Building a Temple

[Shalaco Wordsmith is your typical Bay Area Renaissance man: he dabbles in web design, writing, photography, art, Burning Man, adventure and zombies. He contributed this piece about his involvement with the construction of the Temple of Whollyness in 2013.]

I’d like to tell you the story of what happened when I set out to do something I dreamed about doing, but thought I couldn’t, and what I discovered along the way.

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Intention
Arrival in Gerlach
Arrival on Playa
Temple’s Arrival
Temple Build
Transition Ceremony
Temple Burn

Intention

I’ve been to That Thing in the Desert (TTITD) a handful of times and very much wanted to make that leap from attendee to participant by playing a part in creating the event. I dreamed of being on Man Krew (the crew that builds the Man), but felt it was a pie-in-the-sky idea that would never happen. I decided, however, to simply put my intentions out there and see what happens, instead of reciting to myself all the reasons I couldn’t do it. I didn’t make Man Krew. Instead I am approached with a role as ‘Internet Wizard’ for Temple Crew. I think to myself, “Establish an internet connection essential for the AutoCAD-based assembly of a massive pyramidal complex comprised of interlocking puzzle pieces of precision-machined wood, 80 miles from the nearest broadband-capable infrastructure, in the enormous, flat, dry, endorheic Pleistocene lakebed of ancient Lake Lahontan? Sure, why not. I hear it’ll be a plug-and-play setup.” 

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Arrival in Gerlach

Rolling thunderstorms rumble in the distance as Quickdraw (Jeremy Paul) and I approach Gerlach. A powerful group of storm cells is hitting Black Rock City (BRC) and there are reports of heavy rains and pooling water everywhere. That “dry” playa was threatening to return to its old ways as Lake Lahontan. Burning Man’s staff have put a Level 0 rain contingency plan into effect — a very technical way of saying that things are on total lockdown. There is no driving on playa, let alone in and out. Our brief stop in Gerlach has turned into an extended stay.

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Gerlach is the last town on the way to Burning Man. To most “Burners”, it’s nothing more than an inconvenient 25MPH zone before reaching the long-awaited final destination of Black Rock City. During my extended stay, however, I see that Gerlach is as enchanting a place as it is overlooked. Few take the time to explore its beauty and mysteries, and even fewer have wandered, gotten lost and witnessed the wonder of its antiquated cemetery, composed of wooden emigrant-era tombstones, bleached by wind and sun into anonymity. To the untrained eye, Gerlach is just another dot on the map. But for those who know that the magick doesn’t start and stop at the Burning Man gate between the last Monday in August and the first Monday in September, Gerlach and its many wonders, like the Miner’s Club, are destinations in themselves.

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Flash is bartending at the Miner’s Club. The fast-talking New Englander, with his finger-in-the-light-socket white hair, is something of a legend, but I’m just starting to put all this together now. “Hey-yah! How-ya-doing?” he cackles  in his raspy voice, standing next to a sign that reads “There’s other kinds of booze besides whiskey. SERIOUSLY.” The place is overflowing with Department of Public Works (DPW) members (the rugged, hardened anti-heroes who build the infrastructure of Black Rock City). The room echoes with their radio chatter. At this point, they are no longer certain if it’s their comrades — who are currently rained into BRC —that are stranded on playa or if we are stranded in Gerlach.

In any case, we’re all staying in Gerlach, with no sign of a break in the storms for a handful of days. Flash, the self-proclaimed “largest slumlord of the playa”, puts me up for the night.

I awaken to a flurry of inactivity. People are running in circles, accomplishing I-don’t-know what. Between meeting half a dozen freshly-arrived Temple Crew members, I learn that there is a possible sliver of a gap between storm cells — a way for us to cross the threshold of Point One into the confines of the soon-to-be Black Rock City. Muster everything you can and forget the rest, because we’re making a beeline for it! Hurriedly we pack,  our vehicles line the road’s shoulder, and we stand and wait to see what will happen next. It takes a special kind of person to lead a Temple build. Lightning Clearwater the III is equal parts tender, charismatic, tenacious and plain fucking stubborn. If anyone is going to get through those gates, it’s him. We load up our disheveled caravan and head to Point One.

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Arrival on Playa

Coyote leads our company in serpentine patterns along remote paths of dry playa through the gates at Point One. In what SF Slim would later describe as “a humorously prescient coincidence”, our early arrival passes welcome us to the “Lake Lahontan Retreat and Water Show”.

Photo by Vertumnus

Coyote is BRC’s superintendent, and an original member of the DPW. We’re just arriving, but he’s already been out here two weeks, surveying every single arm, leg and intersection of the city with his elite, tight-knit team of 12 , working and sleeping in a plywood octagon where that golden spike first ritualistically penetrates the playa.

He takes us beyond the horizon to the place they have surveyed for Temple. Sparse settlements can be made out in the distance, a lone commissary tent, and a monolithic Man-base towering, yet still overshadowed by the horizon. We are led across a vast desert through an incredibly young Black Rock City — with no emergency medical services, no road signs, no spires. The first structures of Burning Man soon far behind us, we reach a blank expanse marked by a single orange flag. This is to be the Temple site.

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Before Black Rock City

The playa is different than I’ve ever seen it. Packed hard from the rains. Deep cracks outline large chunks of playa, grouped like clusters of cells forming the skin of the desert and stretching to the horizon. There’s something incredibly enchanting about Black Rock City when its population still lingers below a hundred. Before its rows of annular neighborhoods start to fill in with theme camps, before First Camp, Center Camp, and the port-o-potties arrive. Before the fences and streets and The Man come to town, it’s an entirely blank sheet of toothy 300 lb. vintage coldpress rag paper.

