Ticket Update: Rebuilding Black Rock City 2012

Marian Goodell is a Founding Board Member of Black Rock City LLC, and Burning Man’s Director of Business and Communications.

PARAGRAPH UPDATES (2) below: 2/15/12: 9:15 PM PST

THE CHALLENGE WE FACE: DEMAND OUTSTRIPS SUPPLY

We promised we would get back to you by February 15th with our plans to resolve the ticket situation for Burning Man 2012. We all know there aren’t enough tickets for everyone who wants to participate in Black Rock City. However, it’s clear that the current situation has created holes in our social fabric. Many of the core volunteers, major interactive camps, art car projects, performance groups, and funded and unfunded art projects do not have enough tickets to bring their works to the playa. Here’s how we will remedy these challenges as fairly as we believe possible:

  1. Burning Man organizers and staff will issue tickets to major theme camps and art projects using a process outlined below.
  2. We will launch the STEP program on February 29th. Only those who registered and did not receive confirmation of tickets will be given access to STEP.
  3. Low Income ticket applications will be accepted beginning February 29th.

There’s no way to sugarcoat this: the hard truth is that there are a lot of you who want to come to Black Rock City to celebrate your participation in the Burning Man culture this year, but not everyone will be able to attend. That sentence is about as painful to write as it is for you to read. We dearly wish we could just welcome everyone who feels drawn to Black Rock City. But, as we have explained in Andie Grace’s blog post: “Radical Inclusion, Meet the Other Nine,” it’s not possible to simply increase the number of tickets available for Burning Man 2012.

And unfortunately, the random draw of the Main Sale left inordinately large numbers of our core contributors — art teams, theme camp creators, mutant vehicle builders, performers, and Burning Man volunteers — without tickets. In fact, the ratio was so unexpectedly large it has punched significant holes in Black Rock City’s artistic, civic and functional infrastructure, putting the integrity of the event itself at risk. If we let market forces play out as they could with the remaining available tickets, it’s likely that Black Rock City would be functionally untenable for many of the collaborations that comprise our desert event.

There are indications that a large percentage of people attending Burning Man this year will be first-time Burners. As eager as we are to welcome our newest citizens into our community, it’s crucially important that we have a solid foundation of veteran Burners in Black Rock City to meet, greet and acculturate these eager new participants, ensuring that they not only survive the elements but also fully participate in the Burning Man culture.

And so we find ourselves now in a very difficult situation, one where there are no perfect solutions, only tradeoffs — and inevitably, significant disappointment for those who cannot obtain tickets. We believe that it’s critical that we attend to Black Rock City’s vital functions — ensuring that theme camps can assemble, art installations can be created, mutant vehicles can safely roam the playa, performance groups have their performers, and Burning Man’s volunteer crews are staffed to provide the vital community services that make our city work. We must shore up the collaborative infrastructure of our culture.

THE SOLUTION: DIRECTED TICKET DISTRIBUTION

We have made the difficult decision to take the 10,000 tickets that were slated to be sold via the Secondary Open Sale and manually redirect them to some of the vital groups and collaborations that make up Black Rock City: volunteers, theme camps, mutant vehicles, art installations and performance groups. These groups already have a relationship and contact points within the organization. We’re in the process of proactively identifying and reaching out to the established groups that fall into each of these categories, and offering organizers access to purchase enough tickets to provide for essential crew members.

Because we know this number cannot possibly satisfy the entirety of that demand, we will use practical criteria to determine eligibility. These groups will be reviewed for:

  1. History – A camp, project or participatory work must be in our database from past years. (We have ways to track name changes for groups over time.)
  2. Demonstrated Community Benefit – A project has been interactive in a way that has been experienced as meaningful, provides support for Black Rock City’s infrastructure, or provides services for our community. Basically, how the project helps make the community and create its magic.
  3. LNT – A group has demonstrated adherence to and good practices around Leave No Trace and are committed to our community perpetuating the message of LNT.
  4. 10 Principles – A group or project fully embraces the 10 Principles in their entirety.

