Gifting For Permanent Art [Update]

disorient 1

photo by Liz Hafalia, SF Chronicle

photo by Liz Hafalia, SF Chronicle

At least we know there’s one BMP Director who gets it. Leo Villareal has been a Burner since 1994, and is the founder of Disorient. If there is a “spectrum of camps” like BMOrg says, then Disorient is clearly on the good end of the spectrum. They provide a major sound stage with many DJs, as well as several areas of their camp that are open to all Burners. They bring multiple art cars, which give rides to the public; and they gift an Art Car Wash every year which every art car can participate in. Everyone who camps with Disorient is expected to volunteer some of their time at the burn in multiple shifts, to give back to the community. While they charge dues, it is in the hundreds of dollars, not tens of thousands, and no-one in the camp is trying to make a profit. Those who stay longer to break down and pack up get a discount on their dues, but even those hard workers still pay to be a part of a camp.

Leo is also an accomplished artist. He’s the first Burning Man artist to have an exhibition of his interactive works at a major art museum (the San Jose Museum of Art).


Villareal has permanent installations at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the Brooklyn Museum of Art, and the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York, as well as in the private collections of contemporary art collectors CJ Follini. His work has also been on display at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., Madison Square Park in New York City, the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, the PS 1 Contemporary Art Center in Long Island City, New York and at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

Oh, and if you’ve been anywhere near San Francisco in the last couple of years, you’ve probably seen one other little piece he’s done: an $8 million commission he got to build the largest electronic sculpture in the world, The Bay Lights.

image: Illuminate The Arts

image: James Ewing/Illuminate The Arts

The Bay Lights were only ever intended to be temporary, and have already lasted longer than the original plan. They have become a beloved feature of the San Francsico skyline, and have had a measured boost on the city’s tourism and the trade of businesses along the Embarcadero waterfront.

Good news, Burners! The Bay Lights could be here to stay. Thanks to the generosity of a number of donors, if the project can raise another $293,000 before the end of the year, Caltrans has agreed to pick up the maintenance tab and keep the installation on the Bay Bridge – permanently.

Illuminate The Arts CEO Ben Davis says:

Dear Bay Lights Lovers,

There’s good news and even better news.

The Good News: If we raise four million dollars in gifts and pledges by the end of this year, we keep The Bay Lights forever.

This is a one-time raise of $4m, made possible by Illuminate The Arts’ break-through agreement with Bay Bridge officials. With that money, ITA will install a new set of LEDs – expressly engineered to withstand the harsh environment of the San Francisco Bay. 

We would then gift these new lights to the Bay Area Toll Authority and Caltrans, in exchange for their on-going stewardship. The Bay Lights would become a permanent fixture of the Bay Bridge, just as the 50th Anniversary necklace lights did in 1989.

This means, Leo Villareal’s temporary masterpiece will become a permanent work of public art, establishing a global icon that lets the Bay Area shine around the world in perpetuity.

The Even Better News: Thanks to a $2 million challenge grant from Bay Area philanthropist Tad Taube, every new dollar raised will be matched until the $4 million goal is reached. Tad’s inspiring gift has already helped spur another $1.7m in private gifts. That means we have only $293,000 left to raise.

If you love The Bay Lights, now is the time act. 


Here are some other recent media highlights: 

  • Featured in the San Francisco Chronicle yesterday, ‘”Bay Lights” get offer of permanence from bridge officials” Read Here 
  • San Jose Mercury News features “Bay Bridge light sculpture to shine on with big donation” Read Here  
  • San Francisco Chronicle Editorial, “Keep the Bay Bridge lights Shining” Read Here
Thank you for your continued brilliance,

Ben Davis
Founder and CEO, Illuminate the Arts


Tad Taube is an 83-year old former USAF officer, who escaped the Nazis and became a real estate and tech magnate and major philanthropist. He is connected to the Koret sportswear empire that was sold to Levi Strauss, and runs charitable foundations worth more than $500 million that gave away $26 million in 2012. He’s challenged the community to match his gift to the Bay Lights, many other donors have stepped up, and we’re almost there.

Every little bit helps – a mere $4 from everyone who went to Burning Man this year, would be enough to keep the Bay Lights going forever. Click here to donate.

Why doesn’t the Burning Man Project step up too, and provide a financial contribution to support the biggest and most famous piece of Burner Art being shared with the world forever? Seems like giving $10,000 to this would be more directly relevant to their mission of spreading Burner culture than $10,000 to the Exploratorium.

