AFTERBURN REPORT 2005
Q and A
Many thanks to everyone who replied to the Burning Man Project’s request for feedback! That call brought 220 emails filled with praise, questions, and good ideas for future consideration. The board members, Senior Staff, various other production staff members, and volunteers have read these emails. As part of the planning stage for 2006, decision makers are considering the suggestions.
Some folks have received direct responses. But the overwhelming number of responses prevented replies directly to everyone. Since many comments touched upon similar issues that are probably of interest to others, this reports addresses these issues by category. If you submitted an idea that is not addressed below, please don’t fret. Planners are considering ALL ideas submitted.
Many feedback emails went something like this: “I think it would be great if someone did _______ at Burning Man.” (In each email the blank is filled in with a different creative idea.) Examples are: “maybe the city should have a central clock,” “maybe it should have a gay and lesbian village,“ and ”maybe a camp should specifically accommodate participants over 50 years old?” However, the next question is who should implement new ideas? In some cases, the Burning Man organization is best equipped to do the job. But, many ideas expressed are exactly the kind of thing that participants have spontaneously created in the past. For example, Black Rock City has a Post Office because some dedicated participants decided to create one. The city has a Recycle Camp because an environmentally conscious participant decided to start one. During 2005, some secured porta-potties were available for physically challenged participants because one such participant decided to oversee the program.
The point of this discussion is that Burning Man is virtually 100 percent participant driven. The organization provides the canvas. Each person creates his or her own experience. Many of Burning Man’s Ten Principles drive home this concept – Gifting, Radical Self-Reliance, Communal Effort, Civic Responsibility, and Participation. If you have an inspirational idea, then make it come to life. When feasible, the organization helps participants realize their playa dreams. Participate and/or volunteer. Black Rock City belongs to all of us.
Q: Did more first-timers attend this year’s event than those of past years?
A fair amount of feedback concerned the increasing number of newcomers to Burning Man, who appear not to be contributing to the event, or even “spoiling” it. But, some emails suggested that fewer newcomers seemd to attend in 2005. It may be human nature to generalize about one’s individual experience. If someone camps next to a bunch of newcomers, then he or she might tend to believe that the city had way more newcomers that year. Conversely, if a participant happens to see fewer newcomers in a particular year, then that person may perceive that fewer were present overall. The organization has the benefit of seeing the entire population through reading all of the feedback emails and by analyzing the census data. Black Rock City did not include significantly more newcomers in 2005 than in the last several years.
That being said, Burning Man is and always has been a radically inclusive environment. Everyone can benefit from, and contribute to, the overall experience in a positive way. Anyone who does not “get” Burning Man presents an opportunity for transformation by the community. The acculturation process begins before anyone comes to the playa. The Project actively acculturates through the Jackrabbit Speaks newsletter, www.burningman.com, Burning Man Journal, the Survival Guide and year-round events. Also, every participant constantly acculturates every other current and potential participant on-playa and off. Newcomers to the community will always need welcoming and orientation. The Burning Man organization asks all members of the community to do their part in acculturating newcomers.
Q: Can the Gate be closed on Thursday to prevent newcomers from spoiling the event?
Closing the Gate on Thursday would create a problem because it is not just first-timers who attend for only the weekend. Many of the most dedicated participants attend just for the weekend due to school or other scheduling conflicts. The Box Office does, on the other hand, stop selling tickets on Thursday to deter participants who might not be prepared enough to contribute to, and benefit from, the event.
Q: Did Black Rock City have more art this year because of BORG2’s efforts?
Thanks to everyone who praised, supported and created art this year. Feedback was that everyone loved the change! Just to set the record straight, the Burning Man organization decided to increase the art budget at the Board Retreat in October 2004, long before BORG2 launched their petition. That being said, all were happy to see even more art due to the participation of BORG2 artists.
Q: Can the art budget be increased even more?
Much of the art on playa is not funded by the organization at all. Also, art grants from the organization cover only part of the cost of the projects. Therefore, an increased art budget is only partially responsible for an increase in art. The other half of the equation is participation. More art at Burning Man has traditionally come from participation, inspiration, and creativity. Feeling inspired? Always wanted to create an art piece on the playa, but haven’t yet? Now’s your chance.
Q: Does the Man really need to close a day before the Burn?
