Here’s What Burning Man Is Doing to End Turnkey Culture

Black Rock City 2011 (photo by Luke Szczepanski)
Black Rock City 2011 (photo by Luke Szczepanski)

After the 2014 Burning Man event, turnkey (a.k.a. “plug and play”, a.k.a. concierge) camping in Black Rock City rightfully became a hot-button issue in our community. We share the concerns that turnkey camping, left unchecked, could undermine Burning Man’s principles, and we’ve taken measures to ensure that doesn’t happen.

In her keynote address at the 2015 Burning Man Global Leadership Conference, Burning Man CEO Marian Goodell put it plainly: “We are absolutely committed to ceasing the plug and play culture.”

We are doing this in three ways:

  1. All theme camps must go through the same process and meet the same standard (including being interactive, open to all citizens of Black Rock City, successfully Leaving No Trace, etc.) to be considered for placement.
  2. Our updated Outside Services (OSS) contracts make it extraordinarily difficult for concierge service operators and potential organizers of turnkey camps to order necessary equipment to successfully build a turnkey camp without showing up on our radar.
  3. A new ‘Statement of Values’ on gifting has been developed to guide our actions and relationships with individuals and groups that provide financial and other forms of support to the nonprofit Burning Man Project.

Here’s the letter from the Burning Man Placement team to theme camp organizers:

Hello Theme Camp Organizer,

We’re contacting you because you have requested Placement for 2015 in Black Rock City. We’ve made some changes to our Theme Camp and Placement policies following events in 2014 involving turnkey camps, and we wanted to inform you of them so you can plan accordingly.

Definitions

Turnkey is a category of camps along a spectrum. At one end of the continuum are camps that depend on supported infrastructure to create on playa projects. At the other end are camps providing vacation type experience packages for campmates with no specific requirement for contribution.

In 2014 Burning Man placed 12 turnkey camps that fell within the continuum as they were camps indicating they would offer an interactive aspect to be enjoyed by the entire Burning Man 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.

Theme Camp Placement Criteria / Standards:

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 Theme Camps requesting placement will be evaluated according to the following criteria:

  1. Camps should be visually stimulating, have an inviting design and a plan for bike parking and crowd management.
  2. 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.
  3. Camps must be neighborly. This includes keeping sound within set limits, controlling where camp generators vent exhaust, and easily resolving any boundary disputes that may arise.
  4. Camps must have a good previous MOOP record (for returning camps).
  5. 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 including alternatives to RV lined streets).

Post-event evaluation Theme Camp Standing and access to Directed Group Sales:

Post event, all placed Theme Camps will be reviewed on the criteria above, as well as:

  1. MOOP score
  2. 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).

If camps meet all of the criteria they remain in “good standing” and may be eligible to receive access to DGS tickets the following year. Exemplary camps are the most likely to be invited to following DGS sales.

Camps that receive negative feedback will lose their good standing and be contacted in the Fall after the event. A loss of good standing will affect access to DGS.

Camps will have to make substantial changes to their submitted camp plans if they are to qualify for placement or the Directed Group Sale for the following year.

Camps found advertising are violating principles and cultural norms and will not be placed or invited to the DGS the following year.

Entering BRC with Early Arrival passes:

Only placed Theme Camps meeting all of the above criteria and receiving Placement will be given Early Arrival Passes from the Placement team for entry to BRC for pre-event set up.

Please don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions you have regarding these policies.

Here’s the pertinent section of the Outside Services contract:

Specific changes applicable to vendors include but are not limited to:

  1. Burning Man does not contract with concierge camping outfits or tour companies.
  2. Groups of vendor-provided RVs or trailers using shared resources and clustered together, or formerly placed as “turnkey camps”, must now apply as Theme Camps and adhere to all Theme Camp criteria to be considered for placement.
  3. RVs and trailers will not be permitted within the city streets prior to the renter or contact person’s arrival on site without previous approval from the OSS team.
  4. All RV, vehicle, and trailer license plate numbers must be submitted to the OSS team at least 48 hours prior to the vendor’s arrival on site to collect credentials.
  5. Vendors must indicate the contact person, or renter, for each delivered item/trailer/RV, at least 48 hours prior to those credential being distributed.
  6. Vendors found to be non-compliant with the OSS program guidelines or contract may be asked to leave the event site immediately, and may not be considered for the program in future years.

Lastly, here’s our Statement of Values on Gifting:

Burning Man exists solely because of contributions to and from our community. Whether these gifts are made manifest in funds, labor, artwork, or other forms, they are the fuel that powers our work in the world. As a culture we are devoted to acts of giving that are unconditional, and as individual contributors, we acknowledge that all such gifts are given freely, with no expectation of reciprocity or exchange. Each gives according to his or her nature and capabilities, and no one is entitled to special treatment as a result. No contributor, regardless of the magnitude of his or her gift or position, will receive preferential treatment or undue influence over the course of our actions in the world.

