A Statement from Jim Tananbaum

Burning Man Project board member and Caravancicle founder Jim Tananbaum has addressed questions raised about his 2014 camp in Black Rock City.

The following was posted today on Caravancicle.com … we’re reposting it here for your convenience:

I am writing to respond to a number of posts regarding Caravancicle, a camp of which I was a member in 2014 – I also helped envision and fund the camp.

 

I first want to apologize broadly to anyone who felt disrespected by our camp or concerned about the implications of our camp’s operation to the long-term health of Burning Man.

 

I have been attending Burning Man every year since 2009. Burning Man is a singularly impactful event for me and, since first attending, I have become deeply moved by the 10 Principles, the potential for these principles to change the world, and the environment of the playa as an embodiment of the principles. This is the reason I joined the Burning Man Board of Directors. It is also the reason why I wanted to create a camp environment that would help enable my friends to share the transformative experience of Burning Man. In addition, we wanted to introduce a more sustainable, communal and aesthetically pleasing alternative to RVs to the playa. It was always our intention to provide an open environment, which welcomed everyone and was consistent with the spirit of Burning Man. It is clear based on blog posts and comments made online that not everyone experienced what we intended.

 

For that, I would like to apologize. Despite our best intentions and efforts, some things did not turn out as planned.

 

Caravancicle is the third camp I have been involved with at Burning Man. My experience has been with larger camps requiring some workers to provide the infrastructure. Our camp was constructed by a long-term Burner with deep respect and care for the community, who was hired to manage the camp. He also led the build for the camp we did the year before. We have worked with people in the past to build out our camp who were hired by the camp organizers and then would enjoy the Burning Man experience when they were not working. Our campmates would staff the bar, greet people, give out gifts, etc.  This year, our plan was to gift a neighboring camp infrastructure in exchange for their assistance in building ours. We were trying to build community through sharing resources.

 

To make a long and painful story short, our partners were not able to complete our build and our remaining staff was left having to build out toilets, showers and other infrastructure (without having planned to and therefore not having the proper resources to do so). During this crisis, many people in our camp rose to the occasion, but a few, like “SherpaGirl,” decided to leave and then wrote a disappointing account of her few hours in our camp. Another person in camp posted a sign asking for help without asking anyone else. We had some first time Burners in the camp, including the person who posted the sign. We also had many return Burners in the camp.  I think most people attending Burning Man have had some unexpected situations; we did, and we tried to adjust to these in the moment.

 

The hero of this unfortunate situation was our camp’s manager who worked tirelessly for 2 days along with other camp members to help provide basic infrastructure for all of us. While the crisis was going on, all of us were greatly distracted and weren’t able to properly respond to the many people coming through our camp. Our supplies were also dwindling. Since the camp was so large, we used wristbands to help manage the food, water, and booze supply during non-public hours. It was really sad for me to read the accounts of people who visited our camp and were turned down for drinks during the day (including a number of my friends). Ughh….  If we had simply posted a sign providing details on camp gift times, it would have made a big difference.

 

Our camp breakdown was also compromised because the group responsible for providing the infrastructure was also responsible for part of the breakdown. In the end, our camp manager and some other members of the camp, plus breakdown staff, cleaned up our camp by Saturday after the event. We took a photo of our campsite before we left the playa and it was free of MOOP. We then learned that a camp next door was having significant issues with clean up and we sent trucks back to help them. It is unclear to me as to why we remain with some red marks on the MOOP map.

 

To specifically answer questions:  I did not profit from Caravancicle (in fact I gifted money, as I do every year). Our bar was open to the public at night but not during the day. We should have posted a sign to make this clear. On Friday night, used up all of our booze to gift a huge party for anyone who visited our camp. We regularly gifted very yummy homemade popsicles and herbal tea but were not able to set up the gift stand in front of the camp as originally envisioned because of the build crisis we had. We regularly gifted drinks, water, and electrolytes at night.

 

Regarding questions on the 10 Principles of Burning Man:

 

1. Radical Inclusion: Burning Man welcomes people from all walks of life. Referring to Caravancicle campers or members of any other camp as “the rich people” is creating a class system within Burning Man, which I don’t believe is beneficial to the community. Our camp welcomed people from all walks of life. Sometimes we had art cars that were filled up with our camp members and would not have been safe to include others. During other parts of the days, these art cars welcomed anyone to come on board until they were filled to safe capacity.

 

2. Gifting: Burning Man is devoted to acts of giving. Caravancicle gifted popsicles, tea, booze, water and electrolytes, but at the beginning of the week we did not serve non-camp members drinks during the day and failed to make it clear to non-camp members that we would be offering drinks during nighttime hours to everyone. We did gift a blow out Friday party with full bar and snacks. We could have greatly improved our communications on this matter.

 

3. Decommodification: Our community seeks to create social environments that are unmediated by commercial sponsorship, transactions, or advertising. Caravancicle was in no way affiliated with any third party sponsorships. We hired a team to produce the camp (as many camps do), but Caravancicle did not participate in any advertising. The ‘promotional materials’ and website were sent to guests who were invited to join the camp. We did not actively promote the camp. No one in Caravancicle made money off of the camp.