This analysis will consider a wide variety of projects rather than favoring just one type — large camps and small ones, self-funded as well as honorarium artists, Mutant Vehicles of all shapes and sizes, and performers of all kinds. The goal is to carefully and conscientiously reconstruct the rich tapestry of our community, based on information we’ve accumulated over years of facilitating our city around these key groups.

This process is not going to be perfect … it’s not always going to feel fair. And we’re well aware that there will be still be a great many deserving people who will be left out because we don’t have the means to welcome everyone. Again, there are no foolproof solutions for these remaining tickets, only tradeoffs. But we’re confident that through this process, we’ll be able to bolster some of the social, artistic and functional infrastructure of Black Rock City. This is by far one of the most difficult decisions we’ve ever had to make, and we do not make it lightly, but after much consultation and review of your feedback, we feel this approach has the widest base of support and is the best one to assure that we can build Black Rock City in 2012.

IT’S NOT OVER UNTIL THE LAST TICKET IS SOLD

If you don’t fall into one of those categories and didn’t get a ticket in the Main Sale, you still have some hope of acquiring a ticket, and we encourage you not to give up. Although it’s bound to be more scarce than usual, there is always a brisk aftermarket for tickets leading right up to the event; people’s plans change, and tickets are sold on the secondary market every year. To assist this, we are launching the Secure Ticket Exchange Program (STEP) on February 29th to facilitate such transactions. STEP will provide a secure, hassle-free, and centralized tool for selling unused tickets or buying tickets being offered, while helping all of us avoid scammers, scalpers and counterfeiters.

People selling their tickets back via STEP will be refunded the face value of the ticket plus the delivery fee (but not the service fees $7 – as these fees cover services already rendered and are not refundable). In order to encourage the use of STEP as a central resource, Burning Man has decided to cover the $12 “restocking fee” which includes an InTicketing fee and merchant fees that the credit card companies charge to process this type of refund.

WHO: Only registrants who did not get tickets in the Main Sale will be eligible to register for tickets through STEP … if you fall into this category, you will receive an email inviting you to register. Registration will place you in a first-come first-served queue, and you will be offered a ticket when one becomes available through the system. You may only purchase one ticket through STEP; this ticket is non-transferable and can only be held at Will Call. A STEP ticket is only for you. [ADDED 2/15/12: 9:18 PM PST: We recognize the one-per person will dramatically effect the plans and intentions of those who originally ordered 2 tickets and didn’t scam the system with a back-up order and were then rejected. We WILL look at whether there is any breathing room to this policy before we engage the final implementation. However, this decision was reached with a significant number of dependent variables and won’t be easy to change.]

You will be offered a ticket at the value that the seller paid ($240, $320 or $390), plus the standard $7 per ticket service fee and a $12 Will Call delivery fee. If you’re in the front of the line, and a ticket becomes available, you will receive an email offering it to you. If you don’t respond within 72 hours, or decline the ticket, it will be made available to the next person in the queue, and you will lose your place in line. You can re-enter the queue if you wish, but your place in line will not be held.

Our ticket team will closely monitor the queue, and if/when the queue grows large beyond the reasonable likelihood for people at the end to get tickets, we’ll pause it until we determine it becomes viable again. It isn’t helpful or fair to have a lot of people waiting with no hope of getting a ticket.

It’s not required that you only buy or sell your tickets through STEP … you can still sell your tickets to your friends directly. As always, we ask that in keeping with the Burning Man ethos, tickets only be sold at or below face value (plus documented fees), or gifted.

Our Low Income Ticket Program will launch on February 29th, and will offer 4,000 tickets at $160, as was originally planned. These tickets are intended for people who can provide documented proof of financial hardship through an online application process.

More information about STEP and the Low Income Program can be found on our ticket page.

WHAT DOES THE FUTURE OF BURNING MAN LOOK LIKE?