We feel that these measures, taken together, will help foster a community and culture in Black Rock City that embodies the values reflected in the Ten Principles. But we’re not going to be able to solve this problem through rules and regulations alone. Ultimately, it takes YOU, the Burning Man community. It’s important that Burners and would-be Burners understand that Radical Self-Reliance, Participation and Communal Effort are fundamental to the Burning Man experience. The value of those principles is eroded when one engages a concierge service on playa. We strongly encourage people to avoid them to get a more meaningful Burning Man experience.

What About Green Tortoise?

Note that Green Tortoise camp is the sole exception to our position on turnkey camping because of its established program for bringing engaged participants to Black Rock City and the valuable service they provide to the community (shuttle buses to and from Gerlach during the event) — their camp is the exception that proves the rule, and we’re actively considering further changes to our arrangement with GT to bring it into alignment with our theme camp policy.

What’s Actually Going On with Dance Music at Burning Man

(Photo by Darrin Harris Frisby)

(Photo by Darrin Harris Frisby)

News — and supposition — has been flying recently regarding a number of policy announcements and statements coming out of BMHQ related to DJs and amplified music on playa. Dancetronauts being “banned”, Opulent Temple not being placed, the Deep-Playa Music Zone (DMZ), pre-publishing DJ lineups — it’s dizzying. And taken together, it could appear that Burning Man has it out for Electronic Dance Music (EDM)!! Yeah, no.

We wanted to take a moment to clear up the misconceptions so we’re all on the same page. We don’t like to announce a “what” without a “why” so everybody understands what’s behind the decisions. So let’s do it. (more…)

Announcing DJ Lineups in Black Rock City

Kalliope (Photo by Guillermo Velez)

Kalliope (Photo by Guillermo Velez)

You’ve probably seen a stirring recently about the issue of Theme Camps and Mutant Vehicles announcing their DJ lineups in advance of the event. After some internal discussions and reviewing our past communications on this subject, we sent the following email to the mailing lists for Theme Camp and Mutant Vehicle organizers:

Dear artists, organizers and leaders who make Black Rock City what it is,

We’re writing to you with a request. We want you to refrain from pre-announcing and promoting your on-playa DJ lineups, a practice that many sound camps already employ. If you absolutely must announce your lineups ahead of time, we ask that you wait until the week before the event. Here’s why:

As you may be aware, the beloved Mayan Warrior Mutant Vehicle crew recently announced their DJ lineup, much like it was the lineup for an Electronic Dance Music (EDM) festival all its own. (They have since taken the lineup down from their website, which we appreciate.) We want to share with you this comment a Burner posted in response to the announcement at Resident Advisor:

Hey, I really love Burning Man, and I really love music at Burning Man, and as a long-time Burner, I love the artistry behind your car, the sound system, and as always, the people you bring on your car to play.

But releasing a lineup like this, over a month in advance, flies right in the face of the rules and is pretty disrespectful in general. We want to avoid turning Burning Man into an EDM festival, with people hunting for lineups and timeslots. Burning Man is not an EDM festival, or even a music festival. It’s something else, undefineable.

Even to someone who loves EDM enough to comment on an EDM news site, the practice of posting on-playa DJ lineups causes an upsetting sensation that there’s un-Burning Man-like activity going on. We couldn’t agree more — in fact, for many years, we’ve discretely requested that camps keep their line-ups a surprise. So yes, we feel that sensation, and we bet some of you do, too.

These kinds of promotions create notoriety in a community that doesn’t necessarily share our principles, and specifically commodifies and commercializes artistic experiences. Promotion beyond Black Rock City gets especially uncomfortable when on-playa camps, Mutant Vehicles and events are connected to off-playa commercial enterprises.

Promoting lineups to a worldwide audience is not the same thing as listing an act or an event within the confines of Black Rock City, in resources like the online Playa Events Calendar or the printed WhatWhereWhen guide distributed to participants when they arrive. Those are for reaching people who are already going to be on the playa to let them know what’s going on. They are not intended to build a brand on the merits of an appearance at Burning Man. It’s simply unnecessary to promote beyond ticketed Burners for an experience you’re giving to Black Rock City.

Burning Man is an experiment in temporary community, not a traditional festival like the others. So when our participants post splashy DJ lineups, EDM sites and forums talk about us as though we are, spreading that message far and wide. It can also add to an already painful ticket scarcity issue — we don’t want to artificially drive up demand for tickets that aren’t available, and the attraction of big-name DJs can also drive up the price of after-market tickets.