 

4. Radical Self-reliance: Although many of the more physical aspects of self-reliance were lost on the Caravanciclers, camp members were encouraged to exercise and rely on their inner resources. Just as in other camps, many members spent extensive amounts of time reflecting and self-exploring out on the playa. They faced many of the same challenges every other Burner faces at the event.

 

5. Radical Self-expression: Caravancicle was an act of creative expression in and of itself. The camp had months and months of planning and effort put into it, including help from many of its members. While not all members of the camp participated in the creative aspect of building the camp, each brought their own unique personality, costumes and contributions to Burning Man.

 

6. Communal Effort: While I can’t argue that Caravancicle members had significantly less work to do as far as cooking and maintenance, all members were still responsible for chores around camp including, but not limited to, picking up trash and being responsible for washing their own dishes. We also created a beautiful space open to the public that fostered cooperation and collaboration.

 

7. Civic Responsibility: Caravancicle assumed responsibility for the conduct of our events. We refused alcohol to minors and to people who didn’t have cups in order to limit MOOP. On one specific instance there were so many bikes parked outside one of our parties that the Rangers had to come inside and let us know. We killed the music and shut down the party immediately, making sure the mess was cleared up right away.

 

8. Leaving No Trace: Our clean up was delayed because of our co-dependency on a partner camp. We were able to clean our site, with pictures taken that document a clean site on Saturday after the event. It is unclear to me why we received red marks on the MOOP map, but I think we were generally docked points because we were late in leaving. We also sent back help for a neighbor camp that was having difficulties cleaning up.

 

9. Participation: Members of Caravancicle participated and achieved through “doing”. I urge everyone to remember that for some of our campers, this was their first burn. Personally, I contributed substantially less my first year than I have in years since. This year, however, I allocated vast amounts of time, effort and money to create something beautiful to share with the community.

 

10. Immediacy: Most Burners agree that Immediacy is the touchstone of value in our culture. Just like every other participant in this community, I wish to overcome barriers that stand between us and a recognition of our inner selves. I did not get it perfectly right, but I did make my best effort to create something beautiful and creative, unique and innovative.

 

Regarding other questions that have been raised about me and my camp:

 

Plug and Play: While a lot of personal responsibility was deflected onto camp employees, I have worked tirelessly since the beginning of the year planning, organizing and executing a camp that brought beauty and value to the playa. Although some of our campers were “plug and play” participants per se, the act of judging them or excluding them goes against everything that Burning Man stands for regarding radical inclusion.

 

Profit: There have been suggestions that our camp was for profit. I can assure you our camp generated no money and was not, in any way, a money making venture. Additionally, the Burning Man organization was in no way involved with the planning or production of the camp – it was an entirely personal project.  Our website was meant to be viewed by 60 or so people who were planning to participate in our camp and was password protected. The material which referred to artists was produced by our partner camp and not us as a way of describing what they envisioned. Our partner camp described this as fully endorsed by the artists they included. I am sorry that people outside of Caravancicle camp were able to gain access to our website and share our draft material without our authorization. I am also sorry about artists whose names they included without their authorization. Caravancicle was trying to create an environment which shared the beauty of our architecture and design with other creative forces on the playa.

 

Burning Man Project Board of Directors: I joined the board of directors because I’m passionate about the impact Burning Man culture can have on the world, and because I believe my professional experience and perspective is valuable to the new nonprofit at this early stage of its development. I believe Burning Man and what it has to offer the world is still very nascent and am thrilled to be working with other board members to steward its growth and development.

 

I believe there is a silver lining in the discussion our camp has engendered because it has caused a healthy dialog about the implications for Burning Man’s evolution. I am proud to be a Burner. I am proud that my fellow Burners felt passionate enough about the sanctity of Burning Man to push this discussion, and I look forward to taking new ideas and lessons learned into the future.

Margaret left a trace

DumpsterWe always think of the principle of “Leave No Trace” as applying to things. To garbage. To left over zip ties. To empty cans on the ground.

But does it apply to people?

Do we want it to?

I was struck, this week, by an email that “This is Burning Man” author Brian Doherty sent out encouraging people in the Bay Area to see a show produced in large part by burners this Friday at the Castro Theatre.

The show is about a woman of whom there was no trace. Whose life was, literally, thrown in the garbage.

While hunting for a place to illegally dump some trash at three in the morning, an old-time Burner (Chicken John) found a magnificent leather scrap book at the bottom of a dumpster. It was, all but literally, the life of a woman named Margaret Rucker. It had her birth certificate, pictures of her life, clippings from news articles about tragic things that befell her, and excerpts from poetry magazines of verse she’d had published. It ended with her death certificate.

It was all there. At the bottom of a dumpster. If he hadn’t found it, it would have been destroyed.

What happened? He had no idea. Nobody knew. For maybe 15 years he carried this scrapbook around with him, read from it, shared it with people – put on shows devoted to Margaret’s poetry and the mystery of her life.

No answers. Except insofar as we all know, deep down, that people are disposable. That at some point all we are will be left in a trash bin. That no trace will be left. (more…)

The Bay Lights Will Blink On as a Permanent Installation

Image courtesy of thebaylights.org

The Bay Lights, which first started sparkling across the Bay Bridge in March 2013, just hit its funding goal and will now be a permanent installation. The 1.8 mile-wide, 500-foot-high LED sculpture is the world’s largest, made of 25,000 white LEDs whose patterns glow from sundown to sunrise and never repeat. It will stay lit until 2026 at least.