We’re obviously concerned with ticket sales for 2013 and beyond, and we’re looking at a variety of ways to ensure Burning Man’s future remains bright. Right now, everything is on the table, including many great suggestions from our community. This includes major potential overhauls of the ticket system, such as identity-based ticketing, non-transferable tickets, directed distribution ticket models, and more. This is a complex process of analysis, with lots of ramifications for internal logistics and the cultural dynamics of our community … this is far from a process of simply filling stadium seats. We are working with staff, external experts related to this field (including game theorists, sociologists, statisticians, festival producers, ticketing companies, software developers, widely-read bloggers, and more) and an advisory council made up of representative members of the community to determine what works best for Burning Man in the future.

We’re also exploring a number of options to increase the event’s capacity in the future, including ongoing negotiations with the BLM, extending the event timeframe, alternative event sites, and more. A key player in this scenario will be Burning Man’s Regional Network and the myriad events they offer. In fact, we’ve long been aware that the event in the desert would reach its limit. It’s part of why we have nurtured the Regional Network for more than 10 years, and why we’ve created the Burning Man Project, a global effort with year-round avenues to connect and support this cultural community. We expect they will play a very significant role in our future.

[ADDED paragraph 9:15 PM 2.15.12] We have heard the call very specifically about “identify-based ticketing”. There is a strong desire from the community to have us attach a name to each ticket that comes into the event. There are some options in that regard that are more feasible than others. Unfortunately, none are seamless and all options cause various levels of disruptions not just to the organization but to community values like “gifting” that are and have been clearly in play. We’d have to motivate all intended ticket-holders to enter into a new process or plan, and for some that’s seen as a violation of privacy, for others it’s distasteful to change plans in mid-stream. It’s also important to include the impact this would place upon the box office and the gate. There’s no point in doing this if we are not be able to close the loop and enforce the identity-based solution. We must have a more complete picture of what identify-based ticketing will do to internal processes and whether it’s possible to motivate current order-holders to identify ticket holders and what that would look like.  We weren’t able to reach a firm and confident conclusion by today. We have to carefully weigh the decision with the intended consequences and consider potential unintended consequences before we move forward on this option. [end added section]

We’ve always been involved in proactive acculturation in order to bring in new members of our community as seamlessly as possible. In that light, we’re spearheading a number of acculturation efforts for first-timers this year. We’ve started ePlaya discussion threads for connecting theme camps and other projects with new participants. We plan a video podcast series, improved and updated roll-ups of first-timer resources, a web page to crowd-source the best first-timer tips our community has to offer, and we plan to engage all returning Burners in this effort.

One thing we do know is this: our understanding of “Radical Inclusion” is evolving… we will always welcome the stranger, and all are welcome to participate in the culture of Burning Man. But that doesn’t necessarily mean we can all fit in one place at one time. We’re going to have to find new ways to include those who wish to be a part of this amazing experiment.

FINALLY: THANK YOU

We are truly sorry about how this has all played out, and we want to thank you for your patience as we’ve worked through these difficult decisions … there are a lot of logistical and cultural moving parts that need to be considered, and it’s far from easy. We also want to thank you for your passion for this event and its culture, and for your suggestions and ideas about how to solve this problem … we’ve been listening to all of them.

It’s our goal to be honest, to be transparent, and to provide you updates as soon as we have solid information to offer. We’d rather it take extra time to get it right, than move too fast and get it wrong.

We hope to see you in Black Rock City this year, or in the future. And if not there, out in the world … wherever you’re manifesting Burning Man culture.

About the author: Maid Marian

Marian Goodell has been a member of the 6-person ownership structure of Burning Man since late 1996. Goodell has been Burning Man's Director of Business and Communications since 1997; and in 2003 she added oversight of the Department of Public Works. The Communications activities under Goodell’s jurisdiction include media relations, print production, and the Jackrabbit Speaks email newsletter; her Business duties include management of accounting, legal, government relations, and administrative processes. Her oversight of the organization's technology infrastructure has included the development of an internal document repository, the Burning Man web site, several blogs, and an image gallery. In 1997 she worked with Burning Man participants to create the Burning Man Regional Network. Goodell holds a BA in Creative Writing from Goucher College in Baltimore, Maryland and an MFA in photography from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco.

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