Start Your Burn Now with BMIR!

BMIR, people!
BMIR, people!

Why wait until the gates open when you can start your Burn now with Burning Man Information Radio? Take a trip down memory lane and tune into BMIR starting Wednesday August 5 at 7p.m. and listen as BMIR plays their archive recordings of the 2014 Burn in their entirety.

After the 2014 re-broadcast, stay tuned to BMIR 24/7 for their eclectic mix of music and theme camp promos for 2015. Hear about all the cool things waiting for you on the playa this year! (Theme Camp Organizers: want to promote your camp’s events on BMIR? You can send in a promo now or record one on the playa.  Details here.)

And we’ve got some special live broadcasts coming your way! On Wednesday August 12 at 7 p.m. PDT, BMIR’s Bobzilla and Josie from the Burning Man Communications Team will host a live program for first-time Burners. They’ll take phone calls and answer questions submitted via text. Listen and get some tips on how to be prepared for the playa and what to expect!

If you want to go to Burning Man you’ll have to go through the Gate. On Thursday August 20 at 7 p.m. PDT, Bobzilla and a member of the Perimeter, Gate & Exodus Department will tell you how to get in and out of Burning Man safely, easily and hassle free. Operations at the Gate change every year, so tune in.

The BMIR crew travels to the playa on Tuesday August 25 and will begin broadcasting live from BRC sometime on Wednesday August 26.  Tune in to hear what’s happening on the playa, get weather and gate info and hear how the city is coming together. You can listen to BMIR on your smartphone as you travel to the playa as long as you have cell coverage (you can begin to tune them in over the air when you hit Gerlach at 94.5 FM. Find out how to listen on your PC/Mac/Smartphone.

See you on the playa and don’t forget to bring a radio!

I Grew up in Black Rock City

by Phoenix

(Photo by Nathan Heller)

(Photo by Nathan Heller)

This story is about twelve years old.

One day a friend and I were standing outside The Artery when we approached by a 25 year old woman in flowered & flowing gowns. She was radiant and owned an awesome smile.

“I grew up here,” she sputtered with a certain conviction to us and to everyone who could hear. I giggled, thinking, “I grew up here too.”

But there was power and authenticity to her claim. My friend, a wise historian and archivist asked, “How is that so? Many Burners claim to ‘grow up’ here?” (more…)

New Burning Man Drones Policy

(Photo by Mike Muench)

(Photo by Mike Muench)

You’ll likely be seeing fewer drones flying over Black Rock City this year. The new policy (registration opens today) allows for a small number that can be used for media coverage, event operations, art documentation and art performance.

The decision wasn’t made lightly. We’ve had drones at the event for at least three years and, after they first appeared, we called a Drone Summit to bring together enthusiasts to crowdsource how we’d address what we expected to be growing interest in flying them at BRC.

Our guess proved correct and by 2014 we registered more than 200 pilots (and had a waiting list). Coming out of the Drone Summit, we worked with participants to craft the rules for flying, which included:

  • No flying over the populated sections of BRC
  • No flying close to artwork
  • No flying over crowds
  • And no flying over burns.

Pilots had to pre-register, show up on site, complete their registration, take a brief training course, and then have their drones tagged.

Unfortunately, despite everything done, we still had drones flying over the Embrace and Man burns, drones flew over the city, over large gatherings of people, and drones flew too close to artwork. In one case a video that included several rule violations went viral. Drone pilots who played by the rules felt they were penalized for doing it right.

But of greatest concern were the uncontrolled crashes. We received several reports of drones going out of control and crashing. And we reviewed video of two in particular that went out of control and crashed, both very near groups of people.

Burning Man is an ongoing experiment, and our relationship with drones is one facet of that. Based on our experiences from last year, the Bureau of Land Management proposed banning drones entirely from the event. That was unacceptable to us, and we countered with the scaled back policy that’s being announced today.

You can find the full policy on the Drones page (as well as the application form for 2015). In essence we are taking applications for drones in four categories: media coverage, event operations, art documentation and art performance. Applications begin today and close August 14. While media coverage and event operations are largely self-explanatory, the other two categories might require more info. Art documentation is reserved for art projects that would benefit from use of a drone, either during construction or more generally for documenting the artwork. Art performance is set aside for individuals using a drone as an integral part of an on -playa performance (we had one of these registered last year).

In essence, this new policy eliminates hobbyist flying at the event this year. We will be revisiting the policy post-event and consider changes for 2016. Personal drones won’t be confiscated at the Gate, but any unregistered drone flown in BRC runs the risk of being confiscated and the pilot cited and possibly fined by the BLM.

Drones permitted to fly during the event will be banded with fluorescent tags on the aircraft, control device, and on the approved operator’s wrist. All three bands will be the same color with their registration number on each band.

