $1 million of undistributed assets. It seems a little cheap, for a charity whose sole purpose is supporting the Arts.

We’re still waiting on the announcement of 2015’s theme, which would be helpful to know for artists submitting their ideas for grants.

The 2014 theme was announced on January 8, the 2013 theme was announced on November 30, 2012, and the 2012 theme was announced on this day, November 19, three years ago at the Artumnal Gathering fundraising gala. The 2014 Artumnal will be held this Saturday, perhaps the announcement will come then.

Art World Rocked By Burning Man’s Latest Move

The Black Rock Arts Foundation is on the way out. The BuMPy Burning Man Project will be taking it over. When? It’s already happened, but details are “coming soon”…of course.

Let us translate the doublespeak, exaggeration and misdirection for you. From the official blog:

What if I want to make a donation to Burning Man Arts moving forward?

At this time you can still donate through the BRAF website, here: In the very near future there will be a new way to donate to art programs through the Burning Man Project. While details are yet to be determined, donors will have the option of directing support specifically to arts.

“Very near future” probably means “after we get back from Caravansary”, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it turns out to be “sometime in 2015”. They’ve been working on this non-profit thing since 2010. They announced it was completed in January of this year, which has turned out not to be true. This latest announcement is just another example of how much non-profit transition still lies ahead of us. How hard can it really be? How many more details are there to determine?

Burning Man today announced a reorganization of its arts programs to place more art in communities around the world, make more art available for the annual event in the Black Rock Desert, and create more opportunities for artists and donors.

More art, more opportunities, in more communities around the world. Sounds good. Will this actually happen though? I mean, I’m sure there will be more opportunities for donors. No doubt about that. BMOrg’s line of scarves and calendars and above-face-value-tickets will expand to other merch items, and every issue of JackedRabbit will be jam-packed with pleas for us to give them more money. “For the good of the artists”, we’ll be told, “to help the community”. Is there actually some sort of  plan with quantifiable goals behind these lofty statements? Like, “100 art works in 3 years”? Or is it just “eventually, we’ll do more?” Perhaps the thinking is along the lines of “when we increase ticket prices to $650 next year, we will also increase funding for art grants from $800,000 to $1 million”.

Black Rock Arts Foundation, which is now a subsidiary of the non-profit Burning Man Project, is joining forces with Black Rock City’s art department to create one program called Burning Man Arts. The mission of Burning Man Arts is to change the paradigm of art from a commodified object to an interactive, participatory, shared experience of creative expression.

“This change breaks down the barriers. Art for the playa and art for the world will be one and the same,” said Burning Man’s founder Larry Harvey. “It makes it easier for artists to apply for grants and support, and it enables donors to contribute to the entire spectrum of expressive culture that is pouring out of Burning Man.”

Err…and how exactly will it do that? They don’t know, the details are “yet to be determined”. Let’s just go ahead and execute a merger of two corporations, don’t worry about how it will work, that’s just details, details don’t matter, we can figure all that out later…we’ll drop some acid on an art car in Deep Playa and the answer will come to us.

There is plenty of “art for the world”, and the Burning Man Project’s merger takeover announcement is not suddenly going to make the Art World and the Playa the same. No-one is talking about what a problem the commodification of art is except Decommodification, LLC. Andy Warhol painted 32 different flavors of Campbell’s Soup cans in the 60’s, and that work is considered iconic. The art world is doing just fine without Burning Man. According to Bloomberg:

Global art sales approached their pre-crisis high last year, led by record prices for postwar artists and a jump in U.S. auctions. Sales of art and antiques increased 8 percent to $65.9 billion…Boosted by a 25 percent increase in sales, the U.S. confirmed its position as the international art market leader, representing 38 percent of the market by volume, a 5 percentage point increase from 2012, according to the report.

“Most high priced works in postwar and contemporary art are being sold in New York, both at auctions and in dealer sales,” Clare McAndrew, a cultural economist who compiled the report, said in a telephone interview. “It’s not just the U.S. buyers. People from Latin America and Asia are buying in New York.”

Is this just another big pie for Burning Man to stick their fingers into, in the name of “non-profit” – like oil? Will we see art galleries on the Playa soon, like at most other festivals?

So far in 2014, the Black Rock City art program has provided more than $1 million in grants and support to artists preparing works for the annual event in the Black Rock Desert during the last week of August.

Since its creation in 2001, Black Rock Arts Foundation has funded 149 projects worldwide, providing more than $2,500,000 in grants and support to artists. BRAF has awarded more than $430,000 through its Grants to Artists program and installed or otherwise supported 38 projects (with direct grants of $770,000) through its Civic Arts program. BRAF has also produced 82 memorable events and provided collaborative public art consulting services.

The word “partially” is missing from in front of “funded”. The artists still have to raise money themselves, grants above $20,000 are rare.

