Burning Man 2017 Financial Analysis, Decommodification and Flysalen [UPDATE]

Every year we bring you a look at Burning Man’s financial performance.

This year we’re also going to take a deeper look at their major assets Fly Ranch and Decommodification, LLC.

Burners.Me Previous Financial Coverage: 2012201320142015, 2016

2017 Burning Man IRS Form 990

2017 Burning Man Annual Report

Some highlights:

  • Revenue from Burning Man event $42.8 million, up over $5 million from 2016
  • Annual Surplus (Revenue less Expenses): $3,733,876
  • Donations received almost $1 million
  • salaries (including contractors) increased $2.1 million
  • Cash and receivables: $11.75 million, up from $9.5 million in 2016
  • Total assets: $27.8 million

Sales of inventory was $1,605,516. That’s a lot of ice and coffee. Ice cost $596,177.

Medical expenses were $649,000.

Their stock donation program seems to be working, with a donation of $26,517 in marketable securities.

Most of the key personnel got pay rises in 2017, though some went down:

Overall payroll including contractors is $18,703,754 = 42% of revenues.

Grants as a % of revenues = 3.8% . Note this includes the cost of building The Man, the base structure, and partial funding of Playa art projects including the Temple.

The list of grant recipients contains many familiar names.

Burners Without Borders made 4 grants, totalling $4,900. [* this is for grants outside the US and has been disputed by BWB director Breedlove. See comments. I have asked him to provide the correct information, I will add it to the post – Ed.]

The annual Artumnal gathering took in $629,404 in 2017. About $100,000 of this went to pay for the use of the facility:

2017 Fundraising Event

This is a substantial increase on 2016:

2016 Fundraising Event

Commentary

A huge thank you to A Balanced Perspective, DS and Anonymous Burner for their contributions and thoughts.

  • Artists receive less than 2% of the budget (approx $800,000)
  • Regionals receive about 4% of the budget ($1,717,766)
  • About 9% of the budget gets piled up in the bank account as cash.

Anonymous Burner says:

The art funding is constantly presented as a central tenant of the event, but is actually getting funded like an afterthought.  Artists are the face and the creativity of the core of the event, but have to carry their art on their own backs while others claim credit for making things so great for them

What does an organization trying to “make the world a better place” through art need with so much cash, into the tens of millions of dollars? Why do they spend such a tiny amount of the money given to them by Burners every year on art? Why do the ticket revenues increase 10% a year but the art budget seems to keep proportionally shrinking?

How can they justify spending $1 million a year on insurance without providing insurance for the 10,000 or so workers on site building the city, art installations and camps? Would it really kill their vision to make $3.5 million a year instead of $3.9 million, and look after their workers better?

Why does the main “charitable” organization have to spend more on the Regional Events than they give out on grants? It’s about double the art budget. Is the purpose of Burning Man to spread Burner culture around the world through art, or is it to expand their inefficient bureaucracy? Can’t the Regional events support themselves?


Population Summary (note: includes 2018)

The number of paid participants according to calculations in the Pershing County Sheriff’s Office report was 69,493.

I filed a FOIA request to get the 2017 vendor list: 84 companies selling things other than ice and coffee.

DS has also been filing FOIA requests for information about Burning Man. He was able to get this heavily redacted information for 2017, the calculations used to pay the Bureau of Land Management’s 3% fee.

Why the need for such secrecy?

The bulk of the $4,349,723 in Permits, Taxes and Fees appears to be the 9% Nevada Live Entertainment Tax. [* see comments – Ed.]


Decommodification

One of the interesting things in the 990 is the listing of “related entities”. It includes Decommodification LLC, but the share of end of year assets is $0.

Decommodification LLC is the organization that was created at the same time as the non-profit Burning Man Project, to hold all the intellectual property. As far as we can tell, it gets paid $75,000 per year in royalties from the Burning Man Project for use of their trademarks. We have no information on what other royalties it earns, for example from sales of the documentary “Spark” or the “lines around the block” Smithsonian exhibit. Google recently commissioned Burning Man to design a $2 million art installation for their campus: where does this money go? Five lucky artists will get a share, most likely the “big names” who appear in the grants list on a regular basis. Is there a royalty component to deals like this?

