During our 25+ years of producing Burning Man, we’ve learned a thing or two about collaborative creation, participation-driven cities, inspiring creativity, creating crucibles for innovation, alternative socioeconomic models — things that we’re as eager to share with the broader creative community as they are to hear it. So for us, SXSW is as much about skill sharing as learning and community engagement.
So … that said, we’re happy to once again be proposing a few panels for SXSWi, and if you agree they’d be a valuable addition to this year’s SXSW offering, please vote before September 4, and share with others who might feel similarly!
We’re witnessing the rapid growth of a culture of making and innovation across a variety of disciplines that, taken together, supply the raw materials of a vibrant and productive ecosystem of radical creativity. This panel will explore the ingredients that go into creating a successful context for innovation, and how they’re being employed in the corporate, government, design and art realms today.
Playfulness is a refined mechanism of evolution that acts as an engine of engagement and adaptability. The biology of fun is the biology of deep engagement and creative invention. In play, animals (including humans) generate novelty and build strong social relationships. Furthermore, the creativity of play is a precursor to innovation akin to how natural selection generates innovation, as some ideas generated in play’s abundance result in useful, game-changing strategies.
Here we bring together an elite panel that will show how the future of robust social networks, as well as innovation (and social joy), relies on tapping into our evolutionary resource: playfulness.
Jenn Sander, Global Initiatives, Burning Man
Stuart Brown, Founder, National Institute of Play
Brendan Boyle, Partner, IDEO
Isabel Behncke, TED Fellow & Oxford University PHD
How does the internationalization and expansion of bottom-up grassroots, cultural movements like Burning Man’s, Maker Faire’s, and Couchsurfing’s occur while maintaining foundational cultural identities? How did the missions and purpose of these organizations play a part in their becoming global networks, and to what extent did it happen organically? What are their unique challenges of expansion, and how are they responding to the needs of their communities? This panel will explore the diverse learnings, tools and future opportunities of global impact networks.
Meghan Rutigliano, Regional Network Associate Director, Burning Man
Sabrina Merlo, Program Director, Maker Faire
Casey Fenton, Couchsurfing
The Bureau of Land Management today issued a Special Recreation Permit authorizing Black Rock City LLC to conduct the annual Burning Man event for 2015. The event takes place Aug. 30 through Sept. 7 in the Black Rock Desert of northern Nevada.
As a result of ongoing negotiations, Burning Man and BLM officials have agreed to eliminate a proposed second BLM facility at Blue Pit, and BLM will use the same catering contractor as Burning Man. Improved operational alignment by both groups has reduced expected BLM fees and costs by several hundred thousand dollars.
“We’ve made tremendous progress over the past six weeks to agree on common sense solutions that meet BLM’s needs and ensure the health and safety of those supporting and participating in the Burning Man event,” said CEO Marian Goodell. “That being said, there’s an important amount of work to do after the 2015 event. We’re all committed to further discussion regarding the permitor – permittee relationship and what is required for BLM to properly administer the permit.”
As part of the Special Recreation Permit, Burning Man agrees to cap the population at 70,000 participants for 2015.
You’ll likely be seeing fewer drones flying over Black Rock City this year. The new policy (registration opens today) allows for a small number that can be used for media coverage, event operations, art documentation and art performance.
The decision wasn’t made lightly. We’ve had drones at the event for at least three years and, after they first appeared, we called a Drone Summit to bring together enthusiasts to crowdsource how we’d address what we expected to be growing interest in flying them at BRC.
Our guess proved correct and by 2014 we registered more than 200 pilots (and had a waiting list). Coming out of the Drone Summit, we worked with participants to craft the rules for flying, which included:
No flying over the populated sections of BRC
No flying close to artwork
No flying over crowds
And no flying over burns.
Pilots had to pre-register, show up on site, complete their registration, take a brief training course, and then have their drones tagged.
Unfortunately, despite everything done, we still had drones flying over the Embrace and Man burns, drones flew over the city, over large gatherings of people, and drones flew too close to artwork. In one case a video that included several rule violations went viral. Drone pilots who played by the rules felt they were penalized for doing it right.
But of greatest concern were the uncontrolled crashes. We received several reports of drones going out of control and crashing. And we reviewed video of two in particular that went out of control and crashed, both very near groups of people.
Burning Man is an ongoing experiment, and our relationship with drones is one facet of that. Based on our experiences from last year, the Bureau of Land Management proposed banning drones entirely from the event. That was unacceptable to us, and we countered with the scaled back policy that’s being announced today.
