Welcome to Burner Burns

Image: Rescendent CC BY_SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Image: Rescendent CC BY_SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

It’s getting harder and harder for everyone to make it out to the annual Black Rock City burn. Most camps got a reduced allocation in this year’s Directed Group Sale, which means there will be unprecedented competition for tickets in the Main Sale. Even the triple-priced VIP tickets sold out in less than 24 hours – although there are quite believable rumors on Reddit that they are still being sold, which will further reduce the number of Main Sale tickets.

70,000 Burners might attend this year, but there are now about 700,000 former Burners in the world – so 90%+ of Burners miss out every year.

“The future is in the Regionals!”, say some – but the jury’s still out on that. The one Regional that I’ve visited so far, was nothing like Burning Man, and not even remotely as good as other festivals in the region.

With that in mind, I finally thought of a straight-forward way to implement something that Nomad Traveler and others have been suggesting for a while. If you look at the tab of pages running along the screen, under the header photo, you will notice a new one: Burner Burns. This is a place where collectively, with the magical powers of crowd-sourcing, we may be able to put together a list of alternatives to Burning Man.

Please go to the page and add your favorite events in the comments, I will cut and paste them into the page. We’ll see if enough people contribute for this to become something useful.

 

BURNILEAKS: Asking for Gifting, 2015 Edition

Last Christmas, in a story All We Want for Chri$tma$ is Your Money, we covered BMOrg’s poor timing in putting their hand out asking Burners to cough up more to fund their global gabfest. It’s a busy and expensive time of year, and in my opinion (and, it seems, many other irate Burners) a less than ideal time for BMOrg to be saying “it costs a lot of money for us to do Burning Man, we know tickets are expensive and you bring all the food and booze and entertainment, and fund all the art except for 2.8% of our revenues…but we need donations too”.

Their recently published Annual Report shows that they take in about $32 million and spend about $30 million, leaving an additional $2 million cash in the coffers. Of the remaining $2 million, they spend about $900k on art and other civic projects.

But don’t worry about how they spend their money. That’s theirs now. This is about your money. See, BMOrg needs it more than you do.

Since we got to Christmas without any post asking for money on their web site, I thought maybe they’d learned their lesson. Well, it seems they did – sort of. They learned that asking too publicly could lead to bad publicity. This year the canvassing campaign has been done on the quiet, with nary a mention in the Jackedrabbit or the BJ. Instead, they used direct snail mail and e-mails to a select group of potential donors (I wasn’t on the list, strange since I have given them many thousands over the years). And then they threw a Halcyon post about gifting out to satisfy the baying hounds on social media, that seemed to shut the Burners up before.

See, Christmas is about GIFTING, and Giving is how Gifting becomes Transformative. Give your money to someone else, so they can give it to someone else (after they extract X% for administrative costs). Send Halcyon $5 if you agree.

Burners who would like to support BMOrg’s cash scooping effort can donate to the Burning Man Project here. Or, do some real good and help homeless veterans freezing in this winter cold snap by donating to Operation Dignity in Oakland. They’re doing outreach every night and served 146,000 meals last year.

 


Thanks to Anonymous Burner for sending this in. Who else got one?

 

From: “Marian Goodell” <donations@burningman.org>
Subject: A culture of giving
Date: December 17, 2015
To: BURNERS.ME SOURCE
https://donate.burningman.org/

“This is Burning Man: A classroom for creativity and collaboration. A kaleidoscope of experiences and emotions. The pulse of a community of doers and seekers. At times playful, introspective and challenging – always engaging.”

Dear BURNERS.ME SOURCE,

What does Burning Man mean to you? Every Burner has a wildly unique response to that question and I always enjoy hearing your stories. Amidst the radical self-expression of our experiences, we still share a common world where creativity is the universal bond, openness is the expectation, and giving is abundant. This, the power of our engagement with BurningMan, is what we are striving to achieve in our home communities and around the world.

Because of you, Burning Man initiatives and endeavors are thriving. Here is a sampling of what we accomplished in the past year as a result of your support. Together, we:

  • Set the stage for awe-inspiring, surprising, revelatory, insightful on-playa art installations by funding 121 projects, totaling $1.2 million – up 66% from 106 projects in 2014.
  • Engaged more than 75,000 people in Burning Man off-playa supported actions as far away as Derry/Londonderry, Ireland, the Czech Republic and the Philippines, as well as close to home in cities throughout the U.S.
  • Issued grants to 18 global art projects, ensuring they were successful, accessible to the public, and civic in scope, while prompting the viewer to act for positive social benefit. David Best’s temple in Derry/Londonderry, for example, brought together a community divided by historic enmity. Participants engaged in joint creative action that offered a pathway to share common grief and move toward a more positive future.
  • Organized two Global Leadership Summits in San Francisco and Amsterdam, and supported regional leadership gatherings in the southeastern United States and Taiwan. Over 600 people from 35 countries participated in workshops, peer-to-peer knowledge exchange and experiential activities to learn about creating community.

There is so much more we can do together. Our still-new nonprofit is poised to take the next step, creating year-round programs that reach well beyond the playa. Your donations go a long way toward stabilizing and strengthening existing programs, many of which rely solely on private philanthropic support.

We invite you to join us in this conversation about giving. And, we invite you to participate—by learning more about the Burning Man project, by volunteering, and by giving a donation in support of these inspiring off-playa programs.