The word “support” is in there several times, and it’s crucial. This year’s Art Honoraria grants were $800,000, 2.6% of revenue – $10 from every ticket. So how do they get from that to “more than a million”? If a Burning Man staffer goes to project meetings, this appears to count as “in kind” contributions. So $1.2 million of cash sponsorship gets inflated to $2.5m in “grants and support to artists”. Most of the artists I’ve spoken to don’t really feel supported by the Burning Man Project, or feel any need to employ them as consultants. Many feel like they have to battle against BMOrg and their selectively enforced rules to make their projects happen. If they use the words “Burning Man” or photos of their artwork on the Playa in fundraising to get their art to the event, the kind of support they will get is more likely to be from the legal people sending them threatening letters, or demanding they take our insurance policies.

Perhaps this is all going to change in the new system, and Burning Man will raise money on behalf of artists and pass those funds through to the artists without taking a cut. Maybe Burning Man will take out a blanket liability policy for art at its event, and pay the artists’ share out of ticket revenues.

pigs fly

Unfortunately, their track record suggests otherwise. Burning Man Arts tells us one story on their web site, but the IRS filings of their non-profits from Guidestar paint a very different picture.

Black Rock Arts Foundation Assets Revenue Expenses Profit Grants Efficiency
2012 $560,917 $621,359 $477,525 $143,834 $114,449 18.4%
2011 $588,129 $735,147 $577,706 $157,441 $219,080 29.8%
2010 $392,205 $478,567 $461,961 $16,606 $169,274 35.4%
2009 $364,588 $405,762 $278,003 $127,759 $80,349 19.8%
2008 $237,910 $439,353 $498,831 -$59,478 $105,906 24.1%
2007 $268,433 $532,346 $352,662 $179,684 $116,790 21.9%
Total $560,917 $3,212,534 $2,646,688 $565,846 $805,848 25.1%
Burning Man Project
2012 $368,249 $591,672 $259,925 $331,747 $36,378 6.1%

woman-stacking-money-in-pyramid_webFor an organization whose very foundation principle is Gifting, they don’t appear to be very good at The Art of Giving. They seem quite good at stacking up the cash in their bank account rather than spending it on grants, though.

Believe who you want, Burners. Believe BMOrg, telling you that everything’s wonderful, and that centralizing art grants within the Burning Man Project is going to be good for artists and donors. Or believe us, showing you what 6 years of IRS Form 990 filings say. According to the IRS, BRAF spent $805,848 on grants between 2007-2012 – not $2.5 million.

For donors, this development means that financial gifts to art projects for the Burning Man event in the Black Rock Desert can be tax deductible and opens up a wide range of new opportunities for supporters of the arts

Donations to the Black Rock Arts Foundation were already tax deductible. That’s why we can see the IRS data. So, what gives for the givers? “A wide range of new opportunities”…such as? “Coming soon”.

it’s not technically a merger. Legally speaking, Black Rock Arts Foundation is becoming a subsidiary of Burning Man Project. Operationally, the two organizations are bringing their resources together to create one robust art program that will work on projects both on and off the playa

It’s not technically a merger, it’s technically a takeover. The new program will be run by BMP, who will bank all the money. BRAF board members who recently left are not being replaced.

I wonder if the real reason behind this is that BMP needs to do something “charity like” to maintain their tax-free status. Maybe the bean counters cautioned that sending founders to San Mateo for panel discussions where they took credit for charities they didn’t provide grants to wasn’t quite enough?

BMOrg provided us with a handy FAQ for their announcement. It uses a lot of words to explain that there are no new initiatives, programs, tools, or sources of funding and support for artists, and there are no new opportunities for donors to give. In fact, pretty much nothing’s changed. However, “ideas are being explored for the future”. Clearly a lot of thought has gone into how this merger could help artists and donors.

What are the benefits of doing this?

This change will benefit artists and donors, and will ultimately lead to more art being created and enjoyed by more people around the globe. It breaks down the barrier between art on playa and art in the world, and instead creates one entity that will work in the interest of both. Artists will have more opportunities to receive funding and other forms of support, and donors will have a new range of options for supporting the arts.

What is the timeline for this to take place?

The legal transaction was completed on July 24, 2014. The transition and restructuring of the entities will occur over the coming months and into 2015.

What happens to the BRAF Board?

Many of the BRAF Board members have stepped down and we thank them for their dedication and service building a vibrant, successful arts organization over the past 13 years. A scaled down version of the BRAF Board will continue to exist. We are working with members of the board to engage them in new ways with Burning Man Project and Burning Man Arts.

How will decisions on grants be made?

Burning Man and BRAF grant programs will continue to award grants based on the same criteria as before. While we will create some additional efficiency by merging these programs and sharing tools and other resources, we don’t anticipate making immediate changes to our grant criteria or decision-making bodies.

How are current BRAF programs being affected?

We don’t expect the transition to have any major immediate effect on existing projects, grants or grant applications. They will be completed within the framework of BRAF in collaboration with Burning Man Project.

What new programs are being planned for?

None at this time, but there are some ideas being explored for the future.

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, 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.