You can find the full policy on the Drones page (as well as the application form for 2015). In essence we are taking applications for drones in four categories: media coverage, event operations, art documentation and art performance. Applications begin today and close August 14. While media coverage and event operations are largely self-explanatory, the other two categories might require more info. Art documentation is reserved for art projects that would benefit from use of a drone, either during construction or more generally for documenting the artwork. Art performance is set aside for individuals using a drone as an integral part of an on -playa performance (we had one of these registered last year).
In essence, this new policy eliminates hobbyist flying at the event this year. We will be revisiting the policy post-event and consider changes for 2016. Personal drones won’t be confiscated at the Gate, but any unregistered drone flown in BRC runs the risk of being confiscated and the pilot cited and possibly fined by the BLM.
Drones permitted to fly during the event will be banded with fluorescent tags on the aircraft, control device, and on the approved operator’s wrist. All three bands will be the same color with their registration number on each band.
As with past years, if anyone sees a drone being flown in an unsafe manner, they should talk to the operator if possible. Failing that, get as many details as possible and report it to a Black Rock Ranger.
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.
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.
Festivals Concierge Services, part of a larger European-focused concierge company called The Key, offers VIP-priced packages for events and festivals around the world, which is great for them. They also want to offer them for Burning Man, but that’s not going to happen.
We believe strongly that paying upfront for a prescribed, curated experience that doesn’t require individual effort misses the mark and erodes Burning Man culture, and it’s absolutely not okay to sell people “the Burning Man experience” as a vacation package. This is precisely the kind of service we hope to eliminate from Black Rock City: one that essentially offers participation and “self-expression” in a box.
Read on to learn about our interactions with Festivals Concierge Services, the actions we’re taking to stop what they’d like to do in Black Rock City, and how you can help.
We first learned of Festivals Concierge Services (FCS) in the summer of 2014 when we received reports about their website — burningmanvip.net — which was selling concierge services involving Black Rock City. We reached out concerning their unapproved uses of Burning Man’s intellectual property (IP) and offer of unauthorized services. Festivals Concierge Services changed the website as we requested, and they claimed that they were not offering any services at or to the 2014 Burning Man event in Nevada.
We next heard about Festivals Concierge Services in March 2015 when we received reports about the “Art on Playa Foundation,” an organization that Festivals Concierge Services started, purportedly to help their wealthy clients provide financial support to Burning Man artists. We saw that the Art on Playa website was using our logo and other IP, and causing confusion among artists and other participants about our involvement with them (we had none). So we reached out to Festivals Concierge Services again, explained our principles and policies again, and asked them to stop using our IP on their websites. Once again, they agreed to comply with our requests.
Sadly, we can’t say we were totally surprised when we learned that Festivals Concierge Services recently added a new “Burning Man concierge” page to its website. They have since changed the leading graphic — bearing a garish, computer-generated private jet flying over Black Rock City — to read “Black Rock City” instead of “Burning Man,” but FCS still uses the Burning Man name liberally (for example, at press time, FCS lists Burning Man as one of its “Products” on its Facebook info page). The page makes unauthorized use of Burning Man’s IP and claims to offer concierge services at our 2015 event (everything from transportation and tickets to Mutant Vehicle rentals and on-site theme camp management). This is all completely unauthorized by the Burning Man organization. Our community also took notice, and offered their pointed opinions protesting these activities in a Facebook thread that was deleted by Festival Concierge Services on 5/20/15.
We have contacted Festivals Concierge Services yet again, reminding them that they can’t offer “Burning Man concierge services” or use our IP to promote their business. We’re also taking a number of other steps to protect our principles and our stance on this issue:
Notifying applicants to our Outside Services (OSS) and Air Carrier Services (ACS) programs that if we learn they are doing business or subcontracting with concierges services (such as FCS) or their clients, we will deny access to the OSS and ACS programs.
Revisiting and revising the overall OSS program structure so companies like this can’t exploit the system (this process began after the 2014 event).
Notifying BLM that FCS will not have a contract with Burning Man and should not receive a BLM Special Recreation Permit to operate its concierge business on public land.
Coordinating with DMV and Placement to ask Mutant Vehicle operators and theme camp organizers not to provide services or camping to FCS or their clients.
Working with our Ticketing Team to prevent FCS staff from acquiring event tickets for resale to their clients.
Communicating with YOU, our community, to keep you informed about these activities, and to solicit your help with combating the packaging and sale of our culture now and in the future.
With the influx of concierge companies seeking to capitalize on Burning Man’s popularity, we are taking a hard line with companies that want to provide tourism services and turnkey camping at the event. We don’t believe in spending money to avoid self-reliance in Black Rock City, and it’s absolutely against our principles to sell people “the Burning Man experience” as a vacation package. But there’s a balance to be struck between a “No Spectators” ethos and keeping our culture open to everyone.