What’s next? Establishing a Residency and Fellowship program to recognize and assist early-stage career leaders taking innovative approaches to building community. Energizing Burners Without Borders to make an even more impactful difference to communities in crisis. Expanding activities bringing youth and artists together, underscoring the value of the arts to learning advancement in STE(a)M curricula – science, technology, engineering, arts, and math.

Please show your support for our new direction by making a personally meaningful gift before year-end online at www.donate.burningman.org/2015. No gift is too large or too small. Every act of giving counts and we are all grateful for your participation.

Warm regards,

Marian Goodell
Chief Engagement Officer

IMG_7532


 

burnersxxx:

The artwork featured, Dream, is by Jeff Schomberg and Laura Kimpton. It was installed in Arlington, TX this year.

This letter says that they funded 106 on Playa art projects in 2014 – but their annual report says 80 in the arts section. What happened to these mysterious other 26 projects? It can’t be the Regionals, because in 2014 instead of C.O.R.E. burning art projects their members did volunteer shifts working in the souk, handing out timeshare real estate brochures and so on.

An earlier slide from Crimson Rose’s presentation to the 2015 Global Leadership Conference said they funded 60 on-playa projects in 2014 (not 106), and 78 in 2015 (not 121). But hey, who’s counting?

Screenshot 2015-12-27 17.38.06

Crimson Rose, World Cities Culture Summit Amsterdam 2014 [Image: burningman.org]

Crimson Rose, World Cities Culture Summit Amsterdam 2014 [Image: burningman.org]

It’s interesting that the projects mentioned in this letter were also talked about in the annual report – which, although it was published just in time for this 2015 Christmas fundraising drive, refers to the 2014 year. What was done by the Burning Man Project in 2015 remains a bit of a mystery. OK, they had a big meeting at their headquarters, that most of the people had to pay to attend; and another one in Amsterdam. Sweet! Who doesn’t love Amsterdam?

In 2014 they conducted 35 talks/panel discussions, how many did they do in 2015? We know of a few. Where are the links to these 18 global art projects? In 2014 Flaming Lotus Girls did Soma on the Embarcadero and there were another 3 in San Francisco; where are the 2015 projects located?

Did David Best’s Londonderry Temple get funding in 2015 and 2014? The Arts section of the 2014 annual report talked about participating in the ceremonial burning of this Temple. Were there two? Did the 8 projects in the Philippines that Burners Without Borders backed for $4000 in 2014, continue into 2015? How much support did we give the Philippines this year? I guess we’ll know next year.

 


 

FINALbwbInfographic1-697x1024

Burners Without Borders achieved a lot, from their inception after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 until their absorption into the Burning Man Project in 2015. With 17 active chapters, it has participated in 123 grassroots initiatives in 11 countries over 10 years – and given grants to 114 of those. Each project got an average of $1,074. You can read about 8 of the recent ones (6 in the US) here. These winners got grants between $100-$1000. Are there more? The BWB web site lists 21 projects that participated in the 2015 initiative aiming to get 128 projects from 128 regions over 128 days, but it doesn’t appear that any funding went to those.

I think Burners Without Borders has done a lot of good, and if Burning Man can be a catalyst for people around the world to volunteer their time for arts-oriented civic programs, then I can see how Burning Man’s Ten Principles would be working to make the world a better place.

But is that really what’s happening here?

It’s not clear how the Burning Man Project actually helps these projects – it looks more like they are just trying to take credit for them, like they did with [free|space]. People have to do the projects themselves and raise all the money themselves, the reward is to be featured on Burning Man’s web site. Not even a $100 grant for these guys.

Perhaps this is how the Burning Man Project spreads its true values around the world. Not the Tin Principles, but “you do all the work and raise all the money, we take the glory”.

emphasis ours:

Goal:  To create awareness within the Regional Network of the Burners Without Borders civic engagement mission. This mission is to globally promote activities that support a community’s inherent capacity to thrive by encouraging innovative approaches and grassroots initiatives that make a positive community impact. The BWB 128 Initiative serves as the foundation for creating a culture of ongoing engagement of BWB projects at the Regional Network level.

Project Overview:
Every Region would be asked/challenged to do a single BWB project within a 128 day time frame from the GLC (April  10 -12, 2015). It is emphasized these project are not per Regional Contact, but by Region. All projects should be done within the Region.

Scope of Projects:
We encourage projects that can be completed within a few hours. You may initiate your own project, or explore within your broader home community, identifying existing volunteer opportunities where your Burner family can collaborate and bring something special to that volunteer role for a day. Whatever you choose, make sure the projects are at the level of complexity you feel most comfortable with.

Examples include:

  • Starter – Food or clothing collection at an event, food bank crew shift,
  • Medium – Costume neighborhood clean-up,
  • Advanced – A day on a Habitat build, wall painting project at a shelter,
  • More Advanced – Chiditarod (costumed bar crawl food & cash fundraiser). A More Advanced project may not be finished in the expected timeframe. However, the start on a viable plan works just as well.

Please note these are examples and not what the project expectation is at each level.
If a Region has an ongoing project or is the process of starting a previously planned project, the intent would not be to start a new project. They may submit those projects to showcase their Region’s BWB efforts.

Project Budget:
No specific budget amount is associated with the projects. The expectation and encouragement is to have the projects be of little or no expense to the Region. Any expenses incurred is paid from within the Region. 

Need Resources to help organize and plan your project?
Check out our ‘Kick-Starting your own Civic Project‘ document.  If you have more questions- ask!