If Burners want to donate to help promote the art and culture of Burning Man worldwide, making this amazing installation permanent seems like incredible bang for our buck. It’s permanent, internationally renowned, and has already been enjoyed by more than 25 million people. The Bay Lights puts a permanent Burner stamp on the city’s skyline.

The documentary Impossible Light, about the dream that led to the Bay Lights’ Creation, makes a nice Christmas stocking stuffer for your Burner friends.

[Update 12/17/14 10:00pm]

The Bay Lights has met its funding goal, and will be staying permanently:

From SFGate:

There will be permanent, artistic lights at the end of the tunnel — the westbound tunnel of the Bay Bridge leading into San Francisco, that is — come 2016.

After a two-month campaign, the nonprofit Illuminate the Arts announced Wednesday that it had raised the needed $4 million to reinstall the “Bay Lights” as a permanent fixture on the western end of the bridge.

Billed as the world’s largest light sculpture, the display of 25,000 LED lights turns the 1.8-mile San Francisco portion of the span into a nightly show of constantly changing abstract images.

It was first announced as a temporary two-year installation to be taken down in March 2015. Now, after some cable maintenance and repainting, it’s to be replaced with a sturdier set of lights that will begin glowing in time for Super Bowl 50, scheduled for February 2016 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara.

“This is a great moment for public art and a great gift of the holiday season for the people of the Bay Area,” said Ben Davis, founder of Illuminate the Arts.

Gifting To Create a World of Plenty

mass mosaic mission

It’s nice to be able to write a positive story about goodness. Free goodness coming to this community and the world, thanks to the generosity and innovation of Burners.

One of the great things about Burning Man is if you need something, the community will often rally to provide. Not everyone can afford a Private Concierge to arrange their camp, designer costumes, or a $1000 scalper ticket. Some Burners are left to be radically self-reliant. Others are happy to help whoever they can.

The Wolf and Snorky, Burning Man 2010

The Wolf and Snorky, Burning Man 2010

When I first went to Burning Man in 1998, I rushed back to Australia and told my friend Snorky all about it. “Sounds great man”, he said. “Can’t wait to go one day”. That day finally came in 2010. Burner Snorky hit the ground running, he was ready for Burning Man before he was born! The only difference being a virgin made, compared to the next year, was more people wanting to give him stuff.

His Burning Man experience inspired him to use his other experience: his background of being an Internet guru from the “Dot Com days” to create Mass Mosaic: a free service where anyone with wants can connect with anyone who has something to share. Maybe you can trade, maybe you can gift, maybe you can barter or sell. They are trying to remove scarcity from the sharing economy, and replace it with abundance.

Burning Man has always been an experiment in civilization without economy. The so-called “Gift economy” combines giving people things they didn’t know they wanted, and generously helping out Burners in need.

Mass Mosaic have now created Burners Exchange (any type of exchange) and Burners Gifting (gifting only), special mosaics just for Burners. It’s totally free. It helps Burners who Have something to offer, connect with those who Want something. Transactions can be gifts, trades, or for money.

Snorky describes it like this:

snorky time capsuleBurning Man teaches us that everybody is abundant in something and when that is brought to the playa, we see that really anything is possible. Mass Mosaic brings that energy beyond the playa. When everybody lists what they want and have and how they are open to exchange it, then the abundance of what is often peoples hidden value is brought to the forefront. Mass Mosaic has created a special group for Burners to exchange within. Burners aren’t limited to exchanging within that group though, they can create their own groups and exchange with anybody on the site too.

Abundance for all – sounds good to me. Try it now.

Mass Mosaic’s co-founder Snorky says:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe all are constantly exchanging with the world. From breathing air to getting gas for our cars, exchange is needed to sustain. The natural world can help us understand the fundamentals of this exchange. In nature, exact right amount of resources are exchanged for survival without the friction of money or social structures. At Burning Man, not having many of our modern comforts (i.e. being in nature) allows us to live very closely to the natural principles of exchange, and move with their ebb and flow.  It unlocks an animalistic and tribal attunement in the process.

Burning Man reminds us, through the gift economy and the collective ethos, that exchange is about much more than making money. This unlocks a new dimension of potential that expresses itself as abundance, happiness, and cultural flourishing.

Part of the way that Burning Man helps us exchange is by removing the “zero-sum” dynamic, whereby the person with the resource charges the maximum possible and the person in need parts with as much money as they can bear. This essentially cancels out what otherwise could be a synergistic experience.

Mass Mosaic uses the same principles in nature and like Burning Man facilitates exchange with the environment in a more advantageous way for all parties. But Messed Mosaic goes further by allowing every type of exchange that’s possible in any tribe. The website allows gifting, borrowing, sharing, trading, renting, buying, selling, collaborating, reusing and open exchange. The holistic result is that everyone has far more opportunity to live abundantly.