We’re reviewing the ways we strike this balance and may make additional changes in the future, but for now, we’re continuing to make an exception to our approach to turnkey camping in the case of the adventure company Green Tortoise, with whom we forged a relationship in the year 2000. It’s worth explaining how in this case, Green Tortoise is the exception that proves the rule.
In the beginning…
In 1998, heavy rain flooded the event site just as Burning Man was coming to an end. With vehicles unable to leave Black Rock City, many Burners were stuck on playa. To make contact with the outside world, they trekked into Gerlach on foot, leaving a muddy mess in the small community (if you’ve ever been on playa when it rains, you know the deal). In response to concerns from the Gerlach community, participants were not allowed to leave during the event in 1999, creating challenges of its own: this time Gerlach lost the economic benefit of Burners frequenting its stores and facilities during the event.
Beginning in 2000, Green Tortoise agreed to provide shuttle service to Gerlach, enabling participants to purchase supplies and make contact with the outside world using the local payphones, while minimizing impacts on the local community. Most importantly for us, Green Tortoise provided a much-needed service for our participants that we couldn’t provide ourselves.
Then and now…
For a while, we gave Green Tortoise a small number of tickets they could resell as part of their compensation for providing shuttle service because, while we were short on money, we had plenty of tickets. Over the years, we grew to know and trust the Burners running the company and their staff and customers made valuable contributions to Burning Man, so we allowed them to expand their presence by offering a trip to Black Rock City, which is a noteworthy exception to our current policies.
For 2015, the Green Tortoise package costs $995 for the week (the event ticket is sold separately). It includes transportation to and from Black Rock City, along with water, shade, and food for cooking meals. Campers must bring and set up their own tents/sleeping accommodations and participate in meal preparation. These are not luxury trips to Burning Man. Green Tortoise encourages participation and has an excellent Leave No Trace record.
Though the need for daily bus trips to town has declined (participants tend to come more fully prepared these days), our relationship with Green Tortoise has continued. The current contract provides Green Tortoise with infrastructure for their camp, and the option to purchase up to 185 tickets (at $390 each) for resale to their customers only. Green Tortoise does not share a portion of its profits with the Burning Man organization; Burning Man does not benefit financially from this relationship in any way.
What Green Tortoise Brings to Burning Man
Green Tortoise campers include first-time Burners and 20-year veterans. They span a wide age range and are primarily backpackers from overseas. The service is particularly appealing for people who travel long distances to participate in Burning Man, as it makes some of the logistics and supply acquisition easier and more affordable. Of the 150 participants who will go to Burning Man in 2015 with Green Tortoise:
69.3% reside outside the U.S.
The largest group of international campers are from Australia (24% of all campers), The Netherlands (24%), and the U.K. (11.5%)
Other home countries include Colombia, Italy, Russia, Switzerland, Bulgaria, Argentina, Singapore and the Bahamas.
The average age is 37
The youngest is 18
The oldest is 79
And Green Tortoise campers have made significant contributions to BRC over the years. These include:
Art Projects: Green Tortoise campers have played an integral part in the conception, design, building and implementation of various playa art projects, including a wall of light (multi-colored technology-driven LED display), The Rolling Light Balls project, and pieces for CORE (The Circle of Regional Effigies), including two from Victoria, B.C.: PsychoPhilia (the big head) in 2012 from and Fleur pour les Morts in 2013.
Art Cars: Green Tortoise campers have created three art cars: The Tiki bar (a VW van chopped up and re-fabricated into a tropical-themed, roaming bar), The Cloud (the same chopped-up VW van fabricated to resemble a fluffy, mobile thunderstorm), and the Galapagos Tortoise. All art cars were hop-on, hop-off style and were built with accessibility in mind to encourage any and everyone to ride them.
Regional Contacts: Two Green Tortoise campers have gone on to become Regional Contacts (from New York and Georgia).
BRC Departmental Support: Green Tortoise campers often sign up to volunteer for various departments prior to arriving on playa. Others have become more engaged upon arrival or in subsequent years. Green Tortoise campers have become Black Rock Rangers, BRC nurses, Lamplighters, Center Camp Cafe staff, Earth Guardians, Temple Guardians, and more.
In 2014 alone, Green Tortoise campers:
Built and performed on a stage at Green Tortoise camp. This included acoustic guitars and a flute player ensemble, as well as DJs with ambient lounge chill-out music, providing a relaxed atmosphere for anyone to drop in on.
Built a sultan-like tent for the Caravansary theme and held meditation sessions.
Held free massage sessions by licensed massage therapists.
Hung a slew of hand-made birdhouses in random locations.
