Burning Man awards art grants and resolves final ticket issues

Two Flux Foundation founders, Rebecca Anders and Jessica Hobbs, with a model of their funded Zoa project.
Guardian photo by Steven T. Jones

It's been a tough year for Black Rock City LLC (aka the Borg), the SF-based company that stages Burning Man, particularly with its ticket fiasco, the heaps of criticism that followed, and uneasiness about what this year's event will look and feel like. As word of its annual art grants has gotten out over these last couple weeks, the grumblings of discontent have returned, this time mixed with early twinges of excitement about the event.

On the positive side, the Borg is giving away more than $700,000 – its most ever and a $100,000 increase over last year – to 47 art projects, many of them to Bay Area artists such as Michael Christian, Zac Carroll, Gregg Fleishman, Krysten Mate/Jon Sarriugarte, Otto Von Danger (whose Burn Wall Street project was inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement), Flux Foundation (whose 2010 Temple of Flux we profiled), and David Best (the original Temple-builder who will do this year's Temple after a three-year break).

Yet with 349 applicants seeking almost $5 million, there are lots of great local projects and artists that didn't make the cut who will now be forced to aggressively raise money or consider scaling back or abandoning their plans. Among those are longtime artist Charlie Gadeken, Marco Cochrane (who for two years has been trying to complete Truth is Beauty, his follow-up to the spectacular Blissdance, the 40-foot tall nude woman who currently dances on Treasure Island), and the all-hands-on-deck Bottlecap Gazebo project that has been the subject of near-constant work by dedicated teams in San Francisco and Oakland.

The Bottlecap Gazebo crew has already been tapping its communities to collect and process about 100,000 beer bottle caps that are being smashed, stitched, and shaped into an ornate gazebo that incorporates the caps’ colors into its swirling design. Now they also need cash to complete the project, which you can give here.

Same thing with Cochrane, who is offering a unique opportunity tonight for you to help and watch how this amazing artist works. “Art & Politics: A Fundraiser for Truth is Beauty and Alix Rosenthal” will feature Cochrane doing a live sculpture of Rosenthal, with proceeds split between the project and Rosenthal’s DCCC campaign (she’s also a longtime burner, Borg volunteer, and friend of mine). Such sculptures are the first step in making his larger pieces, like Blissdance and his new 60-foot-tall nude woman. The event, which also features some great burner DJs, is 7pm-midnight at Project One.

Bettie June, who runs the Artery program for the Borg, said they had some very hard choices to make this year. “We had a huge jump in the number of people who applied for art grants, and the quality was really high. They were really strong and well thought out proposals,” she told us.

The Borg should be officially announcing its grants anytime now, but the applicants have all heard. My Flux family is hurriedly finishing other projects in its bay at American Steel in Oakland so it can focus on Zoa, which will combine fire-spewing steel seedpods with a wooden exterior that will burn away (in truly colorful and spectacular fashion, I hear) halfway through the week to reveal the inner core, which will go through it own metamorphosis, making it three sculptures in one. Yet, like most of the funded projects, they still have fundraising to do to cover the full project cost, and they currently have a Kickstarter campaign underway.

Bettie June singled out Zoa as one of the pieces she’s most excited about, also mentioning Burn Wall Street, Pier 2 (a bigger version of last year’s Pier by Carnelian Bay artist Matt Schultz, which this year will have a galleon crashed into it, which visitors can explore), Universe Revolves Around You (the latest kinetic project by Zachary Coffin using large boulders), and Circle Of Regional Effigies (35 installations by regional groups, up from 23 last year, that will burn simultaneously on Thursday night).

Some of the projects that got funded this year are updates and modifications of existing artworks, including Carroll’s Front Porch and Serpent Twins by Mate/Sarriugarte, although Bettie June said both have great new features (the latter project, a pair of mythical serpents that travel the playa, will have new lighting and sound systems to better tell the story of their interactions with one another).

“It was a big discussion and we’re pretty pleased with the results,” Borg board member Marian Goodell said of the art grants. “They’re funding a lot of great art.”

As for her other major preoccupation of the year – dealing with the fallout of a new ticketing system that left many veteran burners without tickets – Goodell said they’ve been sorting out that situation as well: distributing the final 10,000 tickets, which were going to be sold generally, through established theme camps.

Some sources have told us that demand from the theme camps had actually been less than anticipated, but Goodell said they still need to get tickets to various performers, volunteers, and art car crews. “We have a lot of people to take care of,” she said.

