An open letter to businesses who want to offer luxury trips to Burning Man

Starport by Carey Thompson, 2012 (Photo by Scott Williams)
Starport by Carey Thompson, 2012 (Photo by Scott Williams)

Dear Entrepreneurs:

We’ve never met – at least I don’t think – and so I don’t know whether you’re true believing Burners who are just trying to make a buck sharing something you love without thinking it through or opportunists trying to strip-mine our culture and sell the raw materials to the highest bidder.  Could go either way, and I prefer not to think the worst about people, no matter how often it’s justified.

And hey, let he who is without sin cast the first stone, right?  I think pretty much everyone who has been inspired by Burning Man has wondered “How can I make THIS what I do in the world?  Can I make Burning Man economically productive for me?”

It’s a completely reasonable question.  Why wouldn’t you think it?  Decommodification is a principle, but paying rent is a necessity.  The question of how to make Burning Man a sustainable part of one’s life is one that Burners around the world are grappling with, experimenting with different models, and I think they’re at the vanguard of Burning Man’s next big step.

But some approaches … most particularly selling Burning Man merchandise … aren’t going to work. And most of the schemes I’ve seen to offer “Burning Man Experiences” aren’t going to work either.

But not so much because of the money thing.

I want to explain why, not so that I can yell at you for trying, but because maybe if we get on the same page about what the problem here is, you can come up with an approach that will work.  So the dynamicism and energy you’re obviously bringing to this effort – starting a business is challenging – can be harnessed in service of the community you’re trying to introduce people to.  And so that those people can be better introduced to our community.

Because right now there’s a serious problem with what it looks like you’re trying to do, and it’s not actually decommodification.  Well, maybe that too, but there’s a much bigger, much more serious, problem here.  That’s the one I want to talk about. (more…)

A Family Affair

by Faciliti

burningman2005_ch_059.jpgFrom the very beginning, I had friends who went to Burning Man. They always said “Sarah, you and Max have got to go! These are Your People!” But what with kids in school and vacations that had to be scheduled a year in advance, it wasn’t until 2000 that we managed it. It turned out to be every bit as much Home for us as our friends had thought it would be. That first year we biked around in awe at the abundant smorgasbord of creativity served up by people unafraid to explore and be themselves — we knew we’d be back every year to share in the adventure!

The next year, our youngest, 13 at the time, wanted to go too. An old soul, I wasn’t worried about what he might see or experience — he was always wise beyond his years — but I wasn’t up for being “Mom” at Burning Man. So I got a ticket for his tutor and she was his chaperone for the week. Running into the boy in camp I might say, “If your mother were here, she’d remind you to put on more sunscreen and make sure your water bottle is full before you head out.” He’s been a Burner ever since. The year after that, the boy’s best friend wanted to go, but his parents didn’t want him to go without them, so we all camped together along with their friends Boyscout and his wife. The year after that, our older son, my sister and her husband, and Boyscout’s parents from Kentucky joined us, too.

So I guess I wasn’t that surprised when in 2004, during our pit-stop in Reno on our way to the Playa, I got a call from my parents saying, “Can you buy us tickets at the gate and we’ll meet you there?!” (more…)

Soundwave – Festival of Cutting Edge Art and Music Experiences

MEDIATE Art Group, producers of the Soundwave, a festival of cutting edge art and music experiences, is launching their 7th season with a fundraiser and launch party. (You may remember them from Illuminated Forest, a 2010 Black Rock Arts Foundation grantee project that transformed a San Francisco multimedia art space, The Lab, into an immersive, surrealistic environment.) We’re excited to see what MEDIATE Art Group has in store this time around. They are always pushing the borders of sound, projection, and performance in innovative ways to raise awareness of our relationship to our environment.

Mediate Art Group at Obscura Digital (Photo by Vlad Spears)

When: Friday, June 5th, 2015 from 6:30pm – 10pm
Where: Obscura Digital, 729 Tennessee Street, San Francisco, CA
Cost: $20
Tickets: See the event page

There will be live music performances by Christopher Willits of ENVELOP, Elia Vargas and Nathan Blaz, as well as projection mapping by Azael Ferrer Gordo, interactive art installations, DJs, drinks, dancing and more.

Visit MEDIATE Art Group’s website to learn more about their work.


Visit “Aurora” in Palo Alto through Summer 2015

Do you remember “Aurora” from Burning Man 2011? This beautiful LED sculpture of a willow tree, with opalescent bark and shiny copper leaves has been installed at Palo Alto City Hall since November 2013. This was a joint effort by the artist Charles Gadeken, Aurora Kids grassroots campaign, Kickstarter donors, Black Rock Arts Foundation, and the Palo Alto Public Art Commission (PAAC.) We have just learned that its placement has been extended by the PAAC for the summer of 2015!

Aurora in front of Palo Alto City Hall, 2013 (photo by Jason Chinn)
“Aurora the Willow” by Charles Gadeken in front of Palo Alto City Hall, 2013 (photo by Jason Chinn)

Now … how can you help?