Gregg Fleishman, Quickdraw, Lightning, Aaron, Baltazar Santana, Andrew Pederson We say a few words to celebrate our arrival to the Temple site and set our intentions for the space. Then we begin transforming the Temple from a mere schematic into a physical place.

Cowboy Carl’s lone outpost along Razorback Mountain.

A sprouting ranger station

Temple’s Arrival

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The Temple arrives, creating a striking contrast with the surrounding landscape. Precision-cut pieces of structural paralam and plywood, entirely flat-packed on flatbeds and semi-trucks. Attributes of its brilliant design by Gregg Fleishmen.

As we begin to survey the Temple build site and crew camp, there is a striking difference between our initial footprints, tire-tracks and brushstrokes, and the surrounding deserted desert landscape.

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There is a stark contrast, a gapping disparity, a contradistinction between the gaping barren arid alkali flats, dried by wind and sun, laying open before us for miles in all directions… and the beginnings of a construction site.

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Months of planning and engineering went into designing this structure, which will take weeks to build, only to exist for seven days. It’s said to be the largest temporary interlocking wood structure ever. But isn’t every structure temporary, in some sense of the word? The only difference is this one is intentionally so. Gregg Fleishman is the main designer and Terry Gross (Lightning) & Melissa Barron (Syn) are lead co-creators, spearheading the collaboration of a dozen artists and hundreds of volunteers to coalesce a unified vision.

Scott Mahoney & Gregg Fleishman
Lightning Clearwater the III Lightning would kill me if he knew I told you this, but he has just begun the final leg of a marathon race to complete the construction of The Temple before The Man can be finished.

Gregg is soft-spoken to say the least, but speaks with great gravity. You have to listen very attentively to catch most of what he is saying, and then take a moment to understand it. This majestic sanctuary is crafted completely out of geometric interlocking wood pieces that fit together without the use of nails, glue or metal fasteners. Its central pyramid is 87′ x 87′ at its base and 64′ tall.  And he’s the one who knows how the 45 different shapes, the 603 major struts and 10,775 wooden pieces are to interlock to form The Temple of Whollyness.

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Our Camp One of the splendid luxuries of working on Temple Crew is feeling like you are camping at the edge of infinity. Up until the event, the crew gets to camp on the edge of the horizon in deep playa. I’m just starting to realize that being recruited to Temple Crew has not been a consolation prize, but something far greater than I had even dreamed of. The surrealism of camping on a construction site in the dry lakebed of what was once one of the largest lakes in North America is only heightened by the fact that, since the Temple structure is only held together by interlocking pieces — no nails, no screws — it’s the quietest construction site you could ever chance upon. Besides the booms, scissor lifts, VRs and cranes used to hoist pieces and get personnel to those hard-to-reach places, everything was assembled with hand tools and large custom-made wooden torque bars that looked like something out of the Flinstones.

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What an amazing splendor it is to witness the open desert give way to the infrastructure and art installation of Black Rock City, a beautiful privilege. The transformation of an open landscape into a bustling metropolis.

First the street signs start showing up, then Blackthorne arrives with his team of Spirates who set about with their sledgehammers and screw guns and brute strength installing spires.
Spirates
Blackthorne

It’s beginning to look a lot like Burning Man… every time we meet. With the addition of the Spires, the open playa quickly begins to look a lot more like Black Rock City. Next the big art projects start rolling in. It is a wonder to see how quickly and easily Truth and Beauty is assembled. This nude figure emerging from the desert.

You blink, or turn around, and another dozen people appear, standing around their completed installation.
Marco Cochrane and the Bliss Dance Crew’s Truth-is-Beauty
Rebekah Waites’ Church Trap
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Ryan Tedrick’s Coyote

Mike Garlington’s photo chapel

Temple Build

Survey Says

Turning back to the Temple, we see that now the measurements have been made. 96 individual temporary footings measured so precisely that each interlocking connection will be able to snap into place with only a mallet. We can now begin to assemble the Temple.

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“It all begins with this humble looking but sublime structural connector node. Six identical pieces that puzzle together to form the keystones to the cluster structures we build.” ~Syn

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Stack of nodes. After the foundation has been surveyed to 1/16th of an inch, and checked and double-checked and double-double-checked, the first level begins to take shape.

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Heavy Equipment And Transpo (H.E.A.T.) are the unsung heroes of Burning Man. It’s with their collaboration that every major art piece gets installed on playa. H.E.A.T operates the cranes, telescopic forklifts, 85′ articulated boom lifts, skid-steers, trenches, backhoes, hysters that do the heavy lifting necessary to build the infrastructure and large art installations at TTITD. You will find Chaos (H.E.A.T.’s manager) slinging two radios, and talking into both of them simultaneously. He knows where every piece of heavy equipment is on playa at any given time, where it’s headed, and when it needs to be there.

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Working into the sunset to complete the Temple on time. Heavy equipment shows up and the Temple of Whollyness begins to take shape. It took five days to measure the site to its exact specifications, however the five-story structure snaps together in just six days.

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Brent is our Rigging Captain. He ensures things are done safely. “Getting to beer-thirty with the same amount of body parts that you started the day with is the goal out there.”
Handsome Chris negotiates a few pieces into place.