She also said that she’s been pleasantly surprised by the number of tickets that are being sold through the STEP ticket resale system that the Borg hurriedly established to redistribute tickets, with more than 500 being offered so far. “It’s a trickle, but it’s not stopping,” she said.

Yet there could still be a bit of grumbling to come over the tickets. The final decision for the Borg to make was whether to require ticket holders to register by name to control scalping – a decision it would need to make before tickets are mailed out in June – and sources say the Borg has decided not to do so.

With demand for tickets far exceeding anyone’s expectations this year, tickets selling out for the first time last year, and with a new system that many said could easily be gamed by scalpers, the unknown factor is how many were snapped up by scalpers who are charging exorbitant prices. The Borg has maintained that they think that number is fairly small, but we’ll see this summer.

Nonetheless, it’s good to see the anguish over tickets now starting to give way to excitement about the art projects now getting underway throughout the Bay Area, many of which are still looking for help. So go make some art.


Steven T. Jones, aka Scribe, is the author of The Tribes of Burning Man: How an Experimental City in the Desert is Shaping the New American Counterculture. He’ll be doing a reading and leading a discussion on the state of Burning Man from 6-7:30 pm on April 25 at the Bay Guardian office, 135 Mississippi St., SF.  


Here’s the complete list of this year’s funded art projects:  

Project Name

Artist Name



michael christian

Berkeley, CA

Arc Harps

Jen Lewin

Boulder, CO

bapteme de feu 2.0

Anton Vidtiz-Ward

Telluride, CO

Bicycle Arpeggio

George Rahi

Bellingham, WA

Burn Wall Street

Otto Von Danger

Oakland, CA

Char Wash

Christopher Schardt

Oakland, CA

City of Lights

Gary Long

Los Angeles, CA

Dragon Smelter

Daniel Macchiarini

San Francisco, CA


Laura Kimpton & Michael Garlington

Vineburg, CA

Front Porch

Zac Carroll

Mill Valley, CA

Fusion Fire

Team What-Dat-Do

Seattle, WA

Harmonic Fire Pendula

Matthew Dockrey

Seattle, WA

Labyrinth of Colorful Cloud

Rob Fischer

Brooklyn, NY

Luminous Passage 2.0

Predock/Frane Architects vs Anderson/Predock

San Francisco, CA

Lune & Tide

Sarah Cockings, Laurence Symonds

London (UK)

Man Pavilion Pistil

Gregg Fleishman

Oakland, CA


Chelsea Jenkins

Alta Loma, CA

Mooving Sculpture

David Boyer

Reno, NV


Jeff Maguire

Santa Monica, CA

Neverwas Haul

Shannon O'Hare

Vallejo, CA

Otic Oasis 2.0

Gregg Fleishman (Artist) and Melissa Barron (Conceptor)

Oakland, CA

Perception in the Absence of Reality

David Clay (Playa Name: Egg Shen)

Seattle, WA

Pier 2

Matt Schultz/ The Pier Group

Carnelian Bay, CA


Tom Woodall

Kennewick, WA


Noah Rosenthal and Nathan Clark

Cleveland Heights, OH

Remembering Cap'n Jim

Dave Power

Pagosa Springs, CO

Reno Star

Mark Szulgit

Sebastopol, CA

Serpent Twins 

Jon Sarriugarte , Kyrsten Mate

Oakland, CA

Singularity Transmissions

Troy Stanley and TEAM RX/TX

Houston, TX

Star Seed

Kate Raudenbush

New York, NY

Starport 2.012 (Cafe Portal)

Carey Thompson

Novato, CA


Benjamin Carpenter / Daniel Yasmin

Oakland, CA

Sun Bugs

Adel Kerpely

Brooklyn, NY

Super Street Fire

Seth Hardy & Site 3 coLaboratory

Toronto (CANADA)


James Reinhardt, Scott Chico Raskey

Seattle, WA

The Temple of Juno

David Best

Petaluma, CA

Third Space at Burning Man


San Francisco, CA

Through the Gorilla Glass

GUILD -- Spencer Rand, Johnathan Wong, Andrea Ling, Patrick Svilans and Jonah Humphrey

Toronto (CANADA)