Showcasing your Project:

All 128 Initiative projects will be recognized and shared for a Job Well Done!
Recognition includes:

  • Documentation on the BWB website.
  • Inclusion in the BWB display at ‘Everywhere’ in BRC, for those that submit their project form and visual documentation prior to August 15.
  • Highlighted on the Burning Blog write-up.
  • A summary document of the projects will be produced for circulation. This document will be based on the content submitted for the BWB National website.

[Source: Burners Without Borders]

 

 

Analysis: 2014 Burning Man Project Financials [Updates]

sherlock_1870625

Image: Burning Man Project

Image: Burning Man Project

BMOrg have finally released the financial information for the Burning Man Project for 2014, beating our estimate that we’d have to wait until 2016 by a whole 2 weeks. They have provided a lot of commentary and analysis to go with the IRS Form 990. They are required by law to share this form with the public now that they are a tax exempt non profit. This has always meant that we the Burners would get access to some information about the inner workings of Burning Man that we had never seen before – in particular, revenue numbers and salaries of high-level insiders.

The IRS 990 data is accompanied by an Annual Report.This is in addition to the 2014 Afterburn Report.

This combination of legally required form, commentary, and an annual report is a step in the right direction of transparency. It is certainly much more than many non-profits provide. BMOrg should be applauded and encouraged for moving in this direction, as they told us they would in 2011 and promised again in March 2014 when they revealed the mysterious Decommodification, LLC company that owned everything and was/is still private.

So how transparent is it? How accurate is the commentary? And are there any juicy details?
Here is our previous coverage of the 2013 and 2012 financials.

Some quick 2014 stats:

Population 65,992

Volunteers: 7,500

Paid Burners: 896

Registered art projects: 311

Honoraria art grant funded projects: 61

Mutant Vehicles: 652

Regionals participating in the Souk: 24

Regional Events in 2014: 65

Placed Theme Camps: 975

Walk-up volunteers: 902

Volunteer Departments: 32

Attendance has slipped, down from 69,613 in 2013 to 65,992 in 2014. There was a minor change in the interpretation of “paid participants” in the permit, if you add in the 896 people who get paid to do Burning Man and the 7,500 volunteers we’re up to a city size of 74,388. Plus cops, dogs, robots, and kids.

In the previous financial charts, shared in the Afterburn reports, we did not get Revenue information. We had to ask pros from companies like the North Shore Advisory to decifer spending patternes and other information, we had to infer that from ticket sales, a task made easier with an allegedly sold out event. So that is a positive step for transparency – one that was required by the IRS. We also did not get a detailed list of the salaries of Founders and senior executives before now.

We did get quite a detailed breakdown of expenses: 42 categories.

This has now been reduced to 19 categories.

The effect of this has been to greatly reduce transparency. How, you ask? Well, let’s look at some of the more glaring anomalies.

  • We can no longer see how much gets spent on Fire Safety and Medical Services
  • We can no longer see how much is spent supporting the Regionals.
  • We don’t know how much was spent on The Man
  • Donations to Local Schools in Nevada seems to have been totally eliminated.
  • The cost of fuel is no longer tracked separately.
  • Utilities, Internet, and Phone are now all lumped together, and thus less visible. This is not aligned with the “be more environmental” post we got last week.
  • Food costs have greatly reduced, and the cost of sales for ice and the cafe seem to be lumped in with that too.
  • There is no sign that any money spent on ice and coffee is given to charities.
  • We can’t see how much gets paid to local agencies, and how much to the BLM. The Permit fees of $3.65 million were less than expected from the Chocotacogate numbers.

These are just a few examples, there are many more expenses that have also been hidden. Basically, 23 expense categories that we now can’t see because they’ve been eliminated by lumping them together with other expenses.

Some new information has been revealed, but only because it is legally required. Other information that we used to get every year, that would indicate to us that the pool of Burner money being collected by this group of companies was being well spent – that has been obscured.

We now get to see who the true big-wigs are on the payroll:

Marian Goodell $276,913

Larry Harvey $232,381

Harley Dubois $212,671

Crimson Rose $171,069

Doug Robertson (CFO) $167,267

Ray Allen (general counsel) $158,574

Charlie Dolman (runs Burning Man event) $150,673

Heather Gallagher (IT) $136,384

Heather White (Managing Director) $130,535

Stuart Mangrum $130,045

Will Roger Peterson $79,604

Michael Mikel $76,072

Total: $1,922,188

plus Board of Directors

Terry Gross (legal services) $192,153

Jennifer Raiser (annual report) $34,605

Kay Morrison (art grant) $8,500

Insider Total $2,157,446 (6.7% of revenues)

CFO Jennifer Raiser got paid $34,605 for producing the annual report. That would be quite a lot of money just for a single IRS form, but it seems all of that work was done by others – this contract is presumably for writing the report that accompanies the form. Total accounting costs to count the money and fill the form out were ten times that, $319,363.

Screenshot 2015-12-17 22.07.43

Board member Terry Gross got paid $192,153 for legal fees, on top of Ray Allen’s salary and about a third of the $518,931 total legal expenses. He generously gave them a 20% discount to his usual super-lawyer rate.


Here is a comparison of the financial charts of the last 3 years. 2013 and 2012 Burning Man event revenues are estimates.

2014 bmp comparison financials 2013 2013 burnersdotme 2

We can see the Medical services from the list of 5 largest contractors:

Screenshot 2015-12-18 00.44.40

Bruno’s makes $400,000 a year in revenue from Burning Man, and is still for sale.

There is another contradiction, with the $1,415,645 bill to Spectrum Catering for Food Service listed in the tax return, and the $1,199,534 reported in the Annual Report.

