Cultural Direction Setting: Where Do We Go from Here?

So you’ve read our last two posts on Cultural Direction Setting — What’s Happened and What We Heard. Perhaps you’re wondering, “Where do we go from here?” The Theme Camp Symposium on March 23-24 was an important opportunity to gather more feedback, discuss ideas and share the potential next steps of this Cultural Direction Setting project. So for those who couldn’t join us at the Symposium, we want to give you the opportunity to hear what was said, and then we’ll talk about what’s next. 

Rough Draft of the Vision

At the Theme Camp Symposium, nine members of our Cultural Direction Setting Visioning Group presented the rough draft of the vision that will guide residential Black Rock city and its culture for the next five to 10 years. This vision was based on the extensive community feedback we gathered from thousands of surveys, interviews, community conversations, online comments, and the visioning group’s perspectives. 

At the Symposium, we presented some of the potential pathways for this vision and outlined the themes, which included: 

  1. Needs and expectations of theme camps
  2. Where is the line for resources? How much of the city do we place and which camps don’t we place?
  3. “Global citizenship” in BRC
  4. Redefining Plug & Play.

For the first 15 minutes, you can listen to Trippi Longstocking and Simone Torrey talk about the process we’ve taken to get to the rough draft and the objectives of Cultural Direction Setting. If you’d rather just listen to the rough draft vision, skip to 14:50.

We then hosted two breakout sessions where we heard feedback from camp leaders in the room and on the livestream of the Symposium. Curious what folks said? Here’s a six-minute summary of the feedback we heard throughout the weekend.

There was also this 25-minute fascinating discussion about Plug & Play that we recommend you watch.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Now our group is taking in the feedback from the Symposium, and this spring we will be thinking and working hard to create the next draft of the vision, which we plan to release before this year’s event. 

Here’s what we’re hoping for the 2019 event and beyond. We hope you’ll read the vision when it comes out. We hope your camp, your community, whatever Burner groups you call home, will read and dig into it together. 

From the surveys, we already know there’s divergence in opinions. Not everyone will like everything in the vision, and that’s okay! What we ask is that you engage with it, as you’ve hopefully already engaged by being part of the community engagement in the fall, by watching the videos from the Theme Camp Symposium, and by reading this right now. 

Whatever parts of the vision are in alignment with you and your camp, we hope you’ll come up with amazing ways to implement those parts into how you show up in Black Rock City this year. Have a group brainstorm about what you want to change in the culture of your camp, and run with some of the ideas. 

The lived culture of Black Rock City doesn’t come from a vision document. Culture comes from you, from our community, and how we all collectively show up in Black Rock City. The reality of this year’s cultural direction will be up to you. 

After the 2019 event, the Cultural Direction Setting initiative will shift gears by reaching out to the community for input on how we (including the organization) will implement the vision. This is when the abstract becomes concrete. 


How do we take our tensions of the past and transform them into implementable actions that will guide us for the next five to 10 years? When it’s typically quieter in the fall and winter, expect a lot of updates from Burning Man Project on what the organization is doing to make this vision real for the 2020 event. 

We will involve key stakeholders in each of these implementation decisions (i.e. camp representatives, Placement team volunteers, relevant department staff, community members, etc). We’ll be doing this intentionally, one step at a time. 

As Marian said, “The integrity of our culture is the highest priority,” and we want to maintain that integrity while also embracing change. We feel pretty darn sure you’re ready for what’s next. 

In service,

Black Rock City Cultural Direction Setting Group*

Bravo (Placement Team), Jennifer Warburg (Boom Boom Womb Camp), Jess Hobbs (Flux Foundation, Maker Faire and Flaming Lotus Girls), Kari Gregg (Philanthropic Engagement for Burning Man Project), Kimba Standridge (Facilitator and Man Pavilion Project Manager), Lauren Brand (Varsity Camp and Cirque Gitane), Level (Placement Team), Marisa Lenhardt (Death Guild Thunderdome), Mercedes Martinez (Burning Man Project Board Member and Ashram Galactica), Danger Ranger (Burning Man Cultural Co-Founder and Burning Man Project Board Member), Ray Russ (Community Member), Scotto (Meta-Regional and PolyParadise Village), Shadow (Placement Team), Simone Torrey (Lead Facilitator, bEEcHARGE! Camp, Red Hot Beverly Crew), Skywalker (Root Society Camp), Terry Schoop (Community Services Manager), Trippi Longstocking / Victoria Mitchell (Associate Director and BRC Cultural Direction Setting Project Creator), Wally Bomgaars (Burning Man Staff and Community Member), and Zang (Suspended Animation Camp)