Depending on the needs of the Pyro Team, the Man base officially closes about one day before the burn (usually sometime on Friday). This arrangement is necessary to remove non-burnable objects, prepare the pyrotechnics, and ensure that the structure is safe and compliant before igniting. If you want to explore the Man base, then make sure you do so before Friday night. An announcement of this timing will appear in the WhatWhereWhen guide for 2006, since some people did not realize they faced a deadline.
Q: Are artists allowed to arrive before the event starts in order to set up their projects?
The answer is an emphatic “yes!” Many artists take advantage of the early arrival option. However, this is a highly secure process not available to most participants. Funded artists are generally expected to have their art finished by the start of the event. Non-funded artists are not usually expected to set up early, so they do the work when admitted to the event. Also, both funded and non-funded artists sometimes experience unforeseen delays in getting to the playa and setting up. No one has ever expected that all art will be set up before the event starts, just like no one has ever expected that all art will last the entire event.
Q: Does the organization distribute an information packet about the artists?
Everything you ever wanted to know about art at Burning Man can be found on the website. Also, during the event, volunteers are available to answer questions at the Artery in Center Camp.
Q: Shouldn’t bikes be lit at night for safety’s sake?
Both the Burning Man Project and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) want bikes to be lit at night. Communications have been educating the community for years about this issue, and the message will continue to go out via all channels of communication. So, light your bike at night, and tell everyone you know to do the same. A bike light is fine for safety. But, going the extra mile with Christmas lights or EL-wire will add to the overall aesthetics on the playa.
Q: Why doesn’t the Burning Man organization use bio-diesel fuel to power its generators on-playa?
In 2004, Burning Man tested the viability of bio-diesel. While it offers a wonderful way to cut down on the greenhouse effect and on using natural resources, it causes some problems when used 24/7 for 2 weeks straight in the desert. The bio-diesel ends up plugging up filters, crankcases, and oil pans. Accordingly, the filters need to be changed too often to make this technology a workable energy solution. Also, bio-diesel actually has a higher particulate (soot) level than standard diesel fuel. Plus, it costs $1 more per gallon. This difference quickly adds up, considering that generators burn thousands of gallons of fuel per day to power Center Camp. Furthermore, cost-effectiveness demands that the organization rent this equipment as opposed to buying it, since it works for only 2 weeks a year. Plus, generator equipment requires some modifications in order to run bio-diesel. Since vendors rent this same equipment to other users year-round that are not set up to use bio-diesel fuel, Burning Man cannot make the necessary modifications. Due to the specialized nature of this equipment, obtaining it elsewhere is not a practical option. But, the Project will continue to stay abreast of and incorporate new, clean energy technological advancements as they become practical. For more detail on the Project’s commitment to alternative fuel and environmentally conscious living in Black Rock City, visit the new Environment report in this 2005 AfterBurn Report.
Center Camp Café
Q: Will the Burning Man organization please stop selling coffee?
Every year, a number of emails remind that some people love being able to get a good cup of caffeine on the playa. Every year, a number of emails say “Stop selling coffee!” The issue undergoes reevaluation on a year-by-year basis. For the time being, the café will stay as it is.
Q: Is Black Rock City really the kind of place to bring children? Can Burning Man become an adult-only event?
Kids have been welcome at Burning Man since the very first burn, when Larry Harvey brought his 4-year old son. While some may feel that Black Rock City is not a place for children, many believe strongly that it is the best place to educate youngsters about creativity, art, Leave No Trace, diversity, acceptance, gifting, civic responsibility, and participation. The organization does its part by zoning family camps away from adult camps, sponsoring art tours for kids, helping to locate lost children, etc. But, ultimately the responsibility of parenting belongs to parents. For more information about the organization’s commitment to families with children, see the article in our 2004 Summer Newsletter.
City Layout/Theme Camps
Q: What’ up with the new city layout? It was difficult to see everything!
Some folks loved the new city layout; others did not. The layout for 2006 will take that experience into consideration. A couple of people mentioned that they had trouble getting around to “see” everything. This is a hard one to respond to, because no one can see everything at Burning Man. If that’s your goal, then you might always be dissatisfied. The most satisfied participants seem to be the ones who go to Burning Man to give something to the community rather than to spectate. Certainly, the city has cool stuff to see. So, participants can use art cars and bikes in conjunction with the map and WhatWhereWhen in order to maximize their viewing experience.
