“self reliance is the greatest art” – my teabag message as I’m finishing off this post.
Earlier this year, Burning Man CEO and Founder Marian Goodell gave a talk at TEDx Tokyo, while social alchemist Bear Kittay, part of the “Burning Man 2.0” team, debuted his new song celebrating transhumanism and the Singularity (you know, that great idea where we’re all going to become one with robots and Google).
Marian released a couple of factoids in the speech that raised our eyebrows. One was that group revenues are now $30 million. The other was that the Burning Man Project board has 19 directors.
To me, that seems extraordinarily high, and Bain Capital agrees:
According to the BoardSource Nonprofit Governance Index 2010, the average board size is 19 and the median is 17. BoardSource reports that nonprofits with budgets of $10 million or more have an average of 18 members and those with less than $1 million typically have 14 members.
A 2011 study by Bain Capital reported in The Nonprofit Times asserts that the optimal board size for effective decision making is seven people. According to Bain, “every person added after that decreases decision-making ability by 10 percent.” So for boards with the median of 17 people, Bain would put their decision-making ability at zero.
So it’s big, and likely to be ineffective, but that’s kind of the way it goes in the non-profit world.
How many directors are there? When Marian gave her talk, and as recently as August 6, there were still 17. Could she really have been out by 2 directors? We speculated about who the other 2 might be. In a talk at Columbia University last year, John Perry Barlow and Peter Hirshberg were presented as “Founders”. Barlow’s links to the psychedelic and tech worlds go deep, and it has since come out that Hirshberg is writing yet another book about Burning Man. However, neither have been formally announced as a director yet.
Right before the burn, they added Jim Tananbaum of $650 million fund Foresite Capital, and Matt Goldberg of QVC. Chris Weitz stepped down, but his wife Mercedes Martinez remains there. We now have 18 official BMP directors.
It seems unusual for a $30 million organization – that’s ostensibly all about our community – to have three Director changes on their Board without making an announcement. The reason may well have something to do with who these guys are, and what at least one of them is up to at our event.
Jim Tananbaum is founder and CEO of Foresite Capital, a leading healthcare investment fund. For the last 20 years, Jim has been a change agent in healthcare. He started Geltex (acquired by Genzyme/Sanofi) and Theravance/Theravance Bio, which produce leading drugs for renal failure, asthma and emphysema. Over the last 15 years he has also lead financing for numerous transformative healthcare companies which range from Amerigroup (HMO for the poor) to Jazz Pharmaceuticals (drugs for central nervous system) to Intarcia (drugs for type II diabetes). Jim is currently passionate about accelerating revolutionary treatment, diagnostics and delivery systems in healthcare.
Jim has been a 6 year burner, lover of music and art. Jim graduated from Yale University with a BS/BSEE in 1985 and a Harvard MD in 1989 and MBA in 1991. During this time he also received an MA from MIT in 1989
Yale, double Harvard, and MIT. He’s not the only graduate of fancy colleges on the Project’s Board; also represented are Stanford, Berkeley, Cornell, Virginia, Columbia, NYU, Goucher, and Humboldt.
Any connection between the world of Drugs and Burning Man is up to the reader to interpret. It’s difficult to see what relevance diabetes and renal failure have to spreading Burner culture around the world. Perhaps BMOrg really want to “go viral”.
Conspiracy theorists might wonder about the coincidence that right after a healthcare VC secretly joins the board, we get post-event hype about the possibility of a virus outbreak. There was word that the CDC showed up at Burning Man this year, on the Monday. I thought it was just another Playa rumor, until the West Nile news came out. In the world of software, it is widely believed that anti-virus companies create viruses. In biotech, official stories about viruses and vaccination are usually not the whole story. There is no conspiracy theory in saying that viruses can be artificially designed, that’s medical science.
Dr Tananbaum’s companies may have nothing to do with mosquitos in Gerlach, but monetizing the Playa does appear to be part of his plan. He has spent much of his career in medical science, with a particular penchant for financing pharmaceutical pioneers.