  • Take advantage of beautiful weather nights to visit Aurora in Palo Alto this summer! Use our new interactive smartphone app, an innovation since Burning Man 2011, to control the color changes and patterns on the tree.
  • If you are a Palo Alto resident, tell the Palo Alto PAC how much you have enjoyed Aurora’s installation.
  • Donate to Aurora Palo Alto to help fund the de-installation process — cranes cost money!
  • Contact Charles Gadeken if you have an idea for an event showing, public art opportunity, or private collector opportunity for Aurora.

Many thanks from Charles Gadeken and the Aurora crew!

Artist Interview: Let’s All Jump into The Pool with Jen Lewin

This is our first post in a series of artist interviews. In these interviews, we asked artists to share their words of wisdom, lessons learned, and encouragement to new artists. Our community’s artists are a wealth of knowledge–this is just one way we here at Voices of Burning Man can support the advancement of innovative and collaborative art.

“Tripping the light fantastic” takes on a literal meaning with Jen Lewin’s fabulously interactive light sculptures The Pool and The Super Pool. The Boulder, Colorado-based light sculptor and her team have carved out an enviable international reputation with the giant concentric circles of circular pads emitting ever-changing colors of shifting and fading light. The Pool debuted at Burning Man in 2008, and received a Global Art Grant, to support the work’s exhibition in other cities, later that  year.

"The Pool" by Jen Lewin at SXSW, 2012 (Photo courtesy of the artist)
“The Pool” by Jen Lewin at SXSW, 2012 (Photo courtesy of the artist)

Delighted people worldwide step, hop, and skip into a seemingly simply but technologically complex environment where they can individually or collectively create dazzling, luminous patterns. Light is enlisted and directed through chance choreography. One form of energy—human movement—is transformed into another. The pooling of spontaneous collaborative effort create infinite variations on a theme. Lewin’s work has been wildly successful beyond the site-specific conditions and demographics of the playa at Burning Man. She took a break from her insanely busy schedule to answer a few questions on the challenges of creating and sustaining interactive art for all forms of community, the promotional challenges for her creation, and to offer some advice for artists embarking on this path.

Peter: What was your hope for The Pool when you designed it?

Jen: The Pool started with a passionate vision for what I wanted the sculpture to be. It took years to really actualize this and physically create what I was able to so easily imagine. I wanted to create a giant, fully interactive and beautiful environment of light that could allow participants to both play actively with the sculpture, but also with each other. I wanted to create a piece that could go anywhere in the world, and could connect, create, and activate community through art.

There were lots of hiccups, and LOTS of learning experiences. The first time we built and installed The Pool in 2008 it was completely destroyed, and my team and I were devastated. But we jumped back, and fully rebuilt the sculpture in 2009. Since then I have rebuilt the piece yearly. Some of these rebuilds have been entirely from scratch with all new technology, and some have been adaptations. We have collaborated both successfully and unsuccessfully with outside teams and learned a lot!!!

Over time we have honed the piece, and really mastered its production. The reality is that it is VERY hard to make a piece that is this interactive. The Super Pool for example has almost as many controllable LEDS as the Bay Lights Project. However, we allow users to jump, bang, and stomp on our controllers. We take the piece into the snow, ice, heat, and travel with it worldwide. This results in a pretty amazing challenge.

Peter: Where did you see it going beyond Burning Man?

Jen: I always saw the piece as going beyond Burning Man. I love Burning Man, but my objective is to create community through art, and Burning Man, while amazing, is only one type of community on earth. I feel very strongly that the sculpture needed to speak to other groups, cultures, and needed to work in all types of environments.

I believe very strongly in the participatory nature of Burning Man art and its root philosophy, but I also feel strongly that this philosophy needs to expand into the rest of the world. As Burning Man artists this should be one of our goals.

Peter: What have been the challenges in showing your work publicly?

Jen: Raw logistics are a real thing. Negotiating contracts, negotiating budgets, dealing with crating and freighting, and issues with on-site power and installation problems—this is the hard part.

Then of course, beyond this mountain of logistics, the sculpture has to be built to survive. Part of this is assumes for failure. We know that 5% of our pucks will break per transit. We know that the onsite power will likely be faulty and crates will not arrive on time. We plan for this and have very specific structures to enable my team to expect these types of issues, and work through them. It’s a ‘cup half empty’ and ‘cup half full’ mentality. It’s all going to fail, but we can work with this.

As an artist, you also need to evolve to be a great business operator. You need to manage a team, manage a budget, and manage your sculpture. It is through doing this that you can then manage a great and successful public exhibition. I know we often like to imagine the artist as a solo, crazed, creative, and unique individual without any business acumen, but I think this is a romantic idealized myth that is not really helpful. In truth, most of the prolific artists throughout human history have been business savvy. To be honest, I am not the best manager, however, I have committed to working on this, and it has helped me immensely.

Peter: Your work has now been seen at over 30 major installations worldwide. How did you connect with these opportunities?

Jen: Getting your work out there is a numbers game. A lot of artists don’t want to admit this.