Timing is Everything

Charlie Smith

Atlanta, GA

Transcendental Cube

Joseph Quinn

Los Angeles, CA

Tree of Transformation



Tree of Transmutation

Kevin Christman

Talent, OR

Universe Revolves around You

Zachary Coffin

Atlanta, GA

Yoga Robot

Scott Harris

Telluride, CO


Flux Foundation

San Francisco, CA

Zonotopia and the Two Trees

Rob Bell

San Francisco, CA


Burning Man has been a positive life transforming event for me and I am so grateful for that. BORG is an appropriate name as they did not listen to the hundreds of burners in Fall of 2011 who anticipated every single burner applying for 2 tickets to have a better chance of getting at least one for themselves and their friend.
After this EPIC FAIL, I suggest the BORG sell 2013 tickets on the Playa in exchange for a 2012 ticket stub (24/7 to avoid queuing for 4 hours). This is the most certain way no scalpers will get their hands on tickets.
Fear not, there are thousands of one-timers who have no intention of returning which should leave enought tickets to sell on-line.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 24, 2012 @ 10:39 pm

Well lets not start sucking each others dicks just yet. Saying that a "few hundred" people may have not received tickets is a flat out joke. Admitting and trying to address this huge clusterfuck is not the same as fixing it. so put your dicks away until
we see how this thing really pans out............with love Ron

Posted by Guest on Apr. 10, 2012 @ 2:26 pm

It looks like it's going to be a great year for some spectacular art installations. Can't wait to see them! Thanks for the update, Steven.

Posted by Bill on Apr. 10, 2012 @ 1:24 pm

Great shameless plugs to your friends Stephen you sellout hack. I'm surprised you didn't' reference your book like 18 times in the article. Please stop writing about burning man and let someone else who isn't a self-important self-promoting douchebag have a chance...

Posted by Guest on Apr. 09, 2012 @ 10:31 pm

As a noobie I'm pretty amused by all the conversations going on this year. It's a fascinating introduction to a group of people who sound just like the general population-1/2 enlightened and 1/2 assholes. I can't wait to work on and see the ART!!

Posted by Ruby laser on Apr. 26, 2012 @ 7:19 pm

Wouldn't selling out entail that I've received some big reward? If you aren't interested in what I write about Burning Man, nobody is forcing you to read it, and I'm not exactly displacing the legions of writers who would otherwise be covering this community if I took you advice. But, by all means, go get a reporting job or write your own book, maybe it will help with your anger issues and you can show me how it's done.

Posted by steven on Apr. 10, 2012 @ 3:40 pm

Steven, thanks so much for the plug. It means a lot to us!

This is our brand, spanking new Kickstarter: http://kck.st/IbzvBz

Please support the teams that are working hard even without Burning Man grants!!

Posted by Bottlecap Gazebo on Apr. 09, 2012 @ 3:48 pm

Great article, and WOW on the amount they are giving away!


ANUBIS the Jackal God, is another project, like the Trojan Horse tin-cupping without money from the Burning Man LLC. Most of the same build crew, same architect, same pyro crew (Black Rock FX), but different artist from the Horse! Thanks for spreading the word. I think a lot of folks think all of the big, eye-popping art out at Burning Man are funded through ticket sales, so it is great that you are pointing out that even the Honorarium projects are often still needing participant and public support, and that those of us without support from the art grants are hoping the participants will pitch in.

Posted by Dan Fox on Apr. 09, 2012 @ 9:18 am

the BMorg doesn't appreciate being called the Borg. You will lose BMorg approved merit points by continuing to suggest the BMorg assimilates actual counter-culturalists into the Borg's perfect version of exploitation.

not that that's not true, it's just better to refer to the Borg as the BMorg. that way they won't view you as hostile to their intentions.

Posted by space critter on Apr. 09, 2012 @ 8:09 am

I stopped seeking their merit points awhile ago, they never seemed to add up to much. And I think readers appreciate the fact that I'm at least skeptical of their intentions, but thanks for the advice.

Posted by steven on Apr. 09, 2012 @ 1:38 pm

Resolves?! Pah!...they resolved nothing.

Posted by oscar on Apr. 07, 2012 @ 2:05 pm

The project Peace Crane Space is another one that missed out on grants, but is still plugging ahead via kickstarter. http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/grum245/peace-crane-space

Posted by Pimm on Apr. 06, 2012 @ 8:54 pm

Not sure that "fixes" is the most appropriate adjective here. Especially when considering the hundreds of burners who were unlucky enough to win the lotto (or scam the system) and have not collected enough BMorg approved merit points to be granted the illustrious opportunity to purchase a ticket to the event we spend many years of personal time, energy and assets to create. Something’s you can make right – you just have to move on.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 06, 2012 @ 1:37 pm

I don't think I used the word "fixes," but I stand by using "resolves," because they've at least brought resolution to the issue, as imperfect as it may be. I understand your concern, and I do think there are many issues raised by the solution of hand-selecting who gets to attend this year, which I plan to discuss in my talk on the 28th.

Posted by steven on Apr. 06, 2012 @ 1:56 pm