The rainstorms have left the playa packed and conditions ideal throughout most of the construction. Days are cool and calm. But eventually some dust storms roll through. Standing in front of the nearly complete Temple, I watch as a perfect day is overcome by a dust storm in thirty seconds and suddenly I can no longer see my shoelaces.

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Cesar says Temple Crew’s meals are so good that he hardly noticed the dust storm. Thanks Awesome Sauce Kitchen!

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Zach Coffin operates a crane to help with some of the heavy lifting.
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The top of the Temple, the ‘Eye’ of the pyramid, is being put into place as The Man is ‘picked’ up and set on it’s base in the distance.
The ‘Eye’ of the Temple is picked.

Now that the Temple is assembled and skinned, four of its component art installations can begin: stone, light, textile and sound.

Stone Choreography: The conceptual ‘altar’ and axis mundi for The Temple. For this aspect, Jael (James LaFemina) created his first sculpture. A 24-ton, 15-foot-tall black igneous basalt stone Insuksuk sculpture — a personification of the human spirit as a stone landmark used by the Inuit, Inupiat, Kalaallit, Yupik, and other peoples of the Arctic region as navigational aids. The sculpture is built from basalt Jael sourced from Mount Adams and the Yellowstone hot spot. Then he painstakingly stripped away layers of time to reveal its black core. The scale is magnificent, with some of the cuts on the basalt taking around five hours each on a large diamond wire saw. The sculpture will aid in focusing the energy of Temple and grounding the structure.

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Bunnie is the Shadiest of the Shady Ladies.

Textiles: Where form meets function. Bunnie Reiss and her team of ‘Shady Ladies’, (designers: Abi Kelly, Carmel Dunlap, and Rachael Fisher — and a team of talented female textile artists, quilters, weavers, knitters and seamstresses) came together to craft 4,000 square feet of textiles that complement and shade the courtyards of the Temple and its visitors from the harsh sun.


Light: Bentley Meeker uses the five different types of electric light: edison tungsten, incandescent, halogen, fluorescent, and LED, to give participants an awareness of the different types of lighting used since the advent of the electricity. Sound: “If the Temple is art framing space, Aaron Taylor Kuffner’s creations are music that accent silence — the space between sounds and the space from which sound emerges and returns.” Gongs meet robotics in an innovative approach to playing ancient instruments that create deep vibratory fields of moving air.

Temple Blessing

We invite the Paiutes to bless the Temple. Chairman Lowery and the Paiutes’ spiritual leader Dean accepts our invitation and crafts a special ceremony at the Temple just before the event begins. It was crucial to honor the Paiutes since they are the keepers of the sacred land we have our annual event on, so it was incredibly important to include them in the spiritual heart of the event — the Temple.

Transition Ceremony

Now that the Temple is complete, it is time to gift it to the people.

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Lightning Clearwater the III, Syn, Dr. Deb & Gregg Fleishman lead the transition ceremony.

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An amazing celebration marks the transformation of the Temple from a collaborative conceptual piece realized by its creators to a canvas of remembrance for its visitors. Large pieces of decomposed granite (DG), initially dismissed as a potential hazard, were stacked in sculptures reminiscent of the Insuksuk, the center stone monolith. The Temple transforms as every nook, cranny and reachable space is filled with the love, torment, blessings, curses and overflowing feelings of its visitors. This final collaboration between Temple and attendees was best sublimely expressed by a sculpture designed by Arthur Harsuvanakit and Evan Atherton and constructed by attendees.

Burning Man Community Sculpture by Arthur Harsuvanakit and Evan Atherton

Temple Burn

I had never before missed a Temple burn. But as I arrived, it was already a heap of smoldering remains. The Temple had burned without me, and in so doing, had given me something to mourn. Something lost to the world that could never be replaced. But it was not truly gone. While helping to build the Temple, we had all created a place in our mind and the minds of others, living experiences and building relationships. As immortal as it was ephemeral. I walked up to its ashes and launched the orange flag that marked its placement into its flaming remains. A piece that was once so integral, that I had found masquerading as M.O.O.P. sent back into itself.

This year I requested to be on Survey Crew. Still waiting to see if opportunity will once again present itself from an unexpected direction.

Burning Man Now Accepts Bitcoin Donations

bitcoinStarting today, you can donate to Burning Man with Bitcoin. This makes it easy for anyone in the world to support Burning Man’s year-round programs using cryptocurrency, which is private, secure and untethered to any national currency.

Because Burning Man is a recognized non-profit, donations are tax-deductible, and there are no transaction fees for donating in Bitcoin thanks to our payment processing partner, Coinbase.

Ticket sales — which do not yet support Bitcoin — cover the cost of producing the event in Black Rock City, but Burning Man needs the help of donors to fund its projects and initiatives during the rest of the year.

Burning Man’s Marian Goodell said “Donations will help provide more grants, training and support to creators of radically interactive art and events on and off the playa, fund civic programs, teach communities the power of collaboration, strengthen our infrastructure and make the Burning Man experience accessible year-round.”

Your donations support Burning Man’s Global Art Grants, the Big Art for Small Towns program and art honorariums for Black Rock City. Burning Man also supports civic art programs, Burners Without Borders and grants for community initiatives. Around the world, Burning Man facilitates a regional network of more than 250 volunteer regional contacts on five continents, hosts an annual Global Leadership Conference and a European Leadership Conference scheduled for February 2015.

“Accepting Bitcoin for donations is an experimental first step,” Goodell says. “We plan to explore other possibilities in the future, including expanding Bitcoin to the ticket-buying process.”

