An Update on Project Citizenship

In 2017, we launched Project Citizenship, a cross-departmental effort to address some problematic behavioral trends in Black Rock City and to emphasize the importance of participation. The overarching theme is to instill a sense of citizenship in Black Rock City participants and Burners worldwide, and to inspire them to espouse our ideals in their own communities. Anecdotal and data-based evidence (gathered through the BRC Census & Event Operations teams, participant feedback, internal staff dialogues, and extensive outreach to Regional Contacts and community leaders) suggested that some participants, both new and experienced, are not invested in contributing to Burning Man culture and community, are attending the BRC event as spectators, and generally aren’t “getting it.”

RadiaLumia by FoldHaus in the making (Photo by Eleanor Preger)

So what have we actually done? Each year we pick a few key cultural priorities to address and we work on projects around them. Topics have included personal responsibility, Leaving No Trace, being kind to yourself and others, being prepared, contributing, and celebrating the small. Project Citizenship primarily takes shape through a number of communications-related campaigns.

If you bought a ticket to Black Rock City through the Directed Group Sale, Pre-Sale, or Main Sale over the last two years, you received a series of emails from the desk of our Event Operations Director, Charlie Dolman. These messages covered how to do a better job of leaving no trace, issues around consent, and lots more about how to be a contributing citizen of Black Rock City. You’ve opened these at more than double the rate you open the Jackrabbit Speaks newsletter — thank you for reading! You can re-read or check out all of Charlie’s emails here. Share them with your friends!

We’ve produced a few videos that highlight some important topics on playa like Leaving No Trace, reducing traffic through Exodus preparation, and not going to our medical stations to get your papercuts taken care of. The content on our Instagram feed has also intentionally shifted over the last year. The internet seems full of images of beautiful Black Rock City people and art, so we’ve been sharing a side of the Burning Man experience that doesn’t seem to get enough attention: the work it takes to make it all possible. Through guest posts, customized graphics, new hashtags, and video projects, we’re celebrating one of the key components of Burning Man culture: the work is just as important (and oftentimes just as much fun) as the play.

In March 2018, we held our seventh annual Theme Camp Symposium, a day-long program of learning and teaching about camp leadership, logistics, culture, and placement. In an effort to make sure the content is available to anyone who could not attend in person (capacity was limited to 250 participants), we live-streamed the first half of the symposium online. Produced in cooperation with Motorbike Matt from the Burning Man Webcast team, the stream drew more than 600 live participants and has over 5,000 views. The video is publicly available on our YouTube channel.

(Photo by Ashley Hathaway)

You almost definitely noticed the mandatory acculturation quiz in Burner Profiles and on the ticketing website. Though it may be a bit tedious to complete (we’re working on making it better), the point of the quizzes is to make people stop and think about what they’re committing to. We firmly believe that our culture will benefit from people reading more about preparing for life Black Rock City, the 10 Principles, and how to be a good citizen before they buy tickets.

Like any city, Black Rock City is unfortunately not immune to the realities of sexual misconduct. In 2018, as part of Project Citizenship, there was a multi-department effort to update and consolidate information about the resources available to anyone who may need them. You can find all of that here.

When you got through the BRC Gate last year, did you notice that the Tip Sheet was combined with the Bureau of Erotic Discourse + Zendo handout? These were traditionally two separate printed pieces, but in a push to reduce waste and help leave no trace, we redesigned these tools to fit on one document. We will continue to find ways both large and small to reduce our footprint.

MUCARO by El NiNO under construction (Photo by Scott Williams)

These are just a few of the things we’re doing through Project Citizenship, and we look forward to stepping up our efforts for 2019 and beyond. Our focus areas for this year are Exclusivity/Radical Inclusion, Decommodification and the commercial exploitation of Burning Man art & culture, and Greening Your Burn (focusing on environmental responsibility and camp innovations).

Communications campaigns and community outreach are useful, but we recognize that organizational policy changes are also necessary to steer the culture ship in the direction we all want to see. Stay tuned for an upcoming Journal post from Burning Man Project CEO Marian Goodell on that and other important topics.

Lastly, we can’t do this essential cultural work without you. Acculturate your campmates before you get to playa, think of how you can shift behavior amongst your friends in your home communities, help your neighbors out! Project Citizenship is led by ALL of us.