Decommodification LLC made two filings to the California Secretary of State on January 16, 2019. One was that “nothing has changed”, and another one requested that the company registration be canceled. It seems strange to me to file “no change” and “cancellation” notices on the same date, if anyone has knowledge of how this process works please leave a comment.

The current state of the company shows “cancelled” at the S.O.S. web site.

According to the US Patent and Trademark Office, the trademarks were transferred from Decommodification LLC back to the Burning Man Project on 28 April 2018 – the day Larry Harvey passed away.

The “nunc pro tunc” is a retroactive assignment to correct an earlier ruling. Was this something to do with Larry’s estate?

What happened to the rest of the intellectual property, including the rights to future royalty streams?

Were the trademarks assigned back to the Burning Man Project for free, Decommodification LLC dissolved, and the accumulated cash of 6-7 years of royalties distributed to the members? Or was some of that $12 million cash hoard used to purchase them?

These transactions occurred in 2018, so perhaps will get covered in next year’s IRS Form 990. There is no mention of them on the Burning Man web site, despite this being perhaps the most significant thing BMorg have done since spinning off their non-profit in 2012. BMorg like to claim they’re a “leader in radical transparency”, but Decommodification Inc has always been a mysterious black box.

The 2017 Form 990 values the Burning Man Project’s intangible assets at $4.23 million, but this was before the trademark transfer. This amount first appeared on the books in 2014. We believe it represents goodwill on the acquisition of Black Rock City, LLC from the Founders.

For a good read related to Intellectual Property and Burning Man, see Culture, Capital and Copycats in a Globalizing Burnerverse by Ian Rowen, which was the keynote address at the 2018 Australia and New Zealand Burner Leadership Summit.

The “Burner Look” is not trademarked, so anyone can put an art car in a desert and appropriate our culture for “cool factor” and financial gain

Flysalen

In 2016 BMorg bought a 3800 acre parcel of land known as “Fly Ranch” with big donations and paid $6.5 million. This is why the 2016 donations were more than $8 million.

Around 42:30 in the above video, they start talking about “community ownership of land”. The communist social justice component of this vision is that “living off the land is a version of Universal Basic Income”.

Five minutes into the video, they reveal that the land has been sub-divided into 53 different parcels.

Who gets a permanent Burning Man lot? Presumably the 6 5 Founders and the millionaires who put up the $6.5 million. Will the rest be auctioned off to the highest bidder, or handed out to the most favored staff, artists, and camps? I’m tipping Dancetronauts are not on the short list.

This reminds me of an earlier post, Get Your Timeshare Slot in the Sultan. There, I postulated that the “ironic timeshare sales” brochures being handed out from a booth at the Man base was actually Burning Man’s way of bringing that in as a future reality.

The Occidental Oasis “ironic” timeshare sale was going on at the same time as very real hotel sales on Billionaire’s Row

The same thing happened with hotels, where BMorg director Chris Weitz opened an “ironic hotel” at Ashram Galactica, which paved the way for the proliferation of luxury Plug-N-Play hotel camps today.

Petit Ermitage, a boutique hotel in West Hollywood, were still advertising the pop-up Burning Man hotel they created with Cirque Gitane long after the event
People now pay up to $20,000 for hotel rooms at Burning Man with flushing porcelain toilets
Photo: Lost Hotel/Facebook

Fly Vision

Some information about the original intention for Fly Ranch is available thanks to the Wayback Machine

You can see from the plan above that the property is adjacent to another playa. Hualapai Flat is land administered by the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management.

Image: americansouthwest.net

The Bureau of Land Management is planning to dispose of some of its lands.

Source: BLM Winnemucca District Program Overview 2017, Page 7

From the January 2018 report, it looks like this deal is close to being done:

Source: BLM Winnemucca District Program Overview 2018, Page 6

Who else would want empty desert playa?


The original vision for the Fly Ranch site was a sustainable community of one acre lots for employees and affiliates, with its own airstrip. This plan talks about 9 parcels of 5 acres, each with their own access roads; and 73 parcels of 1 acre each.

