November 19th, 2014  |  Filed under News

Burning Man Website Undergoing Magical Transformation

Burningman.com — time for an overhaul!

Burningman.com — time for an overhaul!

A hard working crew of writers and geeks at BMHQ have teamed up to build a brand spankin’ new website for Burning Man. This has been a long time coming and we’re soooo looking forward to sharing it with you.

As you know, earlier this year Burning Man became a non-profit. As part of our evolution from an organization dedicated solely to producing the annual event in the desert to a global network fostering Burning Man culture near and far, we are transitioning from burningman.com to burningman.org.

In order to make this grand leap, certain portions of the current site are going to be unavailable for short periods of time later this week. We know there are very important conversations happening in the community right now and we in no way want to stifle them.

We believe the blog will only need to be ‘pulled’ for several hours on Friday. If it were possible, we’d love to make the transition from burningman.com to burningman.org without disrupting current communication channels, but we’re working with a lot of moving bits and pieces and this is a necessary part of the process.

We also know there are lots of folks wondering about the theme for 2015 and the new process for applying for art grants. All of these details will be included on the new site, so we’re working fast and furiously to get it up and ready as soon as possible.

You can expect some parts of the current site to be unavailable at certain times later this week, and we look forward to sharing the new one with you very soon!


November 17th, 2014  |  Filed under Uncategorized

Why am I making fun of Burners (including you, yes you, personally) and an issue you’re really passionate about?

The Joker (Ceasar Romero)This is a response to the feedback on my list “12 Shocking Revelations about ultra-rich Burning Man plug-and-play camps!

Before I answer the headline, let me clear three things up:

1)      I don’t speak for Burning Man, I’m not part of the Org, I’m not on their payroll, and they had no idea that this post was coming. They don’t edit my stuff and there’s no approval process, so: they found out I’d written this when you did. Nothing I say represents them, or is a statement of what they believe on any issue.

2)      Do I care about the problems caused by commodification camps? Absolutely. In fact, one of my first posts for this blog called for the creation of “Art Vikings” to stop plug-n-play camps. I wrote:

Camp Art Vikings will send our Viking scouts across the playa to find package tour camps and paid labor.  Then we will send our war parties, on Art Longboats, across the dust to Art Raid them.  We will take their meat and their women and their best alcohol, deliver them to a random camp, and celebrate together.

So I’m probably more radical on this issue than you are.

 

3)      Do I think the ORG should be more transparent. Yes. Stop. End quote.

 

So why am I making fun of terribly sincere burners with a legitimate grip whose issue I basically agree with?

Because people are demanding that the Org come up with an immediate solution to what is at heart an intractable societal problem: the gentrification caused by income inequality.  Read more »


November 17th, 2014  |  Filed under Uncategorized

12 Shocking Revelations about ultra-rich Burning Man plug-and-play camps!

Dollar sign (reflective_metallic)[Note:   I have responded to the comments below with a new post, which can be found here.  Also a reminder that I do not, and never have, spoken for the Org.]

I am as shocked as anyone that rich people came to Burning Man and behaved like rich people.

There’s only one explanation:  it’s a conspiracy, and it goes all the way to the top!  Yes!  The only way people with money could have possibly used that money to try and game the system is if Burning Man was directly involved!  In on it!  We all know it, but you don’t the half of it!

Here are the 5 biggest, most shocking, examples, of plug-and-play malfeasance – and the Burning Man organization’s complicity in it!

  • A group of prominent venture capitalists paid Larry Harvey $6 million to write them an extra-fun 11th principle that no-one else has.

What is it?  I don’t know!  You don’t know!  But it’s got to be amazing, and we’re not living by it!  Only they are!

  • The compound prepared for the Walton family, which owns Wall-Mart, actually paid its greeters

They brought out a bunch of senior citizens to tell everyone on the playa to have-a-nice-day!  They even hugged people!  And then were paid minimum wage!

  • Haliburton’s massive camp art project was really a derrick testing for oil under Black Rock City.

Sure it shot out flames, had a DJ, and Friday night’s Gushing Oil Party was awesome, but that’s not the point!

