Virgins and Turnkey Camps are Ruining Burning Man

We’ve been hearing and reading a lot about Turnkey Camps over the past couple months (haven’t we all?) and I have to say, I’m a little confused by people’s apparent willingness to make or buy into blanket statements and generalizations about Turnkey Camps, virgins, who should be allowed into Black Rock City, etc.

A virgin getting the virgin treatment at Greeters, 2008. (Photo by Dan Adams)
A virgin getting the virgin treatment at Greeters, 2008. (Photo by Dan Adams)

Let me back up a moment and say that I’ve been working for Burning Man for 11 years now, including five years as the Web Team Project Manager and as Minister of Propaganda with the Communications Department for the last six. On playa, I give tours of Burning Man to people who’ve never seen Black Rock City before as part of the eXternal Relations Team (XRT) and I’m part of the new Burning Man Docents team, helping to acculturate folks.

So where was I? Right, here we are…

Did some people do bad things? Sure. Are some people “doing it wrong”? Yep. Will it destroy Burning Man? Nope. Are we learning from this year what we can do better in the future? Absolutely. We are bigger than this, and our community can — as it always has — figure it out, adapt and self-regulate. There’s no question in my mind.

Don’t get me wrong, we’re not apologizing for Turnkey Camps and virgins who may have mis-stepped … nor are we sweeping anything under the carpet. Here are some facts to keep in mind:

  1. Burning Man has always had virgins. It’s how this thing keeps going and growing. In fact, in the early years Black Rock City was sometimes more than 50% virgins, since the event doubled in size from year to year.
  2. The percentage of virgins has been steady for the past few years, between 35% and 40% of the total population.
  3. Not all virgins are clueless twits. Some won’t know what they’re doing, and some will (but we’ll attempt acculturate all of them).
  4. Some of those virgins are never going to “get it”. Most will. (I had no clue what I was doing in 2001, and I’d like to think I turned out OK in the end. Heh.)
  5. Every single year of Burning Man’s existence, people have lamented how it’s all going to pot because [insert reason here] and virgins are doing it wrong. And it hasn’t. (The #1 most common thing I hear from virgins is “I didn’t understand what it was about, how could I possibly have? But now I get it! I’m a Burner!!”)
  6. Turnkey Camps are not all the same. There’s a broad spectrum from “doing it fine” to “doing it horribly”. The percentage in the latter group is small. Very small.
  7. The “tech elite” have always been at Burning Man. Hell, they’re practically what made Burning Man possible.
  8. Burning Man will always change and evolve.
  9. It is in the media’s interest to generate and stir up conflict and scandal and paint black and white pictures, because money.
Here's a guy in a banana bike, because guy in a banana bike, 1995. (Photo by Dolores Marconi)
Here’s a guy in a banana bike, because guy in a banana bike, 1995. (Photo by Dolores Marconi)

It’s part my job to keep my finger on the pulse of the community in Black Rock City. Here’s my book report for 2014: despite a sensationalist New York Times article that was inflammatory and inaccurate but had legs, Burning Man was happening in all its diverse glory. From the solo hippy in his camper van with a hot plate to lavish camps with catered food and grand performances and everywhere in between, people were participating, making art, making connections, doing their talks and workshops and parties and unicorn rampages, and generally being absolutely incredible. And it’s seriously hard to make the argument that Burning Man’s going to shit and the virgins are screwing it all up when we had the CLEANEST CITY EVER this year.

We firmly believe everybody deserves the opportunity to have a transformational experience, ESPECIALLY the people who may not ‘get it’ right away … they probably need it more than anybody. Is that risky? Possibly, but our culture is so rich that I challenge a newcomer to NOT be impacted by it. And, as our culture gets stronger, it’s harder for a minority element to contaminate it. Think of it like this: if our culture was a thin soup, one carrot could change the whole flavor. But if you toss a carrot into a rich stew like ours, it’s hardly noticeable … but it becomes part of the mix.

It’s our job to figure out how to get more people to experience Burning Man without compromising our principles in the process (INCLUDING radical inclusion). This is all of our work. And as the event grows in popularity, we’re going to have to work harder. But don’t panic, this stew is really, really good.