Village and Residential sites

The two communities are based on Burning Man’s Ten Principles, and this will be it’s first year-round expression. Employees and affiliates may build on a ‘Homestead’ basis, or rent or buy into the Village community at the project’s north end. For others, one acre lots may be bought for home construction in the project’s central development (and separate H.O.A). These areas will be allowed to grow incrementally, with roads and utilities phased as required. Geo- thermal electricity will serve all the lighting and cooling needs of residents (and possibly the valley’s ranchers as well), and hot water will provide all heating.

Organic vegetable farming will be developed as an economic base for the village community. Geo-thermally heated greenhouse organic farming will be operated for local needs, and for transport and sale. This can supply Reno with organic vegetables throughout the year, while creating a wholly independent economy for the community.

Source: willroger.org, via Wayback Machine

Land Conservancy

Even with limited use, the grassy banks of the vernal pools are being sloughed in by bathers, the pools gradually churned into shallow mud holes. Bathers also leave tanning lotions, insect repellants, and
other contaminants behind to ill effect. The pond waters contain a species of pupfish which are isolated by the underground source and terminal outflow.

A nature preserve requires control and enforcement, accordingly this area must be properly fenced to admit access only to indigenous animals, but excluding horses or cattle which trample wetlands. Human access must be highly regulated, with trespass, hunting and public use of existing pools and hot springs banned.

Anticipating the utter destruction of too much love, together with the projected costs of controlling and insuring against increasing liability, it is suggested that a Land Conservancy that is affiliated with Burning Man be created to manage the Geyser and wetland area.

Source: willroger.org, via Wayback Machine

Restaurant, Lodge and Conference Center

Fly Lodge and Conference Center

This will epitomize the style of Fly Ranch, and become a beacon for the greater community. A restaurant, rooms and services will be available. Fly Lodge will be available for public and corporate use, while also serving as World Headquarters for Burning Man’s Regional organizations around the globe.

Source: willroger.org, via Wayback Machine

Burning Man Board Member Chip Conley’s experience with luxury boutique hotels and AirBNB would come in handy for a plan like this.


How Much For That Oasis In The Desert?

Burning Man’s balance sheet shows land, buildings and equipment of $11.9 million; net of depreciation, $9.9 million. Schedule D, Part VI lists the value of land as $7,233,545 and buildings at $979,870. In 2015, before the Fly Ranch purchase, land was $198,000 and buildings $979,780.

According to Nevada property records, Fly Ranch only cost about $2.6M. The Washoe sales records record two transactions for $2.377M and $0.240M. The water rights came under two different transactions and appear to not have specific value attached to them. The water rights transactions gave the prior owner only about 64 acre feet of water for livestock.

There were four transactions in 2016:

1)      sale of 3,381 acres that was the majority of FR,

2)      another 276 acres that was part of the FR with the geyser

These sold the mineral rights but not the water but referred to other linked sales of water rights.

3) transfer of water rights with a carve out for the prior owner for item 1).

4) transfer of water rights with a carve out for the prior owner for item 2).

Water rights in California and Nevada are fresh on my mind after all the research I did for my last podcast episode, CryptoBeast #17 – Fire, Water, Trains, Space Lasers: California Burning. It’s an arcane subject, but if you’re interested there’s a good overview here: History of Water Rights in Nevada and the Western States. This particular statement seems to be key:

Surface water rights initiated by applying water to beneficial use prior to March 1, 1905, and which have been perpetuated or continuously used through the years are known as vested water rights

The main water rights for the hot springs, Cottonwood Creek and Little Cottonwood Creek are the rare and highly coveted “vested water rights”, granted before 1905.

My source tells me that the Burning Man event draws 12 million gallons of water per year from this property (27 acre feet).


Setting Boundaries

We recently published discussion from the Washoe County Commissioner’s meeting about the possibility of redrawing district boundaries so that Burning Man would be part of Washoe County (which gets the economic benefits from event-related tourism) instead of Pershing County (which gets a massive spike in crime rates with no economic benefits).

Fly Ranch is next to Hualapai Flat. Burning Man was held at this location once, in 1997. Hualapai Flat is where Pershing, Washoe, and Humboldt Counties meet. Fly Geyser is in Washoe County.