  • Billionaire Amazon.com owner Jeff Bezos’ theme camp never even came out in physical form, and instead was available only on Kindle.

Anyone who went is now under the terms and conditions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act!  On the plus side, there was no MOOP.

  • Warren Buffett slipped Burning Man CEO Marian Goodell $10 million to move Burning Man to Omaha, and fix it so nobody noticed.

That giant sculpture with the funky lights that everybody loved?  That was really the Nebraska statehouse.  We were so used!

Read more »


November 12th, 2014  |  Filed under The Ten Principles

Burning Cake (A Cautionary Tale)

My experiences for the last 17 years at Burning Man have been so amazing and transformative that I have a hard time seeing any shifts in the event as a real threat. “Bring on P.Diddy and the Turnkey Camps!” I said.   I still believe that.  But I also am able to understand the current fear more clearly now than I once did.  

Like everyone, I am eagerly awaiting the official response to the recent controversies.   I do *not* think Burning Man is doomed.  Quite the contrary.  I have faith we will figure this out and thrive.

Once we get a handle on the current challenges and correct the course, the magic will shine as bright as ever.

The fable below is fictional.  Take it with a grain of dust.

 

Once upon a time there was food enthusiast who hosted a fantastic baked goods potluck.

He invited 10 adventurous cooks he knew and they started gathering each month to share delights.

Their culinary skills were varied…but they all sure loved food.

The spreads were AMAZING!

People went WAY over-the-top.

Exotic ingredients, rare fruits, fine wines.

For some participants it became almost a game: who could produce the most fantastic dessert?

MC Escher Cakes, Donut Macramé, Ghost Orchid Truffles.

Not all the dishes were so insane.  The host baked the same modest (but delicious) raspberry drizzle brownies every month.

There was no animosity between  Jenny who brought an intricate ‘Bacon Coliseum” 8 layer cake and Tony who brought a simple angel food cake.  It was even cool that Edward purchased and brought a pre-made dragon fruit tart from his local bakery.  The point was that everyone contributed towards the experience.

Very quickly, the event grew.  People started bringing their culinary-minded friends.

Occasionally people would misunderstand and show up without a dish.   They quickly felt uncomfortable and usually offered to help with dishes or something…then made sure they brought something awesome the next time.

Word started to spread of this amazing potluck with the life size Miley Cirus-sized peanut brittle and wasabi saffron pudding.

The host started asking everyone to chip in $5 to pay for table rentals and a next day maid service. Some of the original participants thought that was uncool.  But most people had no problem paying a little (on top of whatever they were already spending to create their own dishes) for this unbelievable food extravaganza.

Many of the average chefs got inspired to study the baking arts.  The desserts got better and better. And attendees started to bring more and more friends.

Until the host’s villa was filled to capacity.

So the host implemented a system: To reserve your space  at the potluck, you paypal in your cleaning fee in advance and received an entrance ticket in exchange. (The fee had been raised to $10)

He gave away the tickets by way of a lottery – with some spots reserved for the OG cake masters who made the event what it was.  The lottery was…well, that is a tale for a different day.

Not soon after the first lottery, a long time attendee brought a respected food writer from the local paper. The writer did not bring a dish.

Most attendees were fine with this.  It was an honor to have the writer there and who knows, maybe she would be inspired by what they were doing and bring something special to the next potluck. And, in fact, thanks to an article and the writers introductions, several attendees got hired at restaurants and booked to make dishes for fancy events.

The gathering was special to all who attended.  It felt like their potluck was the center of the dessert universe.  The event became an important part of attendees lives and identities.

Unbeknownst to the other attendees, one old timer, Beatrice, made an announcement at her Ladies League meeting.  “For $100 I will bring you to the most amazing tasting party in the world.  Don’t worry about baking anything, I’ll make something and you can just come with me. “  Quite a few people in the League took her up on the offer.  Beatrice paid the hostess an extra cleaning fee, but otherwise did not share the funds with anyone else in the potluck group.