What about Burner culture? Can that be artificially designed like a virus? Is it something spontaneous, that flourishes in Black Rock City from 70,000 individual contributions of Burners – all adding up to a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts? Or is it something socially engineered to be spoon-fed to us, distributed worldwide on the Home Shopping Channel?
With the “Plug-n-Play” turnkey Burning Man experience, it seems that our culture is being treated as something that can be packaged and sold to the highest bidder. Pay your $25k per couple and show up in your private plane. A sherpa helps you dress in your costume and escorts you to your camp’s wristband-only art car. Gifting is taken care of with a small contribution on your camp’s behalf to Burning Man Arts. Everyone gets a scarf.
How are all of these VIPs and their workforce of sherpas getting tickets, when it is becoming increasingly hard for regular Burners to attend? Well, we already answered that for you in Burnileaks: The New Scalpers. There’s no problem getting tickets, if you can pay $650 and you’re in a VIP camp. This is the direction that BMOrg is taking Black Rock City in. More vendors, more LLCs, more PnP, more gentrification, more class war douchebags, higher ticket prices.
Caravansary was an attempt to avoid “walled off RV fortress compounds”, and instead have “oases of the desert, where weary travellers could drop by and exchange gifts”. Did that work? From the stories and comments of Burners this year, it appears that message went over the heads of these dreaded nouveau riche Burners. They just wanted to ride their Segways and party.
Many Burners feel that the influx of elitist super-rich, celebrities and politicians is a real threat to our culture, one more serious even than the shark-jumping of the directors.
It seems those directors, though, may have different ideas.
Love money? Got a million dollar plug-n-play camp? Want to rip off Burners? Then it’s straight to the top of the pyramid for you!
Welcome to the world of Caravancicle on K Street. Theme:
$$$, I ♥ $
Thanks to Anonymous Burner for doing some sleuthing into this.
15-time Burner, first year was 1996. So I’ve seen the ebbs and flows, and feel a bit… conflicted by the recent evolutions, that’s all.
That prompted me to dig around and when I discovered the person behind Caravansicle happens to be a rich dude who’s also on a board member on The Burning Man Project (ie: an insider) and it all started to feel like a bigger story to me. Especially after hearing so many stories of douchey behavior from this crew. Feels like an insider like James Tananbaum should be setting a better example instead of indulging in such smarmy commodification and radical dependency.
“…the organizers of the Caravancicle Camp and/or the Burning Man Event, including, but not limited to, Back to Earth Inc., dba ‘dovetail events’, Ari Derfel, Jim Tananbaum, Space Cubes LLC, Brad Peik/Peik Construction Inc./Peik Invstments LLC, Black Rock City, LLC and any and all owners, officers, directors, employees, agents, representatives, volunteers, contractors or affiliates of these individuals and entities…”
It’s kinda gross that behind the veiled curtain, deep inside The Burning Man Project itself, on the board — is at least one opportunist making a for-profit Plug and Play camp (and financially associated with The Lost Hotel too) and LYING about what artists are affiliated with them, in order to ride on their good reputations and exploit them.
Now I need a shower…
The Lost Hotel helped build Caravancicle with an investment of over $1 million. Anonymous Burner says:
Spots in The Lost Hotel and Sinbad’s Oasis cost $13k:
“Sinbad’s Oasis is partnering with The Lost Hotel to host a unique and compelling experience. Our experienced event production team will augment the superb infrastructure developed by the designers and builders of the 2013 Temple.”
Ethics of commodification aside, folks got pissed when they realized that Caravancicle is lying on their site, exploiting the names of established Burners/artists… who ACTUALLY HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH THEIR CAMP.
I found this part most Infuriating and intriguing (to some degree) – and so I put on my investigative hat. Out of respect for the good name of my friend Stefano, and the integrity of our community.
That said, what I have discovered so far is some freaky, interesting shit. Strap in tight:
Caravancicle.com is 1 month old . The site doesn’t have big presence on the social networks. With around 0 facebook likes, it is most successful on facebook, while doing equally well on other social networking sites, for example it has 0 tweets, and 0 google plus ones The website was registered by () and has its servers in United States
Sinbads Oasis looks nice. They have a day spa:
The Crystal Experience will include key essentials plus additional luxuries to a provide an unforgettable Burning Man Experience.