Mass Mosaic models how exchange has happened with humanity since the beginning of time. There wasn’t always money! These means came to serve in need and have become overused in the process.

Burning Man teaches us about the village economy but in the context of a modern society. In the village, your relationships were the most important part of your survival – not your financial resources!

Another lesson from Mass Mosaic and Burning Man is that ownership is decreasing in importance. It’s the realization that all we are really after is the benefits of owning something, not the ownership itself! When you have the benefits without the maintenance, expenses, and other responsibilities that come with ownership, you are able to live more flexibly and economically.

Perhaps all we are seeking to learn is that we are complete. We are seeking to learn that the world loves us and supports us. We are seeking to learn that our communities well-being is inexplicably tied to our own. Perhaps we are seeking to learn that we are all one, expressing our individuality like an infinite mosaic of color that make up one big picture.

The structure of community is deeply connected to how easily that community sustains and thrives. It’s time we proactively design and define this structure so it is not dictated by the existing biased systems that rely dominantly on capitalism as a means to live healthy and happy lives. Both Burning Man and Mass Mosaic do this in a way that is proving relevant on larger and larger scales. 

To further this experiment, Mass Mosaic has created different groups and hubs for Burning Man on their website with the hopes that it helps the Burner Community live abundantly on and off the playa using its principles. Check it out at [link]

Co-founder Rob Jameson says the system is modelled on “tensegrity“, a word coined by Buckminster Fuller

Tensegrity is a complementary pair of forces. One is continuous pulling in and the other discontinuous, pushing.

This can be seen all around us in the physical world. From wheel rims to bridges, there are examples of tensegrity structures all around us, often as strongest structures and systems we build. Another example of tensegrity structure is a geodesic dome. The struts connect in a series of triangles so that the discontinuous pushing and continuous pulling makes the dome get stronger as more weight is added.

Wants and Haves projected on a building at the O+ Festival in Brooklyn

Wants and Haves projected on a building at the O+ Festival in Brooklyn

…It is a shame that the mainstream society believes that in order to be productive, the requirement is to work 40 hours per week. The entire point of technology is to leverage its capability so that we can thrive together more easily. This does not mean that machines should replace us, but rather that a job that used to take someone 1000 hours to do, now takes someone one hour to manage and the machine can do the rest automatically. This is the nature of progress, and our lives should have less restriction because of it. 

…We are beginning to see tensegrity models gain traction in society. Burning Man is a great example, which relies dominantly on the gift economy to exchange in a pop-up civilization. The gift economy is a simple type of tensegrity economy. It’s clear from the Burning Man events, which arise from nothing in the middle of the desert, that this model can produce tremendous cultural and social value.

Burning Man is the beginning of the shift, and eventually will be far surpassed by models that are more deeply connected to the principle of tensegrity, rather than a specific embodiment of it (like gifting economy).

New York-based Mass Mosaic recently won a place in Startfast, an East coast startup incubator and accelerator similar to San Francisco’s famous YCombinator. The idea behind their software is a world of plenty and abundance. Try out their Beta version and tell us what you think. I can see this idea being very useful to Burners.

Their CTO has some good words to say on workplace diversity and Radical Inclusion at SC:

0714-lw-alison-gianotto_628798I am not an expert on women in technology. I am an expert on technology. However I can say that for many of us, simply being female in technology often forces you to champion the cause. I have been asked to speak about women in technology at technical conferences (versus talking about technology at technical conferences) because the assumption is that being female, I would want to present on that issue.

When I evaluate potential jobs, I consider what impact that may have on the perception of women in technology, and when I get up to speak at conferences, I always have the nagging feeling that my performance on stage may directly impact people’s perception of all women in tech since they don’t see enough of us up there to have a broader view.

Whether I truly felt confident or not, I presented myself as very self-assured in almost every situation, which is different than many women, who are taught from an early age that being too confident, too self-assured, is unladylike. This self-assuredness leads to labels like “bossy,” and another one that starts with a “b” that SC Magazine won’t print. The same characteristics encouraged in young men are often considered problematic in young women. Maybe this played a part in my experiences. Maybe not. I know confident women that still had a much harder time than I did.

Technology is competitive, and I’ve seen this industry chew up and spit out men who lacked this perceived level of confidence, too. I don’t think that’s the whole story, but it may play a part, and it’s important to realize that being perceived as “tough” or “thick-skinned” often isn’t enough, nor should it be required. Would you rather have the most self-assured employee or the most talented? 

