The future of Burning Man - Page 2

THE GUARDIAN GUIDE TO BURNING MAN: In setting up its new nonprofit, the Black Rock City LLC board is looking beyond the event

Black Rock City will be a dynamic, 24-7 city starting on Aug. 29 before it begins to disappear a week later

But the basic structure is there, including bylaws, a mission statement, and a set of programs that include education, civic engagement, arts and culture, urban and rural cultural centers, a philosophical center, and social acculturation. And the triggers and timeline have been set up to leave the current board members in firm control of Burning Man for at least the next several years.

"The Project has been designed in ways that aren't altogether typical," Harvey said. "We've wrapped this entire project around the 10 Principles."

Those principles — which Harvey wrote to describe what is expected of Burning Man attendees — are radical inclusion, gifting, decommodification, radical self-reliance, radical self-expression, communal efforts, civil responsibility, leaving no trace, participation, and immediacy.

But unlike on the playa, where BRC has aggressively guarded against being commodified or co-opted by corporate interests, it has been a little more lax about that off-playa. The company's move to Mid-Market was used by the Mayor's Office, downtown landlords, and the daily newspapers to help sell the controversial Twitter tax break package earlier this year (despite the fact that nonprofits aren't affected by the legislation).

"We were pleased enough to do a press conference with them," Harvey said, but he rejected the suggestion that they allowed themselves to be used in downtown's political power play. "We can't control what others do. Everyone has their motives and our motive was not the city's motive."

In fact, all three board members bristled at the notion that Burning Man's cultural cache might be tapped by those with other agendas. "We don't care about that," Dubois said. And Goodell said that after negotiating with federal officials over Burning Man permits, "If anyone thinks we're naïve in our political moves, we're actually pretty savvy."

But Burning Man culture is littered with critics of the LLC who accuse the board of being insular, myopic, and controlling. Even during the recent sell-out of Burning Man tickets and the skyrocketing prices then demanded by scalpers, the board members insisted there was nothing they could do, although burners on the outside have offered lots of suggestions for how that might be controlled, such as a regulated aftermarket ticket trading area.

Even nailing them down on whether the event will continue to grow is difficult. "Our position is that we never want to grow too fast," Harvey said, but it could continue to grow beyond 52,000 attendees. "We don't have any figure in our heads of what that mythical 'too big' is," he said, although they are now negotiating a new federal permit that would allow 70,000 attendees within five years.

But these sorts of nuts-and-bolts questions aren't what the board seems concerned about now, and they even refused to answer Guardian questions that weren't related to The Burning Man Project, the launching of which has been closely tied to their move downtown.

"That's part of our move, part of our intention," Goodell said.

"This is not Black Rock City LLC," DuBois said of the entity housed in the new Burning Man headquarters, perhaps jumping ahead of things just a bit. "This is the Burning Man Project here."



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