Burning Man doesn’t have “headliners”. We pride ourselves on that. Burners don’t follow anyone else to Black Rock City, they go for themselves. Please understand, we don’t have anything against EDM, an art form whose vibrant community has made great contributions to Burning Man for many years. But we welcome members of the EDM community to come to Burning Man for a different experience than they’re used to: to fully participate in an experiment in a temporary community.

So, while we used to ask this on the downlow, we’ve seen enough instances in the last couple years that we feel the need to formally ask you not to announce your lineups. If you are dead-set on it, OK, but please wait until a week prior to the event before you do so. However, as surprise is great fun, and playa rumors help make things more exciting, we’d suggest that not announcing your lineup at all would be ideal. We’re asking you to listen to this request, think about it, and do what’s right for Burning Man culture. Thank you.

Performers Wanted for the Midway Stages!

BM-2015-Carnival-of-MirrorsStep right up to the fabulous Man Pavilion stages for round-the-clock entertainment of all stripes!

Two stages, located approximately 100 feet from the Man at 4:30 and 7:30 and equipped with lights and sound, will run 24/7 during event week. We are looking for seasoned and brand new performers to join us on the Midway; both stages will be curated and scheduled. Performers are encouraged to sign up prior to Burning Man, as time slots will fill up fast. You will not be provided a ticket to Burning Man for performing, you will need to have ticket in hand.

For more information, or to sign up now, email stagemanager-at-burningman.org here: stagemanager (at) burningman.org.

Burning Man Project Seeks BWB Program Manager

bwb-logo_transparentIn case you missed the news, Burners Without Borders (BWB) became an official program of Burning Man Project (BMP) on June 1, 2015.

BWB, born in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, has a storied history of facilitating global grassroots volunteerism and civic participation in everything from disaster relief to beach clean-ups.

Burning Man Project is now seeking a high caliber Program Manager to administrate Burners Without Borders. Please go here to apply — the application deadline is Monday July 6.

As part of this transition, Carmen Mauk, BWB’s founder and longtime Executive Director, will help onboard the new program manager and then continue her own community outreach efforts, including her most recent work on alternative currencies in Africa. We would like to extend our deepest gratitude to Carmen for her outstanding work over the years guiding and nurturing BWB to amass an impressive list of accomplishments, from Haiti to Peru, New Jersey and Japan.

 

The Dancetronauts Meet Civic Responsibility

We’ve received a number of questions about the Dancetronauts Mutant Vehicle being asked not to come to Black Rock City in 2015. Here’s some background …

Shark car at the DMV, 2011 (Photo by Philippe Glade)
Shark car at the DMV, 2011 (Photo by Philippe Glade)

We strive to create as few rules as possible in Black Rock City to allow Burning Man participants as much freedom of expression as possible. The few rules we enforce on playa (such as on-playa driving restrictions, sound limits for large-scale sound camps, the recent ban on hand-held lasers, etc.) strike a balance between the various competing interests in the community, creating a foundation for civil society. In the spirit of Civic Responsibility, everybody sacrifices something (gives a gift, if you will) for the benefit of the greater community — which is Communal Effort.

Burning Man has had rules in place for several years regarding sound systems on Mutant Vehicles. The sound policy was created to strike a balance between allowing mobile sound vehicles and respecting artists’ requests for quiet space around their installations, participants looking to camp in quiet areas of Black Rock City and to address reports of hearing damage caused by overly loud systems.

We’ve received a number of complaints from participants about the Dancetronauts vehicle since 2013 — in fact more than any other vehicle on the playa. We requested the Dancetronauts draft a plan for dealing with the issues, and they failed to do so. We informed them their vehicle would not receive a license to operate on the playa for 2015. Dancetronauts have not been ‘banned’ from Burning Man. They’ve been asked to take a year off and make plans as to how they’ll address concerns from the community in the future.

Dr. Yes over at Burn.life wrote a good post on this topic, including some more details.

A Nation of Makers: Burning Man at the White House

At the White House this week, President Obama is hosting makers of all stripes to present the ways they’re welding, programming, sculpting, building and teaching our way into the future. The program is called A Nation of Makers, and it coincides with the National Maker Faire in Washington, D.C. You can watch the kickoff event, featuring presentations and panels on this exciting work, live now:

Last year, on June 18, President Obama hosted the first-ever White House Maker Faire and challenged “every company, every college, every community, every citizen [to] join us as we lift up makers and builders and doers across the country.” This administration sees the maker movement as a national priority.

Over 100 U.S. cities have taken a Maker Cities pledge, developing maker spaces, redesigning education along the lines of participation, STEM and civic participation, and engaging citizens in the co-creation of their cities. This effort will be expanded this year as cities work together in an emerging Open Innovation network to pursue these goals. All of this will be a centerpiece of announcements during the National Week of Making.

