Voices of Burning Man features a wide diversity of perspectives on Burning Man culture, including official announcements,
cultural commentary and participant views.
You're encouraged to add your voice to the spirited and civil dialog around the ideas and issues that affect the Burning Man community.
Do you miss stories? I mean real stories with characters and heroic journeys and magic that works. Stories without screens or controls or cinematic cut scenes. Modern life is pretty impoverished in the stories department, which is actually a great reason to be a Burner. Burning Man gives life that sense of a mythic arc, and our Burning Man experiences are inseparable from the stories we tell about them.
Festivals Concierge Services, part of a larger European-focused concierge company called The Key, offers VIP-priced packages for events and festivals around the world, which is great for them. They also want to offer them for Burning Man, but that’s not going to happen.
We believe strongly that paying upfront for a prescribed, curated experience that doesn’t require individual effort misses the mark and erodes Burning Man culture, and it’s absolutely not okay to sell people “the Burning Man experience” as a vacation package. This is precisely the kind of service we hope to eliminate from Black Rock City: one that essentially offers participation and “self-expression” in a box.
Read on to learn about our interactions with Festivals Concierge Services, the actions we’re taking to stop what they’d like to do in Black Rock City, and how you can help.
We first learned of Festivals Concierge Services (FCS) in the summer of 2014 when we received reports about their website — burningmanvip.net — which was selling concierge services involving Black Rock City. We reached out concerning their unapproved uses of Burning Man’s intellectual property (IP) and offer of unauthorized services. Festivals Concierge Services changed the website as we requested, and they claimed that they were not offering any services at or to the 2014 Burning Man event in Nevada.
We next heard about Festivals Concierge Services in March 2015 when we received reports about the “Art on Playa Foundation,” an organization that Festivals Concierge Services started, purportedly to help their wealthy clients provide financial support to Burning Man artists. We saw that the Art on Playa website was using our logo and other IP, and causing confusion among artists and other participants about our involvement with them (we had none). So we reached out to Festivals Concierge Services again, explained our principles and policies again, and asked them to stop using our IP on their websites. Once again, they agreed to comply with our requests.
Sadly, we can’t say we were totally surprised when we learned that Festivals Concierge Services recently added a new “Burning Man concierge” page to its website. They have since changed the leading graphic — bearing a garish, computer-generated private jet flying over Black Rock City — to read “Black Rock City” instead of “Burning Man,” but FCS still uses the Burning Man name liberally (for example, at press time, FCS lists Burning Man as one of its “Products” on its Facebook info page). The page makes unauthorized use of Burning Man’s IP and claims to offer concierge services at our 2015 event (everything from transportation and tickets to Mutant Vehicle rentals and on-site theme camp management). This is all completely unauthorized by the Burning Man organization. Our community also took notice, and offered their pointed opinions protesting these activities in a Facebook thread that was deleted by Festival Concierge Services on 5/20/15.
We have contacted Festivals Concierge Services yet again, reminding them that they can’t offer “Burning Man concierge services” or use our IP to promote their business. We’re also taking a number of other steps to protect our principles and our stance on this issue:
Notifying applicants to our Outside Services (OSS) and Air Carrier Services (ACS) programs that if we learn they are doing business or subcontracting with concierges services (such as FCS) or their clients, we will deny access to the OSS and ACS programs.
Revisiting and revising the overall OSS program structure so companies like this can’t exploit the system (this process began after the 2014 event).
Notifying BLM that FCS will not have a contract with Burning Man and should not receive a BLM Special Recreation Permit to operate its concierge business on public land.
Coordinating with DMV and Placement to ask Mutant Vehicle operators and theme camp organizers not to provide services or camping to FCS or their clients.
Working with our Ticketing Team to prevent FCS staff from acquiring event tickets for resale to their clients.
Communicating with YOU, our community, to keep you informed about these activities, and to solicit your help with combating the packaging and sale of our culture now and in the future.
We welcome your questions and comments below. If you’re aware of any other companies using Burning Man’s intellectual property to sell “VIP Burning Man experiences” or the like, send a report to ip here: ip (at) burningman.org.
A shaman named Rafiki gave me my playa name. He dropped it into my lap, a casual jewel, and then ducked away. It was a tiny and huge moment all at once. It happened, and then it was over. I swung in its wake, letting the shape of the name settle around me like a cloak.