Donations to Burning Man can be made online by visiting donate.burningman.org.

For more information about how Burning Man uses Bitcoin donations, check out our Bitcoin FAQ.

A Statement from Jim Tananbaum

Burning Man Project board member and Caravancicle founder Jim Tananbaum has addressed questions raised about his 2014 camp in Black Rock City.

The following was posted today on Caravancicle.com … we’re reposting it here for your convenience:

I am writing to respond to a number of posts regarding Caravancicle, a camp of which I was a member in 2014 – I also helped envision and fund the camp.

 

I first want to apologize broadly to anyone who felt disrespected by our camp or concerned about the implications of our camp’s operation to the long-term health of Burning Man.

 

I have been attending Burning Man every year since 2009. Burning Man is a singularly impactful event for me and, since first attending, I have become deeply moved by the 10 Principles, the potential for these principles to change the world, and the environment of the playa as an embodiment of the principles. This is the reason I joined the Burning Man Board of Directors. It is also the reason why I wanted to create a camp environment that would help enable my friends to share the transformative experience of Burning Man. In addition, we wanted to introduce a more sustainable, communal and aesthetically pleasing alternative to RVs to the playa. It was always our intention to provide an open environment, which welcomed everyone and was consistent with the spirit of Burning Man. It is clear based on blog posts and comments made online that not everyone experienced what we intended.

 

For that, I would like to apologize. Despite our best intentions and efforts, some things did not turn out as planned.

 

Caravancicle is the third camp I have been involved with at Burning Man. My experience has been with larger camps requiring some workers to provide the infrastructure. Our camp was constructed by a long-term Burner with deep respect and care for the community, who was hired to manage the camp. He also led the build for the camp we did the year before. We have worked with people in the past to build out our camp who were hired by the camp organizers and then would enjoy the Burning Man experience when they were not working. Our campmates would staff the bar, greet people, give out gifts, etc.  This year, our plan was to gift a neighboring camp infrastructure in exchange for their assistance in building ours. We were trying to build community through sharing resources.

 

To make a long and painful story short, our partners were not able to complete our build and our remaining staff was left having to build out toilets, showers and other infrastructure (without having planned to and therefore not having the proper resources to do so). During this crisis, many people in our camp rose to the occasion, but a few, like “SherpaGirl,” decided to leave and then wrote a disappointing account of her few hours in our camp. Another person in camp posted a sign asking for help without asking anyone else. We had some first time Burners in the camp, including the person who posted the sign. We also had many return Burners in the camp.  I think most people attending Burning Man have had some unexpected situations; we did, and we tried to adjust to these in the moment.

 

The hero of this unfortunate situation was our camp’s manager who worked tirelessly for 2 days along with other camp members to help provide basic infrastructure for all of us. While the crisis was going on, all of us were greatly distracted and weren’t able to properly respond to the many people coming through our camp. Our supplies were also dwindling. Since the camp was so large, we used wristbands to help manage the food, water, and booze supply during non-public hours. It was really sad for me to read the accounts of people who visited our camp and were turned down for drinks during the day (including a number of my friends). Ughh….  If we had simply posted a sign providing details on camp gift times, it would have made a big difference.

 

Our camp breakdown was also compromised because the group responsible for providing the infrastructure was also responsible for part of the breakdown. In the end, our camp manager and some other members of the camp, plus breakdown staff, cleaned up our camp by Saturday after the event. We took a photo of our campsite before we left the playa and it was free of MOOP. We then learned that a camp next door was having significant issues with clean up and we sent trucks back to help them. It is unclear to me as to why we remain with some red marks on the MOOP map.

 

To specifically answer questions:  I did not profit from Caravancicle (in fact I gifted money, as I do every year). Our bar was open to the public at night but not during the day. We should have posted a sign to make this clear. On Friday night, used up all of our booze to gift a huge party for anyone who visited our camp. We regularly gifted very yummy homemade popsicles and herbal tea but were not able to set up the gift stand in front of the camp as originally envisioned because of the build crisis we had. We regularly gifted drinks, water, and electrolytes at night.

 

Regarding questions on the 10 Principles of Burning Man:

 

1. Radical Inclusion: Burning Man welcomes people from all walks of life. Referring to Caravancicle campers or members of any other camp as “the rich people” is creating a class system within Burning Man, which I don’t believe is beneficial to the community. Our camp welcomed people from all walks of life. Sometimes we had art cars that were filled up with our camp members and would not have been safe to include others. During other parts of the days, these art cars welcomed anyone to come on board until they were filled to safe capacity.

 

2. Gifting: Burning Man is devoted to acts of giving. Caravancicle gifted popsicles, tea, booze, water and electrolytes, but at the beginning of the week we did not serve non-camp members drinks during the day and failed to make it clear to non-camp members that we would be offering drinks during nighttime hours to everyone. We did gift a blow out Friday party with full bar and snacks. We could have greatly improved our communications on this matter.

 

3. Decommodification: Our community seeks to create social environments that are unmediated by commercial sponsorship, transactions, or advertising. Caravancicle was in no way affiliated with any third party sponsorships. We hired a team to produce the camp (as many camps do), but Caravancicle did not participate in any advertising. The ‘promotional materials’ and website were sent to guests who were invited to join the camp. We did not actively promote the camp. No one in Caravancicle made money off of the camp.