Lawyers and Accountants has gone – I’m assuming that has moved to “Contractors”. The information is separated out in the 990, the 2014 total is $838,294 – back to around 2012 levels.

Costumes has gone, there is a new category “Performance Supplies” – I’m assuming that is the same.

The royalties is to Decommodification, LLC, for licensing the Burning Man trademark.

Taxes, License Fees, Interest – as a 501(c)3 non-profit, they don’t pay tax; they don’t seem to have a lot of long-term debt, so what is this for? It’s about half a million a year.

“Toilets” I’m assuming is now part of “Safety Equipment/Services” and not “Heavy Equipment Rental”

“Medical Services and Supplies” is now “Safety Equipment/Services”


Contradictions in BMOrg’s Version

Here’s what they say:

Some highlights from 2014:

  • Black Rock City, our primary annual event and largest program, brought 65,992 participants together from 80 countries for 8 days of mind blowing creativity and participatory community building.
  • Burning Man Arts supported the creation of more than 100 artworks on and off playa through over $1.1 million in grants and support services.
  • In terms of Civic Engagement, Burners Without Borders celebrated its 123rd grassroots initiative and has 17 active chapters nationwide.
  • And our Global Network of over 250 Regional Contacts hosted the 8th annual Global Leadership Conference and our first ever European Leadership Summit.

And straight away, we find a contradiction between the form and the narrative.

It was not $1.1m of grants – according to the tax return, a total of $911,955 was paid in Grants. If $200k of in kind support is there somewhere, I can’t find it.

And what about the 80 countries? A contradiction with the CEO’s Letter, which says 68 countries:

Screenshot 2015-12-17 22.59.23

In their FAQ and tax return, they say

Screenshot 2015-12-17 21.11.33

But their own expense chart says

Screenshot 2015-12-17 21.10.05

So there is $172,135 gone missing somewhere. [see Update below – there are some adjustments with BRAF]

$23,227,579 was spent on programming costs related to Black Rock City. Another $7,634,810 was used to support management and general expenses of Black Rock City and our off playa programs. Funds remaining after covering the cost of producing Black Rock City stay in the community and are used to fund Burner projects and initiatives (for more detail check out our 2014 Annual Report). This includes year-round staffing and infrastructure to support the administration and management of our Black Rock City Honoraria and Global Art Grants, Burners Without Borders projects, the annual Global Leadership Conference for Regional Contacts and community leaders, and the annual leadership summit in Europe for the growing Burner community there. What do we not spend money on? Advertising and promotion (not a dime).

These numbers don’t add up either. $23,227,579 + $7,634,810 is $30,862,389. A different number again, one that appears nowhere else in their calculations or mine, or in the IRS Form 990.

Screenshot 2015-12-17 21.19.29

The IRS Form 990 says total expenses of $30,013,511, and a “profit” of $2,350,498. My spreadsheet, and Burning Man’s, says expenses of $30,185,646, which would leave a profit of $2,178,363.
Screenshot 2015-12-17 21.25.29

You’d be forgiven for thinking, having read this, that $25,118,300 is how much the Burning Man Project spent directly on programming in 2014. But didn’t they just say it was $23,227,579?

Looking at this another way: Burning Man the event brings in $30,679,219, and it cost $23,227,579. If that was all the Burning Man Project did (throw Burning Man), then it would make $7,451,640 profit. Having “BMOrg” there to do all the things they do year round AS WELL as the event, costs another $7,634,810. So we’re actually behind. Luckily, donations and other revenue came in.


What are they doing with the surplus? Either this means something different from how it reads, or they are spending more than half of it on lobbying politicians. For what?

Screenshot 2015-12-17 21.30.44

$33,000 of the $911,955 grant money was spent on 4 overseas projects:

Screenshot 2015-12-17 21.33.17

The bulk of the overseas money, $24,000, went to David Best’s Temple in Ireland.

Screenshot 2015-12-17 21.35.23

Two grants of $15,000 were also in support of Best:

Screenshot 2015-12-17 22.01.52

Burners Without Borders got support for 8 projects in the Phillippines. I guess money goes a long way down there, because the total grant to all the projects was $4,000.

Screenshot 2015-12-17 22.04.32

As regular readers of this blog will know, they also have been out there saving the world through speeches and panel discussions.

Screenshot 2015-12-17 22.05.59

35, to be exact:

Requests for speakers and panelists from the organization continued to increase across geographical lines and sectors of interest. Leaders from the organization represented Burning Man in 35 speaking engagements, introducing aspects of Burner culture to a broad cross-section of professional and public audiences. These included two TEDx talks from CEO Marian Goodell, presentations by Chief Transition Officer Harley K. Dubois at The Feast and DLD Cities, a presentation at the Long Now Foundation by Chief Philosophical Officer Larry Harvey, and a keynote by Black Rock City Event Operations Director Charlie Dolman at the Project Management Institute’s annual conference.

Burning Man culture and methodology has proven to be of great interest to diverse audiences including municipalities, nonprofits, corporations, and organizations devoted to civic engagement, the arts, volunteerism, and process management. Burning Man representatives participated in conferences and public events — teaching and sharing the Burning Man story — including the Skoll World Forum, the Whole Earth Festival, San Francisco Earth Day, the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco, San Mateo Innovation Week, and South By Southwest Interactive. Burning Man also hosted several outreach events at our offices in San Francisco, including a well-attended panel discussion on pop-up urbanism and temporary spaces

Was this a worthwhile fundraising activity?