The Ruby and Emerald Upgrades are available based on community will and interest. The amount of additional funding will further extend the level of luxury in the camp.
The Crystal Experience Includes:
- Survival Kits
- Health Spas & Wellness
- Personal Illumination
- Private Gypsy Lounge
- Private Bathroom Facilities
From Caravancicle’s About page:
Burning Man’s theme this year was miraculously well-suited to promoting the opulent aesthetic of this luxury oasis.
The Caravancicle camp was designed by Ari Derfel, a restaurateur, and Zak Brazen. Zak is a Creative Director at George P Johnson, “the #1 ranked experience marketing agency creating live experiences globally that motivate audiences and activate brands”. Camp Architect was Scott Mahoney, and “the architecture of Burning Man” was promoted to the Caravancicleers.
To create the Caravancicle experience, the team created Pinterest groups with fashion suggestions for their theme nights.
Rather than being Playa-appropriate, it’s cultural appropriation: every one features feathers and war bonnets.
Caravancicle’s page lists a number of established Burning Man artists who are presented as being part of the camp. The problem? No-one told the artists.
Today I contacted the artists listed, and so far have received a response from three of them. None of the artists who got back to me had been consulted about being listed in the camp’s marketing materials, and none of them camped there. Two don’t mind the association because they are friends with the organizers, but Stefano Novelli was emphatically against his good name being associated with plug-n-play camps.
i dont want to be affiliated with anything that has to do with a plug and play camp period.
i had no involvement and would never have any involvement with a plug and play camp. the fact that they used my name to promote their camp is very disappointing to me. i am in the process of talking to my lawyer about this matter.
It’s ok… I think this may be Scott Mahoney‘s promotional site for the high-end Lost Hotel that they created before the burn..
But they have an led tree next to my face that is not my art. And the description isn’t anything that I heard of.. It’s says I will showcase my unique VJ Skills!! Ha ha.. I think they were just trying to throw together a site quickly for promotional uses… But in that case, I should have gotten a CUBE!!
Well I can see how lots of people think there is controversy with this website. The Lost Hotel Cubes project is run by Scott Mahoney, using Gregg Fleishman’s patented nodes. I’m very close to Scott and know Gregg as well. I started working on this project with them as the Industrial Designer to the cubes. I then was diagnosed with cancer and had to drop out of the project and focus on my health. Adam Mostow and Stefano who were also featured on the website are also close friends with Scott and others that were part of the design build team for this project including Toby Smith and Elliot Shuffle who worked on the Cubes, design, fabrication, prototyping, and build. I can’t remember specifically if they ran the website by me, but honestly i am flattered that they would post me on the website. Any publicity is good publicity… Even tho They used the incorrect photo of my art and the description about me was incorrect as well. But they were just using the website as a promotional hype to rent out the cubes. They could say almost anything about me on there and I wouldn’t care, because they are like brothers to me. And they helped me unconditionally with many things in the past. I don’t think Adam or Stefano care as well but I guess that is not my job to say. Someone did some research and found that The website is registered to a James Tananbaum which I believe is one of the investors to the Cubes project. They also found that he is part of the Burning Man Project on the Board of Directors. This has angered people it seems. Scott, Toby and Elliot’s dream was to build Stackable Collapsable Module Camping Cubes, which they succeeded well at I believe, and they rented them out for BM 2014 to help with the funding for this project. This project was horribly expensive and they needed investors to fund the design, fabrication, prototyping and production and build. I don’t think they are walking away with loads of profit. I believe that any money made, went back into the project. They used the “plug and play” camp as a way to promote the cubes, which they want to eventually sell. They haven’t had a chance to respond to any of the criticism because I believe they have barely left the playa, breaking down the hotel and cubes. I am very sorry to those that feel that they have been hurt or affected negatively by this project, but I honestly can’t see how this hurts anybody. Everything changes, including Burning Man.