 

4. Radical Self-reliance: Although many of the more physical aspects of self-reliance were lost on the Caravanciclers, camp members were encouraged to exercise and rely on their inner resources. Just as in other camps, many members spent extensive amounts of time reflecting and self-exploring out on the playa. They faced many of the same challenges every other Burner faces at the event.

 

5. Radical Self-expression: Caravancicle was an act of creative expression in and of itself. The camp had months and months of planning and effort put into it, including help from many of its members. While not all members of the camp participated in the creative aspect of building the camp, each brought their own unique personality, costumes and contributions to Burning Man.

 

6. Communal Effort: While I can’t argue that Caravancicle members had significantly less work to do as far as cooking and maintenance, all members were still responsible for chores around camp including, but not limited to, picking up trash and being responsible for washing their own dishes. We also created a beautiful space open to the public that fostered cooperation and collaboration.

 

7. Civic Responsibility: Caravancicle assumed responsibility for the conduct of our events. We refused alcohol to minors and to people who didn’t have cups in order to limit MOOP. On one specific instance there were so many bikes parked outside one of our parties that the Rangers had to come inside and let us know. We killed the music and shut down the party immediately, making sure the mess was cleared up right away.

 

8. Leaving No Trace: Our clean up was delayed because of our co-dependency on a partner camp. We were able to clean our site, with pictures taken that document a clean site on Saturday after the event. It is unclear to me why we received red marks on the MOOP map, but I think we were generally docked points because we were late in leaving. We also sent back help for a neighbor camp that was having difficulties cleaning up.

 

9. Participation: Members of Caravancicle participated and achieved through “doing”. I urge everyone to remember that for some of our campers, this was their first burn. Personally, I contributed substantially less my first year than I have in years since. This year, however, I allocated vast amounts of time, effort and money to create something beautiful to share with the community.

 

10. Immediacy: Most Burners agree that Immediacy is the touchstone of value in our culture. Just like every other participant in this community, I wish to overcome barriers that stand between us and a recognition of our inner selves. I did not get it perfectly right, but I did make my best effort to create something beautiful and creative, unique and innovative.

 

Regarding other questions that have been raised about me and my camp:

 

Plug and Play: While a lot of personal responsibility was deflected onto camp employees, I have worked tirelessly since the beginning of the year planning, organizing and executing a camp that brought beauty and value to the playa. Although some of our campers were “plug and play” participants per se, the act of judging them or excluding them goes against everything that Burning Man stands for regarding radical inclusion.

 

Profit: There have been suggestions that our camp was for profit. I can assure you our camp generated no money and was not, in any way, a money making venture. Additionally, the Burning Man organization was in no way involved with the planning or production of the camp – it was an entirely personal project.  Our website was meant to be viewed by 60 or so people who were planning to participate in our camp and was password protected. The material which referred to artists was produced by our partner camp and not us as a way of describing what they envisioned. Our partner camp described this as fully endorsed by the artists they included. I am sorry that people outside of Caravancicle camp were able to gain access to our website and share our draft material without our authorization. I am also sorry about artists whose names they included without their authorization. Caravancicle was trying to create an environment which shared the beauty of our architecture and design with other creative forces on the playa.

 

Burning Man Project Board of Directors: I joined the board of directors because I’m passionate about the impact Burning Man culture can have on the world, and because I believe my professional experience and perspective is valuable to the new nonprofit at this early stage of its development. I believe Burning Man and what it has to offer the world is still very nascent and am thrilled to be working with other board members to steward its growth and development.

 

I believe there is a silver lining in the discussion our camp has engendered because it has caused a healthy dialog about the implications for Burning Man’s evolution. I am proud to be a Burner. I am proud that my fellow Burners felt passionate enough about the sanctity of Burning Man to push this discussion, and I look forward to taking new ideas and lessons learned into the future.

Welcome to Burningman.org

Burningman.com circa 1997
Burningman.com circa 1997

The first Burning Man website — a page, really — appeared in 1994 on the WeLL, a Sausalito-based Internet provider. That held down the fort until a 100% volunteer team comprised of Eric Waterman, Rusty Hodge, Scott Beale and Marian Goodell launched the first use of the Burning Man domain Burningman.com on April 1, 1997. The site went through a number of rapid iterations as the technology evolved and the community’s population exploded. This rapid growth evened out in 2001, and the last time Burning Man’s website got a facelift was in 2003.

RIP Burningman.comUntil today. Now that tectonic technological shifts have left Burningman.com verging on obsolescence, and the Burning Man organization has transitioned into a non-profit (some would say an equally earth-shaking occurrence), it was time to bring the site — and our story — into the modern era.

While the dream of Burningman.org started bouncing around our brains years ago, we kicked off the daunting process of creating it about 12 months ago. It would require the marrying of Burningman.com, Burningmanproject.org, Blackrockarts.org, and bringing a number of other Burning Man website properties into the fold. And, it would require sewing them all together into an information architecture that would create a seamless, sensible whole.

We chose to go with WordPress, and Burning Man’s tech team went to work making it do a whole host of amazing and unnatural things, including crafting it into a robust, customized publishing system. Our design team was determined not only to bring the site up to modern standards (responsive design, for instance), but to surpass them. The content team dug through an absolute mountain of content — a mountain sitting atop a massive underground cavern, filled with historical treasures that many of us didn’t even know existed. And we went about surfacing the rich visual history of this culture, thanks to the amazing photographers and videographers in our community.

Welcome Home
Long live burningman.org!