With support and direction from Marian Goodell (CEO and Cultural Founder of Burning Man Project), Harley K. Dubois (Cultural Founder of Burning Man Project), Charlie Dolman (Black Rock City Event Director), and Heather White (Managing Director of Burning Man Project)

*Since it’s not possible to have every camp participate in the visioning group, the camps represent a cross-section of Black Rock City in terms of camp size and complexity, number of years as an established camp, and camp location. This is a new level of engagement with the Burning Man organization for most of these camps, and hearing voices from all camps in our survey, social media, and community conversations is a critical part of this process.

Top photo: Black Rock City Cultural Direction Setting Group present the draft vision at the Theme Camp Symposium 2019 (Photo by Chuck Revell)

About the author: BRC Cultural Direction Setting Group

BRC Cultural Direction Setting Group

Phase 2 of the project involves over 70 individuals across 10 groups that are working to implement the cultural vision across many areas. You can see all of their names and affiliations within the Burning Man community in this blog post. Phase 1 Visioning Group: Bravo (Placement Team), Jennifer Warburg (Boom Boom Womb Camp), Jess Hobbs (Flux Foundation, Maker Faire and Flaming Lotus Girls), Kari Gregg (Philanthropic Engagement for Burning Man Project), Kimba Standridge (Facilitator and Man Pavilion Project Manager), Lauren Brand (Varsity Camp and Cirque Gitane), Level (Placement Team), Marisa Lenhardt (Death Guild Thunderdome), Mercedes Martinez (Burning Man Project Board Member and Ashram Galactica), Danger Ranger (Burning Man Cultural Co-Founder and Burning Man Project Board Member), Ray Russ (Community Member), Scotto (Meta-Regional and PolyParadise Village), Shadow (Placement Team), Simone Torrey (Lead Facilitator, bEEcHARGE! Camp, Red Hot Beverly Crew), Skywalker (Root Society Camp), Terry Schoop (Community Services Manager), Trippi Longstocking / Victoria Mitchell (Associate Director and BRC Cultural Direction Setting Project Creator), Wally Bomgaars (Burning Man Staff and Community Member), and Zang (Suspended Animation Camp) Profile image by Isabelle Horl.

20 Comments on “Cultural Direction Setting: Where Do We Go from Here?

  • Dis Illusioned says:

    If you really were serious about respecting and protecting the cultural history and vital essence of Burning Man, you would:

    1) Fix the lottery. It is absolutely extraordinary that – after all these years – you can’t create a fair or transparent system, and stop the scamming, scalping, bots, and jacked-up secondary market for the very rich. Institute the long-advocated ticket system with verifiable personal ID numbers (e.g. Driver’s License) and photos imprinted on them. If people can’t go, they can sell the ticket back through an improved STEP program.

    2) Stop the Air Express and other extremely high-dollar flights. Leave the Airport for emergencies and critical senior leadership or government access, plus small personally-flown aircraft (pilot has a ticket to Burning Man, and enters the event; no ins and outs). Sure, your stated rationale is to reduce highway traffic, but the real reason is the usual: $$$, and the fame and self-adulation that the “leadership” (sic) people acquire by hobnobbing with, and enabling, the super-rich, super-elites, etc., that come in by air – with nothing to offer the community except the outfits and drugs in their limited baggage. (How to you spell, “No art”?)

    3) Close the Gate on Weds. night at Midnight. No breezing in and out for just the weekend. “Don’t have the time?” Tough. Find some other entertainment venue that suits your schedule.

