Burning questions - Page 3

Spark debuts at DocFest with a sympathetic look at Black Rock City LLC's intention to gift Burning Man back to the people. But is it true?

Burning Man board member Michael Mikel cruises past Burn Wall Street during the 2012 event in this image from 'Spark'.


Yes, and it's something that seems to be made even more complicated by Harvey and Goodell, who offered dizzying answers to our questions about how the event and culture will be led going forward. All we can tell at this point is that it's still a work in progress.

"We're pretty much on schedule," Harvey told me, noting that he still hopes to transfer ownership of the event over to the nonprofit next year. "The nonprofit is going well, and then we have to work out the terms of the relationship between the event and the nonprofit. We want the event to be protected from undue meddling and we want it to be a good fit."

From our conversations, it appears that a new governance structure seems synonymous with the "meddling" they want to avoid.

"We want to make sure the event production has autonomy, so it can water the roads without board members deciding which roads and the number of tickets and how many volunteers," Goodell said. "We did look at basically plopping the entire thing into the nonprofit, but if you look at what we're trying to do out in the world, we don't have any interest in becoming a big, large government agency."

It was an analogy they returned to a few times: equating a new governance structure with bureaucratic tyranny. They rejected the notion that the new nonprofit would have "control" over the event, even though they want it to have "ownership" of the event.

"You just said the control of the event would be turned over to the nonprofit," Goodell said.

"No, the ownership," Harvey added.

"Yeah, there's a difference," Goodell said.

That difference seems to involve whether the six current board members would be giving up their control — which she said they are not.

"All six of us plan to stay around. We're not going off to China to buy a little house along the Mekong River," Goodell said.

"We want to make sure the event production company has sufficient autonomy, they can function with creating freedom and do what it does best, which is producing the Burning Man event, without being unduly interfered with by the nonprofit organization," Harvey said.

"That's why you heard it one way initially, and you're hearing it slightly differently now, and it could go back again," Goodell said. "We don't think it's sensible, either philosophically or fiscally, to essentially strip away all these entities and take all these employees and plop them in the middle of The Burning Man Project."

In other words, Black Rock LLC and its six members will apparently still produce the event — and it's not clear what, exactly, the nonprofit will do.

"We are giving up LLC-based ownership control, we are not giving up the steerage of the culture," Goodell said. "That we're not giving up. We're more necessary now than ever."


There are burners who see things in much simpler terms. Chicken John Rinaldi, the longtime burner and thorn in the LLC's side, was interviewed for Spark but not included in the film. [CLARIFICATION: Deeter and Rinaldi had one phone conversation "on background," she says, and both deny that he was "interviewed," as Deeter had told us]. Rinaldi, Law, and others have repeatedly questioned why the LLC doesn't create a more inclusive and community-based leadership structure, something that would seem appropriate for an event whose value is derived almost entirely by the volunteer efforts of burners, who acquire no equity in the event even after years of work.

But these aren't the issues that Spark explores. In following both the leaders of the LLC and storylines involving two different art projects and a theme camp, the filmmakers say the film isn't really about Burning Man at all, but what it brings out in people.


Steve, thanks for the interesting round-up of current info. There are definitely more than two ways of looking at the relationship between the "founders" and the community. But right down the middle of the two extremes is the truth. Each requires the other to function. The organizers have nothing to organize without the community and the community has nothing to attend without the organizers. Various hot-headed critics have indignantly proclaimed that they could do it better and do it right... and I'm still waiting to go to their "better" events. Truth is, yeah, the organizers' jobs are "cool" but boy are they frustrating. I've been over to their offices to volunteer and seen people crying over relentless fiscal attacks from the govt. and the crushing cruelty of community critics. It stinks. I wouldn't want their jobs! It's not as bad as being President of the US, but it's close! I don't know how they can stand doing it, because just watching it is enough for me. Yes, we need them as much as they need us.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 05, 2013 @ 8:57 am

Never interviewed for the film. Wasn't interested in being a balance point for a BM commercial. They'd edit me to look like an idiot to make Larry look good. So I didn't return any of their phone calls after the first converstaion with the female director lady who I thought was kinda doing it for the money. I'll never see the movie and frankly I only skim the article. It's just a small sampling of what is really happening.

I'll give you a clue to the twist ending... it all resolves in a real estate scam...

kisses chicken

Posted by chicken john on Jun. 05, 2013 @ 12:55 pm

Would they really have to edit you?

Posted by anon on Aug. 11, 2013 @ 8:12 pm

Larry Harvey and his corporate cabal have been telling us for years that the grip they hold on trademark is to protect the burner community from commercial exploitation; the truth is that they have been jealously guarding their trademarks in order to capitalize on them themselves. John Law sued Harvey over this years ago, and ended up settling out of court for an undisclosed sum.

The idea of Ford, Coca-Cola, etc. capitalizing on Burning Man by potentially showing burners on the playa in their commercials, displaying the Burning Man logo, or otherwise attempting to market their products to people who think Burning Man is cool has been presented to us as some terrible threat to burner culture for years. In presenting that threat to us, Larry Harvey and his minions have terrified thousands of burners with the very same Bogey Man employed by supporters of legislation like the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). The simple fact is that gay marriage does not pose any kind of threat to anyone's hetero marriage, and putting the Burning Man logo and other trademarks does not pose any kind of threat to burners or burner culture.

All you have to do is ask around to find out how many giant corporations have been thwarted from commercially exploiting Burning Man, versus how many burners have been slapped down for things like posting photos and videos of their own artwork to the Internet, simply because the photos were taken at Burning Man. Harvey jealously guards his trademark ownership, pushes the idea of 'decommodification' on people like it's sacred holy writ, and then turns around and ruthlessly, cynically capitalizes on those very trademarks, thus proving that all his talk about "protecting the community" is just hot air in justification of greed and exploitation. Decommodification isn't for Larry, it's for Larry's cattle, and for anyone who might subvert his ability to turn yet another buck on something we all create together.

Meanwhile, Larry and his crew continue to promote volunteerism at Burning Man, suckering a huge number of young people into working like slaves in a ferociously hostile environment, doing the Org's dirty work for no pay. Sure, it's character-building, but it would still be character-building if it came with a well-earned paycheck.

How much money is enough, Larry?

Posted by Whatsblem the Pro on Aug. 11, 2013 @ 10:02 am
Posted by civil courts decide on Jun. 23, 2014 @ 4:40 pm

Oh, and let's not forget that the transition from a for-profit corporation to a non-profit has been imminent for years now. . . and that even when they do become non-profit, the Org's Board of Directors will still be able to skim off fat salaries and a boatload of other perks and income opportunities. We'll get slightly more transparency out of the deal, and they'll get less work and a greater ability to foist off the labor onto starry-eyed volunteers with kool-aid stains all over their mouths.

Huzzah, Burning Man is going non-profit. *hurl*

Posted by Whatsblem the Pro on Aug. 11, 2013 @ 10:06 am

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