Art Gets More Valuable When “Data” Becomes “Relationships”

Part of the Art, Money, and the Renaissance blog series


The last article in this series sought to illustrate a fascinating point: that time spent in our community enhances the value of art, and that this added value can be measured in (among other things) financial returns.

This wasn’t true back in 1996 – a time when the very notion of “Burning Man art” having more than its experiential value was absurd. Much in the way people today who have never heard of Burners Without Borders or understand the Regional Network say “Burning Man’s just a party, it’s not really changing the world,” people back then said “Burning Man’s just a party, it’s not really making art.”

Yeah, well.

To be “Burning Man art” now has provenance, and even influence. To be “Burning Man art” that people recognize, and that has stories attached, brings an even greater value outside of our own community. The art market may not share all our values, but it now values what we do – and that’s something Burning Man artists can leverage.

Timeless (Matt Welter) developed a system to try to enhance both our community’s exposure to art and the value of the art it produces so as to attract patronage and funding. Another approach, grounded in the same premise, has been floating around the Burnerverse for several years (although I only heard about it a few months ago). The basic premise is that to use technology to streamline the capacity for artists and communities looking for Burning Man art to connect.

The road to-and-from Burning Man is a heroic struggle for most Burning Man artists, who not only have to create their miracles but transport them vast distances, over hostile terrain, and then (if they don’t burn them) cart them back.

It will never be convenient – but what if we could turn it into an advantage for them?

What if we could create a database that included all the locations across the United States that are potentially looking for public art displays, and the times they are likely looking? Could we transform the annual pilgrimage whereby our art goes across the United States unseen into a kind of parade for communities, festivals, and events across the country?

Now before you respond, stop for a moment and think about the magnitude of this undertaking: It sounds simple when you think of it as a technological issue, but it’s extraordinarily complicated when you think of it as a research issue. We’re talking about 50 states, dozens of large cities, hundreds of mid-size cities, thousands of small communities, and god knows how many festivals and events – on top of Burning Man community efforts. That’s a massive amount of data, and it only gets worse: to be useful, some details about who to contact, what kind of facilities they have (and when) and what they’re looking for, would be important not only to enter but then to keep track of.

(And then, if we take it outside of America, and to the world at large …)

It’s enough to make one throw up one’s hands at the prospect, asking “is it really worth it?” And in fact, there’s a version of this approach that would be much simpler: just catalogue all of the art going to Burning Man every year, and let potential venues reach out on their own.

Such an approach would be easier, but it misses the point. Two points, actually.

The first is that a database of our art rather than possible venues puts our artists in positions of passivity: they can be listed in the database, but can’t do anything except wait for the phone to ring.

But even more vitally, the only way to successfully compile a project of this scope and unusual nature, is to reach out to state agencies, local governments, regional economic development agencies – that is to say, to create new relationships where none existed before. We already have relationships with our artists: the problem is precisely that our artists don’t have relationships with the communities they have to pass through anyway.

So while the end result of this project would be a database that artists can look through to say “As long as I’m going to be around here anyway, who could I contact about getting my work displayed?” the process would be a giant outreach effort that would create new relationships and, through those relationships, open opportunities where none previously existed. If even a fraction of those relationships bear fruit, then suddenly there are new opportunities for Burning Man artists. And if some of what emerges from those relationships is successful, other people will want in.

It’s easy to imagine that there are a whole host of cities, downs, and economic improvement districts that don’t even know they want displays of big art, or Burning Man projects, because they’ve never been asked – or even imagined something like that is possible. A project like this is not only a way of getting on their radar, and creating connections, but saying “we’ve got something you might want. Here’s what we bring to the table.”

If we succeeded (and by “we” I mean Burning Man the culture, it may be a task better headed up by the Regionals or even volunteers) the migration to and from Black Rock City could be a national parade of sculptures and art installations stopping in communities everywhere. It would create new connections between artists and venues, and provide significantly increased opportunities for artists to display their work, build followings, and in some cases receive payment.

But even if we fail, if that grand parade never happens, the new relationships made could still, over time, create the exact same opportunities for artists. As is true in so many Burning Man art projects, what happens in the process of doing it can end up being even more vital than the ostensible result.

The “Fundiversify” approach appeals to patrons by noting that art gains value as it moves through our community, thus making it an investment – if it’s allowed to be a community asset. The outreach required for a technical database to become a new series of relationships creates more opportunity for that process of moving through our community to happen – and turns movement that was likely to happen anyway into greater opportunities for artists.

Once again, the goal is to create a virtuous cycle: successful demonstrations of this approach will in turn get more communities, festivals, and organizations interested in offering homes to Burning Man art, creating more success stories, and in turn more opportunities. At which point investing in such art becomes a better and better prospect – as well as a means of enhancing civic life.

Creating relationships around our art may be the best way to get such cycles in motion for our artists.  We start with information about who to call.

Lead photo by John Curley

About the author: Caveat Magister

Caveat is Burning Man's Philosopher Laureate. A founding member of its Philosophical Center, he is the author of The Scene That Became Cities: what Burning Man philosophy can teach us about building better communities, and Turn Your Life Into Art: lessons in Psychologic from the San Francisco Underground. He has also written several books which have nothing to do with Burning Man. He has finally got his email address caveat (at) burningman (dot) org working again. He tweets, occasionally, as @BenjaminWachs

5 Comments on “Art Gets More Valuable When “Data” Becomes “Relationships”

  • Chris Favre says:

    Beautiful idea!

