How many theme camps can dance on the head of a Burning Man ticket?

They all want tickets

Have you come up with a theory about how Burning Man should handle ticket sales yet?

If not, congratulations:  you’re the only one.

My blogging colleague Jon Mitchell wrote about a pre-Halloween brain-eating session to discuss how Burning Man should handle ticket sales to groups – if it does that at all.  I attended that meeting because there was an open bar, and am pleased to report that their signature cocktail was a combination of black vodka, blue Curacao, and Sprite.  It was delicious.  Especially when you really stirred it around so the layers mixed.

The other thing I noticed was that of the 30-some people in attendance, there were 40-some theories about how Burning Man could best handle ticket sales – it was as though “radical incompatibility” were the 11th principle.

My impression is that discussions were equally convoluted at the Burning Man staff retreat.  I wasn’t there (I’m a volunteer), so I can only confirm that while the Org staff were out talking about the future of Burning Man I opened a bottle of 25 year tawny port which had a taste of leather and chocolate on the back palate.

There are no questions in this world as inflammatory and divisive as questions of identity – which is why what should be the bland and technocratic discussion of how to sell tickets gets so many people so worked up so fast.  How we handle ticket demand is widely seen as an indicator of who we are.  Burning Man is the participants – and the participants are the people with tickets.  Aren’t they? (more…)

An Abrupt Climax

by Nettles

Like it or not, this is the most prominent experience of the 2012 event for me.

The Dust was magnificent and just what I always hoped for! I wasn’t even bothered by the unbelievably long will call lines that I was helping my friend to navigate in her virgin year. I had secured childcare with the grandmas for an extended stay so that I could rock clean up crew with my dear friend and had arranged for the rest of our camp to leave us behind during Exodus with a bare bones camp.

Last year was my virgin year and found myself able to break out of the timid state of nearly catatonic awe I experienced that was only punctuated by seemingly catastrophic strife and euphoric joy. This year, I attended with only friends and no lover purposefully to gain a more independent view of the community and with the intent to participate more fully. I made a few very intense connections and had oddly synchronistic conversations and experiences and ventured to the wonder of deep playa often. I realize I’m being vague. It is due to the extremely intense experience that unfortunately colored my entire week and emotionally derailed my intended and planned commitments for post event clean up.

I arrived early to the Man burn to secure a front row spot for a fire dance troupe that I know from Oregon. I watched and beamed with love for my comrades and then viewed and felt one of the most amazing explosions I may ever see. Feeling deeply pulled and nudged by the waves of heat bursting out I intertwined deeply with the cyclical nature of the fire. The man fell and the rangers could not hold the crowd. I ran for the center to be in the fire. There, at the edge of the embers I found part of my tribe and joined them, to in essence, be one with the fire. Barebacked to the immenseness of that heat I had a deeply profound internal experience.

When it came time to separate myself and go off on my own, I decided I needed to remind my lover or my affection for him before I wanted to go back to camp and meditate on my experience. I headed to the satellite phone near 2 o’clock and esplanade. The phone conversation quickly became stressful as I am told that my dog has been hit by either a large truck or a tractor and the phone of course cuts out as there is a 3 minute time limit.

As I’m waiting for my turn on the phone again, I’m approached by a group of five large (highly intoxicated) men and a woman that I did not see initially. The largest man tries to talk to me and steps on my foot as I’m trying to back away. I try to convey that I am not having the best time right now and that i’d like some personal space. The man doesn’t move and moves his face uncomfortably close to mine, still trying to talk to me while i’m still trying to back up and he advances more. Finally, exacerbated by the gross infringement on my space, I tell him to fuck off and leave me alone.

After what seems like forever, it’s my turn in the booth, and I dodge away from the larg man hovering over me and into the booth. All of the sudden a very large and seemingly drunk female appears in the doorway and grabs me, throws me to the ground by my hair. Jumps on my back and begins to brutally assault me while her male companions crowd in, laughing, in what I can only assume is to protect what she’s doing from view. I hear the faint sounds of passersby exclaiming at the sight but, not doing anything. The phone hanging with my lover helplessly screaming “what’s happening?” on the other end.

