AFTERBURN REPORT 2009
Q and A
Black Rock City
Q: The art this year was the best I've ever seen! Amazing! How do you do it?
A: We don't. You do. Artists and their teams voluntarily work their tails off to create artwork that will survive the desert elements, and then haul it hundreds (if not thousands) of miles out to the middle of nowhere to set it up in screaming dust storms, fix it when it breaks, and then clean it all up, to the splinter, and haul it back home after everybody else is long gone.
Burning Man granted $360,000 in art funding (down from $500,000 in 2008, when the economy was stronger) to support 24 selected projects (down from a usual 40+). Everything else at the event is created through the creativity, financing and sheer determination of the participants themselves, and we're honored Black Rock City has been graced with the fruits of their labor that they have so generously gifted over the years. We thank you, artists of every stripe!
Q: What was up with the art? It was boring, small-scale, uninspiring, too spread out, there wasn't enough fire, it did not suit my subjective tastes, and I could mention other such things that make art bad. How can you let this happen?
A: See above: we don't. If you didn't see something you were hoping you would, or there's something you think BRC needs more of, well, we would say it sounds like you have great ideas for art in 2010, and we can't wait to see how you'll pull it off!
Q: Cell phones on playa!? I think I may die. Is there any hope?
A: Do not panic. The company that put the cell tower next to the playa this year (and no, they didn't contact us about it) leased the land it was on, surely hoping to make some money off participant roaming charges out in the dust. Rumor has it that the numbers didn't bear out (we don't know for sure, really) and that the landowners aren't particularly inclined one way or the other if Burners don't really care for the service anyway. Our guess: likely they won't come back. But even then, the cell tower indeed provided service pre-event (which was significantly weird), but once the masses showed up, the system's bandwidth was quickly overwhelmed and it became very difficult to get a signal. Some participants did see signal from a second participant-based cell service project we're aware of too - no word yet on whether that project will return.
Before you decide to freak out, remember this: Internet signal was met with similar hue and cry when participants first brought an uplink to share with BRC (it's still provided by your fellow Burners, not us, by the way); somehow, despite much wringing of dusty hands, it too failed to actually ruin Burning Man. (That was 1999, trivia fans.)
All that said, it's still a good idea to remember that the dynamics of the Burning Man event will always be changing, and that our community can and will adapt to any new aspect that comes along. We always have.
Q: What about all these tourists and newbies and lookie-loos showing up just for the weekend and ruining Burning Man for the rest of us? Can we kill them? Screen them out? Why don't you stop ticket sales at the Gate during the weekend, or charge a prohibitively expensive ticket price at the gate? Or kill them?
A: No, you can't kill them. We do stop ticket sales on Thursday of the event (at midnight), and tickets are in fact incredibly expensive at the gate in order to thwart people who decide on a Friday to head out to rage at Burning Man for the weekend (dude!). But in reality, the number of people who actually buy tickets at the gate is very small, fewer than 1,500 or so - a very small percentage of our population (and some of these, it is clear, are folks like your longtime Burner pals who realized at the last minute they could pull off the trip).
All of this is to say: your "yahoos" are going to come, no matter what. The best we can do is work as a community to acculturate every kind of newcomer. They'll either get it or they won't - and hopefully they will at least avoid leaving a mess. (To ponder: so-called antisocial people, one might note, tend to exhibit antisocial behaviors specifically when they feel unwelcome or out of their element. Just a thought.)
Ultimately, radical inclusion is like freedom of speech: the true test of it is when somebody's saying (or doing) something you don't like.
Q: These people near us? They were loud, inconsiderate, and rude! They were drunk, left a mess, ran their generator all night, and other bad bad things. What are you going to do about it?
A: Black Rock City is a big city, and like any other city, there's quite a diversity of people with a range of lifestyle preferences … and sometimes those preferences rub other participants the wrong way. Our Placement team works to zone placed camps and plan the city to ameliorate neighborly conflict, but nonetheless, disagreements happen - over boundaries, music and sound, even just over different interpretations of "radical self-expression."
So let's say that happens to you … here's what you do: talk to your neighbors, and try your best to work it out cooperatively. Exercise diplomacy. If this fails, find a Black Rock Ranger and ask for assistance. They are trained in non-confrontational mediation techniques, and are there to help resolve conflicts between participants.
Q: I showed up a few hours early to Burning Man before the gates opened, and I got stuck in "D Lot" for hours -- and it sucked! What's up with that?
A: If you arrive early (e.g. before the gates open) to the Black Rock City Gate without an Early Entry Pass from Placement or a team manager, the Gate crew has to put you and your vehicle somewhere out of the way so authorized vehicles can still make their way in. This is D Lot, and it can indeed suck, because it'll take you a while to get out of there once the Gate does open; it fills with vehicles and it's maintained first in, first out. We're looking at ways to continue to manage D Lot in the fairest way - we know it's hard to plan to arrive at exactly midnight, but traffic stacking up on the highway and into Gerlach is unacceptable -- and cars have to go somewhere.
We know people can understandably end up pretty frustrated by their wait. The best way to avoid ending up in D Lot is to not arrive early if everyone in the car doesn't have a barcode for early entry. Your best approach to surviving D Lot if you do land there is to make the best of it, surrounded by fellow Burners. It should be noted that we are constantly looking at new ways to improve the entry and exit process.