Top photo by Lukasz Szczepanski

About the author: Dominique Debucquoy-Dodley

Dominique Debucquoy-Dodley

Dominique Debucquoy-Dodley is Burning Man Project’s Associate Director of Communications. Dom manages press/media relations, external communications strategies, and social media, to name a few things. On playa, he helps run Media Mecca with a team of amazing volunteers. Burning since 2013, Dom’s playa name seems to change every year. Prior to joining the Burning Man staff, Dom spent almost six years on the breaking news desk at CNN in New York.

28 Comments on “An Update on Project Citizenship

  • Hopeful says:

    Thank you…I hope It’s enough, soon enough, and taken up by enough people…to stick…

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  • Gaia Sophia says:

    Wow! Thank you for all of this. Very informative and helpful. I look forward to checkout the various links that were included.
    Peace & Bliss,

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  • Frosty says:

    I appreciate this review of project citizenship. The work you’re doing is spot on.

    The fact that roughy one third of the population is first time burners every year makes this a daunting task. Building culture in a stable community is hard. Doing so with 30% turn over every year is a huge challenge.

    Bringing in new blood is vital to the health of a community. Turning things over too rapidly can prevent community from forming.

    I don’t know where the balance is between too much and too little turnover, but I think we have too many newbies every year and a lot of burners who help build and embody the culture who can’t get tickets.

    My “for what it’s worth” contributions are 1) increase the number of DGS tickets available and/or 2) give higher spots in the queue to returning burners in the main sale. Let the OMG sale remain a first come first serve queue.

    Keep doing what you’re doing. You are making a difference and improving the community.

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    • Billy Bob Playa says:

      I absolutely agree with this viewpoint. There are far too many newbies who “Don’t get it” and are just there to party, drink, do drugs and leave. That is not the community I wish to participate in. It was better 10 years ago. Bring back. that BRC without all the focus on EDM and drugs. Reward returning burners who give of themselves freely every year and actually create community. Emphasize connections, creativity and human conversations. While you’re at it please kill the internet and Wifi, it was much better without it. Try to cut out all the newbies who are not contributing to the experience. We would all thank the BORG for that.

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    • Agree 100%, Amigo. I appreciate being given the opportunity to go my first time (2013), so it’s hard for me to say this, but the whole thing is growing to fast, and there are way too many newbies. The whole spirit has changed in just five years. It should be noted that my first time I *did not* buy my own ticket; my ticket was a gift, which means somebody thought it was time for me to go, that I needed to be there. Think about that. I’m not saying that it should be by invitation-only, but unless the system is re-designed to limit the newbies, we’re going to lose what we had. That would be sad.

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  • SinglePly says:

    Thanks for the post and you can greatly increase participation and decrease the party slobs by implementing 100 percent targeting of all tickets to individuals and groups who show how they would do something for the city and community – art, performance, volunteer, etc. Just showing up and partying the week away should not be an option any longer. Burning Man is still far away from meeting its potential. Require everyone to participate!

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  • BR-AM says:

    Finally. Environmental responsibility should be your first priority, then Decommodification and the commercial exploitation of Burning Man, then the rest…

    Start by down-sizing the ridiculous man burn and use the money for greener technologies to be used at the site, ban use of A/C (unless necessary for health reasons), ban burning of trash, etc.

    And, of course, ban plug and play camps.

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  • Desert Silence says:

    As long as there are plug and play camps most of this will be honored in the breach. Those people, by and large, come to party. Period. Many of them cannot even be induced to pick up after themselves.

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    • Kipaco says:

      Agree about this^. I sense an entitlement of ‘I bought this expensive ticket, they owe me a good time’ that the persistent questions about the principles do not thwart.
      Instead maybe the actual ticket is less money but the mandatory training/initiation is $200 and you have to pass (and maybe part of it is on Playa) to get a credit toward next year’s ticket. If you say ‘bs’ you can move on to cochella. And yes, scale back the man burn till it’s almost lame. That’s not the point of this adventure.

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  • The Hustler says:

    While it’s unfortunate that a few people necessitate the need to reconsider community outreach and education, it is good, in a way, that it keeps us all on our toes.

    Facing challenge and rethinking our plans is a good way to grow.

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  • Tee Bee Dee says:

    Re “Greening Your Burn”: Would love to see more SOLAR panels and spiral WIND turbines powering Art installations — lead by example!

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  • MingleBunny says:

    We mainstreamed Burning Man and now we have a bunch of retards attending the even making it suck.

    Just take their money and shut up. You did this to yourselves. Bad made.