Tap the Sun! Solar Camping on Playa with RASPA

Dave Marr was Burning Man’s web team project manager back in the day (think late 90s – early aughts), and he now makes a spectacle of himself volunteering for Media Mecca. And well, he’s hopped on the solar bandwagon, and (like every good hippy) now he wants to share the gospel with YOU. Here’s Dave:

“O’ is my power to capture the sun and control the lighting!”

Dave's slick solarized camp
Dave’s slick solarized camp (photo by Dave Marr)

Since 1998, I’ve camped in Black Rock City every way imaginable. I’ve slept in tents, in the back of trucks, in RVs old and new, and even atop of a hay bale on burn night — at a close but safe distance from the fiery embers.

I’ve been a member of small camps and large villages on The Esplanade, on the Center Camp grid, deep within street-sign-required territories, and even once went rogue and guerrilla on the back-side, aka the outer ring, also affectionately referred to as The Assplande.

Electricity, bitches! (photo by Dave Marr)
Electricity, bitches! (photo by Dave Marr)

In all of my adventures, I’ve learned the greatest comfort of all on the playa is, without a doubt, not cigarettes or aged whisky, but having electricity. That mysterious life-feeding juice required by lights, music, A/C, air-pumps, electronics, cameras, batteries, etc. In short, everything annoying, addictive and unholy in our modern world. Apologies to those from Darktardia Village. You live in a world I do not understand.

For me, each year is another opportunity for a new experience or personal journey. This year I decided to go solar by participating in the inaugural RASPA (Radically Affordable Solar for Playa Artists) program provided by those industrious non-profit do-goers at Black Rock Solar. $50 per panel rental, from Aug 18 to Sept 2. Not bad. Not bad at all.

This was my setup:

(1) 235w Solar Panel (1) 750a Deep Cycle Marine Battery (1) 500w Inverter (1) Solar Charge Controller

The panel gathers the energy, the charge controller moderates and monitors the energy flow, the battery stores the electricity, and the inverter is what you plug devices into. Basically it’s less than a milk-crate of gear not including the panel. With this I created my own personal electrical grid to power a handful of LED lights, Bluetooth speakers, iPod, iPad, phone, my MacBook Pro and bevy of camera batteries. I was working on a 20-day documentary project. So I needed power every day, all day, and without fail.

Dave's camp is totally LIT. (photo by Dave Marr)
Dave’s camp is totally LIT. (photo by Dave Marr)

The upside of individual solar: it’s basically plug ‘n’ play, totally quiet (no obnoxious generator sound!), and best of all it’s self-sustaining with no gasoline to buy, refill or spill. No clogged air filters either.

The downside: you have to maintain your deep cycle battery, i.e. continuously use it or put it on a trickle charger year round to keep its integrity. Personally, I consider this a good reason to set up a string of LED lights on a timer in my backyard.

In honesty, I did have one major hiccup … I didn’t properly plug my solar panel into the charge control at the start. For four days I watched (via the charge controller) as my battery level slipped from green to red until it went dead. There aren’t many things that can go wrong with solar but I found an important one. Hook your shit up right foo! When I corrected the wiring mistake it took (no lie) ONE afternoon of sunlight to fully recharge my battery.

One. Afternoon. Bitches. Then, my battery stayed in the green until I packed it out. Oh, and the cost of my solar setup was less than a ticket to the event.

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Burning Man Goes BOOM

Burning Man co-Founder Harley K. DuBois was invited to participate in a panel on Leading the Way of Global Transformation through the Arts at the Boom Festival in Portugal. On her way out the door, she exclaimed “I’m going to my first rave!!” She was very excited.

As founder of Burning Man’s Community Services Department, she knows a thing or two about how festivals run, and how communities and culture develop through well-considered infrastructure, guidelines and support. Here’s her report on Boom, and the panel:

What a treat to be invited to Boom to sit on a panel with founders from other festivals. The grounds for their music event were idyllic, situated on the bank of a beautiful lake in the rural farm region of Portugal. The property was 30 minutes from the closest village, where attendees camp on tree-filled rolling hillsides for an entire week. They walk a short distance to the multiple stages playing all sorts of techno music, thoughtfully placed to avoid sound bleed from one stage to the next. Food and other vending were tastefully placed at the edges of the property, so that art and music took center stage.