In an email to supporters, Ben Davis, founder and CEO of Illuminate the Arts and big-time Burner, says that the $2 million raised so far was matched by philanthropist Tad Taube, bringing the organization to the $4 million baseline goal.

The Bay Lights installation is the brainchild of Leo Villareal, a world-renowned artist with many equally dazzling installations under his belt. He’s also one of the founders of Disorient, which is a Burning Man camp that, even if you haven’t heard of it, you’ve definitely heard. You know the blinky orange-y camp on the 3-o’-clock side of the Esplanade? Used to rock a giant orange traffic cone-looking thing? Yeah, them. Leo joined the inaugural Burning Man Board of Directors in 2011, and he re-upped after his initial term ended, continuing to serve on the Board today.

Villareal has been coming to Black Rock City since 1994, and he brought his first blinky installation in 1997 to solve a clear, simple problem: he had trouble finding his camp at night. That drove him to build his first large-scale piece in New York in 2003, and it just got more ambitious and beautiful from there. As a Burning Man veteran, Villareal is surely used to having to take apart his art and pack it up, but now he’s built the largest LED sculpture in the world, and the people have raised the money to keep it lit.

The piece has to be taken down for bridge maintenance next year, but the New York Times arts blog reports that the piece will be up again by January 2016.

Thank you to everyone who donated to keep this beautiful piece alight in the cities from which the global Burning Man culture has spread.

Welcome Back, Lake Lahontan!

Our man Taz, who holds down the technological fort year-round in Gerlach, sent us word today that the great Lake Lahontan has returned! Luckily, he sent not only word, but pictures!

Wait, what’s Lake Lahontan, you may ask? Well, our beloved Black Rock Desert is actually a dry ancient lakebed – the lake that was once Lake Lahontan (take a look at the dark rings around the mountains surrounding the playa and you’ll see where the waterline was). And during wet years, water flows from up north and fills – very thinly, it’s cool and creepy – some or all of the playa basin.

Now, given the historical drought that the Western United States has been experiencing this year (historic as in the worst since Charlemagne was emperor of Europe – like not fooling around historic), this is fantastic news. It’s still a drop in the bucket, but it’s a drop nonetheless, and we’ll take it.

All it’s gonna take is a helluva lot more to give us higher hopes of having a smooth, solid playa surface for Burning Man 2015. Keep your fingers crossed. (Click to embiggen the images.)

Lake Lahontan, 12/10/14 (Photo by Taz)
Lake Lahontan, 12/10/14 (Photo by Taz)
Lake Lahontan, 12/10/14 (Photo by Taz)
Lake Lahontan, 12/10/14 (Photo by Taz)
Lake Lahontan, 12/10/14 (Photo by Taz)
Lake Lahontan, 12/10/14 (Photo by Taz)

Welcome to Burningman.org

Burningman.com circa 1997
Burningman.com circa 1997

The first Burning Man website — a page, really — appeared in 1994 on the WeLL, a Sausalito-based Internet provider. That held down the fort until a 100% volunteer team comprised of Eric Waterman, Rusty Hodge, Scott Beale and Marian Goodell launched the first use of the Burning Man domain Burningman.com on April 1, 1997. The site went through a number of rapid iterations as the technology evolved and the community’s population exploded. This rapid growth evened out in 2001, and the last time Burning Man’s website got a facelift was in 2003.

RIP Burningman.comUntil today. Now that tectonic technological shifts have left Burningman.com verging on obsolescence, and the Burning Man organization has transitioned into a non-profit (some would say an equally earth-shaking occurrence), it was time to bring the site — and our story — into the modern era.

While the dream of Burningman.org started bouncing around our brains years ago, we kicked off the daunting process of creating it about 12 months ago. It would require the marrying of Burningman.com, Burningmanproject.org, Blackrockarts.org, and bringing a number of other Burning Man website properties into the fold. And, it would require sewing them all together into an information architecture that would create a seamless, sensible whole.

We chose to go with WordPress, and Burning Man’s tech team went to work making it do a whole host of amazing and unnatural things, including crafting it into a robust, customized publishing system. Our design team was determined not only to bring the site up to modern standards (responsive design, for instance), but to surpass them. The content team dug through an absolute mountain of content — a mountain sitting atop a massive underground cavern, filled with historical treasures that many of us didn’t even know existed. And we went about surfacing the rich visual history of this culture, thanks to the amazing photographers and videographers in our community.

Welcome Home
Long live burningman.org!

Our goal with Burningman.org was to create the ultimate storytelling tool for Burning Man — to support and honor its growth as a global culture making a significant impact in the world. Burning Man is no longer just about the event in Black Rock City. It’s about people living Burning Man every day, everywhere. Burningman.org tells the story of an event that spawned a culture that is supported and spread by a network of like-minded, interconnected individuals on five continents around the world.

Fancy new Burning Man historical timeline.
Fancy new Burning Man historical timeline.

A key part of that story is our historical roots, knowledge of which is important for anybody wanting to be a part of this grand experiment, even if you never attend the event in Black Rock City. So we unearthed all that historical treasure from beneath the mountain of content, and we brought it out into the light — we’re especially excited about our Historical Timeline and Event Archives.

