The BLM and local cops want more resources to handle a large population.
BMorg says the BLM’s demands would cost $10 million, and lead to “substantial” increases in ticket prices – which are already more than substantial for an event where the punters have to bring all the entertainment and facilities themselves.
The 10-year Permit for the event is at stake. This is needed for the largest event on Federal land to continue.
Among the contested changes suggested by BLM in the draft report, according to the Burning Man website, were:
— Federal oversight over certain parts of Burning Man‘s operations
— 10 miles of either plastic or cement barriers around the perimeter fence
— Dumpsters within the city and along Gate Road for the 80,000 participants
— BLM-approved private security funded by Burning Man who would be screening for weapons and drugs for anyone entering Black Rock City.
One suggestion, labelled as “brazen” in the Burning Man staff statement, was that the group would pay for the maintenance of County Road 34, which takes participants to the entrance…
Further complicating matters is the fact that organizers are seeking a 10-year permit with BLM to continue to hold the event at Black Rock Desert, which has been “home” to Burners for 27 years. The environmental impact statement was done in part to look at the potential outcome if the event grows to hold up to 100,000 people, versus its current attendee numbers of 70,000, or not holding the event at all.
The field manager for the Bureau of Land Management’s Black Rock Field Office said its suggestions are “attempts at trying to solve problems” in comments to the Gazette-Journal, emphasizing that the report is not yet finalized
BMorg’s response is, predictably, to raise ticket prices. No matter that they are able to sell another 30,000 more tickets. At current VIP Price of $1400, that is an extra $42,000,000 revenue per year – plus handling fees, vehicle passes, and all that jazz.
Initial cost estimates for BLM’s recommended stipulations are nearly $10 million per year and would raise ticket prices substantially. Importantly, BLM would benefit financially from these increased expenses through their existing requirements to take a percentage of a permit holder’s gross revenue.
They couldn’t just keep ticket prices the same, and bank the extra $32 mil?
It is great that big corporations like Intel are patrons of the arts. To whom does that patronage flow? Qui bono: who benefits? Burners?
The Smithsonisan exhibit, all the media attention around it, and now immersive HD multimedia experiences are creating a lot of value.
Where is that value going? It is going to the brand. Who owns the brand? A private company. Who are the directors of that company? Well, it does not appear to be who they told us the controllers were when we first exposed the existence of Decommodifcation, LLC.
There’s been a bit of discussion in our recent Rockstar Librarian post by trolls who think if you are going to write about Burning Man on your blog, you should be expected to pay for other peoples’ art projects from your own pocket, and you must never criticize the founders.
All of the founders made millions of dollars from the corporatization of Burning Man, and I don’t begrudge them that. I’ve never criticized them for that. They chose to sell it for the lowest possible value to the Burning Man project, which did have the effect of increasing the size of the tax breaks they all received for donating the Org to the 501(c)3 – an organization controlled by themselves, with public reporting requirements, which never pays tax. That’s just a fact. There’s no need to doxx the founders’ financial situations, this was all information publicly discussed on their web site and in the newspapers at the time.
Did they earn a lot of money previously to that transaction, that they needed a tax break to cover? We may never know, but A Balanced Perspective has provided evidence to support his analysis that the annual salaries suddenly leaped from about 2 million a year in 2009 to about 8 million a year in 2010, where it stayed for a few years before the transition was “complete”. Where did all that money go? The workers? It definitely did not go to the artists.
We exposed in Decommodification, Inc and Clarification of Decommodification that what really went on with Burning Man’s “transition to a non-profit” was not entirely altruistic. Less well publicized was the creation of a private company in 2010 called Decommodifcation, LLC that held all the actual value of Burning Man. There were various statements made by various founders around the time. Here’s what Larry said. First:
I will address two lingering perplexities. It 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. But I cannot guaranty that even this amount of disclosure will satisfy everyone. Even then, I suppose that some will look for skeletons in closets, or search for sliding walls that might conceal a dungeon.