Finally a woman yells, and the males drag the female off somewhere. People stand around me as I’m huddled in a ball confused and not knowing what to do. After a while of trying to reconcile in my mind whats going on, I asked someone to call my ranger friend who was on duty. I was taken to rampart and treated for my injuries by well meaning staff who reported the incident to the local authorities. Luckily my ranger friend was able to help me fill out the paper work because the girl broke my glasses and I’m pretty much blind without them. So much for driving my self home or spotting moop that’s smaller than a foot in diameter.

The rangers where unbelievably accommodating and helpful but it was difficult to process what had just happened and I found myself experiencing bizarre emotions and feeling extremely paranoind and then confused about what all of this meant. My ranger friend found a place to store my bike and gave us a ride back to camp. She cared for me and checked on me. I only left camp to use the lavatory after that until we left early monday morning.

My friend that I had planned to stay behind with decided he would leave early with me…I couldn’t drive my own vehicle anymore anyway. I just wanted to be as far away from black rock desert as I could. Well, more accurately I didn’t want to ever potentially run into the person that had assaulted me again. I packed up camp and sat in my tent during the temple burn drinking gifted liqueur and cuddling with a friend that elected to stay with me.

So now, today, I’m left with this sense of …what now? I had this wonderfully freeing experience that is almost completely overshadowed and replaced in my memory by three minutes of my life and the hours following. What does the mean about Burning Man? What does this mean about Burning Man for me? Should I return? What do I tell people about me experience? Most importantly what do I tell myself about my experience?

Yeah maybe I shouldn’t have told the guy to “fuck off,” but how long do you tolerate someone in your space forcing you to stay in close proximity to them before you become more assertive? What does this say about burning man culture? What about the people who stood around not helping me, just watching? One person had the balls and compassion to initiate the end of me being beating and my face being repeatedly slammed into the ground. I don’t know what to do with this knowledge. From another perspective, compared to many others my experience was mild….what was it something like 3-4 sexual assaults A DAY reported this year..that’s the reported ones. two missing minors. From what I’ve gathered from long time rangers, this is a dramatic increase just this year.

I’d be interested in hearing the stories of others that had an unexpected negative experience and how they are dealing with that. I hope I will return and create a redeeming experience for myself. I hope the influx of amazing installations will continue and that that energy will foster the unmitigated exemplification of the principles. Though perhaps “Radical inclusion” is something that needs to be redefined, hopefully it will take care of itself as the energy redirects back into the fiery flow of creativity and community.

Burning Man’s 2012 Staff Retreat

Burning Man Founders give their report-out at the annual Staff Retreat.

Last week, 60 Burning Man staffers got together for our annual Staff Retreat, an intensive 4-day offsite gathering wherein we examine the state of Burning Man (the event itself, our organization, and the worldwide growth of our culture). We examine where we stand, where we want to be, and how to get there.

This has been an annual tradition since 1999, when the meeting consisted of a small handful of folks. And while it has taken different shapes and forms over the years, this time is used to look at the challenges we’re facing, the successes we’ve achieved, and the goals we want to shoot for. We also bring in experts to help us develop the skills we need to succeed as an organization. And let me tell you, the work is practically non-stop. The group hardly ‘retreats’ from Burning Man; in reality we collectively dive even deeper into the work we do and the roles we play.

Walking through Burning Man’s history of staff trainings since 2001.

This year there were extensive discussions around growth … what challenges come along with the growth of both the Burning Man community and the Burning Man organization, and how can we manage them? What kind of pressures are the various Burning Man departments facing as a result of this growth? How can we work better collectively to address them? What leadership skills can we bring to the table to ensure that we deal with them effectively?

The group engaged in activities to help us deliver quality feedback to our co-workers, skill-building sessions to help us make better decisions, and opportunities to evaluate how we’re measuring up against our 5-year goals (and 3-year goals, and 1-year goals). We read feedback emails from participants about this year’s event in Black Rock City and discussed strategies for making improvements.

Megan reading through the Participant Feedback binder.

These discussions are always rewarding, but the best work is arguably done in the evening hours after long, full days of work sessions.  That’s when we’re able to connect with our fellow staffers, learn more about each other and what makes us tick, and build the bonds that allow us to work so well together … the connections which make us as much a family as we are a business.

Of course, being the Burners that we are, the evenings were peppered with impromptu bonfires, musical performances, storytelling sessions, irreverent card games, crafting, Tarot-reading, hikes, hot-tubbing, poker lessons, and just taking some precious time to enjoy each other’s company.

The “Stick Man” bonfire.

