October 29th, 2014  |  Filed under The Ten Principles

Virgins and Turnkey Camps are Ruining Burning Man

We’ve been hearing and reading a lot about Turnkey Camps over the past couple months (haven’t we all?) and I have to say, I’m a little confused by people’s apparent willingness to make or buy into blanket statements and generalizations about Turnkey Camps, virgins, who should be allowed into Black Rock City, etc.

A virgin getting the virgin treatment at Greeters, 2008. (Photo by Dan Adams)

A virgin getting the virgin treatment at Greeters, 2008. (Photo by Dan Adams)

Let me back up a moment and say that I’ve been working for Burning Man for 11 years now, including five years as the Web Team Project Manager and as Minister of Propaganda with the Communications Department for the last six. On playa, I give tours of Burning Man to people who’ve never seen Black Rock City before as part of the eXternal Relations Team (XRT) and I’m part of the new Burning Man Docents team, helping to acculturate folks.

So where was I? Right, here we are…

Did some people do bad things? Sure. Are some people “doing it wrong”? Yep. Will it destroy Burning Man? Nope. Are we learning from this year what we can do better in the future? Absolutely. We are bigger than this, and our community can — as it always has — figure it out, adapt and self-regulate. There’s no question in my mind.

Don’t get me wrong, we’re not apologizing for Turnkey Camps and virgins who may have mis-stepped … nor are we sweeping anything under the carpet. Here are some facts to keep in mind:

  1. Burning Man has always had virgins. It’s how this thing keeps going and growing. In fact, in the early years Black Rock City was sometimes more than 50% virgins, since the event doubled in size from year to year.
  2. The percentage of virgins has been steady for the past few years, between 35% and 40% of the total population.
  3. Not all virgins are clueless twits. Some won’t know what they’re doing, and some will (but we’ll attempt acculturate all of them).
  4. Some of those virgins are never going to “get it”. Most will. (I had no clue what I was doing in 2001, and I’d like to think I turned out OK in the end. Heh.)
  5. Every single year of Burning Man’s existence, people have lamented how it’s all going to pot because [insert reason here] and virgins are doing it wrong. And it hasn’t. (The #1 most common thing I hear from virgins is “I didn’t understand what it was about, how could I possibly have? But now I get it! I’m a Burner!!”)
  6. Turnkey Camps are not all the same. There’s a broad spectrum from “doing it fine” to “doing it horribly”. The percentage in the latter group is small. Very small.
  7. The “tech elite” have always been at Burning Man. Hell, they’re practically what made Burning Man possible.
  8. Burning Man will always change and evolve.
  9. It is in the media’s interest to generate and stir up conflict and scandal and paint black and white pictures, because money.
Here's a guy in a banana bike, because guy in a banana bike, 1995. (Photo by Dolores Marconi)

Here’s a guy in a banana bike, because guy in a banana bike, 1995. (Photo by Dolores Marconi)

It’s part my job to keep my finger on the pulse of the community in Black Rock City. Here’s my book report for 2014: despite a sensationalist New York Times article that was inflammatory and inaccurate but had legs, Burning Man was happening in all its diverse glory. From the solo hippy in his camper van with a hot plate to lavish camps with catered food and grand performances and everywhere in between, people were participating, making art, making connections, doing their talks and workshops and parties and unicorn rampages, and generally being absolutely incredible. And it’s seriously hard to make the argument that Burning Man’s going to shit and the virgins are screwing it all up when we had the CLEANEST CITY EVER this year.

We firmly believe everybody deserves the opportunity to have a transformational experience, ESPECIALLY the people who may not ‘get it’ right away … they probably need it more than anybody. Is that risky? Possibly, but our culture is so rich that I challenge a newcomer to NOT be impacted by it. And, as our culture gets stronger, it’s harder for a minority element to contaminate it. Think of it like this: if our culture was a thin soup, one carrot could change the whole flavor. But if you toss a carrot into a rich stew like ours, it’s hardly noticeable … but it becomes part of the mix.

It’s our job to figure out how to get more people to experience Burning Man without compromising our principles in the process (INCLUDING radical inclusion). This is all of our work. And as the event grows in popularity, we’re going to have to work harder. But don’t panic, this stew is really, really good.


October 29th, 2014  |  Filed under Spirituality, The Ten Principles

Immediacy and Impermanence

[This post is part of the 10 Principles blog series, an ongoing exploration of the history, philosophy and dynamics of Burning Man's 10 Principles in Black Rock City and around the world. We welcome your voice in the conversation.]