That all makes good enough sense, but… Burning Man at the White House? Really??

Messaging by Mac Maker, made of recycled found objects

Messaging by Mac Maker, made of recycled found objects

In fact, organizers of this White House maker stuff tell us that Burning Man comes up often in their work as an example of some of the best aspects of making and the American experience. Burning Man is a federation of wildly diverse groups of people who come together to celebrate that diversity, the powerful and different personal expressions within it, and the shared values underlying all of it.

It’s kind of like a microcosm of the United States that way.

Burning Man and the U.S. share this element of experimenting with unprecedented models of community, which requires constant innovation and reinvention. Since our earliest days on Baker Beach, we’ve seen how that effort starts with the maker spirit. It’s inspiring to see that spirit catching on at the highest levels of government.

Burning Man has been turning up its civic maker efforts lately, too. Burning Man Arts does more than provide grants for art projects in Black Rock City. It reaches out to communities globally that would never come to Burning Man and gives grants to kindred interactive civic art projects to catalyze new communities. And Burners Without Borders sends our culture’s talented makers, builders and fixers into areas stricken by poverty or disaster to provide relief efforts. They help local grassroots movements solve their own problems with sustainable solutions.

So that’s why the White House invited Burning Man to participate in this year’s National Week of Making. We’ve got staff on the ground in D.C. this week, and they’ll be reporting back. Stay tuned.

As Bliss Dances into the Sunset, Truth is Beauty Gets a New Home

It is quite possible that there is nothing we here at Burning Man Arts love more than when our community’s artists and their art thrive in the world. After a successful four-year stay on Treasure Island in San Francisco bay, Marco Cochrane’s Bliss Dance is relocating. Bliss Dance was his first sculpture in The Bliss Project series, the intention of which is to celebrate femininity and encourage self-acceptance and self-love in women.

Last Tuesday, the artist announced that the second work in the series, Truth is Beauty, will be installed in San Leandro, California in late 2016, on a 10-year lease. The appreciation and love for these works doesn’t surprise us – we know that they’re both gorgeous works of art! But we are increasingly encouraged by the public demand for these works. Let’s hope other cities follow suit and seek out collaboration with our community’s artists … and it’s our aim to connect artists with such opportunities.

Debuting at Burning Man in 2010, Bliss Dance left us with wide eyes and jaws dropped. Our community hadn’t seen anything like this 40-foot tall, 9000lb figure celebrating the strength inherent in femininity, and practically demanded that it be shared with the world. The Black Rock Arts Foundation (now Burning Man Arts) couldn’t have agreed more, and collaborated with the artist in a successful fundraising campaign and installation of Bliss Dance on Treasure Island in 2011. Like many of our associated public art installations, Bliss Dance’s residency on Treasure Island was extended beyond its expected stay, and remained on view — to the delight of many — for four years. We were so fortunate to have enjoyed her sparkly, dazzling presence for so long.

Bliss Dance on Treasure Island, San Francisco, 2011. (Photo by Michael Holden)
Bliss Dance on Treasure Island, San Francisco, 2011. (Photo by Michael Holden)

But, alas, the time has come to say goodbye to Bliss. Although we (and everyone we know, it seems) would love to see her dancing in front of that gorgeous San Francisco skyline forever, the sculpture’s stainless steel interior structure was just not designed to withstand long-term exposure to the sea air. Last month Bliss Dance was de-installed from Treasure Island. Cochrane and his team will be restoring and improving the piece’s components, making its lighting effects even more brilliant, and readying it for its next home.

Truth is Beauty by Marco Cochrane, 2013 (Photo by Dan Adams)
Truth is Beauty by Marco Cochrane, 2013 (Photo by Dan Adams)

However, for those of us in the Bay Area, we don’t have to wait long to enjoy more of Cochrane’s fine work. Last Tuesday’s announcement of Truth is Beauty’s installation at the San Leandro Tech Campus proves that the public’s interest in Cochrane, and in other artists in our community, is only growing. Truth is Beauty will be the centerpiece of the new San Leandro Tech Campus, a 500,0000 square-foot technology and business center, where thousands of commuters will be able to see it each day from the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system’s San Leandro station.

The sculpture, with its 2,500 L.E.D. lights programmed with near-infinite algorithms of slowly changing color displays, is a perfect monument to how technology contributes to art and civic beautification. Yet another feat of engineering, Truth is Beauty is even taller, more massive, and more intricate than Bliss Dance, standing at 55-feet tall, weighing 13,000lbs, with over 20,000 feet of steel rod and pipe welded together in triangulated geodesic struts, and with over 50,000 single-weld points.

Congratulations to Marco and the Bliss Crew, and thank you for all the wonderful work you’ve created!