As with past years, if anyone sees a drone being flown in an unsafe manner, they should talk to the operator if possible. Failing that, get as many details as possible and report it to a Black Rock Ranger.

Black Rock City Rises Again

The sledge and the Spike
The sledge and the Spike

It was right about the time that I pulled out a lens cloth from my back pocket and the cash I had stashed there came out with it and went blowing down the playa that the thought began to take shape: This might not have been the most auspicious beginning of the playa season.

It wasn’t just me, though. There was Marnee racing off into the deep playa after her hat that just wouldn’t stop rolling. Beer cans were flying in the wind. Someone lost a shoe, ferchrissakes. How is the wind so strong that it steals your shoe?

In the years that we’ve attended the Spike ceremony, when the members of the various Burning Man tribes take turns smacking an iron stake into the ground to mark the place where the Man will be built, the weather has been … let’s just say a little more welcoming. It might have been hot in years past, sure, but the wind has rarely been howling so fiercely and there weren’t pebble-sized pieces of playa hitting you in the face.

“There’s rocks in my beer,” my traveling companion noted as we sat and listened and laughed – and maybe got a little misty – as people stood in the middle of a small circle and talked about how long they’d been coming to do this thing in the desert. Some told why they started doing it in the first place, and others said how grateful they were to the people who had gathered here, because they had become so important in their lives. “Y’all were there for me when I needed it most,” one young woman said, casting meaningful glances around the circle. “And I don’t know if I would have made it without you.”

There might have been a few tears, but then again, the watery eyes might just have been because of the communal dermabrasion that was going on.

Still, the Spike ceremony tends to bring out a lot of emotions. For one thing, you’re just so damn glad to be out in the wide open space again, Razorback over there shrouded in clouds, the Calicos at the far end with the pinkish glow, and the ominousness taking shape back near Gerlach, threatening even more havoc.

Booya leaned into the wind without fear of falling overt
Booya leaned into the wind without fear of falling over

And then you start seeing all the people that you haven’t seen enough of since last year’s summer camp, dirt rave, company picnic, whatever you want to call it. But there they all are again, or at least a whole lot of them, and they’re drinking beer and Champagne, and there’s Will Roger and Coyote lighting up celebratory cigars, and there’s Genie and Paul and their little Merritt, striking a blow for the Rangers, and there’s the sign crew, the motor shop, the survey crew, taking turns in the circle …

The gang’s all here.

And then all of a sudden you’re simply happy to be among them, grateful for the chance to be a part of this again.

Hey look: We understand that everything about Burning Man has changed. We know it was better last year. We read all the blogs and all the comments, and we read all the newspaper stories that, when you think about, reveal nothing if not how stupidly difficult it is to keep pulling this off every year. And we’ve been looking at the archival stuff that the org has been posting, and we’ve stayed up crazy late watching the 20-year-old videos that Danger Ranger has been unearthing.

So maybe more than anything we kind of can’t believe that all this is still happening. Through all the contentiousness, all the battles, in the unlikeliest of settings, there are still people coming who have been coming since the beginning, and there are still people coming who’ve been coming for 15 years, or 5 years, and there are still people coming who have never been here before.

And yah yah yah, we know Burning Man is on the tech bras bucket list now, and it’s Mecca for the sparkle ponies, and almost in spite of itself it’s still one of the best places to dance all night, dance all night, dance all night till you feel alright, which of course annoys the hell out of some people, but honestly I’m not one of them.

Will and Crimson listened to the testimonials
Will and Crimson listened to the testimonials

We don’t much care about any of the distractions, because even after all this time we still can’t pretend to know what’s at the heart of the thing. The best we can come up with is that there are many hearts, and they are all encouraged to beat here, and that’s the most important thing. Dare to be you, dare to be more, dare to be great. Work like hell to make something beautiful. Gift people, and learn how to accept a gift. Don’t buy anything, don’t sell anything. Include people.

It’s not very complicated, and we don’t want it do be. (more…)

Behind the scenes with the Mazu Temple builders

Sarah Kihls fabricates a steel dragon, one of several that will perch on Mazu's roofline.
Sarah Kihls fabricates a steel dragon, one of eight that will perch on Mazu’s roofline.

For nearly a full year now, an international crew of artists, craftspeople, designers, builders, engineers (and at least one poet) have been working nonstop to create a temple for Mazu, Goddess of the Empty Sea — a piece you’ll soon be able to experience and interact with on playa. What’s more, they’ve turned this project into a new arts collective that could keep them working on similar projects for years to come.

Photographer Aleksey Bochkovsky has documented many a workday with this crew. Here’s a look at what they’re doing, and more about what makes Mazu’s temple, and its crew, unique. All photos by Aleksey.