Another key aspect of our culture is participation. You’ll find opportunities — and inspiration — to participate throughout the site, whether in person or online, in Black Rock City or your home town. Over time, we’ll add more features that engage and encourage direct participation, including new ways to join discussions about the information, ideas and issues that affect our community, whether that’s “what’s the best way to build a shade structure?” or “how do I build a real-world business that rhymes with the Ten Principles?”.

Get inspired!In taking nearly 5,000 pages (yes, really) and consolidating them into 1,800, we endeavored to balance what our website visitors want to know with what would inspire them about being a part of this culture. We’re proud of what we’ve built, and we hope it makes you proud to be a Burner.

If you experience any problems with the site, or see something we missed, please let us know through the Contact Us page. And if you want to know who worked on this complex project, check out the (very short, relative to the immensity of the project) list of folks who built this thing.

[Editor’s Note: We’ve been typing “burningman.com” about 50 times a day, every day for the last 11 years — possibly the hardest part of this project will be breaking that habit.]

Crimson Rose Addresses World Cities Culture Forum

World Cities Culture Summit Amsterdam 2014 - Day 2Burning Man founder Crimson Rose attended the 2014 World Cities Culture Forum and Summit in Amsterdam and brought back insights from some of the world’s greatest cities. These insights can help us think about Black Rock City in new ways, of course. But they’re also lessons Burners can bring to any city at any time, just as we do with the art and the values we’ve developed in our home of Black Rock City.

The overarching issues discussed at this year’s summit were remarkably relevant to Burning Man culture, and it’s a good thing a Burning Man founder was there to offer reactions. Crimson reports that there was a pervasive attitude among the representatives in attendance that the culture of a place can be “branded” and sold like any other economic product. Crimson’s response was that culture is more like a living organism; it must grow, eat, breathe, and change, or else it will die. Black Rock City residents know this well.

Crimson Rose (r) speaks at the World Cities Culture Summit, 2014
Crimson Rose (r) speaks at the World Cities Culture Summit, 2014

In another example, Amsterdam is attempting to change the word “tourist” to “visitor” in its tourism culture. We know this “no tourists!” problem well enough to understand that changing the word for it is not enough. All the norms around integrating newcomers into the city have to change, and that extends to all residents, not just official policy. That challenge is going to be harder in Amsterdam than it is in BRC; the Netherlands is starting to see anti-tourism protests during big events.

Cities are also often hosts to spectacular cultural events, like sports and performances, which have a tried and true formula for how they run: people buy tickets, buy concessions, sit down, watch the show, and leave. Crimson was pleased to see that some cities, particularly Montreal, are beginning to push for more interactive and participatory events.

World Cities Culture Summit Amsterdam 2014 - Day 2Crimson herself appeared on a panel called “Transformational Outdoor Creative Projects.” The other panelists were Pep Gattell of La Fura dels Baus, Helen Marriage of Artichoke (a Burning Man Project partner), and Mark Ball from Lift. The moderator was Ruth MacKenzie, director of the Holland Festival. It was an open, free event attended by Summit attendees and locals. In further conversation after the panel, Crimson introduced Daniela from the Amsterdam Regional Group to some of the officials and guests at the Summit, many of whom didn’t know about the Burning Man Decompression event happening in Amsterdam two days later. These kind of serendipitous connections are just waiting to happen at a summit like this.

Crimson says Amsterdam was delightful, bike-friendly, and arts and culture were bursting into the streets. Sound like a dusty city you know?

Equality, Inequity, Iniquity: Concierge Culture

“In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”
–Motto of the American Grange

I began my career in the desert sleeping out of doors in the lee of a truck. The next year I brought out a low-slung two-man tent that accommodated my belongings and a sleeping bag. This arrangement was succeeded, after a period of years, by a series of ugly RV’s. Eventually I bought my current trailer; though battered by eight winters in the desert, it is still quite sleek and tighter than a can of tuna. It is an elegant home. Sometimes I half-humorously refer to this as the higher survival. I chronicle my history of upward mobility because I don’t believe this story is unique. Feathering one’s nest is a perennial human aspiration. It is amenities that make a house a home, and everyone should have a right to practice home improvement.

Black Rock City, 2012 (photographer unknown)
Black Rock City, 2012 (photographer unknown)

In the midst of the current controversy about Plug and Play camps, there has been a great deal of talk about equality, but I think that much of this misses the mark. Scan Burning Man’s Ten Principles, and you will not find radical equality among them. This is because our city has always been a place where old and young, and rich and poor, can live on common ground. The word for this is fellowship, as in the fellowship of a club or lodge whose members, however diverse, are united by common values and a sense of shared experience. But common ground is not a level playing field, and should not be interpreted as mandating equal living conditions.

This issue of equality almost amounts to a straw man. I do not believe that most people would want to live in a city that is the equivalent of a Marxist State, a place in which the prying eyes of envious neighbors are forever trained upon one. Instead, I think the current controversy over Plug and Play camps is not so much about equality, but concerns a very different though related concept: inequity – a basic sense of unfairness. Whenever a select group is allowed special access to tickets, especially when these tickets are in short supply, this can inspire ill feeling. This is doubly so if such a camp is widely perceived to be flouting nearly all of Burning Man’s Ten Principles. This is what has stuck and rankled in the public mind. It is as if these camps have been allowed to parade past the Main Sale ticket queue and insert themselves at the head of the line.