Screenshot 2015-12-18 08.47.11

So they used $57k of grants for this – 6.2% of the total. It cost $234,520 and brought in $10,108. No word on how many lives were transformed for that.

Other outreach activities seem to have fared better. They netted $223,501 from the Artumnal, Decompression, and 3 other events.

Screenshot 2015-12-17 21.37.17

What of the “In Kind” contributions to art grants?
Screenshot 2015-12-17 21.38.48

25 BRC artists without LLCs shared $372,600 of cash grants an average of $14,904 each. One community-based project got $7,500. There were no non-cash contributions to any of these, nor to the LLC grant recipients. How BMOrg managed to inflate $827,000 of art grants to $1.1 million of donations is a bit of a mystery.

The big grant recipients were:

art grants 2014

It looks like David Best got a total of $119,000 – about 13% of the whole pie. Other perennial favorite grant recipients like Flaming Lotus Girls, Iron Monkeys, Jen Lewin and Box Shop all got the nod once more. Board Member Kay Morrison got a $8,500 Honoraria art grant.

An interesting tidbit here – BMOrg wants the IRS to know that they get the Intellectual Property transferred or licensed to them…

Screenshot 2015-12-17 21.50.40

…at least the rights are going to the Burning Man Project and not Decommodification, LLC.

Royalties of $75,000 were paid to Decommodification, LLC for use of the Burning Man trademarks. They have reiterated their intention to donate this company to the Burning Man Project in 2018.

Screenshot 2015-12-17 23.01.55

Black Rock City, LLC appears to be the owner of Black Rock City Properties LLC, which owns $1.2 million of real estate.

Screenshot 2015-12-17 22.11.18

There is also Gerlach Holdings LLC, an insider company that the Org rents real estate from:

Screenshot 2015-12-17 23.04.43

Ticket Services Expenses were $768,219. This has been lumped together in BMOrg’s accounts summary with a mysterious charge of $1.34 million in “merchant bank fees”. One reader has suggested this could be “credit card processing fees” – if so, BMOrg or Ticketfly may want to renegotiate their merchant facility, because 4.15% seems a little high.

Screenshot 2015-12-17 22.46.29


Image: Burning Man Journal

Image: Burning Man Journal

So how much of your dollar goes to supporting artists?

Screenshot 2015-12-17 22.15.28

You could be forgiven for thinking, if you read that, that $0.58 of your $1 went directly to supporting artists in the form of grants.

But wait a minute…

Screenshot 2015-12-17 22.17.13

Doesn’t that mean $0.84 out of each $1 goes to support artists?

Sadly, no. This 83.69% number includes Burning Man. They sell tickets – it’s not tax deductible for us buying them. They put on the party, travel around the world doing panel discussions, pay $827,000 towards the art on the Playa, pay themselves around $11 million in salaries. After all this, at the end of the year, there’s a left over pile of about $2.5 million bucks. So about $33 of your ticket money is just going to add to that pile, while only $13.82 gets actually handed out as grants to Artists.

Grants of $911,955 on revenues of $32,364,009 is 2.8% 

So yeah, when you buy a ticket to Burning Man, a lot of the money gets spent putting on Burning Man. That doesn’t make them some kind of philanthropic heroes. The way I calculate it, for every dollar we hand over to the Burning Man Project, 2.8 cents goes out again in the form of Art Grants. That seems more like 97.2% inefficiency, than 84% efficiency.

Another way to look at it, is leaving Burning Man aside, how much of the pure donations went back out to Art Grants? Leaving aside “Other” and “Other Misc” and “Other Program Revenue”, because I don’t know what those are, and just looking at Donations and money from fundraising events and merchandising, gives $1,355,710.

And how much went to non-Burning Man art, and projects spreading the mission of the Project in The Mission?

Well, we get some more contradictory numbers from the 2014 Annual Report (Arts section)

Screenshot 2015-12-17 23.15.13

There is another contradiction here: the arts report says grants went to 80 playa artists, elsewhere in the report it says 61.

Working backwards, $911,955 in grants minus $827,000 of on Playa grants = $84,955 of grants that went to non-Playa artists. That’s 6% of $1,355,710.

Of the surplus generated from revenues less expenses, $2,350,498 according to the first page of the IRS 990 form, the grant amount is 38.8%. Much less than the 84% efficiency they are boasting about.

The $675,000 of in-kind installation and support services mentioned by Burning Man Arts don’t show up in the tax return, and this number doesn’t add up to the $1.1 million of grants claimed.

BMOrg used their resources to promote Jennifer Raiser’s book, making it an Amazon.com best seller and selling 14,000 copies, but this didn’t merit a mention in the “Conflict of Interest” section – just the $34k for putting the annual report together.

Buried in the arts report above is some really good news: they found a non-profit that will provide insurance to artists.


In summary. Is it a step in the right direction? Yes. Is it more transparency? Yes in some ways, no in others. Overall, it is less transparency. It’s harder for us to see what’s going on, and there is a big disconnect between what the numbers say and what the commentary says.

“We’re achieving our mission because Burning Man”…doesn’t work if your mission is to spread Burner values beyond the NV Burn. 2.8% of revenues goes to art grants, that’s the real bottom line here.

Is it a “clean well lighted suite of rooms”? That’s not how I would describe it. Does it reveal any skeletons? Not yet, that I can see. Just more spin from the Propaganda department.  What do you think?