Charlie Nguyen paints the roof outside The Generator in Reno, Mazu's US build site.
Charlie Nguyen paints the roof outside The Generator in Reno, Mazu’s US build site.
John Julius Little assembles the 108 lanterns, provided by Texas artists Dave and Marrilee Archer, to light the temple perimeter.
John Julius Little assembles the 108 lanterns, provided by Texas artists Dave and Marrilee Archer, to light the temple perimeter.
Nathan Parker, project manager.
Nathan Parker, project manager.

“We’re raising the bar for craftsmanship, detail and interactivity,” says project leader Nathan Parker, who previously worked for several years as an electrician for the Black Rock City Department of Public Works.

“Most of the art that people create to be burned has a temporary feel,” he continues.

“We want this to feel real and permanent. We want people to say, ‘Why are you going to burn that? Don’t burn that!’”

But it will burn. The Mazu temple’s laser-cut panels; its hand-painted, sanded, stained woodwork; its arching 40-foot-high lotus flower will all go away. In the process, they’ll reveal the underlying steel structure: a self-standing sculpture that will one day be installed permanently in a public space. (more…)

Here’s What Burning Man Is Doing to End Turnkey Culture

Black Rock City 2011 (photo by Luke Szczepanski)
Black Rock City 2011 (photo by Luke Szczepanski)

After the 2014 Burning Man event, turnkey (a.k.a. “plug and play”, a.k.a. concierge) camping in Black Rock City rightfully became a hot-button issue in our community. We share the concerns that turnkey camping, left unchecked, could undermine Burning Man’s principles, and we’ve taken measures to ensure that doesn’t happen.

In her keynote address at the 2015 Burning Man Global Leadership Conference, Burning Man CEO Marian Goodell put it plainly: “We are absolutely committed to ceasing the plug and play culture.”

We are doing this in three ways:

  1. All theme camps must go through the same process and meet the same standard (including being interactive, open to all citizens of Black Rock City, successfully Leaving No Trace, etc.) to be considered for placement.
  2. Our updated Outside Services (OSS) contracts make it extraordinarily difficult for concierge service operators and potential organizers of turnkey camps to order necessary equipment to successfully build a turnkey camp without showing up on our radar.
  3. A new ‘Statement of Values’ on gifting has been developed to guide our actions and relationships with individuals and groups that provide financial and other forms of support to the nonprofit Burning Man Project.

Here’s the letter from the Burning Man Placement team to theme camp organizers:

Hello Theme Camp Organizer,

We’re contacting you because you have requested Placement for 2015 in Black Rock City. We’ve made some changes to our Theme Camp and Placement policies following events in 2014 involving turnkey camps, and we wanted to inform you of them so you can plan accordingly.

Definitions

Turnkey is a category of camps along a spectrum. At one end of the continuum are camps that depend on supported infrastructure to create on playa projects. At the other end are camps providing vacation type experience packages for campmates with no specific requirement for contribution.

In 2014 Burning Man placed 12 turnkey camps that fell within the continuum as they were camps indicating they would offer an interactive aspect to be enjoyed by the entire Burning Man 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.

Theme Camp Placement Criteria / Standards:

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 Theme Camps requesting placement will be evaluated according to the following criteria:

  1. Camps should be visually stimulating, have an inviting design and a plan for bike parking and crowd management.
  2. 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.
  3. Camps must be neighborly. This includes keeping sound within set limits, controlling where camp generators vent exhaust, and easily resolving any boundary disputes that may arise.
  4. Camps must have a good previous MOOP record (for returning camps).
  5. 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 including alternatives to RV lined streets).

Post-event evaluation Theme Camp Standing and access to Directed Group Sales:

Post event, all placed Theme Camps will be reviewed on the criteria above, as well as:

  1. MOOP score
  2. 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).

If camps meet all of the criteria they remain in “good standing” and may be eligible to receive access to DGS tickets the following year. Exemplary camps are the most likely to be invited to following DGS sales.

Camps that receive negative feedback will lose their good standing and be contacted in the Fall after the event. A loss of good standing will affect access to DGS.

Camps will have to make substantial changes to their submitted camp plans if they are to qualify for placement or the Directed Group Sale for the following year.

Camps found advertising are violating principles and cultural norms and will not be placed or invited to the DGS the following year.

Entering BRC with Early Arrival passes:

Only placed Theme Camps meeting all of the above criteria and receiving Placement will be given Early Arrival Passes from the Placement team for entry to BRC for pre-event set up.

Please don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions you have regarding these policies.