Q: Can the city have a generator-free area for those who want to camp in quiet?
A group of participants have already created such a wonderful place. Check out the Alternative Energy Zone for details.
Q: What can be done about people giving away mass amounts of promotional products as gifts? They are not ”selling” anything per se, but it sure smacks of commercialism.
If you see someone handing out a promotional product that seems more like commercialism than gifting, then explain your concerns to the person. If that interaction does not satisfy you, then ask a Black Rock Ranger for assistance. Immediacy is key in a city that only lasts 8 days. Community education continues year-round, but an important time for enforcement is on playa. So, talking about it after the fact makes it really difficult to take action.
Q: Why are some participants but not others allowed to arrive before the event starts?
Because some large theme camps and art installations are such an integral part of Black Rock City, each year these two groups receive limited approval to arrive in general a day or two early (depending on how large their projects are) in order to set up camps, villages, structures, and large art installations. Because BLM permit fees are based on population, the agency does not want to see an increasing number of participants in Black Rock City before the event’s official start. Accordingly, a tighter policy is likely for 2006, along with heavy monitoring of the early arrival process to ensure that only those who absolutely must enter early to set up get through the Gate before the event starts.
Law Enforcement/Black Rock Rangers
Q: What’s the difference between the police and the Black Rock Rangers? Why do so many cops patrol Black Rock City? Can’t the Burning Man organization keep them out?
Law enforcement and the Black Rock Rangers are two distinct entities with different missions. They cooperate to keep Black Rock City safe. Planners prefer not to lump these two groups together. However, some of the feedback emails discussed the two groups as if they were one and the same. So (at the risk of insulting anyone’s intelligence) the first need is to explain the difference between the groups. Law enforcement consists of BLM Rangers, who enforce federal laws, and the Pershing County Sheriff’s Office, which enforces state and local laws. The Black Rock Rangers are a group of Burning Man volunteers who act as non-confrontational mediators in Black Rock City. They wear khaki and carry no weapons. Law enforcement officers wear uniforms and carry guns. The organization invites law enforcement, because they play a vital role in helping to keep Black Rock City safe.
Q: Is there anything I can do if I was harassed by a police officer?
If you had a negative experience with law enforcement on the playa then the Project has some recommendations. (“Negative experience” refers to harassment or violation of civil rights, not getting a citation or being arrested for breaking the law.) Contact a Black Rock Ranger as soon as possible by going to Ranger Headquarters in Center Camp or at the Three and Nine ‘O-clock plazas. For emergencies, find a staff person with a radio and ask them to call the Rangers. The Rangers will ask you to fill out an incident report so they can investigate the matter. Addressing problems is much easier on playa than after the event is over. On playa, responses may affect immediate change. Afterward, intervention can only try to make changes for the future.
Q: I heard the cops were busting more people in 2005 – is that true?
The organization takes all concerns about law enforcement as very serious matters. However, no one can do anything about rumors (e.g., “I heard some guy got busted for no reason”). Similarly, no one can effectively respond to generalizations about law enforcement. If you have an interaction (whether positive or negative) with law enforcement on the playa that you would like to bring to the organization’s attention (vis-a-vis the Rangers), then please communicate the officer’s name, agency, badge number, and as many details as possible.
Q: Were undercover cops posing as participants asking for drugs?
Several reports from participants complained about undercover cops (or civilians working with cops) asking for drugs, leading to arrest or citation of the participant. Yes there has been for several years, and will likely be in the future an undercover presence at the event. Keep this in mind when someone unknown approaches you deliberately. Either way, Project staff will discuss with BLM Law Enforcement the incidents that have been shared with us. Regardless of the response, advice to participants will still be as follows. Black Rock City, LLC strongly encourages all participants to follow federal, state, and local laws at Burning Man. Legal considerations aside, if someone is begging for a gift, is he or she really in tune with the gifting spirit of Burning Man? Gifts are best when given gratuitously; not when asked for.
Q: What should I do if a police officer stops me on the playa?
Participants should understand and exercise their civil rights. Please see the Survival Guide for what to do if you are stopped for questioning by a law enforcement officer. Searches generally require probable cause (with some exceptions). Otherwise, a search requires consent. Do not use drugs in public spaces. Keep your private affairs private.