[Update 12/18/15 8:37am]

There is some confusion in that the Black Rock Arts Foundation was only assimilated into the larger Burning Man Project in the middle of 2014. They have filed their own IRS Form 990, but that has not been made public. We will have to wait until it comes up on Guidestar to piece together what really happened. You can read BRAF’s 2014 year in review here, but there is no financial information.

This might be able to explain the discrepancies between 61 funded Honoraria projects and 80; between $911,955 in grants and $1.1 million claimed; and $675,000 of “in kind support” that Burning Man Arts say they provided but I can’t find any evidence of in the tax return.

Screenshot 2015-12-18 08.41.50

The anomaly of $172,135 is explained by this, at the very bottom of their FAQ. I must have missed it last night.

Screenshot 2015-12-18 08.43.01

This means that the higher expense figure we are using in the spreadsheet here is more accurate.

It looks like BRAF made a net contribution of $176,663 and had $633,053 of expenses, including the $287,836 in grants they disbursed. How this matches up with the claims in their pie chart that they spend 75% of their funding on program services is a mystery to me, perhaps someone out there can shed some light.

Was their “total grants awarded” therefore $911,955 + $176,663? It adds to $1,088, 618, they said:

  • Burning Man Arts supported the creation of more than 100 artworks on and off playa through over $1.1 million in grants and support services.

If this is how they came to the figure, then “support services” must have been $11,382 – different from the $675,000 of support services and in-kind contributions claimed in the annual report. If this is the case, then BRAF’s Civic and Global art grants of $287,836 mean the contribution to on-Playa art was actually $812,164, not $827,000.

Cost of Goods Sold looks to have been $521,794, of which $477,770 was for ice.

Screenshot 2015-12-18 09.08.54

Screenshot 2015-12-18 09.14.47


[Update 12/18/15 11:11am]

They are sitting on $6,068,794 in cash and equivalents.

Here’s the 2010 Afterburn Financial Chart, which is no longer available at Burning Man’s web site. 2009 is also hidden.

I have updated an earlier spreadsheet I made tracking BRAF and BMP combined, to add in the Honoraria art grants for previous years. Viewed this way, total grants have either gone down slightly from 2013 (combined $931,836) if you go by the 2014 tax return figure of $911,955; or increased 28% ($1,199,791 combining BMP and BRAF numbers as per the Burning Man Arts Annual Report). Confusing, isn’t it?

Screenshot 2015-12-18 11.08.54

[Update 12/18/15 1:01pm]

Here’s art compared with lawyers and accountants over the past 6 years. Note this assumes that Jennifer Raiser’s fee for preparing the annual report is included under the Accounting total, and Terry Gross’s fees are included in legal (but not Ray Allen, he is payroll/contractors).

Screenshot 2015-12-18 13.00.08


[Update 12/19/15 2:06pm]

Nomad Traveler queried into the $14.2 million in assets the Burning Man Project has, and how it could have grown nearly $7 million in a year, when “only” $2.1 million of profit was generated.

Here’s the Balance Sheet from the IRS form:

Screenshot 2015-12-19 14.10.14

The “net worth” of Burning Man, assets minus liabilities, is $9.62 million.

The Burning Man Project ended 2014 with $14,243,495 in total assets, and $4,620,573 of liabilities.

This year, they are holding $4.2 million in intangible assets. What could this be? The trademarks are owned by Decommodification, LLC – as far as we know. This large asset wasn’t there last year, but another whopper was – investment in securities of $7.4 million.

I can’t find any narrative or explanation in the accounts or the annual report for the change in the nature of these assets. However, their cash at hand did suddenly jump up – from $198,205 at the beginning of the year to $2,080,043 at the end. It looks like a bunch of assets were cashed out, and the Project ended up with some very valuable intangible assets and millions in cash. What those assets were, is up to you to speculate, dear reader – or perhaps someone from BMOrg will be kind enough to explain in the comments.

[Update: A Balanced Perspective thinks the $7.4 million is the donation of Black Rock City LLC to BMP from the Founders; this is now accounted for as Goodwill, being the $7.4 million less the value of the Fixed Assets.]

The assets include $3.4 million of Land, Buildings and Equipment – netted down to $3 million after Depreciation. Specifically:

Screenshot 2015-12-19 14.29.26

Of the liabilities, the $276,000 represents payments of $46,000 to each of the 6 Founders of Burning Man, for their share in Black Rock City LLC. That’s all they got for 20-30 years of work…that plus a couple of million a year in salaries, a tax deduction, royalties for Decommodification LLC, and the typical benefits that accrue to executives of a $30 million corporation like travel and expense accounts.

The biggest liability is Accounts Payable of $2.45 million. Since a company with $2 million cash in the bank and another $4 million close at hand should be able to pay its bills, I suspect most of this is to the BLM for the annual permit fees, some of which are not due until months after Burning Man.

There is a secured mortgage or note to an unrelated third party, of $1.6 million. This is also new. Bank financing related to the $3.4 million of real estate and other assets on the Burning Man Project’s balance sheet, or the related companies Gerlach Holdings LLC and Black Rock Properties LLC? Maybe someone lent them some cash and that’s why they’ve got $2 million in the bank. They also hold on to a list of expert credit repair companies, it seems a little unnecessary when there’s an average of almost $3 million a month flowing into the company.