(image used by permission  Photo Credit: John Chandler, 2013..Believe by Laura Kimpton)

(image used by permission Photo Credit: John Chandler, 2013..Believe by Laura Kimpton)

There have been some recent losses in our community — suicides and accidents — that serve as stark reminders of the impermanence of it all. My heart goes to the friends and family impacted by these losses. For those of us connected through social networks, both personal and online, we are entering new territory. No generation has shared and mediated grief through digital space like we do, and no generation has been so removed from religion. In the spirit of continuing the exploration of how we talk about impermanence in a radical, creative culture, I’d like to share the following reflections. Read more »


October 29th, 2014  |  Filed under Building BRC

How Turnkey Camps Get Placed

Citizens of Black Rock City – everyone is talking about Turnkey camps and the Placement team wants you to know: we hear you! You’re speaking up on social media, talking at parties, doing deep dives at regional events. We’ve received more than 400 post-event emails and hundreds of comments through the Feedback form.

This is a good thing. Speaking your mind and sharing your opinions is the most important thing you can do right now.

The Placement Team placed over 1,300 camps in 2014. Theme Camps, camps for volunteers coming in early to work, camps for artists, Black Rock City, LLC department camps, camps within the BRC storage container program, and Mutant vehicle camps

We also placed about 25 Turnkey camps. We define Turnkey camps as those that offer a public space and interactivity in addition to private spaces for larger groups and are typically built by a producer, rather than a traditional camp lead.

Turnkey (or Plug N Play as we used to call them) first caught my attention in 2011. I recall placing a group who needed help finding the right place for their trucks and equipment. At the end of 2011, it seemed important to set some guidelines for how Turnkey camps could create places that were mindful of the Ten Principles. Read more »


October 24th, 2014  |  Filed under News

BRC Honoraria Art Grants — New Process for 2015!

Big Rig Jig by Mike Ross, 2007. (Photo by Gabe Kirchheimer)

Big Rig Jig by Mike Ross, 2007. (Photo by Gabe Kirchheimer)

Burning Man Arts — the new department combining the Black Rock City Art Department with the Black Rock Arts Foundation (BRAF) — will launch a new online system in mid-November designed to make it easier for artists to apply for honoraria grants for art destined for Black Rock City.

This year, applicants will be required to first submit a Letter of Inquiry (LOI), which will allow the Grant Committee to select which projects will be invited to participate in the full grant application process, saving everybody time and effort.

The system will go live in mid-November, and LOI submissions will be accepted for four weeks. The Grant Committee aims to inform artists if they are invited to participate in the full grant application process by the beginning of 2015.

All artists hoping to receive a Black Rock City honorarium will need to participate in this new LOI process.

More information will be made available via the Jackrabbit Speaks and on the Burning Man Arts web pages as the rollout approaches.


October 23rd, 2014  |  Filed under Tales From The Playa

Wisdom Has Costs

Tales From The Playa are dreams and memories of events that took place at Burning Man, as told by its participants.
BM2014_060

Photo by Scott London

You know what? I fucked up. I told her, “Don’t worry about your bike.” I honestly thought we’d be able to keep our eye on it. But come on, brother. It was the middle of nowhere out there, and I know better.

Still, seriously, what the fuck, right? Don’t take the material advice of some dust-wizard in the dark of night.

Hold up. Let me begin at the beginning. Read more »


October 9th, 2014  |  Filed under Afield in the World, Culture (Art & Music), The Ten Principles

Art Beyond Burning Man – Making, Thinking, Understanding

Building art for Burning Man always seemed to be part of my yearly cycle. I love what I have been a part of creating in Black Rock City; I have grown up and cut my teeth building art out on that remarkable desert canvas. Over the last several years, though, I’ve found myself bringing more art to life out here, “beyond the fence.” Thanks to the efforts of so many, we can now cite several instances of Burning Man art in lots of cities around the world.

Zoa Crew Photo by Kim Sikora

Flux’s Zoa Crew Photo by Kim Sikora

At FLUX we have created 12 works of art in our 4 years of existence. This is something we are truly proud of. We’ve successfully made interactive art accessible to a wide audience, and we use this art as a platform to engage people in the core values we have cultivated as Burning Man artists. Our works have been experienced by people in Oakland, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Las Vegas, and now, San Francisco. Sometimes, we are so busy building we forget to take a moment to celebrate and share what we’re creating. In this case, we are celebrating our newest interactive sculpture, Carousel.

Flux Building Carousel

Building Carousel Photo by Jess Hobbs

Inspired by the shared experience and wonder of the swing rides of childhood carnivals, Carousel uses a variety of materials, a playful color palette and communal interaction to create an immersive environment. In this space, people will contribute to a cumulative visual expanse, reflect on inspiration, and engage in conversation. Participants will return to a sense of wonder as they sit beneath and contribute to its creation.

Flux Building Carousel

Building Carousel Photo by Jess Hobbs

Carousel has been commissioned by the Abundance Foundation and built for Making, Thinking, Understanding, a conference created by Harvard’s Project Zero. The conference will start tomorrow, October 10-12, 2014 at Lick Willmerding High School in San Francisco. Read more »


October 9th, 2014  |  Filed under News

Make your Burning Man Experience Count – Complete the BRC Census!