Going into the experience of Burning Man, I had been curious about playa names, wanting to hear their origin stories. I was delighted when folks I met introduced themselves as “Laser Wolf” “Huggles” and “Gummi Bear”. How did one get a playa name? I asked. Could you name yourself or did it come from some sort of elder? Could your friends make it up or did it have to descend in some kind of epic moment of glory? (more…)
The list of 2015 Black Rock City Honorarium art installations — reflecting a total of $1.2 million in art grants awarded through Burning Man Arts — is now live, so you can go peruse the art-chitecture that will adorn our temporary city in just a few months’ time. Some popular playa favorites will be returning, and some new ones will be made. Here are some sights I saw on my first stroll through the list.
The Bismuth Bivouac, “a playful pavilion celebrating the orthogonal geometries that exist in natural Bismuth crystals.” Have you ever looked at bismuth? It is 100% as gnarly as this installation.
Flux Foundation (2009-2010 Black Rock City Honoraria), is on a roll! Although their Bloom! exhibition at the Philadelphia Zoo opened not too long ago, Flux Foundation is already working on their next project, Lacuna, which was just awarded a grant from our Global Art Grants program. Congratulations to the Flux crew!
Lacuna is a public art space and library created out of 50,000 books donated by the Internet Archive. Furthermore, visitors will be able to remove the books from the walls. As Lacuna’s website says:
“By removing, reorganizing, and replacing books, the walls inside Lacuna will shift, and it’s this process where we’ll see that each person’s interaction with Lacuna becomes an integral, valued part of the collective story and experience of Lacuna.”
Although more and more books are being digitized, there’s something very satisfying and pleasurable about holding an actual book made out of paper. Lacuna celebrates this by bringing our attention to the very materials of the book by fully immersing us in them. This creates an experience that is both immediate, as we are present with those materials in the moment, as well as associative, as the encounter allows us to tap into memories of libraries, and feelings (such as nostalgia) those memories may elicit.
Stuart Chapman was a 2014 Black Rock City Honoraria artist, and he’s working on another divination/chakra project!
Curious about the “bio-psychic field” at Burning Man? Last year, Stuart Chapman repurposed a bathroom scale into a qi generator for the root chakras. The Wheel of Life was a “divinatory oracle based on Medieval cosmology [updated] for Life in the 21st Century.”
Chapman plans to collect more anecdotal evidence to demonstrate the strength of the bio-psychic field at Black Rock City with this year’s Wheel of Self Reflection. Wheel of Self Reflection has been outfitted and enhanced with a pyramidal capstone of light that will activate the upper chakras of each seeker. Expanding on last year’s amazing “synchronicity of the fortunes,” Chapman intends to “optimize the meaningful match-up of seeker and oracle” with this installation.
In 2004, Black Rock Arts Foundation grantee project Aeolian Ride took off on an epic bike ride in Manhattan with inflatable suits! Since then, Aeolian Ride (created by artist Jessica Findley) has transformed the landscape of 20 cities around the world with their whimsical kinetic presence. The ride has a magical effect, transforms everyday streets, and creates a loop of joy between the spectator and the riders.
What better way is there to celebrate Bike to Work Day than with Aeolian Ride? If you’re in San Ramon on May 14, join the ride at Bishop Ranch!
When: May 14, 2014 from 11:30am – 1:30pm
Where: Bishop Ranch in San Ramon, CA
Cost: FREE (There are a limited number of inflatable suits. Free helmets while supplies last!)
With the influx of concierge companies seeking to capitalize on Burning Man’s popularity, we are taking a hard line with companies that want to provide tourism services and turnkey camping at the event. We don’t believe in spending money to avoid self-reliance in Black Rock City, and it’s absolutely against our principles to sell people “the Burning Man experience” as a vacation package. But there’s a balance to be struck between a “No Spectators” ethos and keeping our culture open to everyone.
We’re reviewing the ways we strike this balance and may make additional changes in the future, but for now, we’re continuing to make an exception to our approach to turnkey camping in the case of the adventure company Green Tortoise, with whom we forged a relationship in the year 2000. It’s worth explaining how in this case, Green Tortoise is the exception that proves the rule.
In the beginning…
In 1998, heavy rain flooded the event site just as Burning Man was coming to an end. With vehicles unable to leave Black Rock City, many Burners were stuck on playa. To make contact with the outside world, they trekked into Gerlach on foot, leaving a muddy mess in the small community (if you’ve ever been on playa when it rains, you know the deal). In response to concerns from the Gerlach community, participants were not allowed to leave during the event in 1999, creating challenges of its own: this time Gerlach lost the economic benefit of Burners frequenting its stores and facilities during the event.
Beginning in 2000, Green Tortoise agreed to provide shuttle service to Gerlach, enabling participants to purchase supplies and make contact with the outside world using the local payphones, while minimizing impacts on the local community. Most importantly for us, Green Tortoise provided a much-needed service for our participants that we couldn’t provide ourselves.