The 42,000 people were remarkably polite and engaged. There were a lot of families present and children were fully integrated into the scene. The staff was chill and helpful and the founders I spoke with were buoyant and fun! Overall it was hard to tell that there were that many participants present because it was so calm and tranquil. And although there were major DJs present there was little cult-of-the-celebrity to be noticed. People were very engaged with the music, their friends and the lecture series that was held at their Liminal Village stage.

Boom, Fusion and Burning Man: Leading the Way of Global Transformation through the Arts panel. (Photo by Chiara Baldini.)
“Boom, Fusion and Burning Man: Leading the Way of Global Transformation through the Arts” panel. (Photo by Chiara Baldini.)

Our panel (Leading the Way of Global Transformation through the Arts) was on the final day of the festival, near the end of the day. It garnered the largest attendance that week, and people listened and asked questions of us all. Present were Diogo Ruivo of Boom, a lovely, humble and committed man; Eule, Fusion Festival director of production and Kulturkosmos Co-founder, full of passion about their edgy (bordering on anarchistic) festival; and myself representing Burning Man. All of us had spent years creating the processes and infrastructure to build our events. Boom and Fusion began in 1997, so Burning Man was the oldest and most developed event of the three, but the similarities in trajectory and growth were striking.

Burning Man was also the only event that creates the space for the participants to bring the content, where Fusion and Boom both provide the music that people come to hear, but the concerns with culture, future vision, and a need to create a solid foundation to build off of where very closely aligned.

Many questions were asked and most focused on community and growth toward a sustainable future. It was clear that Burning Man, with 10 years on the other events was a source of inspiration and learning for these festivals. The attention we have put on naming, describing and developing our philosophy and intentions globally was very evident. Our vision for outreach and sharing our learnings was greatly appreciated by the crowd. Diogo Ruivo of Boom described us as the parent they come to learn from which I took as a great compliment, but we all know that parents learn from their offspring as well. I look forward to pursuing the development of these relationships.

Davos Is Burning

Is Burning Man just a big party in the desert? Is the World Economic Forum detached from reality? Or is there an opportunity brewing for our burgeoning global community to change the world for the better? Here are some interesting thoughts from Burning Blog guest contributor Taro Gold:

You can stop war.

As you read this, more than 40 wars and armed conflicts are underway around the globe. Right now. This moment.

Whatever justification people claim for these wars, the suffering they cause is universal and devastating. The war in Israel and Gaza and the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight 17 are only the most recent examples.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed. “I am only one person,” you might be thinking. “I can’t make the fighting stop by myself.”

But you can. The key is our human network.

Davos: squint a little and it looks a bit like the playa.
Davos: squint a little and it looks a bit like the playa.

That brings me to Burning Man and a surprising connection I made earlier this year with another event half a world away, the World Economic Forum (popularly known as “Davos,” for the Swiss town in which its annual congress is held).

I’m sure many of us have heard some colorful yet dismissive descriptions of Black Rock City (usually by those who’ve never joined us there) as “self-indulgent,” “insular,” even “frivolous.”

So I was fascinated this year to hear the same sort of disparaging descriptions applied to Davos. I wondered how this could be, since the two events are normally viewed as polar opposites.

When I serendipitously met up with other Burners at Davos earlier this year, it highlighted for me the commonalities of focus and activities in both movements.

Burners, sometimes described as dancing hippies in the desert, and Davos attendees, viewed as the world’s elite, have both been criticized as detached from reality, with Burning Man as a utopian fantasy lacking solutions for real-world problems, and Davos brushed off as ignoring the plight of the common man. Neither could be further from the truth.

My deepest impressions after participating in both Burning Man and Davos activities over the past few years are the open-mindedness of the people whom I befriended, the striking similarity of humanistic discussions I’ve held in both communities—on inequality issues, gender and LGBTQ rights, water issues, the climate change crisis, veganism, and Buddhism—and shared intentions to contribute our individual talents and influence for the betterment of humanity.

