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.

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