As intensive as each day was, the passion, dedication and brilliance that each attendee brings to the conversation is truly inspiring, and bodes well for Burning Man’s future. 2012 has been a challenging year to say the least, but the quality thinking shown at this retreat proved that we’ll be able to handle anything the future throws at us.

Harvesting Brains Around Group Ticketing

On the night before Halloween, Burning Man ate our brains.

Ticket maven Nimbus and tech wizard CameraGirl gathered a group of Burners into a room in San Francisco and asked us to brainstorm about that bugbear, that boogeyman of challenges we face as a culture: Group Ticketing. The meeting of the minds included game theorists, theme camp leaders, artists, volunteers, families, senior staff, and ticket industry experts.

Braaains!!! Photo by Leori Gill

This wasn’t a meeting for hashing out the details of a ticket distribution process. It was a way for the people who run the ticket process to harness some of the energy and ideas of a diverse bunch of Burners (as described in the “WHAT DOES THE FUTURE OF BURNING MAN LOOK LIKE” section of “Rebuilding BRC 2012”).

By the time we were done, our brains were literally gone, eaten from our heads by zombies. In case you didn’t realize it, Burning Man ticketing is HARD.

Now that Burning Man tickets can be expected to sell out each year, we need new, creative solutions to address the challenges of ticketing. Burners are smart people, by and large, so the organization figures we’re the right people to ask.

This wasn’t the first such salon. They even held one on playa this year with a bunch of techies. The conversation started in January, right after IT happened. The lottery had unintended social consequences — the fear-driven ticket orgy at the beginning of the process left organizers of key groups without tickets. Even if some group members did get tickets, the groups couldn’t pull off their projects without every key member present. Since they didn’t all have tickets, planning became really difficult.

Even though it all worked out pretty much okay, thanks to Burning Man’s decision to carefully delegate 10,000 tickets to camps and other groups, this uncertainty and the shift from how things had always been caused fear and anxiety in our community.

In the good old days, we could just sell individual tickets and be fine. But now that everyone and their stepcousin wants to go to Burning Man, we have to plan for the inevitability that tickets will be scarce. We have to find a way to make sure that the groups who make Black Rock City what it is — theme camps, art teams, mutant vehicles, families, what-have-you — get their people to the playa, or else they may not be able to make their contribution at all.

We considered many thorny dilemmas. How do we preserve groups that form the city’s institutions, like the Temple crew or your favorite art car, while still allowing for the evolution of new groups and the entropy of dying ones? How do we quantify the merit of a group? Do we ask its neighbors? Track it on the MOOP Map?

How do we make sure groups are taken care of as well as individuals without groups? Do we even need to protect groups, or can we just go back to individual tickets and trust that new groups will naturally organize and take care of themselves?

When you dig into it, and we did, you quickly come to realize that there ARE no easy answers. Like I said, this stuff is hard. But it’s good to see the hard work being done, and it’s reassuring that Burning Man’s picking our brains as part of the process.

Burners Without Borders’ Sandy Relief Efforts

Burners Without Borders volunteers have been closely watching the relief efforts on the East Coast following the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy. Our hearts go out to those who are suffering in the aftermath of the storm. With millions of people affected by Sandy and with so many people without flood insurance, the recovery effort will be challenging and lengthy.

BWB has deployed an assessment team to New Jersey, led by BWB Co-founder and Director of Operations for Katrina, Richard Scott. During the 8 months BWB was deployed on the Gulf Coast in the wake of Katrina, Richard’s incredible heavy machinery skills enabled BWB to gift over $1million worth of debris removal to the region. When Hurricane Ike struck three years later, Richard was there to remove destroyed houses, so that those affected could quickly recover and move forward with their lives.

This week, Richard will be meeting with our local contacts in New Jersey to tour affected areas that are not receiving relief assistance. BWB’s mission is to fill in the gaps of the major recovery effort, and we will be looking for the most effective way to accomplish this goal.

Richard is currently in contact with heavy machinery companies who have donated machines to BWB in the past. We are also looking into possibly creating a base of operations in New Jersey for a larger volunteer deployment.

We will be providing updates to this list as they become available.

You can also keep up with updates on the BWB Facebook Page.

How can you help?

1. BWB is currently seeking introductions to equipment rental companies that would like to support our efforts.
2. We are seeking a community center or public space in New Jersey to set up a base of operations for a potential volunteer deployment.
3. Do you have information about communities that are hard hit but receiving little help? We want to know about them.