Is the proposed Washoe Boundary move related to long-standing plans to purchase Hualapai Flat? Is BMorg sitting on $4 million from the Fly Ranch donations to acquire this land?

I guess time will tell.


[Update Feb 7, 2019 2:11pm]

The plot thickens, with this post saying that Burning Man was under contract to purchase Fly Ranch in 2009, and real estate developer Build SF helped organize their corporate restructuring to provide “personal financial security” for the 6 Burning Man founders.

In 2009, the BUILD partners were introduced to Larry Harvey and his partners at the Burning Man Organization. Burning Man was in contract to acquire a 4,000-acre ranch in the Nevada desert on which they planned to move the annual Burning Man event as well as develop a desert art center. 

BUILD facilitated a transaction that allowed Burning Man to adjust its corporate structure, manage tax requirements, protect trademarks, establish a permanent office, and provide personal financial security for the six Burning Man partners. Real estate provided an elegant solution for these complex, multi-dimensional challenges, while preserving and honoring the basic precepts of Burning Man. We are proud of the part we played as advisors to Burning Man in establishing a clear path and solid foundation for everyone’s long-term benefit, including the event itself.

I have another trusted source who drew the “intellectual property in a separate company” structure on a napkin for CEO Maid Marian. I will ask their opinion on this.

[Update Feb 13. 2019 4:06pm]

Breedlove head of BWB has updated us with some more detail:

It’s interesting to see the difference between Part III 4c & Schedule F Part 1. I don’t quite understand how they split the difference between those two sections.

What I can provide you with is that we gave 4 grants through our Civic Ignition Process coming out at 4,900$ and 21 grants through our Annual Community Micro-Grant Program coming out at 18,800$. Between the two programs that totaled $23,700.
(https://www.burnerswithoutborders.org/projects/bwb-community-grant-winners-2017)

We also provided grants for Hurricane Harvey Disaster Relief at $21,317.12

There was also a series of Fiscal Sponsor funds that were raised and given out. One of those being the $30,363 for the Camp Epic Santa Rosa Fire Relief (which is in one of your screenshots above)— but I don’t have the ability to pull up all those numbers at this time.

I’m also realizing while going through my data that it isn’t the easiest to find some of this stuff unless you know where to look. So taking a note on improving our reporting systems for the future– I appreciate the opportunity to look at how we can do better at reporting in a more transparent and better to find way.

Video

Fly Ranch, Black Rock Labs and the Energy Fellow

She’s gathering data, coming up with a structure and framework that can be used in making decisions.

This can be an incubator for sustainable solutions that can be deployed around the world.

Translation: “we gave them $7 million and all we got was this corporate video”. #YMMV

 

Org Envisions The Future With “Visioning Teams”

Popular art installation The Pier is now at Fly Ranch.
Image: Friends of the Black Rock Desert

Has Burning Man become rudderless without the leadership of founder Larry Harvey, who passed away earlier this year? Now that they have a $45 million budget, and a permanent year-round site gifted to them to the tune of about $7 million, are they finally able to…DO something?

Well…YMMV. Perhaps in this Brave New World of Millenials, the better part of a year spent Ideating qualifies as something profound and meaningful, an enormous and courageous action communally performed by all who participate.

The lead post up at the BJ calls for “ideas” from the community to be added to the ideas that they come up with themselves after months of elite visioning, perhaps at Esalen or Flysalen, using the powers of Holacracy and Timothy Leary

[Source]

A group specifically charged with coming up with a vision! How exciting.

Meanwhile in the comment section, Burners be like: close the airport. Stop selling out our culture. Charge camps for prime placement instead of allocating it through favoritism. Focus on ways to reduce the environmental footprint and waste generated. Stop making it hard for true Burners to participate while encouraging an influx of sparkle pony tourists. Don’t make us wait in line. Make it easier to get tickets.

Sadly, the same things I’ve been hearing – and saying – for many years. BMorg is BMorg, we’ll see what happens…#ComingSoon.

They expect to spend at least a year on this intensive “visioning” process. Partying it up in the solar-powered Russian steam baths at Fly Ranch is no doubt on the agenda.