Our goal with Burningman.org was to create the ultimate storytelling tool for Burning Man — to support and honor its growth as a global culture making a significant impact in the world. Burning Man is no longer just about the event in Black Rock City. It’s about people living Burning Man every day, everywhere. Burningman.org tells the story of an event that spawned a culture that is supported and spread by a network of like-minded, interconnected individuals on five continents around the world.

Fancy new Burning Man historical timeline.
Fancy new Burning Man historical timeline.

A key part of that story is our historical roots, knowledge of which is important for anybody wanting to be a part of this grand experiment, even if you never attend the event in Black Rock City. So we unearthed all that historical treasure from beneath the mountain of content, and we brought it out into the light — we’re especially excited about our Historical Timeline and Event Archives.

Another key aspect of our culture is participation. You’ll find opportunities — and inspiration — to participate throughout the site, whether in person or online, in Black Rock City or your home town. Over time, we’ll add more features that engage and encourage direct participation, including new ways to join discussions about the information, ideas and issues that affect our community, whether that’s “what’s the best way to build a shade structure?” or “how do I build a real-world business that rhymes with the Ten Principles?”.

Get inspired!In taking nearly 5,000 pages (yes, really) and consolidating them into 1,800, we endeavored to balance what our website visitors want to know with what would inspire them about being a part of this culture. We’re proud of what we’ve built, and we hope it makes you proud to be a Burner.

If you experience any problems with the site, or see something we missed, please let us know through the Contact Us page. And if you want to know who worked on this complex project, check out the (very short, relative to the immensity of the project) list of folks who built this thing.

[Editor’s Note: We’ve been typing “burningman.com” about 50 times a day, every day for the last 11 years — possibly the hardest part of this project will be breaking that habit.]

Turnkey / Plug and Play Camping in BRC

Introduction

As soon as we packed up and left the playa this year, some disconcerting stories and questions began to emerge about camps reportedly engaging in behavior counter to what Burning Man is all about.

Questions range from the logistical – how do these camps operate in BRC? Does the organization provide them with resources? — to the more philosophical – is the event fundamentally changing as a result of Burners bringing their luxurious lifestyles to the playa? What does this mean for Black Rock City and Burning Man culture?

bm-man-transparentAt Burning Man Headquarters, we’ve been asking ourselves many of the same questions. And we’ve received thousands of pieces of feedback. We’ve read hundreds of emails, heard personal stories face-to-face and seen many more online.

So what is the organization doing? Over the past two months, we conducted interviews with hosts and producers of camps receiving the bulk of the negative attention following the 2014 event. We gathered information internally and externally, and held a roundtable discussion with the Burning Man Project Board of Directors.

We then held a series of internal meetings with participation from three of Burning Man’s founders, event operations leadership, and the key teams poised to address this issue directly (Placement, Community Services, Ticketing and Communications). After proposing a list of reforms and drafting this post, we elicited feedback and input from various stakeholders and community members, including the Regional Network leadership.

It took time to respond because we were determined not just to say “this is what happened” but also to say “this is what we plan to do about it.” We’ve created a list of frequently asked questions to address some of the most pressing concerns and identified the policy changes we’ve made so far.

We have a lot of work to do in the coming months. This FAQ, along with Burning Man founder Larry Harvey’s essay, “Equality, Inequity, Iniquity: Concierge Culture,” is the first step.

Turnkey FAQ

One of the first challenges we faced in addressing issues related to turnkey camps was defining what, exactly, they are.

While not new to the event, turnkey (or “plug and play”) camps began gaining wider attention in 2012. That year, the Burning Man organization started a dialogue on the topic with this post and, following a series of meetings and discussions, developed these turnkey guidelines.

The term “turnkey” has been used to describe camps with paid teams that set up infrastructure before other camp members arrive. This general definition could be applied to many camps, including many well-known, beloved and highly participatory theme camps.

Turnkey is a category that includes a variety of camps along a spectrum. On one end of the spectrum are camps that offer major contributions to the playa and depend on infrastructural support to do their work and provide their offering on the playa (the Temple Camp, for example); these camps have a team that provides support services, enabling their fellow campmates to focus on giving in ways that benefit the wider BRC community.

On the other end of the spectrum are “plug and play” or “concierge camps” (A.K.A. hotel camps, resort camps, commodification camps), where vacation-type experiences are sold in package deals at exclusive prices, often with no expectation or commitment by campers to contribute to the larger community. It is this latter type of camp we are addressing here.

Profit/Commodification

How is it okay for camps to market the Burning Man experience?
Packaging, advertising and selling the Burning Man experience is absolutely not okay. A camp that is truly commercial in nature, meaning that it seeks to reap financial gain, publicly advertises for customers and does not contribute to the greater community, is not in line with Burning Man’s principles.

Trolling for campmates that are unknown to fellow campers and charging a higher than normal camp fee is tantamount to filling hotel beds with total strangers — which means the camp’s purpose isn’t about community and connection, it’s about bodies and budget. These concierge or commodification camps undermine the social fabric of our community, which is unacceptable.

Further, bringing a VIP lifestyle experience — with velvet ropes and wristbands — introduces an element of exclusivity into a culture that values inclusion, and those that opt in to these kinds of camps miss out on the transformative power of the event. Black Rock City offers a unique opportunity to collaboratively create an experience for yourself and everyone around you. Coming to Burning Man and living in an area that’s self-contained while avoiding engagement with the broader community directly contradicts the spirit of the event.

