The AfterBurn is our annual look back at the past year in Burning Man history — its ups, its downs, and its get-back-up-agains. It provides an overview of the Burning Man organization’s operations, our objectives and the obstacles we encounter. Our hope is that this report will help provide a context for understanding the organization and people behind the event in Black Rock City.
The Burning Man organization, also known as Burning Man Project, includes a full-time staff, a larger group of part-time seasonal staff, and thousands of volunteers as well as participants who take responsibility for making Burning Man happen in the Black Rock Desert and around the world. The AfterBurn Report explains what our various departments do, why they do it, what changes occur year to year, our successes and failures, and our vision for the future.
Browse past years’ AfterBurns here.
We also publish an Annual Report each year about our overall vision, impact, and health as a nonprofit.
Burning Man 2016: da Vinci’s Workshop
Art, Money, and the Renaissance: da Vinci’s Workshop
2016 was momentous for Burning Man Project in many ways. We bought Fly Ranch, for one thing. We also launched the Burning Man Journal, a new paper of record for Burning Man Culture. There were many staffing changes to the Burning Man Project — mostly sweet, some bittersweet. Nevada imposed the Live Entertainment Tax on Burning Man participants… but we’ll work that out eventually. We built a city, we burned a Man, it all disappeared into the ether, and then we started all over again — as per usual.
2016’s Burning Man theme, “da Vinci’s Workshop”, offered an opportunity for participants to explore the similarities between the Italian Renaissance centered in Florence, and Burning Man in an “attempt to recreate this potent social alchemy by combining Burning Man art, maker culture and creative philanthropy to make Black Rock City the epicenter of a new renaissance.”
Vitruvian Man stood at 70 feet tall and was surrounded by the Piazza, an Italian Renaissance inspired space of “cunningly-wrought fountains and other public art designed to encourage repose, relaxation, and the meeting of friends.” The Piazza was inhabited by Guild Workshops built by participants from all over the world.
The Temple — no name, just The Temple — was built by David Best and crew. It was his ninth Temple in Black Rock City.
(Photo by Heidi Kaden)
Table of Contents
- Burning Man Project Staff and Operations
- Black Rock City Event Operations
- Arts and Civic Engagement
- Global Network
Burning Man Project Staff and Operations
The organization underwent major change in 2016. We had some significant staffing changes, both arrivals and departures, we redesigned and relaunched our blog as the Burning Man Journal, and we introduced a whole new program many years in the making with the acquisition of Fly Ranch.
BMP Staff News
Black Rock City Event Operations
The 2016 event showed many signs of the times. The culture continued to wrestle with the impact of the event’s growth and global significance, and we pressed on in the never-ending work of strengthening relationships with institutions on and off the playa to support the event’s trajectory.
The various teams under Communications continued to scale their operations and adjust their practices for an event — and a surrounding world — that’s always hungrier for information.
Burning Man Information Radio (BMIR) was on top of their communication game this year, getting the top-of-the-hour news, traffic and weather out on the air promptly. Messaging was pushed out within minutes, keeping Black Rock City in the loop.
Census sampled passengers on the Burner Express Bus for the first time this year and is working with the Airport team for a better system for 2017.
There are always more media projects in Black Rock City than anybody knows what to do with, and Media Mecca keeps working hard to figure it out anyway.
Ballyhoo Betty writes: “For 11 years, Burning Man’s Community Bike Program has provided free bicycles for public human-powered transit in Black Rock City. In 2016, in addition to releasing nearly 700 community bikes, we also released community Mutant Bikes for participants to enjoy, such as a tall bike, unicycle, and swing bike. Additionally, we recovered ~1,600 abandoned bikes on playa post-event. Efforts are being made to solve this problem before it starts and decrease the magnitude of this substantial cleanup effort.”
BRC Airport staff created new acculturation efforts at Reno-Tahoe International Airport for first-time Burners. They were able to log arrivals and departures in BRC using new software (APATS), which improved their data collection. Airport volunteers were awesome as always, and fuel prices went down this year.
The Department of Mutant Vehicles (DMV) encountered issues with size of Mutant Vehicle support camps. At one 100+-person MV camp, lots of MOOP was left behind. Electric bikes are posing a new challenge for DMV. Do they go fast enough to require licensing? Some say yes. DMV encountered some confusion between the BRC Vehicle Pass and a DMV license, resulting in unlicensed vehicles making trips to the airport and causing problems for Rangers. When there were oil leaks this year, they were dealt with swiftly.
Café volunteers were hard working and on the ball, jumping in when needed during scheduling mixups, and keeping patrons of the Café happy. In a historic collaboration, Center Camp Café provided the Rangers with fresh beans and stellar coffee.
Greeters were their welcoming and helpful selves this year; the Census team had particularly nice things to say about their interactions and collaborations.
Wristy at Playa Info writes: “To better distribute and share the workload, Playa Info transitioned our management from an individual to a six-member council. We switched our participant Directory hardware from donated, used computers to new, single-board CPUs clustered in environmentally protected enclosures. This allowed more participants to access the Directory with shorter wait times. We moved all found items to a photo-based database, which greatly accelerated the return process.”
A new Volunteer Resource Team was created in 2016 to help identify and propagate the things in Burning Man culture that help volunteers participate and thrive.
Department of Public Works
The Department of Public Works (DPW) still got it all done and then some, but they also took more time this year to tell their stories of how it all gets done. Many teams and projects reported that Heavy Equipment were prompt and responsive this year, making it easier to do the really big stuff.
The Emergency Services Department (ESD) always has a heroic year protecting Black Rock City from all the dangers of urban life, plus the heat of the desert, plus the tendency of Black Rock City citizens to set giant things on fire on purpose.
It was an outstanding year for Playa Restoration. Highway 447 was left cleaner than in years past, and there has to be a reason. It could certainly have been the “Leave Nevada Beautiful” hangtags distributed to all drivers in the Greeter packets. DA’s hanging tags noting sites for trash drop-off, recycling, and RV dumping made quite a difference in the number of intentionally left trashy items. Exodus and Collexodus crews were on the lookout for badly secured loads, and BMIR did a PSA reminding participants to get their stuff secured before leaving. Nevertheless, there were some serious road accidents this year due to items falling off of people’s vehicles on the 447. Not only does this issue cause MOOP problems, it can be dangerous.
Thanks to help from the Black Rock Rangers, the first year of BRC leading Environmental Compliance work on playa was a success. The LNT Compliance Ranger shift was adjusted to align with regular afternoon Ranger shifts to make things run more smoothly. The LNT Outreach team had the highest adjudication rate to date: 83%!
The world really wants to go to Burning Man, and sometimes the intensity of that demand can cause technical headaches for Ticketing. 2016 was one of those years, but as always, the community bounces back, people get to Black Rock City, and we learn how to make it better next time.
Arts and Civic Engagement
2016 was glorious in the Arts and Civic Engagement (ACE) department. In addition to hiring Kim Cook as the new director, this team dove into the year’s Renaissance theme and took it as an opportunity to discuss the meaning and purpose of art in society both historically and globally.
In 2016, the Burning Man Global Network was electrified with success stories from around the world. And it wasn’t all the kinds of happy, celebratory stuff Burners tend to bring to their communities; Burners also waded into deep geopolitical waters, looking for places to bring Burning Man principles to bear.