Burners can donate cool stuff to the ranch like Russian steam baths and solar arrays. Image: burningman.org

Sign up for a workshop, get naked and tell us all your ideas! Even if you can’t make it to Flysalen, Burners anywhere are invited to spend their time contributing to the visioning.

Here’s how to participate:

Fill out this survey. It will take around 30 minutes to complete. We’ll ask you about city planning, camp size and culture, money and decommodification within camps, and more. If you’ve ever lived in Black Rock City, please fill out the survey. The survey deadline is Thursday November 8 at 11:59 pm PST.

Participate in a community conversation in your area. We’ve partnered with camps and regional communities all over the world to host deeper discussions around these topics and to share notes with the visioning group as qualitative data. These are all happening now until the end of November! Check out the listings by location and thank you to everyone hosting!

Host a community conversation. You can organize your own conversation, using a kit we’ve created that includes suggested discussion format, facilitator tips & tricks, questions to ask, and how to submit the input and feedback to the visioning group. Email us at brcculturaldirectionsetting@burningman.org to request the kit. Schedule a date, time, and location (in person or virtual) and, if you’d like, we’ll add it to the listing above so others can join you. You can also host a conversation with just your camp.

Join the Facebook group. Post the notes from your community conversation in this public Facebook group so others can see all the threads as they develop. Post your individual thoughts after taking the survey in the group or as a comment on this Burning Man Journal post.

Share the survey. Share this post and the survey link widely with your fellow Burners, campmates, and friends. We want to hear from folks who are already tuned in (like you reading this) and from folks who are less tuned in, or perhaps haven’t been to Black Rock City in a while.

Stay tuned. We have some ideas for future virtual engagement, and participation opportunities at events like the 2019 Theme Camp Symposium.

This is community-wide engagement. That means this vision won’t reflect any one individual’s feedback. The visioning group will analyze the input gathered, keep you informed, and provide feedback on how our community’s input influences the eventual vision of this project. This visioning group will meet regularly through spring 2019, and we’re excited to see how this effort evolves.

With the 10 Principles in mind and our best intentions as heart, we’re confident we can set a clear path for Black Rock City’s future.

[Source]

Of course there’s a survey. Detailed profiling of all participants is a big part of Burning Man’s raison d’etre. You may want to make sure your VPN is turned on before you check it out.

I have highlighted some of the comments in response to the original post. I put JV’s first because he’s a regular here, and as in most cases I agree with him. Read them all for yourself here

 

Here’s an idea for you, BMorg. Throw Full Moon parties at Fly Ranch. Invite specific camps to come to each one, encourage mixing between the camps on a smaller scale than Black Rock City. Everyone gets to know each other like in the good old days (or Juplaya). Ask each camp to leave a permanent art contribution to the ranch. Offer art car storage with mechanical/electronic/paint services. Get all the art cars there, art cars bring crews who can bring crowds – or not, depending on what is needed to advance the cause. After a couple of years, you will have a enough energy there for a year-round community to thrive. Sell tickets to everyone to fund it. I mean, not that nature walks aren’t swell, but you can still offer that. We’re Burners, we don’t go all the way out there just for nature walks. Party in the hot springs? Now you’re talking…

Here’s a bonus one: spend some of that massive cash surplus you’re sitting on to purchase some trash compactors. We need to have recycling and waste management on the site, it’s not fair to the local community or environment that they should pay the price for Burner waste.

 

Bear’s Tribute to Larry

Burning Man’s former Social Alchemist Bear Kittay shares his memories of Larry Harvey, as well as some insight into how Larry’s crowning achievement of a permanent, year-round Philosophy Center came together.