What is the Burning Man organization doing to stop this?
Each year, we encounter a handful of companies advertising luxury, all-expenses paid package tours of Burning Man. When they make use of the Burning Man name or logo, our intellectual property team works to curtail promotional efforts by forcing any reference to ‘Burning Man’ to be removed. One of our greatest assets in this effort is Burners themselves, who are quick to report companies advertising on Facebook (where the lion’s share of promotions first surface) and elsewhere on the interwebs. We encourage you to be part of the solution by reporting these operations to ip here: ip (at) burningman.org.

If Burning Man stops businesses from selling things in BRC, how can it allow for-profit theme camps that package and sell experiences in our gift economy?
Burning Man does not condone this activity. Commodification camps are not only in direct conflict with our culture, they are also not allowed by the terms of our permit. Individuals and groups operating commercially on Federal land are required to have a special recreation permit issued by the Bureau of Land Management. A commodification camp operating without a permit risks citations and fines from the BLM. The Burning Man organization is exploring ways of monitoring this more effectively in the future – we will have more information available in advance of the 2015 event.

Who is making money off of elaborate plug and play camps?
Many other large-scale events sell luxury boutique camping options. Burning Man organizers have never provided these services (and don’t intend to – that’s just not who we are). Because Burning Man doesn’t provide these types of accommodations, some producers saw an opportunity and began to offer them.

While there may be some camp producers hoping to benefit financially, in all of our conversations with the hosts (the person or persons with the idea of the camp who are footing the bill) of numerous camps – including those gaining wide attention after this year’s event – we have yet to identify a single host who profited from their camp (or more importantly, ever intended to). To the contrary, hosts often end up paying out of pocket to cover the high costs of their elaborate camps.

Note: calculating a camp’s revenue using the estimated number of campers and its published camp dues is faulty, since most camps have a sliding scale for camp dues and often have non-paying guests.

Does the Burning Man organization benefit financially from plug and play camps?
No. Camps are entirely personal endeavors and the organization is not involved in the production of any plug and play or concierge camps. And no camp can pay Burning Man for extra privilege in Black Rock City.

What about actual scam camps?
This year, as in the past, there were a few reports of scam camps — in which organizers misled participants into paying for services that were not delivered. This is egregious and will not be tolerated. For 2015, we’ll work to educate participants on what to look for when considering joining a camp, and remind folks that joining an organized camp is not a necessary part of going to Burning Man. Thousands of Burners opt for living in unreserved camp spaces, walk-in camping, or to create small camps of their own that don’t require paying any camp dues.

What is the Outside Services (OSS) program? Why does Burning Man have it?
Years ago, theme camps and artists began renting generators, heavy equipment, and receiving other deliveries that arrive in semi trucks and trailers. Processing these arrivals at the gate put considerable strain on BRC’s infrastructure. In response, Burning Man created the Outside Services program.

An OSS contract ensures a company delivering to the playa follows the Leave No Trace principles, does not engage in commerce on-site (with the exception of fees for pumping), follows certain behavior expectations, and does not remain at the event without proper entry credentials. It also stipulates that each company should cover its logos – this is not something we’ve rigorously enforced (for practical reasons) but it’s important in terms of acculturation. All contracts with participants must be pre-arranged and money must change hands prior to being on site. The organization charges a fee for the OSS entry credential, which goes to support the administration of the program. More details can be found here.

Tickets

Were tickets taken out of the Secure Ticket Exchange Program (STEP) and sold to plug and play camps?
Nope, not a single one. In fact, in addition to tickets contributed to STEP by participants, the Burning Man organization put an additional 2,500 tickets for sale in STEP in 2014, which went to those waiting in the queue. Tickets are never removed from STEP by the Burning Man organization for any reason.

So where did plug and play/concierge camps get all those tickets?
Concierge camps purchased tickets through all of the same avenues available to other participants and other large camps, including the early Pre-Sale, the main Individual Sale and on the secondary market. A few of these camps also purchased tickets through the Burning Man Project’s Donation Ticket Program (see below).

What’s the Burning Man Project Donation Ticket Program?
The Burning Man organization is actively building the foundation for a nonprofit with a global vision. We have seen how Burning Man culture can positively influence the world, and each day we’re approached with new ideas, projects and partnerships in the ever-growing community of Burners worldwide. This endeavor brings with it new challenges and costs.

In the first year of this program (2013), less than 300 tickets were sold. In 2014, 1,200 tickets were sold through this limited sale intended to raise funds for the new nonprofit. The Donation Ticket Program sold tickets between May and July. No tickets were sold through this channel after August 1. Tickets were sold for face value plus a $250 tax-deductible donation to Burning Man Project. Invitations were sent to participants who had previously contributed to Burning Man Project, or who had expressed interest in doing so, including some in plug and play and concierge camps. Other well-established theme camps also purchased Donation Tickets to cover a shortfall in tickets for their build crews and campmates.

What’s up with the different ticket prices, anyway?
Years ago, Burners expressed an interest in purchasing tickets for the following year to give as gifts during the holidays. This coincided with the organization’s financially lean months — the time after event production costs were done but before tickets went on sale for the next year. So, in 2008 we introduced the Pre-Sale at a higher price point. The money raised from these higher priced tickets offsets the 4,000 tickets sold to cash-strapped Burners through the Low Income Ticket Program for $190 each. In 2014, the additional funds from the $650 Pre-Sale tickets matched almost exactly the amount ‘lost’ through the Low Income Ticket Program. In other words, the Pre-Sale tickets came within $400 of covering the cost of the low income tickets. We encourage those who have the financial means to participate in the Pre-Sale, which helps to make the trip to Black Rock City more affordable for others. The Donation ticket program was separate from the Pre-Sale, though the ticket prices are the same.