    4) Identify and stop plug-‘n’-play camps. A draconian clampdown is needed. This is critical. Disallow immigrant-labor build-crews who come in early and construct the luxury villages pre-event. Disallow the prefab air-conditioned portable houses that are brought by the hundreds. Disallow maids, sherpas, and other forms of servants. Principle #11 should be: “Build it Yourself” (or go without). Along with that, disallow the big, towed, industrial diesel generators – except for approved completely public sound camps.

    5) Set a limit on RV size, to stop the massive Madden-Cruiser villages: head-to-tail encircled, selfish and elite, closed villages. A length limit on RVs would not only send a message, but it would stop some of the $50,000 ‘fully-stocked’ all-inclusive ‘sherpa- and maid-assisted’ packages going to tourists and exploiters. Medium-sized personal or rented RVs would still be reasonable.

    6) Stop the proposed population increase to 100,000. The event is already too big at 70,000. Rein-in the greed, the inevitable march to more technology. Shut down the cell towers. If local ranchers are operating them, pay them to shut down for a week. We don’t need cellphone zombies and web-browsing addicts assuming an ever-larger role on the playa.

    There are many other ways in which the culture of Burning Man could be honored. These suggestions are high-impact possibilities, which have been mentioned by Participants countless times. Nothing new here. Yet, I have not the slightest faith that leadership will seriously embrace any of them. Why? Because for them it’s about money (most of all), and power, fame, control, status in the organization… And all that loot requires more people, higher prices, more technology, less transparency, more elites, more VIPs, more flights, more massive RVs, more trucked-in all-inclusive package deals for executive and Hollywood types.


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    • Daddy D says:

      Well said!

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      • Jesse L Gros says:

        I love your vision! It is exactly mine as well.

        I would also add, additional funds/energy put to stop fashion shoots and exploitation of BM culture for profit outside of the burn.

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    • sebastiano says:

      RIGHT ON! Enough already. If anything, make the proposed changes more drastic.

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    • Michael R. Whalen says:

      Well and clearly said. Exactly right on every single point. I have attended 10 years. I have driven in, flown in, rented a big RV, stayed in the tent zone, stayed with the largest camps. The airport should be closed; the plug n play has to stop; the ticket sale process must be improved; the growth in size should stop (this is not Coachella music festival). You need to enable us to build and maintain our friendships and communities.

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    • Benoit says:

      I really like your recommendations.

      You sound frustrated by the lack of progress and you blame it on the leadership. I think that the BM organisation is well intended and is not after more cash or fame. I do hope your post will have some impacts.

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    • nirnur says:

      Dis Illusioned , well said , The Money blinds the BM organisation .but unfortunately they are not going to :
      1. Fix the lottery
      2.Stop the Air Express
      3.Close the Gate on Weds
      4.Identify and stop plug-‘n’-play camps
      5.Set a limit on RV size
      it’s all about the money .

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  • Yolo says:

    From this point in the evolution of Burning Man, it’s important to keep in mind that we are better than the people in the default world. We need to bring our message to them. We must stay focused if we are to enlighten them to the free labor business model.

    The default world is like a ship, struggling in a stormy sea. Burners want nothing more than to bring that ship safely into shore where we can teach them our special principles on how to properly behave and that orange man is bad. If they refuse us, then they deserve a tragic end to their lives.

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  • Tim says:

    Why is everyone in these pictures white?

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  • SierraNevada says:

    I thank you for expending so much time, money and effort on supporting placed camps (theme camps and villages). Too many of the placed camps have created problems and challenges to the Burning Man community – commodification, pollution (litter and waste), exclusivity (walled off fortresses), and non-participation. I can see why you have to expend so many resources on managing the placed camps that have “made a stagnant inner core.”
    In a journal post, Cultural Direction Setting: What We Heard, you show how space allocated to open camping is declining. “There were strong concerns from open campers about the increases in placed camps (in 2016 28% of BRC was reserved for open camping, in 2017 it was 25%, and in 2018 it was 22%), “You have systematically over the last few years destroyed open camping (which is the best part of the city) and made a stagnant inner core.”

    Why are you reducing open camping space? I think open camping space has become far too crowded and it is unfair to open area campers that you keep allocating more space to the placed camps.