We do of course afford such a privilege to placed theme camps, collaborating artists, and many other quasi-public groups. This takes the form of a separate sale of directed tickets. However people don’t complain about this practice because it is now widely acknowledged that these camps are making special contributions to the life of Black Rock City. Unlike Plug and Play camps, which make up less than one percent of our city’s population, these activist camps are helping to knit together our city’s culture. They accomplish this by giving gifts that are above and beyond the common call of duty.

It therefore follows that the best reform we can enact is to stop placing these Plug and Play camps in a category that sets them apart from others. This was done informally, it was not fully thought out, and we apologize for this mistake. To rectify this error, we now intend to make these camps subject to the standards that have regulated theme camps and related groups. This means that in order to receive placement, early arrival passes to the event site, or access to preferential tickets, they must demonstrate what they propose to give to their fellow citizens. Not only is this fair, we also think this will lead to deeper and more heartfelt change. No amount of preaching can replace immediate experience, and we believe that constant interaction can be the best teacher of all.

This leads me to another aspect of inequity. Is it fair that Burning Man sells a limited number of higher-priced tickets that provide better access to the event? In order to adequately answer this question, I will first recount a little history. As everyone in the world now seems to know, in 2012 Burning Man went through a crisis. In that year demand for tickets exceeded supply by something like a 3:1 ratio. At the same time, the Bureau of Land Management, our Federal landlords, had placed hard limits on our city’s growth – it was the perfect storm, and many ticket buyers, long accustomed to unlimited access to the event, reacted angrily. People wanted a commodity that’s called a ticket, and over a span of several weeks, any sense of fellowship flew out the window – it was like a riot at a Blue Light Sale. Many people offered plans to solve this problem, and yet it often seemed that these solutions were actually crafted to ensure that they would receive a ticket. Amid much finger pointing and scapegoating, even theme campers were denounced as a privileged elite.

To look at this charitably, it’s clear to me that none of this would have happened if Burning Man were merely a consumer event. The passions that many people have brought to this issue are the result of a deep-seated commitment to an experience that has changed their lives. But as it was then, during the great ticket furor, so it is today; now it is being said that wealthy people – imagined as one-per-centers and gentrifiers who are taking over America – are actively demeaning and oppressing ordinary citizens, and that event organizers, motivated by greed, are selling out their principles. It is even said, bizarrely, that we’re scalping our own tickets. Such a picture has all of the advantages of melodrama, but the real story, especially as it relates to money, is very different.

We have sold a limited number of higher-priced tickets on a first-come first-served basis since 2008. In 2014, 3,113 of these tickets, priced at $650, were sold as part of our early Pre-Sale program. The advantage to the customer was that it was possible to order four tickets at one time – twice the number of tickets allotted to purchasers of $380 tickets in our Main Sale. There can be no doubt that this was preferential treatment and, on the face of it, this appears to be the sort of inequity that has angered people. But the mystery of our motive is revealed by another statistic. In 2014, we sold 4,422 Low Income tickets priced at $190, and this more than mirrors the number of higher priced tickets sold through our Pre-Sale program. We took money from the rich and subsidized the poor; and this seems fair to us.

This account of how money flows through our organization also has another dimension. In 2014 the owners of the Burning Man event transferred their shares to a not-for-profit corporation called the Burning Man Project, and the event is now nested within this new organization as a wholly owned subsidiary. The mission of the Project is to spread our culture throughout the world. This is an ambitious goal, to say the least, and such a start-up enterprise requires money. Over a span of three years, the Burning Man event has spent quite a lot of money in order to create this new non-profit and fund its operations. In other words, the Burning Man event has been the Project’s chief contributor.

We hope the Burning Man Project will soon become completely self-reliant – The Little Engine That Could can’t really pull many more cars. But until that time arrives,  a portion of our ticket sales will continue to benefit the Burning Man Project. Since 2012, when tickets first became a scarce commodity, I think some people have become so obsessed with squeezing through the narrow aperture that leads to Black Rock City they have lost any sense of a wider perspective. But from our point of view, by giving money to the Burning Man Project, we are making it possible for thousands of people, who might not ever come to Black Rock City, to participate in Burning Man’s culture.

This brings me to examine one last notion that has been in play throughout the present controversy over Plug and Play camps: the idea that these camps are guilty of committing some great act of wickedness – this is called iniquity. There can certainly be no doubt that there are conspicuous camps in Black Rock City that have practiced what I call concierge culture, and their missteps have been many; they have fielded members-only art cars, they have withdrawn from surrounding neighborhoods, and it would appear a few of these camps may have stationed security guards at camp entrances – they have, in other words, swaddled their members in a kind of cocoon that bears a strong resemblance to a gated community.

This kind of behavior is certainly an affront to our culture, though I find it hard to believe it has hampered or injured anybody. The curdling gaze of celebrities or the intimidating presence of the wealthy cannot possibly inhibit the remaining 99 percent of our citizens from participating. What I think these camps are really guilty of is being gauche. This is not so much about morals, it is more about manners, and we’re convinced bad manners can be mended; we can regulate the use of art cars, we can fashion guidelines for the funders and producers of Plug and Play camps, and we can make a systematic effort to monitor the result of these changes. Anyone who knows our history must be aware we have done this sort of thing before. In 1997, we enacted reforms that regulated access to the event, eliminated use of firearms, instituted speed limits for motor vehicles, and required cars be anchored to camp sites.