Here’s the pertinent section of the Outside Services contract:

Specific changes applicable to vendors include but are not limited to:

  1. Burning Man does not contract with concierge camping outfits or tour companies.
  2. Groups of vendor-provided RVs or trailers using shared resources and clustered together, or formerly placed as “turnkey camps”, must now apply as Theme Camps and adhere to all Theme Camp criteria to be considered for placement.
  3. RVs and trailers will not be permitted within the city streets prior to the renter or contact person’s arrival on site without previous approval from the OSS team.
  4. All RV, vehicle, and trailer license plate numbers must be submitted to the OSS team at least 48 hours prior to the vendor’s arrival on site to collect credentials.
  5. Vendors must indicate the contact person, or renter, for each delivered item/trailer/RV, at least 48 hours prior to those credential being distributed.
  6. Vendors found to be non-compliant with the OSS program guidelines or contract may be asked to leave the event site immediately, and may not be considered for the program in future years.

Lastly, here’s our Statement of Values on Gifting:

Burning Man exists solely because of contributions to and from our community. Whether these gifts are made manifest in funds, labor, artwork, or other forms, they are the fuel that powers our work in the world. As a culture we are devoted to acts of giving that are unconditional, and as individual contributors, we acknowledge that all such gifts are given freely, with no expectation of reciprocity or exchange. Each gives according to his or her nature and capabilities, and no one is entitled to special treatment as a result. No contributor, regardless of the magnitude of his or her gift or position, will receive preferential treatment or undue influence over the course of our actions in the world.

We feel that these measures, taken together, will help foster a community and culture in Black Rock City that embodies the values reflected in the Ten Principles. But we’re not going to be able to solve this problem through rules and regulations alone. Ultimately, it takes YOU, the Burning Man community. It’s important that Burners and would-be Burners understand that Radical Self-Reliance, Participation and Communal Effort are fundamental to the Burning Man experience. The value of those principles is eroded when one engages a concierge service on playa. We strongly encourage people to avoid them to get a more meaningful Burning Man experience.

What About Green Tortoise?

Note that Green Tortoise camp is the sole exception to our position on turnkey camping because of its established program for bringing engaged participants to Black Rock City and the valuable service they provide to the community (shuttle buses to and from Gerlach during the event) — their camp is the exception that proves the rule, and we’re actively considering further changes to our arrangement with GT to bring it into alignment with our theme camp policy.

Meet the Children of Black Rock City

6-grace

A city has no future without its children — and that goes for Black Rock City, too. Burning Man’s wee dusty denizens are as much a part of this community as their sunscreen-slathering parents, but they’re not always in full view (unless you park yourself by the trampolines in Kidsville). Photographer Zipporah Lomax wants to change that by capturing BRC’s “littles” in a new book called Dusty PlayGround, which has just five days left to reach its fundraising goal on Kickstarter. (more…)

Burning Book Club – The Consequences of Losing our Creative Class

(This is the second post inspired by reading the introduction of Scott Timberg’s Book-Burning-225x300“Culture Crash: the killing of the creative class.” Read all the book club entries)

In between the last post and this one, I’ve been reading a number of articles about how Amazon reviews are gamed – that authors will often purchase hundreds of fake 5-star user reviews to push their books up to the top of the Amazon search engines.

The result is that crappy books by people gaming the system push out legitimately good book – even books with good (real) reviews, just not hundreds of them. For people who want to find and read good books – never mind paying the authors, just finding out about the books in the first place – it is increasingly hard. A system like Amazon’s, that relies largely on the free market, claims to be a neutral arbiter but in fact supports the people who are gaming it rather than the artists struggling to do good work.

I can think of no better example of what Scott Timberg is talking about when he says that the “hollowing out” of the cultural structures has serious consequences.

Timberg isn’t referring specifically to artists here, though he includes them of course. When he refers to the “creative class,” he’s talking about people who support art and culture by serving as gatekeepers: people who help the “good” art distinguish itself from the bad. He’s talking about video clerks, radio DJs who do their own programming, arts journalists, and of course critics – among many others.

The idea of having “gatekeepers” has gotten a lot of bad press in the digital revolution, but the degree to which we need people to separate the wheat from the chafe has never been more clear: without gatekeepers who are not in it for the money, only the art with a publicity budget will ever be found amid the mass production that the digital revolution has unleashed. Sure we can all “vote” with our “likes” and our “tweets” – but these systems are not only easy to game, they exist specifically to be gamed. They drag all art appreciation down to the level of “American Idol,” which is great on its own terms but not really – not really – a serious way to evaluate music. As a result, the good work gets drowned out.

And let me be clear about this: a system that is agnostic about quality is actively against it. To say “our system of publicity shouldn’t care whether art is good or bad” is to dig good art’s grave. (more…)