BMOrg claim “nobody’s getting rich off Burning Man”, and perhaps it’s true that the 6 Founders themselves couldn’t figure that out over three decades. They’ve been surrounded by some of the most successful capitalists in history at the epicenter of wealth creation on the planet; perhaps they were too shy to ask one of the many Billionaire Burners paying them homage over the years for help or advice. As a businessman myself, I look at Burning Man and I see a lot of money being made. Millions in fuel, rental, insurance. $50 million a year estimated spend by Burners just in Nevada – not to mention California, New York, and the rest of the world. I see thousands of places where ads are being sold around Burning Man-related content: Facebook, Google, YouTube, Huffington Post, Business Insider, the Daily Mail, and so on.

Did the Founders miss out on the gold rush? And if so, why? Altruism? Ignorance? Dysfunction? Or perhaps they didn’t actually miss out. We can’t say, because it hasn’t played out yet. For some reason, this handover is taking many years, and it is only now, as we enter 2016, that the simple transparency of a set of accounts is being shared with Burners. Assuming that IRS compliance now, shows that there has been the same transparency for the previous 29 years is a clear sign that you have sipped too much from the Kool Aid dispenser.

We don’t know the full details of the hand-over transaction, and not only that: we don’t know why we don’t know. “Oh we want to assure that the business is in good hands and it won’t all be absorbed by the State if it goes bankrupt” is the party line…but doesn’t explain the secrecy, or the continued wait to 2018 (when this transaction is presently scheduled to happen) and more likely 2020 (when they will perhaps disclose some limited details of the transaction).


[Update 12/19/15 4:08pm]

And another thing…

Where is the Vehicle Pass revenue? Is that just part of “ticket revenue”? There should be 27,000 or more passes at $50, or $1.35 million. That is to say, much more than the entire combined art budget at Burning Man and around the world.

If this were broken out separately, it would be more useful in assessing the environmental performance of the business. Remember when vehicle passes came in? They were sold to us on the basis of BMOrg might have to pay for road repairs. Wonder what ever happened with that?


[Update 12/19/4:36pm]

There’s a shoutout to Burners who have made donations in the Annual Report. There are a few high profile names in there, including 2 Rockefellers,  2 Russells, and a Pritzker.

All these Burners’ names will now be publicly linked with Burning Man forever thanks to Google, hope they were expecting that at the time of Gifting…

Doofnado [Update]

This past weekend Australia hosted the country’s oldest and best bush doof (outdoor dance party): Earthcore. Despite being nearly 10,000 miles away from the Playa, revellers at “Australia’s answer to Burning Man” experienced their very own dust devil. Forget Sharknado: meet Doofnado…

The appearance of this familiar Burning Man elemental spirit, so far from the dust, suggests to me that there is something a bit more magical going on – a higher consciousness manifesting before us, perhaps. A wondrous willy-willy.

Image: Ari Adar via Facebook

Earthcore 2015, Pyalong, VIC.  Images: Ari Adar via Facebook

earthcore 2015 2 earthcore 2015

 

I first attended Earthcore in 1997, and Burning man in 1998. It’s interesting to compare and contrast the progression of the two events. Earthcore took a break from big outdoor parties for many years, allowing rival festival Rainbow Serpent to spring up. Now both events happily co-exist on the Australian outdoor party calendar. When Earthcore returned to business, they offered the same thing as in the past: great music, great people, attention to detail in the setup. If I went to Earthcore last weekend, I probably would have seen many of the same people from the 90’s – older, and some now able to rent camper vans – mixed in with a new, younger crowd. People would be doing the same things, in pretty much the same way.

Burning Man, on the other hand, has changed dramatically since 1998. Sure, many of the elements are the same: the dust, the outdoor camping, the porta-potties. Musically, rather than developing and diversifying, Burning Man seemed to become obsessed with dubstep in the Noughties, and more mainstream “progressive” EDM sounds in the current decade. You may hear some of the best music in the world at Burning Man, then again you may not. It’s pot luck. Wanna know who’s playing? BMOrg are fighting tooth and nail to prevent you. Managed to find out from the Burner underground where and when your favorite musician is playing a set? Good luck catching them; welcome to “Playa time”.

At Earthcore, you are guaranteed to hear some of the best music in the world. Got a favorite? Go see them at a specific place and time.

Some would say that this reduces spontaneity; but you can still choose to ignore the lineup if you want. You can still drop acid and give shit to people and have a transformative experience; but you won’t come home with cracked feet coughing for a month, and 10% of attendees don’t need to visit the medical tent.

Despite an official musical lineup, curated by the promoters, the point of the 5-day Earthcore event is still Community. You are in a remote location, camping with others who have also made a pilgrimage to nowhere just to party. A concert is something you attend, then go home at the end of. A festival is something you live in for several days, with thousands of others.

The main difference I see between these two multi-decade events is the mission. The mission of Earthcore is to give their customers a good time, and they succeed in that. The mission of Burning Man has changed over time, it used to be “we create a city together, there are no spectators” – and that was a lot of fun. These days it is “we’re changing the world” and “transform your personality into something else” – marketed not to the Burners who have made Black Rock City internationally renowned, but instead to the new generation: Oprah and Dr Phil viewers looking to deal with grief at the 2015 black lives matterTemple, #blacklivesmatter protestors and Presidential candidates seeing new political indoctrination opportunities, wealthy Wall Street and Silicon Valley donors lording it over their neighbors with sherpas and wristbands and RV compounds, gold digging sparkle ponies looking to meet socially awkward billionaires, and safari tourists looking to cross the Burning Man spectacle off their bucket list.

bm shark jumpingThey fucked with a winning formula – and if you ask BMOrg, they’ll tell you that they’re still winning. More people want to come, at higher prices: winning. If you don’t like it, start your own! That’s their definition and they’re sticking to it. “People have been telling us we’re doing it wrong for thirty years and we’re still doing it, therefore we are obviously doing it right”. This argument can be used to justify the Wars on Terror and Drugs, too. “We’re still in the war, so we must be doing well at it”. The only losers in this picture are the Burners, who gave so much for so long only to find that sucking up to the Ruling Group is what gets rewarded in the non-profit world, not how the community values your contributions.