This did not in fact happen. Black Rock LLC’s financial records are still secret. The new organization, The Burning Man Project, is required to disclose their IRS Form 990, which is a publicly available document. They revealed what they are required to by law, and very little more. They arranged a story in Philanthropy magazine that they then pointed to as “proof” that they became more transparent. See 2014 Afterburn Report: The Death of Transparency and A Balanced Perspective’s guest post Unlikely Leader in Transparency.
The public information reveals not so much a dungeon as a giant treasure chest. Enormous amounts of cash that are being kept in the coffers. The financial reports in prior years disclosed more to the community. And the reason they were public in the first place? Because the community makes Burning Man. We The People have a right to know, because our money creates the Org to deal with the cops and the road signs and the lighting of The Man. We want to be sure our money is well spent, and not wasted on international junkets to festivals by the year round staff. The new reporting format does not deliver this, at all. There appears to be absolutely zero oversight of these matters.
As A Balanced Perspective pointed out, in an interview with Scribe in the SF Bay Guardian at the time the transition was first announced in 2011 they mentioned a second payout:
Yet Harvey and the other board members, such as Michael Mikel and Marian Goodell, insist that the board plays an important role in shepherding the event and the culture that has grown up around it, which is why they plan on waiting three years to turn control of the event over to the new nonprofit, the Burning Man Project, and another three years after that until they liquidate their ownership of the name and associated trademarks and are paid for their value.
This certainly suggests a further payout is due, one based on the value of the trademarks (very high) rather than the operating business (quite low). Control of the event was handed over to the non-profit The three years mentioned coincides with the planned dissolution of Decommodification, LLC. Which should be now. I couldn’t find any mention of it at all in the 2017 Annual Report.
Back to Larry:
So let me make one last comment regarding Decommodification LLC, which is viewed by some as a sort of sinister outbuilding that is separate from both the event organization and the Burning Man Project. My fellow founders and I are the sole members of this entity whose chief property is the name “Burning Man”. This too will be transferred to the non-profit in three years time, unless the partners elect “not” to do so by a unanimous vote. This arrangement is designed to force our hand.
The Burning Man event organization has used this trademark power to protect our community’s culture from being exploited. We have done this very diligently over several years (it is a right of ownership that must exercised, or it will perish). Furthermore, we have not relied on licensing this intellectual property as a source of revenue. The reason for this 3-year interval is that even we do not invest blind faith in the new non-profit’s workings, and we want to be perfectly sure that it can be relied upon, in the face of temptations that arise within any organization when dealing with power or money, to pursue the policies that we have practiced.
Larry is saying that unless the partners vote unanimously to stop it, the intellectual property held by Decommodification LLC transfers to the Burning Man Project this year – presumably triggering a large payout. Who are the partners? The story at the time was that this was the “6 Founders” of Burning Man. Who is it today? According to Corporation Wiki, something different.
Without Larry (may he Rest in Peace), that leaves Marian and Harley as managing members, along with Crimson Rose and Director of Finance Doug Robertson who seems to have been engineering this corporate restructure since he joined in 2009. Will they vote to pass all the intellectual property back to the Burning Man Project? Or will they vote to keep it where it is, in a private company with no oversight that owns assets worth (at least) tens of millions of dollars that they completely control? We know that Decommodification LLC earns royalties from the Burning Man Project for the use of the trademarks. As best we can tell, it’s $75,000 per year. How much do museums pay? How much gets earned from documentaries, soundtracks, calendars, and other users of the brand? This information is a closely guarded secret.
We have already seen the legal resources of The Burning Man Project being employed to protect the value of the intellectual property owned by Decommodification, LLC.
Time flies. “It’s already been a few years, what’s a few more”? From the 2014 thread discussing the transition at Burning Man’s site; my opinions have not changed in the past 4 years:
One of the things mentioned at the time of the transition was the concept of a “Dead Man’s Switch”. Danger Ranger was rather proud of having inserted this:
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. 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.)