Guest Post by Bear Kittay

“Burning Man’s a self-service cult, you wash your own brain.” -Larry Harvey
Larry Harvey. Visionary, poet, iconoclast, beat, muse, my friend. We had our glorious ups, and some terrific and intense downs together. Spirited debate and philosophical sparring. As Global Ambassador, I had the privilege of accompanying Larry to the likes of Turkey, Ibiza, London, Paris and beyond. Our connection was potent, originating with transgenerational juxtaposition of the significance of Burning Man as a cultural phenomenon through the lens of ancient history, culture, commerce and technology.
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Larry’s enigmatic approach definitively set the trajectory for Burning Man as a movement, with genius foresight, protecting the “anti-brand” at all costs, both stewarding this as the gold standard of what I like to call “post-capitalistic social physics” in it’s ephemeral event, and, much to my millennial chagrin at moments, arguably diminishing its capacity to collectively evolve into a true movement beyond himself as the “anti-cult” leader. This is not to say that he didn’t possibly have the most genius plan for scale of all: to restrict the organizational capacity and thus force function the diaspora to scale independently, powered by the remarkably relevant Ten Principles, as it most certainly has. But possibly nowhere on earth is there a community with more capacity and demand to govern itself with decentralized ageny in earnest than Burning Man.
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Larry didn’t have a formal succession plan. To his, and the other “founders” credit, they sacrificed financial gain for the protection of decommodification in earnest by giving up their ownership in the LLC to the nonprofit. But, from my personal experience, true evolutionary governance for Burning Man during his reign was not something that interested him. In a lesser known act, he and the “founders” retained control of the Intellectual Property of Burning Man in an entity most ironically named “Decommodification LLC”, and kept this governed independently of the Burning Man Project non-profit and it’s wider Board of Directors.
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I haven’t spoken or written publicly about my experience co-leading the acquisition of Fly Ranch. It really should be a book. Thrilling emotional saga to say the least. So much complexity – a true miracle that we were able to pull it off despite so many obstacles (notwithstanding ourselves). It was Larry‘s last unrealized prophecy for Burning Man. Three attempts, over 15+ years, had been made to acquire the property but none successful. It was this challenge that turned me on and my beloved Katiyana and I, along with a devoted team (Daniel Claussen, James Milner & countless others), dedicated two years of our lives to fulfilling this dream. It was with a great deal of hubris, naïveté and unbridled passion that we gave this our all, leveraging introductions to weave directly to the very titans of industry within the community who had the capacity to write the extremely unconventional types of checks necessary to both fund the enormity of the project and the patience and care to tolerate the unwillingness to plan what would happen there or commit to how it would be governed, not to mention the eccentric personalities and bizarre bureaucracy.
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And how we did the “sales”… was a legend of its on accord. During Burning Man in 2014, and 2015, Katiyana led the “top-secret operation” where we organized discrete “tours” of Fly Ranch during the event. Some of these were more structured via first camp, while others were nothing short of rouge playful kidnapping raids on billionaires through the back gate of Black Rock City (known as Point One) and back for dinner. Naked, singing, visionary, shamanic, philosophical, sexy… many forms of magic occurred. But these relationships and moments together transcended time and space, and laid the foundation for the leap of faith required to close the transaction at long last, as well as an “unofficial” ecosystem beyond.
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And it was in the 11th hour as the funding and acquisition became a reality that I had my moment with Larry, pleading with him to, for the sake of his legacy, commit to more inclusive process and governance design that would demonstrate Fly Ranch as a V2 for Burning Man. A laboratory to prototype the future of human civilization and bring the processes, best practices and of course, magic of Burning Man to the world at large. We didn’t see eye to eye, but continued to have respect for each other even going through the predictable (to most but not me at the time) break up that followed. When we finally closed the transaction on my 31st birthday, June 6 2016, it was clear my 4 year stint of time serving in the Burning Man Global Government-Aristocracy-Church-Nonprofit was up. Bittersweet breakup. Ego death. Life lessons that money could never buy.
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My last conversation with Larry, I bumped into him outside of his apartment on Alamo Square in San Francisco. We spent two hours in a passionate conversation (with the typical plumes of Larry smoke) where I explained to him all that I had been learning about the Blockchain and its capacity to provide a grand template for evolutionary governance. He was skeptically intrigued. I left feeling a deep sense of reverent satisfaction and walked across the park…
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And now Larry’s gone. A transition in a time of transition. What will the future hold for Burning Man? Has the movement evolved beyond the event? Are the many connotations of Burning Man now amassed in a lexicon of terms and verbs more broadly such that the burden of post-capitalist / decentralized leadership is no longer on the organization to steward?
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The longer that has gone by since we parted ways, the more wisdom I realize was gleamed from him. In a world of binary, quantifiable, branded paradigms, Larry was an artist of the coyote: diagonal, sarcastic, socratic. He wouldn’t give you direct answers, he would ask vexing and whimsical questions. He wouldn’t tell you what it was, he would only ruminate upon it’s reflections. Thank you Larry Harvey. Your irreverent genius will always accompany me somewhere deep in my conscience. Although you claimed to be an atheist, I do wonder if you are consciously prancing somewhere in another realm far beyond… I hope to see you there.
🐻❤🙏🙏🙏
-Bear

What Ever Happened To Flysalen?