And yet, with all this talk of regulation, I hope everyone realizes we are beginning to move down the path toward a society that is ever more rule bound – and that should not be our objective. If Burning Man is about anything, it is about affording individuals as much liberty as possible, and critics who call for drastic and punitive measures are acting as if the Ten Principles are the Ten Commandments – but these principles are in no way commandments. They represent an ethos that arose from the lived experience of a community; this means these values need to be internalized, they should become a kind of second nature, not a set of literal and unyielding rules that are imposed upon us. The only thing that our tasked government can do is create new social contexts in which people can connect and meet on common ground. That is what we’ve always done, and will continue to do in the future.

[Editor’s Note: Please read Turnkey / Plug and Play Camping in BRC, a companion piece to this post.]

Turnkey / Plug and Play Camping in BRC

Introduction

As soon as we packed up and left the playa this year, some disconcerting stories and questions began to emerge about camps reportedly engaging in behavior counter to what Burning Man is all about.

Questions range from the logistical – how do these camps operate in BRC? Does the organization provide them with resources? — to the more philosophical – is the event fundamentally changing as a result of Burners bringing their luxurious lifestyles to the playa? What does this mean for Black Rock City and Burning Man culture?

bm-man-transparentAt Burning Man Headquarters, we’ve been asking ourselves many of the same questions. And we’ve received thousands of pieces of feedback. We’ve read hundreds of emails, heard personal stories face-to-face and seen many more online.

So what is the organization doing? Over the past two months, we conducted interviews with hosts and producers of camps receiving the bulk of the negative attention following the 2014 event. We gathered information internally and externally, and held a roundtable discussion with the Burning Man Project Board of Directors.

We then held a series of internal meetings with participation from three of Burning Man’s founders, event operations leadership, and the key teams poised to address this issue directly (Placement, Community Services, Ticketing and Communications). After proposing a list of reforms and drafting this post, we elicited feedback and input from various stakeholders and community members, including the Regional Network leadership.

It took time to respond because we were determined not just to say “this is what happened” but also to say “this is what we plan to do about it.” We’ve created a list of frequently asked questions to address some of the most pressing concerns and identified the policy changes we’ve made so far.

We have a lot of work to do in the coming months. This FAQ, along with Burning Man founder Larry Harvey’s essay, “Equality, Inequity, Iniquity: Concierge Culture,” is the first step.

Turnkey FAQ

One of the first challenges we faced in addressing issues related to turnkey camps was defining what, exactly, they are.

While not new to the event, turnkey (or “plug and play”) camps began gaining wider attention in 2012. That year, the Burning Man organization started a dialogue on the topic with this post and, following a series of meetings and discussions, developed these turnkey guidelines.

The term “turnkey” has been used to describe camps with paid teams that set up infrastructure before other camp members arrive. This general definition could be applied to many camps, including many well-known, beloved and highly participatory theme camps.

Turnkey is a category that includes a variety of camps along a spectrum. On one end of the spectrum are camps that offer major contributions to the playa and depend on infrastructural support to do their work and provide their offering on the playa (the Temple Camp, for example); these camps have a team that provides support services, enabling their fellow campmates to focus on giving in ways that benefit the wider BRC community.

On the other end of the spectrum are “plug and play” or “concierge camps” (A.K.A. hotel camps, resort camps, commodification camps), where vacation-type experiences are sold in package deals at exclusive prices, often with no expectation or commitment by campers to contribute to the larger community. It is this latter type of camp we are addressing here.

Profit/Commodification

How is it okay for camps to market the Burning Man experience?
Packaging, advertising and selling the Burning Man experience is absolutely not okay. A camp that is truly commercial in nature, meaning that it seeks to reap financial gain, publicly advertises for customers and does not contribute to the greater community, is not in line with Burning Man’s principles.

Trolling for campmates that are unknown to fellow campers and charging a higher than normal camp fee is tantamount to filling hotel beds with total strangers — which means the camp’s purpose isn’t about community and connection, it’s about bodies and budget. These concierge or commodification camps undermine the social fabric of our community, which is unacceptable.

Further, bringing a VIP lifestyle experience — with velvet ropes and wristbands — introduces an element of exclusivity into a culture that values inclusion, and those that opt in to these kinds of camps miss out on the transformative power of the event. Black Rock City offers a unique opportunity to collaboratively create an experience for yourself and everyone around you. Coming to Burning Man and living in an area that’s self-contained while avoiding engagement with the broader community directly contradicts the spirit of the event.

What is the Burning Man organization doing to stop this?
Each year, we encounter a handful of companies advertising luxury, all-expenses paid package tours of Burning Man. When they make use of the Burning Man name or logo, our intellectual property team works to curtail promotional efforts by forcing any reference to ‘Burning Man’ to be removed. One of our greatest assets in this effort is Burners themselves, who are quick to report companies advertising on Facebook (where the lion’s share of promotions first surface) and elsewhere on the interwebs. We encourage you to be part of the solution by reporting these operations to ip here: ip (at) burningman.org.