[Source: Danger Ranger Facebook post, 2014]
Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? “Don’t worry about anything because I programmed it to automatically dissolve”. It is easy for these people to say things, but you have to use logic, not just listen to the words. Organizations that deal in the truth don’t employ Ministers of Propaganda. From the Bylaws of the Burning Man Project:
The clause above says “nobody can make any money off Burning Man”, which is the argument One Who Doesn’t Know This Dude has been making. But…there’s a but. It also says “except the Founders”.
Here’s what Larry said at the BJ:
The truth is that the Burning Man Project now employs all but one of the former owners of Black Rock City LLC.
This means we have surrendered all rights of ownership.
But that wasn’t the truth. The truth is they didn’t surrender all rights of ownership. It’s there in black and white in the bylaws.
If the “sole purpose” of Decommodification LLC was to dissolve itself once the transition to a non-profit was complete, there would be no reason for this exception clause to be in the bylaws that constitute the organization. It could be covered as part of the sale agreement, or the contract that the “three year dissolution” clause is in (if that is a different document). Instead, it appears that it was extremely important for the founders to put that in the bylaws. Their right to profit from the IP cannot be taken away, ever. I can’t find any mention in the bylaws of this Dead Man’s Switch, which is strange because the bylaws describe many other situations that require unanimous consent of the directors.
Likewise, if Decommodification LLC is designed to self-destruct as soon as the org has adjusted to being a non-profit, why did they amend the ticket terms and conditions with this?
Here’s what the Org said in their 2013 Afterburn Report
More than 4 years later, and the true value of Burning Man is still in a private company, not the non-profit. So how can the “transition to a non-profit” be complete?
IP = Intellectual Property = Intangible Assets. It is the brand of Burning Man that lets them charge $1200 a ticket to create Black Rock City. It is the brand that sells out the Smithsonian with lines around the block. And it is the brand that does a licensing deal with Intel and Second Life.
This exhibit is just the start. They can take that on the road, and with so much Burner art sitting in warehouses, they can curate multiple exhibits. When a museum hosts a Burning Man exhibit, is that gifted? If Intel makes promotional videos about virtual reality there, is that gifted? Do these corporations make a donation to the Burning Man Project? Or do they pay a royalty to Decommodification, LLC? Or both?
This feels like a new chapter in Burning Man’s history for multiple reasons. The fact that traditional arts and culture institutions are interested in curating Burning Man exhibitions is remarkable, but it’s important to note that these institutions came to us seeking a collaboration because they recognize Burning Man as an important arts and cultural movement (something we’ve all known for a long time). Not only are the work and stories produced by our culture seen as legitimate, they’re relevant, perhaps even necessary.
And it’s a healthy creative challenge to figure out how best to create a Burning Man experience for museum goers and participants outside of the great “tabula rasa” in the desert, while protecting and celebrating the things that make Burning Man so decidedly special and different. It has always been interesting to ask what the outside world finds meaningful about Burning Man, but given this new level of interest, there’s a new, more interesting question: What is it about this moment in history that makes Burning Man so relevant?
I hope that Larry’s vision as he originally explained it is realized, but that hasn’t happened yet. Instead it seems like the Burning Man experience is being packaged up for consumers in museums. Commodified.
If the year-round philosophy center at Fly Ranch gets built as it has been described to us for many years, awesome. If the road gets upgraded and local community concerns get addressed, awesome. If we can deal with the trash and environmental damage of 100,000 people, awesome. If everything owned by “Decommodification LLC” gets handed back from that private and secretive company to the registered non-profit, as was promised for 2018, awesome.
Until we see those things, the idea that “everything will be awesome!” is a LEGO kids movie. You have to consider the track record here. My opinions are formed carefully and backed with supporting evidence. Many of them have already proven true over the years. As for the ones above, I am hoping for “awesome”. Even after everything we have seen and discovered since my involvement began in the 90’s, I still hold out hope. Because Black Rock City is built by THE PEOPLE, not the fucking Org. It is the amazing artists who should be sharing in the spoils, not living year-round on the poverty line in dangerous fire trap warehouses, committing suicide in despair, etc. while a select few reap the rewards and the glory.