Last year, BMorg announced with their usual great fanfare that they had raised $6.5 million from wealthy private donors, some of them anonymous, to purchase Fly Ranch.

A Permanent Autonomous Zone. Or, rather, a Semi-Permanent Autonomous Zone: SPAZ.

What were they going to do with the SPAZ? They didn’t know, but they were going to consult Burners.

Our process will require a balance of playfulness and seriousness, planning and spontaneity, group work and individual contributions. As you may notice, every time we learn something, it usually leads to several more questions. While we discuss our values as part of a long-term vision and project, our current planning is focused on the short term. Many of our goals are things we hope to achieve in the next 12 months. We need to focus on gathering and sharing valuable information and developing the tools to support a long term planning dialogue. Once we have reached that point, and are equipped with the tools we need, then we can begin a conversation about what Fly Ranch will become.

A quick summary of what we’re hoping to accomplish within this 12-month timeline, roughly in this order:

  • Spend time on the land and in Gerlach and Empire, surveying the environment.
  • Establish security plan and protocols for the property to dissuade trespassing.
  • Begin small nature walks in partnership with Friends of Black Rock High Rock.
  • Develop ‘Town Hall Kit’ for community leader hosted conversations and feedback sessions.
  • Engage with the community online, on calls, in person, and in Black Rock City.
  • Write a series of posts detailing our planning and ask for feedback.
  • Develop project management software, community engagement tools, and interactive maps.
  • Establish a Fly Ranch mission statement and concrete operational goals for 2018-2019.

[Source]

Well, it’s been 14 months now of playfulness and spontaneity. How much of this has materialized?

Series of posts:

We Bought Fly Ranch June 10 2016

What’s In A Gift – The Making of Fly Ranch July 21 2016

Making Sense of Fly Ranch Aug 9, 2017 – Part 1 of 5-part series

Town Hall Kit: nothing comes up in a Google search for this

Mission statement: not on web site (but a Donation button sure is!)

Concrete operational goals: unknown

There have also been a couple of private posts from BMorg Board members Ping Fu and Chip Conley.

Yep, that’s it. A few blog posts. Even I have done more than that to advance the philosophical values of Burning Man in the world over the past year, and nobody donated $6.5 million here.

400 acres of the 3800 were 3-d mapped by a volunteer with a drone:

No offense to the video maker, but this doesn’t exactly seem like an enormous contribution to the future of Burning Man culture all around the world. Whatever happened to Burning Man Earth?

All in all, this is not very much to write home about. I thought Burners were creative and self-reliant, that this was an experiment in new ways of living together as a community – A Permanent Utopia made up of the best and brightest of tech, the arts, advertising, and finance industries? Sadly, the most recent post (last week) still says absolutely nothing about Burning Man’s plans for the site. There’s fences, there’s deer and rabbits and coyotes, there’s hot water from past drilling explorations, there are signs of people using the hot springs. OK, cool – glad we could work that out in 14 months. How are we making the world a better place?

3000 people have signed up wanting to get involved. Most of them are interested in the Arts and Events; the smallest participation category is Philanthropy.

In the coming months and years (because honestly, projects of this magnitude take time), there will be many opportunities to participate in visioning the future of Fly Ranch. We will need your time, energy, expertise, and ideas. Of course this project will also need financial support to realize and explore new ideas, if you feel inspired to contribute to Fly Ranch, you can always donate to the project.

