Will theme camps get the remaining Burning Man tickets?

The best real estate in Black Rock City every year is reserved for theme camps.
ChiaLynn/Creative Commons

Organizers of Burning Man are working on a plan to deal with the fact that most longtime burners were denied tickets to this year's event – the result of a new lottery system that seems to have been gamed by ticket scalpers and agencies – and sources tell us it could involve distributing tickets through established theme camps and art collectives.

Black Rock City LLC board member Marian Goodell said last week, in comments to the Guardian and a post the next day on the LLC's Burning Blog, that organizers are very concerned that so many members of groups that create most of the temporary city's infrastructure, art, and entertainment didn't get tickets this year. Surveys show only about 20-33 percent of established camp members got tickets, even less in some camps.

"It's clear that the theme camps and art projects are a significant part of the community, and this situation is causing problems for them. That's the part that will hurt us if we don't take another look at this,” Goodell told me, saying that the LLC planned to gather information and make an announcement within two weeks.

Since then, the LLC has asked many established theme camps and art collectives for specific information on how many of their members still need tickets. There were 700 registered theme camps in 2010, the last year for which the LLC has made that information publicly available, as well as 275 registered art installations, and 1,000 art car permit applications.

Several sources tell us the LLC is considering canceling the open ticket sale that is scheduled for March 28, at which the final 10,000 tickets were to be sold online on a first come, first served basis. Instead, they would sell some or all of those tickets through the leadership of established theme camps and art collectives.

Goodell hasn't returned Guardian calls on the idea, which sources say has not yet been formally adopted. Yet Goodell said the LLC has ruled out the idea of re-doing last week's lottery of 40,000 tickets and replacing it with a registration and regulated aftermarket system that would deter gouging by scalpers, as many have suggested, so they don't seem to have many good options available at this point.

Clearly, the idea of selling tickets through the camps would help reduce the widespread anxiety that much the city's art and entertainment won't come to fruition this year, which could have a detrimental impact on the offerings and character of Black Rock City. In my book, The Tribes of Burning Man, I argue that these camps and collectives are the basic building blocks of this culture and the city it creates each summer in Nevada's Black Rock Desert. As LLC board member Harley Dubois said on its website, “Theme camps are the interactive core of Burning Man.”

But she has also told me that it's important for Black Rock City to be just as accessible to those who choose to camp independently or with small groups that don't register for placement on the playa, so it's unlikely that a decision to value theme camps and art collectives over other types of citizens would completely quell concerns over this year's ticket fiasco.

What do you think?