    In order to reinvigorate the stagnant inner core and provide more room for open camping I have a few suggestions. One, keep increasing directed ticketing. Two, ban contract services for camps.

    In Marian Goodell’s journal post, Cultural Course Correcting: Black Rock City 2019, Marian wrote, “Burning Man Project controls the levers that provide people and their resources access to Black Rock City, and we are actively examining the impact of our own policies and procedures on the city’s cultural direction. Over the next two years, the organization is going to implement some operational and logistical improvements to reinvest in our culture. We must ensure Black Rock City’s future as a vibrant hub of connectivity, creativity, and generosity.” I agree with Marian and am hopeful. Burning Man is still far away from meeting its full potential in part due to too many non-participant “takers” who just show up and party the week away. Marian discussed increasing directed group ticketing and decreasing open ticket sales. Your work on increasing directed ticketing to the “makers” will help to reinvigorate the stagnant inner core by replacing non-participants with participants. In other words, cut-away the sea anchor and bring in new talent*. In addition, increasing participation by makers and reducing takers could help to reduce the size of a lot of the placed camps and make more room for open campers.

    Adding to Marian’s message, I think you could improve connectivity, creativity, and generosity by prohibiting camp vender services or contractors (except for portable toilets because they are essential to survival). In your What We Heard analysis you showed that nineteen percent of camps said they use the Outside Services Program or contract venders and employees.

    Radical Self-reliance and Civic Responsibility should encompass HOW participants are expected to bring everything they need themselves; and participants figure out HOW to survive and thrive themselves with support from the community; and participants figure out HOW to Leave No Trace themselves. NOT CONTRACTORS!

    Prohibiting camp vender services or contractors should eliminate the dreaded plug & play camps, reduce overdevelopment and gentrification pressures being exerted on the community by the placed camps, drive more participation, and hopefully shrink the space taken by the placed camps and create more room for open area campers.

    Liberate open camping!

    * Under “Radical Inclusion – Anyone may be a part of Burning Man. We welcome and respect the stranger. No prerequisites exist for participation in our community.” A key word is participation.

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  • air besar says:

    I’ll repeat the gist of some of my comments from the survey.

    The organizational focus seems to be on groups to the exclusion of the unaffiliated camper. As one of the latter, who picks up the litter I find, who shares food, looks for contacts with new people, and who creates art in my camp, I wonder why I’m less important than people in the camps. How many not associated with a theme camp, are part of the various groups and committees outlined above? If none, which is what I suspect, how can these groups legitimately chart the future of Burning Man when a still important segment of Burning Man is not represented?

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    • TasWanda says:

      Because anyone who cares enough to go to meetings and be part of the future of the burn will likely find a camp to call home. Anyone who can’t make friends with some of the friendliest and open minded people on the planet probably shouldn’t be speaking for a significant amount of participants.

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  • Shockingly Unwhite says:

    This whole thing makes me sad. When I started going, I was told how stuff was and I loved it so much I changed my life and got very involved. I didn’t show up and demand that things change or that my feelings were cared for. Burning Man was difficult and that’s a part of what made it so special. People would say they would never go because they don’t think they could handle it and they were probably right. They probably wouldn’t participate much but those who were worth the effort would be taken in and shown the way.

    I do not think something so amazing should change its CULTURE because of online comments and blogs. I am not talking about colors of skin here either. I’m talking about what it’s like to be there in person in the moment. Most parts are amazing and some parts suck. Sure, I have experienced racism on playa but people there WERE far more excepting than most in default. Even moreso, people seemed more accepting because the people who chose to spend weeks of their year on making others have fun just so happened to usually be awesome people who weren’t just pressured online to be accepting. I’m rambling here but whatever.

    Our culture doesn’t care about your feelings if you’re a whiny brat who’s anxiously waiting for a solid Internet connection to upload your entitled, annoying blog post.

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    • Intothewoodsto says:

      “…things change or that my feelings were cared for.”
      I don’t understand why so many Burners feel that it’s okay to end a sentence with a preposition. We have standards!

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  • It is the best way and we had been looking for it always.

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