If you’ve created art or built a theme camp at Burning Man, you know that it’s all about trial, error, complex planning and a fair amount of flying by the seat of your pants. In 2006, my camp, Random Pizza Experience (RPE), was placed on the Esplanade for the first time. For two years, we’d been cooking homemade pizzas in camp and making random deliveries across the playa.
We were unprepared for the impact of thousands of Burners flowing through our camp on the Esplanade. We were asked questions small and large all day. Why do you make the dough from scratch? Is this pizza the right size? May I give you a kiss? Why aren’t you open?
What did we know? Enough to get into trouble and not enough to avert small disasters. We simply were not prepared for the crush of Burners that came with Esplanade placement. I’m embarrassed to say that at one time, the Nevada Health Department featured our camp in a presentation on what not to do! But, we were thrilled to see people making music, art and performance together while they were waiting in line for pizza. We tried to focus on our strengths, like connecting people, and not our weaknesses (according to the Health Department).
Scalability is an issue for nearly every aspect of Burning Man. In 1990, the first year in the desert, roughly 90 people showed up. This year we’ll have 70,000. And Burners have taken what they’ve learned in the desert into the world in awe-inspiring ways. We now have more than 220 Regional representatives worldwide, with more than 40 official Burning Man affiliated events on six continents. From artists to civic activists, the world is changing every day because of Burning Man.
Burning Man Project is facing scaling challenges of its own. Staff and volunteers are working days, nights and weekends to serve a growing community that is active around the world every day and every hour.
Burning Man Project is fundraising to build out an infrastructure to support the worldwide culture of Burning Man. Some Burners are addressing social and environmental problems (Burners Without Borders and Black Rock Solar) while others are bringing civic art to the public (Black Rock Arts Foundation) and some are inventing things that none of us have imagined.
I started volunteering for Burning Man Project in 2012 at BMHQ in San Francisco. Today, I’m in a leadership position helping create infrastructure to support the year-round culture. We’re creating systems and processes for building and tracking our events, programs and activities in the world. We’re also exploring collaborations with like-minded organizations like [freespace] and Maker Faire – groups that are teaching us what they’ve learned along the way.
We’re a public benefit corporation because our purpose and mission is to support the Burning Man culture out in the world. Income from Burning Man tickets supports the event in the desert but that income isn’t sufficient to support the infrastructure needed for a global movement founded on Burning Man’s Ten Principles. Burning Man staff and volunteers are running fast to keep up with the growth of this culture year-round and we don’t yet have the resources we need to sustain this level of growth.
Just as the questions of Random Pizza Experience helped us understand our strengths and challenges, we welcome your questions about the future of Burning Man in the world. Please keep them coming. Each one helps us learn more.
Making pizza dough from scratch takes a little longer but I’m convinced that it tastes better. And making better pizza is actually scalable – just teach more friends how to do it.
Please join me and Carmen Mauk, Executive Director of Burners Without Borders, for “From the Playa to the Planet,” a conversation about social change at Everywhere (6:15 and Esplanade), on Monday, August 25th, 11:30 am – 12:30 pm. This is an opportunity for crowd-sourcing solutions to social change challenges and we’d love to see you there!