Performed for the public: sang at center camp, drummed at the pre-Burn ceremony and other events, hula danced, fire danced during the Burn ceremony and in other performances using batons, poi and other various flaming crazy-fun props, stilt-danced, and sang sea shanties on several of the pirate-themed ships.
Created a BRC Junior Ranger Program (not affiliated with the real BRC Rangers); over 300 participants received booklets describing participation-based tasks. Upon completion of the tasks in the booklet, each of the applicants were awarded patches.
Formed the French Fashion Police, complete with aviator glasses, tight shorts, whistles and ticket books, and held “Fashion Friday – a Costume Giveaway” and offered face and/or body painting to whoever passed by.
In short, this is no frou-frou, chichi turnkey camp. It makes significant contributions to BRC that have flourished for many years.
While we appreciate the long relationship we’ve had with Green Tortoise and are continuing to support their efforts in 2015, we’re also working with them to make some changes to how they operate to bring them more in line with Burning Man’s principles. The owners of the company understand and are working with us to address our community’s concerns around turnkey camping, and we may make further changes to this arrangement in the future.
Participant posing in front of a portapotty. (Photo by Mario Covic)
One of the best things about Burning Man culture is that its participants are also its creators. Burning Man is what its participants do and say and make about it — and that includes creations that reference Burning Man.
Burning Man is unique in the way it encourages participants to incorporate its logo and imagery — including the Man symbol and design, the names Burning Man and Black Rock City, and the shape of Black Rock City — into their creations and offerings to the community. We see these uses most frequently in the season leading up to the event, often as part of fundraising efforts for art projects, theme camps and products offered to Burners.
The challenge comes when those creations conflict with the 10 Principles, and it’s usually an issue related to Decommodification. We don’t support projects that turn Burning Man into a commodified product for sale. We do license the Burning Man identity for certain third-party projects, but we do so very carefully for projects that represent the best of Burning Man culture. An example of this is allowing the use of “Burning Man” in the title of a book of photographs from Black Rock City. But we don’t license Burning Man for use as a commodity. You’ll never see Burning Man Brand LED GlowyFur™ available at your local BoxStore™. When a work crosses that line, we step in to protect the culture from misrepresentation and exploitation.
A recent example is the Burning Man Board Game. The developers reached out to us a year ago, and after extensive review, the developers were told they would not receive permission to use any of Burning Man’s legally protected intellectual property, including the Burning Man and Black Rock City names, the Man logo and the signature shape of the city.
Last month the game appeared as part of a Kickstarter campaign. While our fundraising policy allows the creation of crowd-funded campaigns that directly fund art, theme camps and mutant vehicles, the board game Kickstarter was being used to fund the creation of a product, with only a portion of revenue to be donated to theme camps or playa projects.
There’s an important distinction between using Burning Man’s IP in the appreciation gift one receives for making a donation (which is fine, as long as the guidelines are followed), versus in the product that is being crowdfunded itself. If we were to allow the use of our name and symbols in the product (in this case the board game), then it would open the door for other entrepreneurs to sell Burning Man merchandise under the guise of fundraising. This could set a dangerous precedent in terms of protecting our cultural integrity.
In the case of the board game, the campaign organizer stated the fundraising effort was designed to comport with the 10 Principles in that one portion of the donation would go toward the cost of producing the game and another portion would be donated as a gift to one of several high profile theme camps. However, in keeping with the Decommodification and Gifting Principles, we allow participants to use Burning Man’s intellectual property to fundraise directly for Black Rock City-bound projects, including specific artwork, theme camps, and mutant vehicles. Any other use requires special approval and a licensing agreement from the Burning Man organization.
The Burning Man board game is just one example a project that comes in conflict with the Principles. Others have included an individual selling jewelry with the Man symbol to raise funds for his camp, a high-end concierge service using the Burning Man name and logo to market their services, and companies offering to ship large quantities of their product to Black Rock City to give away for “free on playa” in return for the right to market the experience to the world.
In the vast majority of cases, these kinds of issues are resolved with a phone call. Only very rarely have we been forced to resort to more formal action.
Here’s the thing: We are truly inspired by the creativity of Burners — the range of ideas from our community continues to expand in impressive ways. And on the surface, many of these ideas sound great. But we take the responsibility of protecting Burning Man’s long term cultural integrity seriously, and we have to examine all of the possible outcomes and unintended impacts of a project.
Participants are welcome to gift items that incorporate the Man, the Black Rock City design, etc. to their donors. But that’s different from manufacturing a product at cost and selling it, which is not allowed. For more information about Burning Man’s approach to intellectual property, check out http://burningman.org/network/about-us/press-media/trademarks-images-faq/ on our website.
Remember: It’s not a gift if there’s a price tag attached to it.