If Burning Man stops businesses from selling things in BRC, how can it allow for-profit theme camps that package and sell experiences in our gift economy?
Burning Man does not condone this activity. Commodification camps are not only in direct conflict with our culture, they are also not allowed by the terms of our permit. Individuals and groups operating commercially on Federal land are required to have a special recreation permit issued by the Bureau of Land Management. A commodification camp operating without a permit risks citations and fines from the BLM. The Burning Man organization is exploring ways of monitoring this more effectively in the future – we will have more information available in advance of the 2015 event.

Who is making money off of elaborate plug and play camps?
Many other large-scale events sell luxury boutique camping options. Burning Man organizers have never provided these services (and don’t intend to – that’s just not who we are). Because Burning Man doesn’t provide these types of accommodations, some producers saw an opportunity and began to offer them.

While there may be some camp producers hoping to benefit financially, in all of our conversations with the hosts (the person or persons with the idea of the camp who are footing the bill) of numerous camps – including those gaining wide attention after this year’s event – we have yet to identify a single host who profited from their camp (or more importantly, ever intended to). To the contrary, hosts often end up paying out of pocket to cover the high costs of their elaborate camps.

Note: calculating a camp’s revenue using the estimated number of campers and its published camp dues is faulty, since most camps have a sliding scale for camp dues and often have non-paying guests.

Does the Burning Man organization benefit financially from plug and play camps?
No. Camps are entirely personal endeavors and the organization is not involved in the production of any plug and play or concierge camps. And no camp can pay Burning Man for extra privilege in Black Rock City.

What about actual scam camps?
This year, as in the past, there were a few reports of scam camps — in which organizers misled participants into paying for services that were not delivered. This is egregious and will not be tolerated. For 2015, we’ll work to educate participants on what to look for when considering joining a camp, and remind folks that joining an organized camp is not a necessary part of going to Burning Man. Thousands of Burners opt for living in unreserved camp spaces, walk-in camping, or to create small camps of their own that don’t require paying any camp dues.

What is the Outside Services (OSS) program? Why does Burning Man have it?
Years ago, theme camps and artists began renting generators, heavy equipment, and receiving other deliveries that arrive in semi trucks and trailers. Processing these arrivals at the gate put considerable strain on BRC’s infrastructure. In response, Burning Man created the Outside Services program.

An OSS contract ensures a company delivering to the playa follows the Leave No Trace principles, does not engage in commerce on-site (with the exception of fees for pumping), follows certain behavior expectations, and does not remain at the event without proper entry credentials. It also stipulates that each company should cover its logos – this is not something we’ve rigorously enforced (for practical reasons) but it’s important in terms of acculturation. All contracts with participants must be pre-arranged and money must change hands prior to being on site. The organization charges a fee for the OSS entry credential, which goes to support the administration of the program. More details can be found here.

Tickets

Were tickets taken out of the Secure Ticket Exchange Program (STEP) and sold to plug and play camps?
Nope, not a single one. In fact, in addition to tickets contributed to STEP by participants, the Burning Man organization put an additional 2,500 tickets for sale in STEP in 2014, which went to those waiting in the queue. Tickets are never removed from STEP by the Burning Man organization for any reason.

So where did plug and play/concierge camps get all those tickets?
Concierge camps purchased tickets through all of the same avenues available to other participants and other large camps, including the early Pre-Sale, the main Individual Sale and on the secondary market. A few of these camps also purchased tickets through the Burning Man Project’s Donation Ticket Program (see below).

What’s the Burning Man Project Donation Ticket Program?
The Burning Man organization is actively building the foundation for a nonprofit with a global vision. We have seen how Burning Man culture can positively influence the world, and each day we’re approached with new ideas, projects and partnerships in the ever-growing community of Burners worldwide. This endeavor brings with it new challenges and costs.

In the first year of this program (2013), less than 300 tickets were sold. In 2014, 1,200 tickets were sold through this limited sale intended to raise funds for the new nonprofit. The Donation Ticket Program sold tickets between May and July. No tickets were sold through this channel after August 1. Tickets were sold for face value plus a $250 tax-deductible donation to Burning Man Project. Invitations were sent to participants who had previously contributed to Burning Man Project, or who had expressed interest in doing so, including some in plug and play and concierge camps. Other well-established theme camps also purchased Donation Tickets to cover a shortfall in tickets for their build crews and campmates.

What’s up with the different ticket prices, anyway?
Years ago, Burners expressed an interest in purchasing tickets for the following year to give as gifts during the holidays. This coincided with the organization’s financially lean months — the time after event production costs were done but before tickets went on sale for the next year. So, in 2008 we introduced the Pre-Sale at a higher price point. The money raised from these higher priced tickets offsets the 4,000 tickets sold to cash-strapped Burners through the Low Income Ticket Program for $190 each. In 2014, the additional funds from the $650 Pre-Sale tickets matched almost exactly the amount ‘lost’ through the Low Income Ticket Program. In other words, the Pre-Sale tickets came within $400 of covering the cost of the low income tickets. We encourage those who have the financial means to participate in the Pre-Sale, which helps to make the trip to Black Rock City more affordable for others. The Donation ticket program was separate from the Pre-Sale, though the ticket prices are the same.