Photo by Scott London
Photo by Scott London

While it’s true that the origins of Burning Man and Davos are as different as the scorching summer sand of Black Rock City and the icy winter snow of Davos, there is a definite yin-and-yang quality between the two. As many of us are aware, Burning Man began in 1986 as a grassroots, organic movement, a tiny local neighborhood celebration of the solstice, which gradually grew to the event we know today with some 60,000 participants. On the other side of the world, Davos started in 1971 Europe with key leaders in government, academia, and industry.

What is most important today, however, is that both movements have grown into global networks, and in the process created community groups in which people can focus on specific issues, all aiming to improve the condition of human life on Earth.

Our beloved Burning Man movement officially aims to “lift the human spirit, address social problems, and inspire a sense of culture, community and engagement.” Similarly, the World Economic Forum focuses on its official conviction that “all issues are solvable if the relevant decision-makers are able to interact with each other.”  Although their original activities started from opposite directions (bottom up/top down), the current state of both movements is cross-pollination, bringing together those who share the founding spirit of each community across all sectors of society.

Both global communities are collections of smaller communities: Burning Man is a network of like-minded groups whose missions align, branching out to Black Rock Arts Foundation, Black Rock Solar, and Burners Without Borders. The World Economic Forum comprises 38 communities based on a stakeholder concept, including the forum of Young Global Leaders, the Gender Parity Programme, Women’s Communities, and Global Faith Leaders.

My experiences with Burning Man and Davos have convinced me that the members of both carry essentially the same spirit to foster peace, culture, and education in our respective nations and local communities.

In other words, I witnessed an active and engaged force for peace, a humanistic movement that will spread around the globe, one person at a time.

Are you “just one person”? Then you are exactly the person this movement needs now.

As we look forward to another successful Burning Man celebration, I hope we’ll consider the default world with continually wider hearts and minds, transcending all superficial differences and preconceived notions with ever-growing confidence that our intentions are shared by countless others around the world who may never have heard of Black Rock City.  Even Davos is Burning.

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Adopt a Street Sign (ASS) Project

Street signs, 2013. (Photo by Philippe Glade)
Street signs, 2013. (Photo by Philippe Glade)

Sometimes, when the citizens of Black Rock City are confronted with a challenge, they turn it into an art project. This, ladies and gentlemen, is one of those times.

The street signs that adorn every corner of BRC are not only beautiful, they’re functional. Not only are they functional, they are critical to public safety. When that ambulance is looking to find YOU, they need to know what street they’re on. SO DON’T REMOVE STREET SIGNS!

Now, despite what we say, we know it’ll happen anyway. So let’s solve this with an art project! Here’s how …

Adopt a street corner in your neighborhood, and add new, aesthetically pleasing, informative street signs of your own making! (Please don’t put stuff on the existing sign-posts, though.)

We’re calling this the Adopt a Street Sign (ASS) project, because we’re 12-years old.

Radical Self-Expression, meet Communal Effort. BOOM. Make babies.

Lastly, Leave No Trace! Make sure to MOOP the street corners at the end of the event!!

Burning Man Event Health Department Permits & Deadlines for 2014

If you are planning to make and give away food or drinks to the public on the playa including fresh squeezed juice, coffee with dairy, or even snow cones, you need a permit. Here’s the scoop from Ellen Kunz, Environmental Health Specialist with the Nevada State Health Divisions Public Health and Clinical Services Environmental Health Program:

“In order to fight the threat of food-borne illness on the playa, the Nevada State Health Division (NSHD) has requirements for camps preparing food including the need of a health permit and an inspection. You must apply for and be permitted as a Temporary Food Establishment by the NSHD if:

You will be cooking or serving food to large groups of more than 125 FELLOW CAMPERS of your camp on a consistent basis. (If you have a communal kitchen shared by 125 or more campers, but meals are prepared individually, or in smaller quantities than for 125 persons, a permit is not required, however we highly recommend you research and review safe food handling practices, starting with the Nevada State Division of Health information.)
You wish to share, cook or serve food or non-alcoholic beverages to the general Burning Man population (gifting food).
Here are the permit procedures and deadlines:

Complete the ‘Food Permit Application for Burning Man’ found here. (Look for the flame icon at the bottom of the page for the application and other food safety information and guidelines regarding Burning Man.)