At first nobody noticed.  Or didn’t care.  It wasn’t that a big deal that some of the attendees were not contributing in the same way.   They seem like good people and maybe attending would inspire them to create a dish next time.  Many of them were the type that might hire an attendee to cater a private tea party, in fact.

But as word spread of this new wave of “tourist” attendees, the original attendees started to feel taken advantage of.  They felt like suckers. What was once a joyful experience of sharing their talents now felt, well, commodified. Why would they go to the store, buy all the ingredients with their own money, and invest all their labor just so Beatrice could make a buck off of them?

A number of the original attendees dropped out.  More and more bakers started to look for ways to get compensated.  But still, the waiting list to attend grew and grew.

What many considered the final blow was when people found out that the host was reserving spots for Beatrices’s League friends.  While everyone else stressed and struggled to get in, the non-contributing newbie’s were able to buy their way in via Beatrice.  Apparently they pledged big chunks of cash towards the host’s ever-growing “cleaning fund” established back in the day.

It was even discovered that Beatrice went so far as to bring a thermos of gourmet coffee to the potluck but only shared it with her League friends who had paid her.

The joy of gifting had become corrupted.  The magic faded.

Attendees started to use the potluck as a way to advertise their catering businesses.  Or would “partner with” (aka sell their spots) to retail bakeries.  The food was still delicious, but things were different.  It wasn’t fueled by mutual respect and a desire to share. It felt more like a trade show.  Attendees started to question the return on their investment and rarely contributed out of their own pocket unless they could justify the promotional value.

The potluck is still going, but the original experience is long dead. People still gather once a month to sample yummy treats and most enjoy it.  You may still hear someone say, that was the best pie I’ve ever eaten.

But you rarely hear anymore, “That potluck changed my life.”

 

“This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a whimper.” T.S. Eliot

 

 


November 11th, 2014  |  Filed under News

Turnkey Camps: Moving Towards Effective Solutions

bm_logoWe are aware that many of you are waiting for a response to a number of questions concerning theme camps, turnkey camps, placement of camps, access to tickets, decommodification and a potential erosion of our culture.

These are some of the questions members of our community have raised:

Is the Burning Man organization profiting off turnkey camps?
How did turnkey camps get all their tickets?
Do turnkey camps get preferential treatment?
Were people buying blocks of tickets through the Burning Man Project donation ticket program in the days before the event? If so, why?
Are turnkey camps undermining the practice of Decommodification and Self-Reliance?
What is going to happen to the turnkey camps going forward? Is there accountability for poor behavior?

The importance of these questions requires collaboration and input from a wide variety of people including staff, theme camp leaders, artists, Regional Network leaders, turnkey camp producers, and participants. We are still gathering information and identifying the most effective solutions.

We assure you we are listening and discussing real reforms.


November 9th, 2014  |  Filed under Photos/Videos/Media

Burning Man Lives

This continues to be a tough year of post-Playa bumps and bruises. (And I don’t mean the black and blue Xmas toenails.)  Amidst all the controversy I was asked, “Is Burning Man dead?”  

NOTE:  I am a 17 year Burning Man Participant and Theme Camp organizer.  I do not speak as an official rep of the Burning Man Organization.

Burning Man's Death has been greatly exaggerated

P.S. Yes, that is my 71 year old mom on the right of the screen, enjoying her first-ever Playa visit.  Her experience was amazing and has made our relationship even closer.  But that, too, is a topic for another post.  Long Live Burning Man.

 


November 1st, 2014  |  Filed under Events/Happenings

Larry Harvey Speaks at Long Now Foundation

Larry Harvey (photo by Jim Urquhart, c/o Reuters)

Larry Harvey (photo by Jim Urquhart, c/o Reuters)

Burning Man co-Founder and Chief Philosophical Officer (we love saying that, it just sounds so cool) Larry Harvey was invited to speak at the Long Now Foundation on October 20, 2014. Long Now, in case you didn’t know, focuses on long-term thinking and ideas, and hosts a wonderful seminar series on a wide range of topics.

Larry spoke on “Why the Man Keeps Burning”, and his talk was very germane to current events in the Burning Man community. Listen to Larry’s talk on the Long Now site.


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.