We wish Erica all the best for a speedy recovery of her health. These Cubes seem like an interesting technology, and there is no rule against Plug-N-Play camps. They are part of Burning Man, and I doubt they’re going anywhere. Erica is right about change, get used to it, Burners. Change is a constant.
Tini Courtney had nothing to do with the camp this year either. At first she didn’t mind being mentioned, and was happy to answer our questions. Later in the day after giving some further details, she asked to be “excluded from further mentions – this is not correct”. Make of that what you will, I am respecting her request.
The Megas team is led by Charles Mui (CEO of Megas, Inc.), Adam Businger (VP Field Logistics) and consists of expert branders, internet marketers, project management teams, event producers and entrepreneurs. A dedicated project manager will be assigned to the Camp Sponsors and is always available to ensure that you are informed and satisfied with the work performed. It is the goal of the Megas team to expertly serve the Camp Members with the services and resources listed in this agreement.
As a full-service event production and entertainment company, Megas will support the Camp and Camp Members with the infrastructure needed to have an unforgettable experience at the Event. Leading up to the Event there is a tremendous amount of planning and organizing that must take place to insure a fun week. The expert logistic team at Megas will handle the registrations and communications with the Camp Members. Client agrees that the Megas team will engage in the tasks needed to gather and purchase the supplies needs for the adventure as the necessary funds become available, Travel arrangements to the event are the responsibility of the Camp Member. A direct line of communication will be available for all Camp Members, 7 days a week leading up to the Event. Megas will be available to answer questions and give direction to the Camp Members. Megas looks forward to providing an unparalleled experience to our camp members.
According to an SEC filing, the company, Megas Inc, has burned through $17.5 million of investor money, without yet booking any revenues. They spent almost $6 million in an all stock transaction to acquire 2 modelling agencies, “Sexy Population” and “XS Modelling”:
On February 5, 2013 the Company entered into an acquisition agreement with Sexy Population, LLC and XS Modeling, LLC. The Company acquired an 80% interest in Sexy Population, LLC and XS Modeling, LLC. The Company issued 5,600,000 shares of Series A preferred stock with a value of $1.00 per share.
They also bought afterpartylive.com for $300,000 – a domain that has not even been activated. Charles Mui, the CEO, has a Multi-Level Marketing background. It seems this crew has a strong focus on branding and creating live experiences.
Other Burners shared their feelings:
Similarly one can’t go to Burning Man, ride a pre-fab art car, get some dust on their clothes and call it burning.
It’s tourism versus being a local. Neither are really bad or wrong, per se, but they are also not the same or equal.
Similarly, Parisiennes couldn’t give two whole fucks among themselves about tourists. They know why and how Paris is awesome and aren’t going to bother sharing that with guys taking photos wearing fanny packs who try desperately to play at being “French” so they can feel like they belong somewhere. So it is in Black Rock City. The locals know what’s up.
The PnPers are white noise on the playa. Forgettable and easy to ignore. Ten minutes gawking at Caravancicle and I got a nosebleed from all the fun I was having.
Fortunately, PnPers all have the ability and the means to change, should they so desire. No one has to be a tourist forever. All one has to do is immigrate, learn the language and make new friends.
And every year someone does and they come back the next year different, more willing to engage. The rest move on to the next spot. That’s why this crazy town keeps getting bigger – immigration!
Bigger income gaps lead to deteriorations in Social Relations:
High School dropouts
Math & Literacy scores
More Inequality =
More superiority or inferiority
More status competition and consumerism
More status insecurity
More worry about how we are seen and judged
More “social evaluation anxiety” (threats to self-esteem & social status, fear of negative judgements)
So, Burners…what does all this mean? Let me break it down for you in a sentence:
Burning Man’s latest director is behind a $1 million+ plug-n-play camp that promotes wearing feathers and native headdresses, and associates itself with artists who camp elsewhere and have no desire to have their reputations linked to commercialization of our culture.