Q: Can't you move Gate Road so that it doesn't blow so much dust into Black Rock City?
A: Vehicles driving along the mile-long Gate Road (between Gate and Greeters) kick up a lot of dust, and the prevailing winds send that dust right down the city's 6:00 radial road. In past efforts to ameliorate the dust, we've experimented with different roads, placements and surface treatments; while these helped, they didn't eliminate the problem. This year, we're looking into possibilities for reorienting Gate Road altogether with an eye to reducing dust - but what sounds simple enough actually is a complex issue including logistics around entry, open desert access for the general public, egress, emergency access, deliveries, prevailing winds, radio footprints, wireless signals, the BLM and more. And we'll never eliminate dust entirely in BRC, nor would we really think we want to.
Q: Black Rock City returned to its pre-2008 size, making traversing the playa oh so much easier. How can we possibly show our gratitude?
A: You just did. The city will remain close to its 2009 footprint for 2010, with some adaptations to certain areas. Stay tuned for more information!
Q: Why were so many theme camps not able to pre-register this year?
A: The Black Rock City size decreased significantly from 2008 to 2009 (based on participant feedback that in 2008 the city was too big), and thus the amount of available pre-registered theme camp space was significantly smaller - but 2009 saw an increase in the number of theme camp registrations and in the amount of space requested by individual camps as their own numbers swelled. As a result, unfortunately, we had to increase adherence to the criteria and guidelines for truly interactive camps getting placement, and we flat out had to turn some camps to the general camping area without placement, which made nobody happy, including the Placement team. We're working to improve the situation for 2010.
Q: What's going on with all the Law Enforcement?
A: Well, first off, Law Enforcement has every right to be out on playa, enforcing the laws of Nevada - it's what they're mandated to do, and a city as big as BRC that's "radically inclusive" would be impossible (and, totally insane) without law enforcement.
If you get caught breaking the law, you're going to get cited or arrested, just like you would in any other metropolis. However, Law Enforcement Officers do not have the right to violate anyone's civil rights in the process of doing their job.
Throughout the year, Burning Man's Government Relations Team actively works with the ACLU and the various Law Enforcement agencies that patrol Black Rock City to ensure that people's civil rights are upheld at our event. It should be noted that Law Enforcement does provide a valuable service of protecting our city and its participants in cases where crimes have occurred.
You should read the Law Enforcement section of the Survival Guide carefully, and know there are Burner volunteers available to advise you should you have an uncomfortably encounter while on the playa. We encourage your written feedback, for good as well as bad encounters. Law Enforcement Feedback forms are available on playa (at the Greeters Station, Ranger HQ in Center Camp, and the Ranger Outposts at the 3:00 and 9:00 plazas) and on the Burning Man website after the event.
Q: Is it true that the police were busting bars for gifting alcohol to minors? I heard it was a sting! Does it count if you're just giving drinks away…and who carries ID in BRC anyway?
A: Yes, afraid so. In 2009, the Pershing County Sheriff's Office engaged in a sting operation, sending in a decoy minor (in costume) to try and be served alcohol at theme camp bars. About a dozen camps were cited and fined through this sting. The majority of these cases (those who didn't opt to just pay the fine, that is) were thrown out of court, since the officers actually broke the law in executing these stings by altering the appearance of the decoy.
It appears that the Sheriff may reconnoiter and attempt this operation again in 2010. Bottom line: participants must verify that their camps are not serving alcohol to minors. Tell your friends: GET THE WORD OUT-CAMPS SERVING ALCOHOL NEED TO ASK FOR ID. This isn't just about avoiding a trip to Lovelock, Nevada and paying a $1,100 ticket (not to mention lawyer's fees)-it's about responsibility and the integrity of Black Rock City. And really, do you want to go down in history as the camp that screwed up Burning Man in the eyes of the government entities (read: the ones that permit our event) because you just had to give a 17 year old a beer? Didn't think so.
Q: It took a long time for the Man to burn. Geez, you guys.
A: Yep, sure was a tenacious bugger, huh? This was the first time in years that the Man didn't have a large base beneath its feet burning with it, and that made it more challenging to keep the piece hot enough to stay engulfed in flames. But ultimately, it went down in the end. Different every year, that fire!
Q: What was with that advertisement that flew over Black Rock City? Were you guys in on that?
A: Yeah, that was lame, huh? Not only did it run counter to the principles of our community, uninvited, but it was also incredibly dangerous and illegal. The banner-towing plane was observed flying over our city at well below the minimum altitude required by the FAA, and the pilot refused to respond to radio calls from the Black Rock City Airport. Way illegal, and scary behavior inside a protected airspace. The company that ordered that stunt heard from us directly, and from many angry participants. They did accept responsibility, and offered a sincere apology. The company will go unnamed so as to avoid giving it any more free advertising.
It's not the first time someone's tried to make our skies into a billboard - back in 2001's dot com boom era, an early attempt at skywriting an ad for a website over BRC was met with similar sneering. Wired reported, "Desert winds and jeers from below reduced the stunt to self-parody, as the departing plane left only a quickly fading '.com' spreading across the desert sky."