Placement / Interactivity / Leaving No Trace

Why did some plug and play camps receive placement in 2014?
Placement is granted to theme camps, staff camps, volunteers camps, mutant vehicle camps, art support camps, and camps providing critical infrastructure and event production services. We expect every camp that is placed to offer something to BRC.

Twelve plug and play camps that committed to providing interactive experiences for BRC were given placement in 2014. We did this because, in addition to receiving a reserved camping space, placement means getting on the map, which helps the organization manage population density issues, prevent land-grabbing, monitor Outside Services deliveries, hold camps accountable for MOOP, engage camp leads by assigning them a representative in the organization, and provide access to theme-camp specific communications.

Did plug and play camps take the place of theme camps that wanted to be placed?
No. We placed 12 plug and play camps outside of areas previously reserved for theme camp placement. In 2014, there were 1027 placed theme camps, villages and camps within villages. Only 58 additional camps completed questionnaires and were not placed. If you add art project support camps, staff camps and others, we placed over 1250 camps in 2014, making plug-and-play camps approximately 1% of the total number of placed camps.

Why were so many plug and play camps placed on K Street?
We placed plug and play camps in several locations throughout Black Rock City, one of which was on K Street. We placed them near the “public plazas” at 3, 6 and 9 o’clock in areas not reserved for theme camps, as we believed they would draw life and attention to the outer streets of BRC and possibly create civic space together.

Did plug and play camps pay a fee to get placed?
No. The placement process doesn’t have anything to do with money. Placement is decided by a group of volunteers who make decisions based on a specific set of criteria. No one can pay for preferential placement. No one can pay or make a donation to the Burning Man Project for preferential placement.

If plug and play camps are going to get placement, shouldn’t they have to demonstrate what they are contributing to BRC?
Yes. All camps that receive resources from the organization must demonstrate their contribution to the broader community. For 2015, all camps (other than infrastructure support camps) will be held to the same standards in order to receive placement, early arrival passes and access to the Directed Group Sale (see below for details).

Burning Man Project Board of Directors

What about allegations of wrongdoing by members of the Burning Man Project Board of Directors?
The Burning Man Project board is made up of 18 individuals representing a cross section of the Burner community. It includes the six Burning Man founders, leaders in business, nonprofits, the public sector, artists and a Burning Man Regional Contact.

Several board members have built and lead camps and other projects at the event – in 2014 and in past years. These are entirely personal projects; the Burning Man organization was in no way involved with the production of these camps and the camps were required to follow the same processes and procedures as all other camps at the event.

Being a member of the Burning Man Project Board does not grant any authority to make decisions about, or influence the operations of, the Burning Man event. This also applies to resources at the event.

Policy Changes

Regarding Tickets – We have eliminated the Burning Man Project Donation Ticket Program. Ticket sale information for the 2015 event will be announced before the end of 2014. Please read the Jackrabbit Speaks or check tickets.burningman.org for updates.

Regarding Placement – Other than event infrastructure camps, all camps will be held to the same standards of inclusion and participation regardless of how the camp is structured. All camps will be evaluated according to the following criteria:

  • Camps should be visually stimulating, have an inviting design and a plan for bike parking and crowd management.
  • Camps must be interactive. They should include activities, events or services within their camps and they must be available to the entire Burning Man community.
  • Camps must be neighborly. This includes keeping sound within set limits, controlling where camp generators vent exhaust, and easily resolving any boundary disputes that arise.
  • Camps must have a good previous MOOP record 
(for returning camps).
  • Camps must follow safety protocols designed by the organization (this includes traffic management on the streets, proper handling of fuels, and any other areas defined by the organization’s production team).

Post event, all placed and registered camps will be reviewed on the criteria above, as well as MOOP score and strain on resources (whether a camp requires extra BRC infrastructure support, which could include undue communication or interactions with Rangers, DPW or the playa restoration team). Camps that have received negative feedback will be contacted in the Fall after the event, and will have to make substantial changes to their camp plans if they are to qualify for placement or the Directed Group Sale the following year. Camps found advertising are violating principles and cultural norms and will not be placed.

Regarding streets lined with RVs – We will strongly encourage camps to explore visual creativity and lighting options along streets to make them more welcoming, interesting and engaging for pedestrians.

Regarding entry to BRC and Early Arrival passes – All ticket-holding participants enter either through Gate Road or the BRC airport. There have never been special Gate Road lanes for members of theme camps, and there will be none in the future. There is no “concierge camp” fast lane, nor is there a fast lane for any other camp. We are exploring the possibility of making early entry passes non-transferrable for 2015, but need additional time to examine the administrative and operational impacts.

Regarding Outside Services – All outside service providers that pay for credentials pay the exact same rate for those credentials. There are no special “VIP” credentials available for higher prices. As a result of comments from 2014, we are reviewing all of our contract terms to determine whether there are additional ways we can continue holding Outside Services permit holders to the highest standards of behavior.

Regarding DMV licenses – All mutant vehicles are subject to the same licensing process. Every vehicle on the playa is taken to the DMV for licensing and is subject to the same licensing criteria, no matter the owner’s resources or connections off playa. In 2014, we heard of the rumor, but can find no evidence internally that any camp received handicapped stickers for non-disabled golf carts or other conveyances.

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!

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.

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.