If you have already applied for a permit, you should be receiving instructions in the mail soon.

DEADLINES:

Via Mail: We must have sufficient time to be able to process the application and send back a letter of confirmation. So they need to be received at Ellen Kunz’s office in Winnemucca no later than one week before the event – August 15, 2014.

Don’t wait until the last minute. It would be a shame to have to cancel your plans, or even risk being closed at the event. The mailing address is  NSHD – PHCS 475 West Haskell Street Suite 38, Winnemucca, NV 89445.

In Person: No later than THURSDAY AUGUST 22. 4150 Technology Way Suite 100, Carson City, NV. Phone: (775) 687-7550 or 475 West Haskell Street Suite 38 Winnemucca, NV.  Phone (775) 623-6588.

On the application, the event coordinator is ‘Burning Man’. Leave the location blank, unless you know what street and intersection you’ll be at during the event. After mailing the application and $50 USD payment, you must come and pick up your permit at Playa Info in Center Camp from Sunday August 24 through Saturday August 30 (specific hours to be determined and announced).

We do this so that we can get an accurate camp location to do inspections. We are NOT issuing new permits at Playa Info.

IMPORTANT: A number of camps last year did not complete the permit process by picking up their permit at Playa Info and receiving their inspection. Not completing the process is the same as not being permitted. Don’t be shut down. You must pick up your permit and be inspected to be in compliance.

ADDITIONAL QUESTIONS: Please contact Ellen Kunz (775) 623-6588 or email her here: %20ekunz (at) health.nv.gov at ekunz here: ekunz (at) health.nv.gov.”

Why Doesn’t Burning Man Take a Stand?

[This post is part of the 10 Principles blog series, an ongoing exploration of the history, philosophy and dynamics of Burning Man’s 10 Principles in Black Rock City and around the world. We welcome your voice in the conversation.]

Now and again somebody tries to tempt (or badger) the Burning Man organization into taking stand on a political issue – most recently the dust-up at the Bundy Ranch in Nevada.

Why doesn’t Burning Man take a stand? The answer is simple: our principle of Radical Inclusion. “Anyone may be a part of Burning Man. We welcome and respect the stranger. No prerequisites exist for participation in our community.”

Patriotic Man Pin, 2009 (Photo by Steven Fritz)
Patriotic Man Pin, 2009 (Photo by Steven Fritz)

While many of our staff are politically active (across the entire political spectrum, actually), we pride ourselves on facilitating and cultivating a community that welcomes all political stripes. And religious stripes. And genders. And races. And creeds. And sexual preferences. And … you get the idea.

We believe the best way for people to develop and evolve their political positions toward a better future is through interpersonal connection, sharing ideas, and engaging in informed dialog with people representing a diversity of perspectives.

Face-to-face interaction is key in this equation … which reflects another of our 10 Principles: Immediacy. “Immediate experience is, in many ways, the most important touchstone of value in our culture. We seek to overcome barriers standing between us and a recognition of our inner selves, the reality of those around us, participation in society, and contact with a natural world exceeding human powers. No idea can substitute for this experience.”

One of those barriers is the anonymity of the Internet. (Have you seen the quality of political dialog on the Internet lately? Right … we rest our case.)

Whether you’re in Black Rock City, involved with one of our Regionals, or just quietly living a life based on Burner values, Burning Man provides the opportunity for you to discover your authentic self, and realize the potential of your true passions. We don’t deign to tell you what to do with that potential, or where to direct your activism, or your interests, or your anger, if that’s the way you want to roll. We provide a crucible in which you — any of you— can figure that out.

We want to better the world. We ALL want to better the world — and people have vastly different visions of what that actually looks like. We’re not going to tell you what that looks like, but we can provide the space to find out for yourself.

And perhaps that is what a better world looks like.