Jim Tananbaum is by no means the only big money BMOrg Director associated with turnkey camping. First Camp, of course, has meals served and trash cleared. Leo Villareal is the founder of Disorient, who certainly share a great deal with Burners. They also have one of the most impressive turnkey operations I’ve seen on the Playa. They are turnkey in the sense that there are meals and regular RV services available, and members pay camp dues. It’s harder to argue that they are the ghastly “plug and play”, where sparkle ponies show up but don’t participate adequately. Everyone who camps there has to do volunteer shifts, such as being a Greeter. It ain’t cheap, but it ain’t in the stratosphere either. From what I hear, their budget is pretty reasonable for such a large camp with so many amenities.
Chris Weitz was the concierge of Ashram Galactica, which at one point had joked about building a multi-room hotel on the Playa. Anonymous Burner says:
The whole “performance art” and gift of the Grand Hotel at Ashram Galactica is that it is “the only 4.5 star hotel on the playa” — there is lots of silly pomp and overwrought decoration in the Moroccan tent that is shared with everyone to enjoy — neatly decorated rooms are awarded nightly, to the public. Weddings are officiated there, it’s a lovely and inviting spot. The campers put on a show for the whole playa. The Gilded Lily bar is an open bar and everything is gifted with a smile.
Although the “joke” may have been amusing at first due to its irony, it is now no longer a joke: hotels at Burning Man have become a reality. There are multiple camps following in the footsteps of a “quirky luxe boutique on the Playa” – and charging five figures per head for rooms. Since August 6, Weitz has stepped down from the Board, and been replaced with Matt Goldberg – a Melbourne boy who is SVP of Global Market Development at $9 billion home shopping behemoth QVC. Once you jump the shark, it’s time for the infomercials.
Chip Conley is the founder of Joie de Vivre, an operator of boutique hotels all around the world. He is a director of AirBnB, who were selling spots at Burning Man camps this year – another example of something that gets presented initially as an ironic farce, but paves the way for less ironic imitators in the near future. Conley called his theme camp “Maslowtopia“, suggesting that all the needs of his residents are met so they can self-actualize. He also created Costanoa, the original plug-n-play “glampground” for hispter techies, located on the coast between Half Moon Bay and Santa Cruz…
For those who want to have a “camping experience” without actually getting their hands dirty – the folks at Costanoa will set up a fancy tent for you, start a nice campfire for you, cook your (non-camping) food for you, and presumably sing campfire songs and make s’mores for you! All for a price. Of course you can upgrade to fancier accommodations…
There is nothing illegal about any of this. However you choose to interpret the Ten Principles, Plug and Play is completely acceptable on the Playa according to the rules – as long as the BLM get their 3% cut. Headdresses are legal, sherpas are legal. Self-reliance can now be outsourced, for those who find it an inconvenient obstruction to their partying.
Plug and play, ain’t going away. Gentrification is here to stay.
Readers whose thoughts have been provoked by this article may also enjoy Emily Witt’s insightful piece:
“Sexual Experimentation, Psychedelic Drugs and Futurism“.
In other news, based on their success in 2014, sherpas are being recruited from the San Fernando Valley and Lower Pacific Heights:
Hurray! Our clients want us back on the playa next year, and we have begun accepting bookings. We’re thrilled to be hosting our fine guests, and we have begun accepting applications for 2015 sherpas.
All applicants must have prior experience in waiting tables, pole dancing, or catering. Pay is generous, and Burning Man tickets will be provided. You won’t have to work the entire time, but you will be asked to work extended hours.
Serious applicants only
That’s one way to get a ticket. Maybe instead of “low income tickets”, BMOrg should issue “sherpa tickets”.
Radical sherpa reliance.
[Update 9/6/14 7:55pm]
Wanted…more sherpas. We have cash.
Nice way to bypass the cost and hassle of finding a ticket and camping space for each sherpa – recruit from the pool of talent already inside the Gate.
I met someone from Carvansicle a short while later at Playa Surfers party, and asked him about it.. he said that they were short staffed because some of the “hired help” had left, so the camp was looking to replace them with new paid workers….you know.. like it was a resort at Cabo short dishwashers