It’s time to realize that diversity in technology matters because the most arrogant person in the room isn’t always the most talented, and overlooking those people who don’t fit our arbitrary notions of what “real” techies look like severely limits our talent pool. When done right, technology is intensely creative, and diverse communities thrive because of, not in spite of, the variety of experiences we all bring and the passions that drive us. 

Limiting our choice of candidates is what truly weakens us. This isn’t about holding hands and singing campfire songs, and it’s not about filling quotas. This is about growing up and recognizing that when you want to hire people smarter than you, sometimes they’re not going to look or act like you

Read more at SC magazine.

amanda palmer future of music

Amanda Palmer is one of the Dresden Dolls

Recently, Mass Mosaic teamed up with Amanda Fucking Palmer, who wanted to promote her book The Art of Asking. She was looking for an easy way that people who had read the book could pass it on to others who wanted to read it, but couldn’t afford it. Mass Mosaic fit this need so well, but also opened an unexpected new market: people who bought the book for complete strangers, just because they wanted it. Within a couple of hours, Amazon completely sold out of Amanda’s book, as people all started Gifting it all over the world.

amanda palmer

Mass Mosaic has described the explosion of Gifting The Art Of Asking in this heart-warming blog post.

I helped out and gave some Kindle editions of the book to people in different countries who wanted it. One of them blogged about it here.

It feels good to give. Mass Mosaic is an invention that promotes kindness and helping others – isn’t this what it’s all about?

Try Burners Exchange or Burners Gifting for yourself, or use Mass Mosaic to give someone a book or a Christmas miracle. To add to the mosaics, you have to sign up with Mass Mosaic, login and click the Join Mosaic button.


AirBnB CEO on the Sharing Economy

McKinsey and Company is an ultra-high end management consulting firm. They help set the direction for the Fortune 500, and their advice in the past has included Burning Man as an example of “how to excite your customers”. They’ve just published a video interview with AirBnB founder and CEO Brian Chesky.

Two of AirBnB’s Vice Presidents sit on Burning Man’s Board of Directors, and this year they added “Black Rock City” to the 34,000 cities in 190 countries that they rent rooms in.

In the last couple of years Burning Man has hosted panel discussions and given media interviews to position themselves as part of the Sharing Economy trend. The main difference between BMOrg’s interpretation of the model and most others, is AirBnB, Uber etc share the profits. That’s what makes it an “economy”.

Later this month AirBnB and Burning Man will be giving “mind-blowing” talks at the CMX Summit in San Francisco on “How To Build Community: Learning From Burning Man, AirBnB and NASA”:

Jenn Sander, BMOrg

This event is packed with thought leaders, CEOs, and community experts representing organizations like NASA, Burning Man, Airbnb, ProductHunt, Zynga, Salesforce, BetaBrand, Exposure and more…

Burning Man is one of the best examples we have today of a massive, organic movement with a thriving offline community. There’s a great deal we can learn from the programs that Burning Man runs to apply in our own work every day as community builders.

Jenn Sander is an innovation, communications, and engagement strategist with a passion for uniting international communities around arts, technological innovation, and physical space. For The Burning Man Project, she focuses on connecting their global networks and developing demonstration projects.


AirBnB founder and CEO Brian Chesky’s words have a timely resonance for the Burner community. Given their strong representation on the Burning Man Project’s Board of Directors, and BMOrg’s claims to be a similar example of the Sharing Economy, it’s interesting to get an insight into the way this company thinks and the language they speak.


Transcript re-blogged from (emphasis and image selection ours):


For $35, you can buy the CEO's body-building DVD photo: Gawker

For $35, you can buy the CEO’s body-building DVD. photo: Valleywag/Gawker

Since its founding, in 2008, Airbnb has spearheaded growth of the sharing economy by allowing thousands of people around the world to rent their homes or spare rooms. Yet while as many as 425,000 people now stay in Airbnb-listed homes on a peak night, the company’s growth is shadowed by laws that clash with its ethos of allowing anyone, including renters, to sell access to their spaces. In this interview with McKinsey’s Rik Kirkland, Airbnb cofounder and CEO Brian Chesky explores how the company’s relationships with cities can evolve. An edited transcript of Chesky’s comments follows.

Starting a revolution

It’s a currency of trust, and that used to live only with a business. Only businesses could be trusted, or people in your local community. Now, that trust has been democratized—any person can act like a brand.
Airbnb is a way that you can, when you’re traveling, book a home anywhere around the world. And by anywhere, I mean 34,000 cities in 190 countries. That’s every country but North Korea, Iran, Syria, and Cuba.