Earthcore: keep giving the people what they want. Happy people, consistent product, incremental innovation: winning. Something’s not working? Let’s fix it and make it better.

BMOrg: the more we push the Burners out, the more we can charge for tickets sold to the newbies. Sold out? Winning. People unhappy with gate, Will Call, and Exodus lines? Who cares? Jumped the shark? Who cares? Ten Principles? Don’t worry about them, they were only ever meant to be guidelines, not rules. Bring all the sherpas you want, buy them $1000 tickets.

bm_oz_logo_colourIt’s a big world, and there’s plenty of room for lots of different events. Australia can have Earthcore and Rainbow Serpent, surely it can have Burning Seed and Blazing Swan and Modifyre too. Many will tell you that “Burning Man is not a festival so you can’t compare it”. But most Burners can’t go to Burning Man any more. The tickets are sold out in seconds, and yet BMOrg are still chasing new blood. This seems a doomed strategy – the more BMOrg rejects established Burners, the more irrelevant the Nevada event becomes to Burner culture. Perhaps that is just fine for the Ruling Group, who have their sights set on reshaping mainstream culture. Pesky Burners with their silly Principles just get in the way. Soon only BMOrg and their hand-picked minions will be allowed to burn stuff at an official Burn.

What does the future of this “social movement” look like, beyond the Black Rock Desert? Are the Regionals supposed to be all like Burning Man, but not like festivals? What does that actually mean? Temples? Survival without stores? Themes? Philosopher-kings? Is there a global demand for this?

As Burner culture spreads around the world, it encounters pockets of young people who like sex, drugs, and rock and roll doof. They already do stuff, it’s not like the whole world is sitting around bored waiting for the Burning Man circus to come to town. So what do the Regionals have to offer, compared to well established existing competition? Is it the Ten Principles that are a drawcard, or the music and dancing and fun?

Or…is it the Doofnado? Is there something deeper, more spiritual, more cosmic going on within this movement? If so, then our future is in the hands of the believers – not the church.


[Update 11/30/15 11:45am]

JV in the comments here makes the point that Burning Man is not trying to be Earthcore. I agree, I’m not saying it should be. The question to me is more, if you are going to go to the trouble of putting on a Burner event in your local area, do you want it to be large and successful (like Earthcore and Burning Man) or small and struggling (but pure and true to the Tin Principles). Popular DJs go a long way towards turning the latter into the former. Or maybe the smaller Regionals don’t have enough blowjob workshops yet, or something.

This story has been making news all around the world. It was the BBC‘s “Must See” feature story of the day. It’s in the Daily Mail and the International Business Times. The Doofnado has made a miraculously magically timely appearance, what with the Paris Climate Conference going on and the world looking for some good news stories.

The photographer who took the pictures above, Adi Adar, has some beautiful words on his web site that really gel with the spirit of this story. #PLUR.

 

Dear friends,

"@[1656649511219514:274:The Spirit Of Doof]"

One of my absolute joys as a doof photographer is meeting you all along my travels and hearing your stories. From the inspiring, to the magical, to the outright hilarious, the one common theme that comes up in your stories, time and time again, is how doofing has had a *profoundly positive* influence on your life for the better.

As doofing continues to grow, the question however, that inevitably needs to be addressed is: how do we keep the essence… the heart… the soul… the spirit of what doofing is all about, intact, so we can sustainably grow our community and our movement, so we can foster more positive energy, and attract more beautiful souls to join us in our collective journey?

To address this challenge, I am super excited to announce: The Spirit Of Doof! 🌈🔊🎶😍👌

Similar to the ‘Humans of New York’ photography project, The Spirit Of Doof aims to use social media to encapsulate both the magic and spirit of doofing, through your stories and photos. In turn, I hope that you and your stories, will resonate with those new to doofing, and in effect these will become an educational resource to promote the core values, the spirit, of what doofing is all about.

I would be absolutely honoured for you to be part of this grassroots project of social change in some way no matter how large or small. This project isn’t about me… this is about all of us!

So whether you are a doofer, a performer, an artist, a photographer, a DJ or a doof promoter… you all can make a difference. If you are a doofer, and would like to share you story, and promote your values and energy that you bring into the doof movement, please get in touch… If you are a photographer and would love to shoot photography for us, please get in touch…. If you are a doof promoter, and would like The Spirit of Doof to interview people at your doof to promote the core values of what your doof represents, please also get in touch…. The possibilities here are endless, and it all begins with your contribution.

My vision is: I hope The Spirit Of Doof not only makes a difference to attract a beautiful quality of person and energy to the doofs we all love to attend, but to more broadly promote doofing as a social vehicle for elevating human consciousness to society at large, and in turn promote our core values of ‘one love’ and ‘one planet’, beyond our traditional social circles.

I admit this is a huge vision, but it begins by the small individual contributions we all can make…Thanks for taking the time to read this. I can’t wait to read your story. smile emoticon Thanks for embracing The Spirit Of Doof! Love and light – Ari Adar

"@[1656649511219514:274:The Spirit Of Doof]"
"@[1656649511219514:274:The Spirit Of Doof]"