Q: Were more cops on the playa in 2005 than in 2004?
Just for the record, no more law enforcement officers were present in 2005 than in 2004. The Project is continually fostering a working relationship with law enforcement to make everyone’s experience a positive one.
Q: Can the organization ban all cameras in order to prevent photographers from taking pictures of participants who do not want to be exploited?
Planners believe that the existing camera policy does a good job of protecting participants’ privacy rights while also allowing photographers to capture the ephemeral art at Burning Man and spread the culture of Burning Man to the rest of the world. The real problem here is that some participants might not understand the camera policy, so here’s how it works: www.burningman.com/preparation/event_survival/video_cameras.html. If you see someone violating the policy or filming without a camera tag, then please help with enforcement of the policy by educating the photographer. If this experience does not achieve your goal, then please contact the Black Rock Rangers or Media Mecca.
Q: Why did you guys condone the “Malcolm in the Middle” episode about Burning Man? Is the Org making a ton of money from that show?
Some participants loved the “Malcolm in the Middle” episode about Burning Man; others hated it. The organization was completely neutral about this and did not promote, profit from, or try to prevent this episode from airing. Although “Burning Man” is a registered trademark, the First Amendment allows the public to comment upon and spoof Burning Man because of the event’s notoriety in the public eye. As a side note &ndash sure the episode was “cheesy” but it’s clear that the writers of the episode “got” the meaning of Burning Man.
Q: Is it true that a reality TV show was filmed on playa in 2005?
A rumor began before the 2005 event that the Discovery Channel would be filming a reality TV show in Black Rock City. The show was actually Discovery Times, which focuses on alternative culture, such as power tool drag races, monster garage, etc. Mainstream media has been coming to Burning Man for 10 years. Recently, the organization’s annual staff retreat gathered over 100 managers. At that meeting, a work group of staff from outside the Media Department felt it was important to discuss the piece and the decision to allow the filming. The staff members concluded after analyzing the decision that participants may not understand the media selection process. If you fall into this category and want to learn more then please visit www.burningman.com/press/.
Q: Why was so much MOOP littering the city at the end of the week?
Yes, MOOP &ndash matter out of place &ndash is still a problem. Educating participants about Leave No Trace is a constant battle. All participants should review trash removal guidelines at least once a year and also help to educate everyone in their camps &ndash especially newcomers. This information appears on the website at www.burningman.com/on_the_playa/garbage_recycling/index.html and also in the Survival Guide.
The Leave No Trace ethic should not be limited to Black Rock City. There was a notable increase in trash along Highway 447 and for the first time ever, a huge pile was left at the westbound Interstate 80 Wadsworth rest stop. This mess created problems with the Nevada Highway Patrol and Nevada Department of Transportation that organizers are still working to resolve. The organization is likely to be burdened with a $20,000 bond to pay for this potential problem in the future. This is a totally unnecessary cost to the organization and would not happen if participants considered their relationship to and responsibility for trash. A number of inexpensive places will take trash on the way to Reno from Black Rock City. Please visit www.burningman.com/on_the_playa/garbage_recycling/take_trash.html for more information.
Noise Levels/Sound Camps
Q: Can you make the noisy camps go away?
How do you keep 35,000 participants happy when they all want different things? The answer is, you can’t. Despite efforts with zoning and mediation by the Rangers, sound camps continue to be a problem for those who prefer quiet. It’s worth mentioning that quiet continues to be a problem for those who prefer loud, thumping dance music. No matter what their sound preference may be, participants need to plan ahead by camping in the appropriate zones and cooperating with their neighbors. For more information see: www.burningman.com/on_the_playa/sound_systems/policy.html.
Q: Can the porta-potties be lit at night so they are easier to find in the dark?
Overall, comments after 2005 indicated that the porta-potties were much cleaner than the previous year. Work with the vendor continues to strive for the same in 2006. We’ve heard the suggestion before, but many more participants suggested lighting the porta-potties at night so they are easier to find. Planners are exploring this suggestion and with intentions of implementing it in 2006.
The largest category of feedback emails this year gave praise for what the organization does in putting on Burning Man. Aw, shucks, THANKS! Staff printed all of these emails and keep them in a binder called “Daily Affirmations.” They inspire us at the office to keep doing what we do. With permission of the authors, here are a few of these emails for your reading pleasure ...