This project will unfold over a long timeline, but to give you a sense of what we re working on these days, we’re currently:

  • Mapping out what limits our Ag Zoning sets on our activities and the process for changing that
  • Researching the impacts of federally protected horses, two dams, and limitations with our water rights
  • Hosting small trips for our office staff who have never been, and doing three community events on the playa
  • Researching tools for decision-making and collaboration and making a more precise roadmap for 2018 and beyond
  • Researching and building mobile composting toilets
  • Discovering and cataloging all man made (and left) objects on the property
  • Doing important outreach and relationship building in Gerlach and the surrounding area

As of June 2017, we’ve had almost 3,000 people sign up to get involved with the project through our Participation page. You can see a breakdown of their areas of interest here:

Surely SOME of these thousands of Burners might have had ideas about what we could do with the SPAZ. If they did, I guess none of them were worth talking about. Maybe that will be “coming soon” in the next 4 out of 5 posts in the series.

According to the official Flysalen web site, as “early” as Fall 2017 (ie. next month), interested Burners will be able to go on nature walks with the Friends of Black Rock in groups of up to 20 at a time. There is nothing about this on the FOBR web site, so like everything else in the BJ, we just have to take BMorg’s word for it.

Their newsletter editions are confusingly detached from their publication dates – is this by accident, or design? 6 months ago they said:

We’re also getting ready to expand on the Community Engagement Conversations that we held at Red Lightning camp last year in Black Rock City, and will be engaging in the next phase of community dialogue at both the European Leadership Summit in Stockholm and the Burning Man Global Leadership Conference in Oakland.

We’re planning to take what we learn from these facilitated public conversations and develop a toolkit for Regional Contacts and passionate community members to begin holding their own conversations to explore what people find most exciting about the endless opportunities of a year-round venue for Burning Man. 

A Toolkit to have conversations about what people find exciting! Wow. Of course, they’re still working on it. Either they didn’t have the facilitated public conversations, or they didn’t learn anything from them, or they weren’t able to encapsulate that learning in a toolkit. Whatever the reason, we’re not yet ready for passionate community members to begin holding conversations on their own about the SPAZ.

How long does it take for a Silicon Valley organization to research collaboration tools? Installing Slack takes a couple of minutes. You need help, bra? Isn’t Burner Billionaire Dustin Mosckowets part of your brains trust? HOW CAN WE COLLABORATE WITHOUT SOFTWARE FFS!!!!!

Image: Sabo

In the past, videos from the Global and European Leadership conferences were shared online. No more. I guess Radical Community Engagement works best when the dialogue is hidden from the community, without any opportunity to comment. Or maybe they’re still getting ready to have the conversations, 14 months just wasn’t enough preparation time for the Org to talk to Burners.

Ahhh, yes. Transparency. Wouldn’t that be nice!

Fortunately, last year’s sessions at Red Lightning camp that left everybody engaged and inspired were filmed, so they could be shared.

Screenshot 2017-08-15 09.27.57

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That was last October.  We were in luck! Did the luck run out? Maybe nobody applied, or maybe nobody on the 100+ year-round Burning Man staff is able to edit videos and upload them to the Burning Man YouTube channel. You’d think with $40 million of Burner ticket money every year, and 80,000+ devoted Ten Principles followers looking to participate, they could find a way.

Screenshot 2017-08-15 09.24.18

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Governmental agencies. They’re focused on listening. Got it.

Last year, they took a small number of hand-picked groups of ultra-VIPs on private tours during the Burn:

All together about 250 guests visited Fly Ranch before, during, and after this year’s event, and were careful to tread lightly on the land. Groups remained small (fewer than 20 at a time), utilized only pre-designated walking paths, and upheld our community ethic of Leave No Trace every step of the way.

One of them was Burn.Life’s Dr Yes, who reported that the project is being heavily influenced by Esalen and Stewart Brand’s Long Now Foundation. They also took Burn After Reading mag’s Jesse “Sprocket” Janusee, who was moved to tears by the experience. Halcyon was so shocked by the journey that it turned his famous “Pink Jesus” hair white:

If you’re not one of the lucky VIPs to get a naked hot springs dip as a reward for your enthusiastic servitude to the Org, perhaps you might like to attend these sessions on-Playa this year and report back to the group. Or just donate: $6.5 million goes pretty quick in the remote desert. We need more to fuel this amazing vision, we are making the world a better place nobody has ever seen anything like this TRANSFORMATION Project. 3 blog posts, wow. Send money now!