Census Action!, 2014

Census Action!, 2014

You can help shape the development and future of Burning Man — on and off the playa — by taking a few minutes to share your experiences and opinions with the Black Rock City Census.

How does the Census help Burning Man? It is one of the primary ways the Burning Man organization tracks changes in population, behavior, and attitudes of event participants. The more we understand the makeup of Black Rock City and the diverse kinds of Burning Man experiences, the better equipped we are to meet the needs of the community and help Burning Man culture continue to flourish.

Data from the Census also helps the organization represent the Burner community in conversations with local, state and federal  agencies and elected officials. In 2013, the Nevada State Legislature passed a bill allowing Burning Man to continue operating in Pershing County. Census data was used to demonstrate who attended the event, where they were coming from, and the economic and cultural impact that we have in Northern Nevada.

Census data is also used to understand the impact we have on the environment. Ultimately, we want to reduce our carbon footprint and make the event more sustainable. In the last few years, the Burning Man organization has rolled out several programs (like Burner Express) to encourage these efforts and the Census is one way that we track the year-to-year impact of those measures with information like the number of vehicles on the road, the number of people per vehicle and the increased use of the Burner Express.

More importantly, however, the Census is about YOU. This is your chance to have your presence in BRC counted and to learn about our community. It gives Burners the ability to understand just a bit more about the city that many of us call home. It is a chance for us all to learn who our neighbors might be, what brings them out to Burning Man, and what changes are taking place in BRC from one year to the next. Don’t dally. You have until October 15 to complete the census.

Want to go deep on how we collect and analyze the data? Read on…

The Census, which got its start in 2003, is a multi-part collaboration between the Burning Man organization, some nerdy Burner scientists, and the fine citizens of Black Rock City. Census volunteers include professors, students, and researchers from universities in Canada and the United States representing a range of disciplines. Census data has been used by researchers for articles published in peer-reviewed journals and academic presentations, and by the Burning Man organization and social scientists to depict the variety of participants that make up Black Rock City. There are three components to the project:

1. RANDOM SAMPLE The Census team randomly samples Burners as they enter Black Rock City – participants are asked to answer 10 questions, mostly focusing on age, sex, and other key demographics. The information gathered here is used to adjust, or “weight”, the online survey data to create the most accurate representation of the citizens of Black Rock City.

2. ONLINE CENSUS The bulk of the data is collected via the online Census at the conclusion of the event each year. More than 11,000 Black Rock City participants completed our online census in 2013. That’s 1 in 5.5 citizens! This year’s we’re hoping for an even higher participation rate, and our most complete Census yet!

3. ANALOG CENSUS Our analog Census consists of open-ended questions on a range of topics, from Culture, Happiness, and People, to Burning Man of course! Blank notebooks are placed in locations where people used to fill out the paper Census form — like the Census Lab, Center Camp Cafe, and other camps hosting Census kiosks. Here is a visual depiction of some of that qualitative data:

Confidentiality is highly important to the Census. Participation is anonymous and optional, and since 2004, the data collected has been held in university files associated with scientists who run the Census project. Summaries of each Burn’s Census data are posted online in the AfterBurn section of the Burning Man website and on the independent Census blog.

Once again … now is the time! The Census closes. Make sure to complete out your Census, and tell your campmates to do the same! If you have additional or specific feedback that you would also like to contribute, you can submit it through the BRC Feedback Form.


October 7th, 2014  |  Filed under Afield in the World, The Ten Principles

Experiments in Radical Gifting and Ticket Sales

PresentRight now a Bay Area group consisting of a number of past and present Burners is putting together an event so ambitious that I am thrilled to be part of it.

I can’t tell you anything about it. Not what it is, or where, or who else is involved. I can tell you when, but that’s only mostly true. We’re revealing so little, in fact, that we actually sent out a press release announcing that we’ve created the least informative Kickstarter in history.

But what I can tell you … and what makes this an interesting experiment with Burning Man principles … is that there’s only one way to get a ticket. And that’s to be given one by somebody else.

You can’t buy a ticket for yourself.

It might be possible to engage in round-robins where a group of people buy tickets for each other, but we’ll be watching out for that. (I can’t tell you how.) Because the hope, the ideal, is that it will make the experience of going to an arts event more like getting a surprise gift: you have no idea it’s coming, it’s a gesture of thoughtfulness and goodwill because somebody cared enough to think of you, and you honestly don’t know what’s going to be there when you open it up.

Will it have that affect? Will it be possible to actually fund a high-infrastructure event this way?

We’ll find out.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should admit that I was against the whole idea. Read more »