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  • ira says:

    Project Citizenship bolsters my faith that this thing in the desert can retain its core while allowing for new and old to exist alongside each other. Along with the (admittedly incremental but tangible) improvements in staff education on what resources exist, more training on how to access those resources, and more capacity for staff to support staff… it’s the right course.

    After all, we know that a city built on rock (and roll) is structurally unsound. A city built on spreadsheets and blow(ing dust) is even less stable. Reinforce from within and build a better city; reinforce from without and that better city becomes its best self.

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  • newbie says:

    As a potential newbie, I am saddened about the party culture. That would not be the reason for my attendance. I love the community, leave no trace, connections facet of this event but am not sure about going because of the party animals.

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  • Shaggy says:

    > ” Anecdotal and data-based evidence (gathered through the BRC Census & Event Operations teams, participant feedback, internal staff dialogues, and extensive outreach to Regional Contacts and community leaders) suggested that some participants, both new and experienced, are not invested in contributing to Burning Man culture and community, are attending the BRC event as spectators, and generally aren’t “getting it.” ”

    Thank you for recognizing the root of “the problem” and actually doing something constructive to address it.

    Also thank you for acknowledging that it’s not just birgins who are the problem here. There’s plenty of dustier-than-thous showing up who haven’t participated in any meaningful way in years. Often this is because they feel they “paid their dues way back when”, or just never got it to begin with. I think we’ve accumulated a lot of the later in recent years.

    Most other departments are focusing on the symptoms of this core problem. Ticket scarcity? A symptom. PnPs? A symptom. Operational departments struggling to find volunteers? A symptom.

    These symptoms will be lessened if we can address the core problem. Getting in front of it via social media and other means is key to doing so, however I also think you have your work cut out for you. Good luck.

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  • Sindey says:

    Why do Burnes hate blacks so much? This makes me sad. We have a black in our camp and she doesn’t want to come back next year because of the racism. She’s really hot. But she can’t get laid our there. #stopthehate #meroo

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  • elf says:

    I so wish you would include the vendors in these emails. They really do not have an understanding of Burning Man. We used to be in a Vendor camp and we were the only people who made art, made gifts, reduced our waste before arriving, etc. They really need to understand the culture and not be there just for financial gain.

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    • Hiya on the Playa says:

      I am so confused. What is a Vendor Camp? There is no vending on the playa, of course. Are these people who sell things to Burners year-round and show up just to do photography of their gear?

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  • Arael says:

    I genuinely hope that the information that’s garnered from this two year process can (or will) be fully integrated into this Cultural Directions Group that I keep hearing about. As much as it pains me to say so I think the behaviors of many attendees coming to the event are starting to mirror themore negative behaviors of other large music venues and festivals where participation is minimal and spectating is the norm.

    I probably won’t be returning after a decade of coming to the event because of the ever increasing plug-and-play camps that make their ‘friends only’ requirements pretty explicit, the cancerous encroachment of huge, loud RVs creeping into all areas of the City thereby making establishment of smaller camps all but impossible and, as mentioned above, the rude, demanding and disruptive stream of vendors coming through the neighborhoods at all hours to serve their well-to-do patrons.

    As much as it pains me to say it I think I’ve finally had enough. And though I do have a small lingering bit of optimism left due to the burgeoning number of smaller regional events I suspect that the organizational powers that be will (as they have in the past) pass the buck on implementing whatever recommendations and changes are put before them to address the course correction(s) that need to be made in order to put the event back on track and steer the ship away from the reefs of ‘Coachellafication.’

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  • RA says:

    Agree with all of above. The solutions are easy – lose the plug n play, the internet, and the services. Limit the number of vehicles even more. Bike theft a big issue for me. But it is harder to have a thief hideout if you have to camp and cook for yourself to stay alive and you only have a tent to put stuff in. And its harder to stay talking just to your friends if your phone won’t work and you have to talk to other people to find them.

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  • Kristie Perkins says:

    So happy to hear about this. Last year I had some sad experiences. One with the exclusive 747 camp and their white affair with blaring music and flashing lights and open airplane to attract people only to be told you’re not welcome to the ‘camp dinner’ barring others from entrance with actual bouncers and red velvet ropes like in movie theaters. Also shocked by one plug and play luxury camp (could find name as I took video but it escapes at the moment) who hired male and female models to be ‘beautiful people’ in their camps. They were all so rude with attitudes of non participation, non self reliance and non participation in the ten principles, just snobby people who paid to have to not participate who were too good to say hello.

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  • frpbypass says:

    thank you! Do you see frpbypass?

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