Placement / Interactivity / Leaving No Trace

Why did some plug and play camps receive placement in 2014?
Placement is granted to theme camps, staff camps, volunteers camps, mutant vehicle camps, art support camps, and camps providing critical infrastructure and event production services. We expect every camp that is placed to offer something to BRC.

Twelve plug and play camps that committed to providing interactive experiences for BRC were given placement in 2014. We did this because, in addition to receiving a reserved camping space, placement means getting on the map, which helps the organization manage population density issues, prevent land-grabbing, monitor Outside Services deliveries, hold camps accountable for MOOP, engage camp leads by assigning them a representative in the organization, and provide access to theme-camp specific communications.

Did plug and play camps take the place of theme camps that wanted to be placed?
No. We placed 12 plug and play camps outside of areas previously reserved for theme camp placement. In 2014, there were 1027 placed theme camps, villages and camps within villages. Only 58 additional camps completed questionnaires and were not placed. If you add art project support camps, staff camps and others, we placed over 1250 camps in 2014, making plug-and-play camps approximately 1% of the total number of placed camps.

Why were so many plug and play camps placed on K Street?
We placed plug and play camps in several locations throughout Black Rock City, one of which was on K Street. We placed them near the “public plazas” at 3, 6 and 9 o’clock in areas not reserved for theme camps, as we believed they would draw life and attention to the outer streets of BRC and possibly create civic space together.

Did plug and play camps pay a fee to get placed?
No. The placement process doesn’t have anything to do with money. Placement is decided by a group of volunteers who make decisions based on a specific set of criteria. No one can pay for preferential placement. No one can pay or make a donation to the Burning Man Project for preferential placement.

If plug and play camps are going to get placement, shouldn’t they have to demonstrate what they are contributing to BRC?
Yes. All camps that receive resources from the organization must demonstrate their contribution to the broader community. For 2015, all camps (other than infrastructure support camps) will be held to the same standards in order to receive placement, early arrival passes and access to the Directed Group Sale (see below for details).

Burning Man Project Board of Directors

What about allegations of wrongdoing by members of the Burning Man Project Board of Directors?
The Burning Man Project board is made up of 18 individuals representing a cross section of the Burner community. It includes the six Burning Man founders, leaders in business, nonprofits, the public sector, artists and a Burning Man Regional Contact.

Several board members have built and lead camps and other projects at the event – in 2014 and in past years. These are entirely personal projects; the Burning Man organization was in no way involved with the production of these camps and the camps were required to follow the same processes and procedures as all other camps at the event.

Being a member of the Burning Man Project Board does not grant any authority to make decisions about, or influence the operations of, the Burning Man event. This also applies to resources at the event.

Policy Changes

Regarding Tickets – We have eliminated the Burning Man Project Donation Ticket Program. Ticket sale information for the 2015 event will be announced before the end of 2014. Please read the Jackrabbit Speaks or check tickets.burningman.org for updates.

Regarding Placement – Other than event infrastructure camps, all camps will be held to the same standards of inclusion and participation regardless of how the camp is structured. All camps will be evaluated according to the following criteria:

  • Camps should be visually stimulating, have an inviting design and a plan for bike parking and crowd management.
  • Camps must be interactive. They should include activities, events or services within their camps and they must be available to the entire Burning Man community.
  • Camps must be neighborly. This includes keeping sound within set limits, controlling where camp generators vent exhaust, and easily resolving any boundary disputes that arise.
  • Camps must have a good previous MOOP record 
(for returning camps).
  • Camps must follow safety protocols designed by the organization (this includes traffic management on the streets, proper handling of fuels, and any other areas defined by the organization’s production team).

Post event, all placed and registered camps will be reviewed on the criteria above, as well as MOOP score and strain on resources (whether a camp requires extra BRC infrastructure support, which could include undue communication or interactions with Rangers, DPW or the playa restoration team). Camps that have received negative feedback will be contacted in the Fall after the event, and will have to make substantial changes to their camp plans if they are to qualify for placement or the Directed Group Sale the following year. Camps found advertising are violating principles and cultural norms and will not be placed.

Regarding streets lined with RVs – We will strongly encourage camps to explore visual creativity and lighting options along streets to make them more welcoming, interesting and engaging for pedestrians.

Regarding entry to BRC and Early Arrival passes – All ticket-holding participants enter either through Gate Road or the BRC airport. There have never been special Gate Road lanes for members of theme camps, and there will be none in the future. There is no “concierge camp” fast lane, nor is there a fast lane for any other camp. We are exploring the possibility of making early entry passes non-transferrable for 2015, but need additional time to examine the administrative and operational impacts.

Regarding Outside Services – All outside service providers that pay for credentials pay the exact same rate for those credentials. There are no special “VIP” credentials available for higher prices. As a result of comments from 2014, we are reviewing all of our contract terms to determine whether there are additional ways we can continue holding Outside Services permit holders to the highest standards of behavior.

Regarding DMV licenses – All mutant vehicles are subject to the same licensing process. Every vehicle on the playa is taken to the DMV for licensing and is subject to the same licensing criteria, no matter the owner’s resources or connections off playa. In 2014, we heard of the rumor, but can find no evidence internally that any camp received handicapped stickers for non-disabled golf carts or other conveyances.