When I got started, for every 10 submissions (comprehensive full submissions that a lot of time to do) I got 1-2 bites back. Of these bites, about 50% became a real show/project.

Over time, and as my reputation increased, my success rate for submissions increased. HOWEVER, even today, only about 1/2 of our submissions become a reality. This means that for those 30 shows you are referring to, we had at least 60 submissions.

Right now we apply and submit for a project weekly. This equates to just work — unstoppable work. You can’t get discouraged by rejections. You just need to keep working, keep submitting, and keep trying.

There Was a Burning Man Who Lived in a Shoe…

Do you miss stories? I mean real stories with characters and heroic journeys and magic that works. Stories without screens or controls or cinematic cut scenes. Modern life is pretty impoverished in the stories department, which is actually a great reason to be a Burner. Burning Man gives life that sense of a mythic arc, and our Burning Man experiences are inseparable from the stories we tell about them.

Storied Haven is about getting that sense of story back. It’s the latest big art project from Five Ton Crane, the Oakland crew that brought you the Raygun Gothic Rocketship, the Steampunk Treehouse, and the Nautilus submarine. But just like all of their projects, Storied Haven will be like nothing you’ve ever seen before.


Kicking Concierge Caboose in Black Rock City

Yes, they really made this. Yes, that's a computer-generated plane.
Yes, they really made this. Yes, that’s a computer-generated plane.

I’ve Got Your “Vacation Package” Right Here

Festivals Concierge Services, part of a larger European-focused concierge company called The Key, offers VIP-priced packages for events and festivals around the world, which is great for them. They also want to offer them for Burning Man, but that’s not going to happen.

We believe strongly that paying upfront for a prescribed, curated experience that doesn’t require individual effort misses the mark and erodes Burning Man culture, and it’s absolutely not okay to sell people “the Burning Man experience” as a vacation package. This is precisely the kind of service we hope to eliminate from Black Rock City: one that essentially offers participation and “self-expression” in a box.

[In case you forgot, we have a comprehensive website section about how we deal with turnkey camping.]

Read on to learn about our interactions with Festivals Concierge Services, the actions we’re taking to stop what they’d like to do in Black Rock City, and how you can help.


We first learned of Festivals Concierge Services (FCS) in the summer of 2014 when we received reports about their website — — which was selling concierge services involving Black Rock City. We reached out concerning their unapproved uses of Burning Man’s intellectual property (IP) and offer of unauthorized services. Festivals Concierge Services changed the website as we requested, and they claimed that they were not offering any services at or to the 2014 Burning Man event in Nevada.

We next heard about Festivals Concierge Services in March 2015 when we received reports about the “Art on Playa Foundation,” an organization that Festivals Concierge Services started, purportedly to help their wealthy clients provide financial support to Burning Man artists. We saw that the Art on Playa website was using our logo and other IP, and causing confusion among artists and other participants about our involvement with them (we had none). So we reached out to Festivals Concierge Services again, explained our principles and policies again, and asked them to stop using our IP on their websites. Once again, they agreed to comply with our requests.

Sadly, we can’t say we were totally surprised when we learned that Festivals Concierge Services recently added a new “Burning Man concierge” page to its website. They have since changed the leading graphic — bearing a garish, computer-generated private jet flying over Black Rock City — to read “Black Rock City” instead of “Burning Man,” but FCS still uses the Burning Man name liberally (for example, at press time, FCS lists Burning Man as one of its “Products” on its Facebook info page). The page makes unauthorized use of Burning Man’s IP and claims to offer concierge services at our 2015 event (everything from transportation and tickets to Mutant Vehicle rentals and on-site theme camp management). This is all completely unauthorized by the Burning Man organization. Our community also took notice, and offered their pointed opinions protesting these activities in a Facebook thread that was deleted by Festival Concierge Services on 5/20/15.

Taking Action

We have contacted Festivals Concierge Services yet again, reminding them that they can’t offer “Burning Man concierge services” or use our IP to promote their business. We’re also taking a number of other steps to protect our principles and our stance on this issue:

  • Notifying applicants to our Outside Services (OSS) and Air Carrier Services (ACS) programs that if we learn they are doing business or subcontracting with concierges services (such as FCS) or their clients, we will deny access to the OSS and ACS programs.
  • Revisiting and revising the overall OSS program structure so companies like this can’t exploit the system (this process began after the 2014 event).
  • Notifying BLM that FCS will not have a contract with Burning Man and should not receive a BLM Special Recreation Permit to operate its concierge business on public land.
  • Coordinating with DMV and Placement to ask Mutant Vehicle operators and theme camp organizers not to provide services or camping to FCS or their clients.
  • Working with our Ticketing Team to prevent FCS staff from acquiring event tickets for resale to their clients.
  • Communicating with YOU, our community, to keep you informed about these activities, and to solicit your help with combating the packaging and sale of our culture now and in the future.

We welcome your questions and comments below. If you’re aware of any other companies using Burning Man’s intellectual property to sell “VIP Burning Man experiences” or the like, send a report to ip here: ip (at)