Larry Harvey said many times “Burning Man is a model for the future of civilization”. Synarchy is the wrong model.
Unless you were somewhere totally isolated like a private cay 40 miles south of Miami, you couldn’t have missed the deliciously schadenfreude-laden miasma of coverage and commentary surrounding #fyrefestival. This fuck up eclipsed the Pepsi, United, Nivea and all other corporate scandals this year so far by several orders of magnitude. The feed of one Seth Crossno, live-tweeting as William N. Finley IV gave us a window into what happened at the hastily organized pet project of Ja Rule & Billy McFarland. If the name Ja Rule is unfamiliar, please review this clip of him losing a drag race at the beginning of Fast & the Furious 1.
If the name Billy McFarland sounds familiar, I’m sorry you were tricked into joining Magnises, the network for rich posers. Get this, he thought he could fund & produce a destination festival because his last venture was this company that promised members could “unlock their cities and take their lives to the next level.” However, members repeatedly complained that they’d be contacted last minute to be notified that their tickets were not available. That’s right, to quote the Business Insider report directly:
Each time, just before the show (often the day before the event or even the day of) a representative for Magnises would send an email explaining that the startup would no longer be able to provide the purchased ticket and offer to help reschedule the seat for another date.
“They send the same email for every problem, but it’s like fill-in-the-blanks for what the problem is,” the person said.
~Business Insider, 1/24/17
So, Fyre leadership includes a rapper who was an also-ran in 2001 and a guy who pump faked trust fund kids, conning them into joining a fake influencer network. In the grand scheme of things, this is in no way the worst group of people to put together a music festival, but here’s the thing. McFarland has a history of grift and shenanigans, documented wonderfully in a timeline over at EDMSauce. But from a logistics perspective, neither Ja Rule or McFarland would be the ones actually “throwing” shit. Production companies have an army of leads, venue scouts, technical directors, sound people, lighting people, talent people, in addition to the entire hospitality/guest services battalion who are needed to be people people, for the attendees. While many mega-festivals like Coachella or Ultra or Burning Man are colossal endeavors, they’re not unknown quantities.
Festivals aren’t “big risks” for the people who keep their lights on by throwing these things. They are “deeply calculated” ventures with multi-year profitability timelines and insane amounts of market research. Ask any regional Burning Man coordinator. They’ve got a pretty good idea how many tickets they’ll sell, as does a seasoned EDM promoter or talent buyer at a venue. The costs associated with destination festivals are well known, given that there are a dozen successful ones thrown there every year. Holy Ship, Mad Decent and a number of other brands have done pretty well keeping profits ahead of costs when it comes to festivals on cruise ships and despite this year’s black swan event during BPM, Mexico hosts hundreds of thousands of party tourists every year. But, to hear McFarland tell it, they just started a website and marketing campaign before anything else:
We started this website and launched this festival marketing campaign. Our festival became a real thing and took [on] a life of its own. Our next step was to book the talent and actually make the music festival. We went out excited, and that’s when a lot of reality and roadblocks hit…. ~Rolling Stone, 4/28/17
To hear these people talk about the massive challenge it was to do site scouting, some napkin math on flights/carrying capacity of the space, labor costs, and the tiniest bit of logistics analysis burned even more deeply when a “notebook” surfaced with planning notes. If they didn’t find it, I’d say they made it up, and even now, I’m still struggling to believe it’s not satire.