The reason we started was I was living with my roommate, Joe, in a NYC Sublets, and I couldn’t afford to make rent. That weekend, the International Design Conference was coming to New York. All the hotels were sold out. Joe had three air beds. We pulled the air beds out of the closet, we inflated them, and we called it the “Air Bed and Breakfast.”

The reason it’s grown so fast is, unlike traditional businesses, we don’t have to pour concrete. The infrastructure and the investment was already made by cities a generation ago. And so all of a sudden, all you needed was the Internet.

The ‘disruption’ debate

I never really loved the word “disruption,” because it suggests that maybe it’s the kid in a class who was disruptive, who probably didn’t add a lot to class. I think that we have a lot to add to society.

Over time, cities have gotten so big that the sense of community has gotten lost. And I think once you know everyone, that community can reemerge. And as far as our relationship with cities, we can’t succeed without a city. Or we can’t really thrive without a city. We don’t want to thrive in spite of a city. And I think if we work together, it’s going to be amazing. I think the people win. And I think if we don’t work together or if we fight, the loser isn’t really us or the city—it’s the people in that city.

Getting cities to embrace sharing

airbnb-coverFundamentally, the idea of the sharing economy is going to be great for cities. It means that people all over a city, in 60 seconds, can become microentrepreneurs. And they can be empowered. And they can make an income. Now, this is amazing, but it’s also complicated because there are laws that were written many decades ago—sometimes a century ago—that said, “There are laws for people and there are laws for business.” What happens when a person becomes a business? Suddenly these laws feel a little bit outdated. They’re really 20th-century laws, and we’re in a 21st-century economy.

It’s probably going to be a fair amount of work to revise some of the laws and rethink the way cities and platforms work together, but I think that work is worth it. Because what cities don’t have to do is invest billions of dollars in infrastructure to create jobs. Whereas historically, to create opportunities, cities would need massive projects and investments, these jobs only require the Internet. Now what they need to do is navigate the legal framework, which is typically outdated. We want to work with the cities. We’re not telling them that their laws are terrible. The world continues to change. Laws must continue to adapt for that world.

We want to help cities understand what our world looks like so they can modernize the laws to make sense. We’re not against regulation. We want to be regulated because to regulate us would be to recognize us.

Airbnb’s plans for growth

We want travelers to be able to book homes anywhere. Anywhere includes Asia. Asia’s a nascent market for us. Number two, we’re also looking at other use cases. Airbnb started as a way for travelers to find a budget way to vacation in a city. But now we’re starting to see people who aren’t on a budget. They want a much more high-end experience. And the third is that at the end of the day, if you’re traveling to Tokyo, you’re not traveling to Tokyo to stay in a home or a hotel. You’re traveling to Tokyo—if you’re on vacation—because you want to have an experience. And we’d love to do more to make that experience special and memorable.

The future of sharing: Your free time

I don’t think people would view the jobs created in the sharing economy as jobs. I don’t even know if they get counted as jobs when the White House has a new jobs report. They are jobs. As far as I can tell, people are working, they’re making income, and they depend on that income. Half of our hosts depend on it to pay the rent or mortgage. Maybe it’s a new kind of job. Maybe it’s like a 21st-century job. Tom Friedman talks about how in the future people may not have jobs. They’ll have income streams.

I believe that the sharing economy broadly can probably provide tens of millions of jobs or income streams for people all over the world. This is going to have a pretty big effect on the economy, mostly a good one.

The sharing economy started by democratizing and creating access to probably two of the biggest assets people have: their homes and then their cars. But I think the whole idea of ownership is changing. When my parents were young, owning things was a privilege, and there was a sense of romance to owning a house, owning a car.

Today’s generation sees that ownership also as a burden. People still want to show off, but in the future I think what they’re going to want to show off is their Instagram feed, their photos, the places they’ve gone, the experiences they’ve had. That has become the new bling. It’s not the car you have; it’s the places you go and the experiences you have. I think in the future, people will own whatever they want responsibility for. And I think what they’re going to want responsibility for the most is their reputation, their friendships, their relationships, and the experiences they’ve had.

So I think the biggest revolution will be in the biggest asset of all. The biggest asset is not a house. It’s not a car. It’s people’s time. People’s time may start with just gigs: waiting in line for you, delivering something for you. Over time, I think it’s going to move upmarket. And eventually, menial tasks become real trades, and real trades become art forms.

Somebody may say, “I cook a great brunch. I wonder if people would enjoy having brunch at my house?” And you could be able to book a brunch at someone’s house, instead of at a restaurant. That person isn’t trying to create a restaurant, they’re just allowing someone to have brunch. They build a reputation. One day, that person can be a Michelin-rated chef in their house.

how airbnb started