    Report comment

  • Dom aka "Dom" says:

    So….. who wants to start this? I can help with the MidWest

    Report comment

  • Timeless says:

    A virtuous circle indeed…

    If a network of public display venues becomes a reality, Fundiversify can complete a virtuous circle by providing the production, transport and display costs and also leave those delicate affairs with the artists — and who better? A self-perpetuating, self promoting system.

    One, highly credible professional says of Fundiversify (part investment vehicle, part funding model) “If this movement builds momentum, it might also be able to build its own environment of art auctions that have nothing to do with the Bricks and Mortar Models of Christie’s and Sotheby’s, etc.” Wow…I hadn’t thought about that. Given the source, which for now must remain anonymous that’s music to my ears. I mean…I mean…wow. Talk about setting the art world on its ear! I believe that would rightly go down as a Renaissance…

    We need to get behind Burning Man’s current philanthropic drive with the tools at hand so I propose a Fundiversify Conference (sounds offishal donit?) at “SoulFire”, that outrageous Precomp, June 24th to the 26th, at the Lupin Lodge in the hills of Los Gatos. They don’t know it yet but Larry, Stuart and Caveat will be there too! (just kidding guys…but could ya would ya?) Contact me for details by clicking my name here, where you can also see playa artifacts now available for investment.

    As I write the clock ticks…my 30’ depiction of The Man in carved flames, designed to burn from the inside-out with real flames, thereby creating the ultimate playa-fied artifact — literally lay in limbo awaiting funding. But never fear! In my world that will come when some investment guru/Burner empowers Fundiversify — and that will turn it into a working model for us to watch, learn and grow from.

    The value of the artifacts we create, as proven at auction will accrue the value of the artifacts we create, past, present and future, thereby liberating both investors and artists.

    A “virtuous circle” indeed…

    Report comment

  • Timeless says:

    Attention! Philanthropic Investment Alert!!!


    To brainstorm and fine-tune a plan to put welcome money in artist’s pockets, inspiring art in blank community spaces, real fire inside communities and fun diversity into investment portfolios — a plan Larry Harvey calls a “a virtuous circle”.

    Where! SoulFire Precomp Lupin Lodge, Los Gatos. (I’ll hook you up if you click my name over there and send me an email).

    June 24-26

    What the fuck is Fundiversify!
    You can click my name to read all about it but first you may want to read what this court certified art and antique appraiser says about it (Tony Pernicone has more certifications than I have unmatching socks.):

    “I read through your Fundiversify concept, and it’s brilliant. I can see why so many people are latching on to the concept. It seems like you took our conversation years ago about building the value of a work of art based on its exposure, and applied it to the principle of Fundivesify. You’ve obviously done your homework and have come up with a substantial and very doable plan. I’m especially intrigued with allowing the sponsors of the work to include the working class man/woman, who’s affinity for art, can be taken to a new level by being a part of the ownership process. And potentially share in profits as time moves along.”

    And who else likes the idea!
    Larry Harvey: “I find your Fundiversify model very interesting. If I understand this correctly, it mandates that art move through communities. By doing so, it would seem to accrue both cultural value, as we understand it, and marketplace value, which works as an incentive for the patron to sponsor the artist.”

    Caveat Magister: “It arguably creates more of the world we want to see…”

    Cam K [not sure who this blogger is but he’s spot on]: “Using a 100% inclusive funding model to promote art for Burning Man while also recognizing that the non-burner community is deserving of these visual works as well could become the newest platform for art crowd-funding and the next great generation of art and artist.”

    And who the hell are you!
    My name is Timeless. I’m an aging Firemeister and fellow playa rat and I bring fresh water to keep the pond from go’n smelly. To do this, let’s see, so far I’ve invited Larry Harvey, Caveat Magister and their buddy Stuart Something — and other mighty Burners. Let’s see who shows!

    The Conference may be hosted at one of the camps or maybe at my art installation there (waiting to hear…). It’ll probably be a steady stream over the weekend of chats and ideas and connections made and then I’m think’n a general meet and great, maybe Sunday brunch-time (bring bacon!) Hit me up if you want updates, we’ll get’ya there!

    Everyone should try to come sometime over the weekend, because I think an idea recently discussed, a national database of available display venues in public spaces (See “Art Gets More Valuable When “Data” Becomes “Relationships”, May 23, 2016, By Caveat Magister) I think this data base could be the bare bones of Renaissance and I think Fundiversify will be the muscle. Hey Leonardo would approve the anatomical analogy.

    OK we’re all gonna try to show up there, thanks Timeless, your great!!!

    Report comment

  • M Squared says:

    I’m just blow away at how fast Fundiversify is taking off. I was there for the start of it several years ago and even I did not give Timeless the credit he was due. Now people are seeing the value is this concept and running with it. A database with available locations for art + funded art that gains value as it moves through the community = a Win/Win for everyone.

    Report comment

  • Comments are closed.