E-mail with any information you have that can support the relief effort.

You can donate to the BWB relief effort by clicking clicking here.

Mourning the limits of Radical Inclusion

Paul Addis was a few years older than me, and had been around Burning Man a lot longer. I bumped into him twice off-playa, made fun of him in print once, and know two long-time community members who at one point considered him a friend.

That was the extent of our connection – yet I find myself pushing his recent death before me wherever I go, a burden that does not belong to me but that I cannot lift alone.

Maybe this is because our community has lost several stars from its constellation this year, and while I didn’t know any of them, the sense of loss is cumulative, building up until those outside the funerals are in mourning too.

Or maybe it is because Paul, in his own troubled way, was trying to do exactly what we all are: he was trying to be an artist. He was trying to burn brightly. He was trying to act on the inspiration we all get from our common heritage in Burning Man and the Cacophony Society. The devil’s in the details, but from a thousand foot view he would be seen on the same path as all the rest of us.

I mean … we’re all crazy. Let us not forget that for most people in the world, the act of going out to the desert to build a giant man and burn him is itself far crazier than the decision to burn it on a Monday instead of a Saturday.

But I think what really troubles me is the way in which his leap reminds me of just how easy it is for any of us to fall through the cracks.

We like to think Burning Man can protect us.  Instead, I fear that Paul Addis represents the limits of radical inclusion. (more…)

Black Rock Solar Celebrates Five Years & Two Megawatts

[Marnee Benson is the Deputy Director of Black Rock Solar, the solar non-profit spinoff from Black Rock City LLC.]

And then one day in July, under a blazing Nevada sun, the veteran Black Rock Solar crew put the finishing touches on a gorgeous hundred-kilowatt array at the Desert Research Institute in Reno.  Not only would the array provide clean, renewable energy to the internationally-recognized research center for decades to come, it also marked the two millionth watt of solar installed since Black Rock Solar dedicated its first free array in the tiny, remote outpost of Gerlach some five years ago.  An array built by a ragtag team of DPW volunteers working for breakfast at Bruno’s, packs of cigarettes, and a bunk in the town’s dusty trailer park.  Well, that’s the legend anyway…

The 2007 crew on the playa during Burning Man. Photo by Marnee Benson


The Black Rock Solar crew in Gerlach, circa 2007. Photo credit unknown.


100 kW at the Desert Research Institute in Reno. Photo by Paddy McCully

 We’ve come a long way, baby

Now it’s 2012 and Black Rock Solar has one of the most experienced construction crews and professional project development teams in the state.  In the past two months alone the 501(c)(3) non-profit has commissioned six more systems, bringing the grand total to 53 and the number of individual panels installed by hand to 12,313.  Some, like the tiny 2.9 kW off-grid array at Urban Roots Farm, provide a small amount of power where it’s needed most.  Others, like the 200 kW array at Western Nevada College, are keystone systems at statewide institutions of higher education, visible to thousands of students and educators every day, helping to make solar power part of the right now rather than the maybe someday. (more…)

MOOP Map Live 2012: Your Questions Answered!

Your pal The Hun! Photo by Vertumnus; click for full size.

Hello out there all you MOOP maniacs and line sweepers extraordinaire! It’s been a couple of weeks since Burning Man passed its BLM site inspection, and I’ll be honest: I’ve missed you! Almost as much as I miss my Playa Restoration family, now scattered to all corners of the earth to return next August.

You and I also have some loose ends to tie up. While I tried real hard to respond to every comment during MOOP Map Live 2012, I eventually ran out of time. Now I’m back to answer your questions!

First, A Note.

Going forward, let’s agree to be good to each other. The Restoration team understands that people are giving huge gifts of time, money, art and entertainment! We also understand how disappointing it can be when you don’t score as well as you’d like on the MOOP Map. Please, remember that the MOOP Map is a collaborative effort. The Restoration team’s job is to report the facts of what they find, and they do that as accurately as humanly possible.

When I post results here, do I call people names or insult what they did? Of course I don’t. Please offer me and my teammates the same respect, and extend that respect to every single one of your fellow Black Rock Citizens.

Now. These are some of the most common questions I’ve been asked this year. Don’t see your answer? Leave a comment and I’ll do my best!