Then and now…
For a while, we gave Green Tortoise a small number of tickets they could resell as part of their compensation for providing shuttle service because, while we were short on money, we had plenty of tickets. Over the years, we grew to know and trust the Burners running the company and their staff and customers made valuable contributions to Burning Man, so we allowed them to expand their presence by offering a trip to Black Rock City, which is a noteworthy exception to our current policies.
For 2015, the Green Tortoise package costs $995 for the week (the event ticket is sold separately). It includes transportation to and from Black Rock City, along with water, shade, and food for cooking meals. Campers must bring and set up their own tents/sleeping accommodations and participate in meal preparation. These are not luxury trips to Burning Man. Green Tortoise encourages participation and has an excellent Leave No Trace record.
Though the need for daily bus trips to town has declined (participants tend to come more fully prepared these days), our relationship with Green Tortoise has continued. The current contract provides Green Tortoise with infrastructure for their camp, and the option to purchase up to 185 tickets (at $390 each) for resale to their customers only. Green Tortoise does not share a portion of its profits with the Burning Man organization; Burning Man does not benefit financially from this relationship in any way.
What Green Tortoise Brings to Burning Man
Green Tortoise campers include first-time Burners and 20-year veterans. They span a wide age range and are primarily backpackers from overseas. The service is particularly appealing for people who travel long distances to participate in Burning Man, as it makes some of the logistics and supply acquisition easier and more affordable. Of the 150 participants who will go to Burning Man in 2015 with Green Tortoise:
69.3% reside outside the U.S.
The largest group of international campers are from Australia (24% of all campers), The Netherlands (24%), and the U.K. (11.5%)
Other home countries include Colombia, Italy, Russia, Switzerland, Bulgaria, Argentina, Singapore and the Bahamas.
The average age is 37
The youngest is 18
The oldest is 79
And Green Tortoise campers have made significant contributions to BRC over the years. These include:
Art Projects: Green Tortoise campers have played an integral part in the conception, design, building and implementation of various playa art projects, including a wall of light (multi-colored technology-driven LED display), The Rolling Light Balls project, and pieces for CORE (The Circle of Regional Effigies), including two from Victoria, B.C.: PsychoPhilia (the big head) in 2012 from and Fleur pour les Morts in 2013.
Art Cars: Green Tortoise campers have created three art cars: The Tiki bar (a VW van chopped up and re-fabricated into a tropical-themed, roaming bar), The Cloud (the same chopped-up VW van fabricated to resemble a fluffy, mobile thunderstorm), and the Galapagos Tortoise. All art cars were hop-on, hop-off style and were built with accessibility in mind to encourage any and everyone to ride them.
Regional Contacts: Two Green Tortoise campers have gone on to become Regional Contacts (from New York and Georgia).
BRC Departmental Support: Green Tortoise campers often sign up to volunteer for various departments prior to arriving on playa. Others have become more engaged upon arrival or in subsequent years. Green Tortoise campers have become Black Rock Rangers, BRC nurses, Lamplighters, Center Camp Cafe staff, Earth Guardians, Temple Guardians, and more.
In 2014 alone, Green Tortoise campers:
Built and performed on a stage at Green Tortoise camp. This included acoustic guitars and a flute player ensemble, as well as DJs with ambient lounge chill-out music, providing a relaxed atmosphere for anyone to drop in on.
Built a sultan-like tent for the Caravansary theme and held meditation sessions.
Held free massage sessions by licensed massage therapists.
Hung a slew of hand-made birdhouses in random locations.
Performed for the public: sang at center camp, drummed at the pre-Burn ceremony and other events, hula danced, fire danced during the Burn ceremony and in other performances using batons, poi and other various flaming crazy-fun props, stilt-danced, and sang sea shanties on several of the pirate-themed ships.
Created a BRC Junior Ranger Program (not affiliated with the real BRC Rangers); over 300 participants received booklets describing participation-based tasks. Upon completion of the tasks in the booklet, each of the applicants were awarded patches.
Formed the French Fashion Police, complete with aviator glasses, tight shorts, whistles and ticket books, and held “Fashion Friday – a Costume Giveaway” and offered face and/or body painting to whoever passed by.
In short, this is no frou-frou, chichi turnkey camp. It makes significant contributions to BRC that have flourished for many years.
While we appreciate the long relationship we’ve had with Green Tortoise and are continuing to support their efforts in 2015, we’re also working with them to make some changes to how they operate to bring them more in line with Burning Man’s principles. The owners of the company understand and are working with us to address our community’s concerns around turnkey camping, and we may make further changes to this arrangement in the future.