The allergic reaction to work that anyone associated with this festival has, speaks to how a lot of people think parties happen: You get a lot of attractive people in a place that has bass and beer and you’re good to go. McFarland continues:
The morning of the festival, a bad storm came in and took down half of our tents and busted water pipes. Guests started to arrive and the most basic function we take for granted in the U.S., we realized, “Wow, we can’t do this.” We were on a rush job to fix everything and guests were arriving and that caused check-in to be delayed. We were overwhelmed and just didn’t have the foresight to solve all these problems. ~Rolling Stone, 4/28/17
So, to sum up, McFarland didn’t check that the site had access to water, power or adequate plumbing for sewage (it didn’t), didn’t check to confirm that his site wasn’t being used for another event that weekend that had been taking place in that location on that date every year for 60 years (it did, the George Town Regatta), and didn’t produce any inclement weather, disaster or hazardous situation plans in case of emergencies. Oh, and they told the important people not to show up when it looked like they didn’t have it under control. Does this sound like the mud-laden disaster of TomorrowWorld 2015? If it doesn’t, it should. These failures have one thing in common: a belief that money and BEAST MODE can replace experience, well paid teams that know what they’re doing and days/weeks on the ground ensuring you’re prepared for every possible problem.
One of the secrets that you learn when you start working with people to throw parties is that the people who do it, especially at the street or community level, do it because they hate bad parties more than most. Sure there’s this idea that if you throw dank parties you’ll be rich, but that’s something you’re disabused of almost immediately. Venue costs, fickle talent, licensing, law enforcement, dude bros, bath salts, and a thousand other things put a damper on any kind of rags-to-riches success story very quickly. Events, underground or retail, may not be brain surgery or translating Middle Egyptian, but they aren’t something you can just throw money at like an app or a promising pop/rap/edm star. And reality reminded us of that on Friday.
This debacle has progressed to the “class action lawsuit & apology tour” segment of any really bad consumer-facing failure, with public statements in Rolling Stone by McFarland and an amazing non-apology apology from Ja Rule (after he was found). The eye-watering $100,000,000 lawsuit announced Monday is going to attempt to teach the pair a very expensive lesson. Honestly, didn’t have to be this way. The people I know who’ve managed throw profitable community-driven parties (especially ones that aren’t 100% licensed and legit) for years are some of the most skilled business people I know. And they’d throw a hilariously good party with even a drop of the capital Ja Rule & DudeBroMcFarland had access to.
By the time the smoke clears on this public lesson in production, how many millions of dollars will have been frittered away to not have a party? How much money was spent compensating Instagram “influencers” instead of DIY artists? How many video cuts of trailers and fantasy play were created instead of paying seasoned producers to create something truly great, not just for the elite, but for anyone who was willing to behave? Way better destination events have been thrown this year, with more than one jokester on Twitter saying they wish they’d gone to BPM. Which gets to the heart of why this commodified pratfall was so viscerally enjoyable to so many people you know.
These events, especially before the bro-ification of EDM, used to be safe spaces, away from the over-produced, airbrushed universe of Instagram & “Fuck Me I’m Famous.” The parties and festivals we all hold dear in our hearts were our refuge away from the exact people who are now throwing these events and bringing in their racist, elitist, “Commodification Rocks!” friends. This is the central reasons why the response was so visceral from so many people who do theater, fine art, marketing, events, music, live performance or any industry lateral to those sectors. We’ve mourned the money changers swarming our temples for over a decade now, and we’ve been able to do nothing to fight back. So when some fresh-faced kid and a washed-up rapper decide they can do what we do, only better, and then fail so hard it becomes the #1 trending topic worldwide on Twitter and earns coverage from the New York Times and every other major, they can’t help but smile. Not because they like to see people fail, but because many of them made similar mistakes, albeit on a much smaller scale. Even more of them have tried to work with Triple-AAA talent over the years, only to be told they charge too much, are too “focused on rules,” are too indie, alternative or not-corporate friendly enough. Any pro worth their salt has touched events that are recognized the world over, and they can see bad ideas from a mile away. NYMag had a great write-up by one of these people.
Maybe now the festival circuit will remember that you can’t jerk skilled tradespeople around, you should make sure your disaster plans are in place, and when the old Union guy says the thing isn’t safe, maybe listen to him. Hopefully we can all spend a little bit of money on parties & festivals that practice this stuff, and let Further Fyre Festivals collapse under the weight of their arrogance and commodification. And now, I leave you with a bunch of Fyre Festival memes, because that was a long article and you’re a champ for sticking it out.