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. Burning Man Project, the official name of the nonprofit Burning Man organization, is operated and supported by thousands of people who take responsibility for making Burning Man happen in the Black Rock Desert and around the world. The AfterBurn Report highlights 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.
We also publish an Annual Report each year about our overall vision, impact, and health as a nonprofit, including a snapshot of our finances.
Burning Man 2020: The Multiverse
Theme Series: The Multiverse
It’s astounding to think we began 2020 much like any other year, rolling out of bed on New Year’s Day, a little bleary-eyed after ringing in celebrations all over the world. Writing today from the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems almost impossible that we were together so easily, so recently.
Yet here we are, adapting and co-creating new ways to work, play, and support one another during a pandemic that has severely limited our collective ability to thrive. All the things we learned over three decades of building community have brought us to this moment. It is a testament to the power of our collective resourcefulness, creativity, resiliency, and capacity for mutual support.
The yearly AfterBurn is our story of the year that was, as experienced by the dedicated staff who produce Black Rock City and support the global culture that emanates from our remarkable, ephemeral desert city. (We do not differentiate between paid employees and volunteers. In this context, staff = volunteers and employees, both seasonal and year-round.)
Let us break it down for you, and yes, we are going to use the p-word: PIVOT (maybe just once). In early spring 2020, we were gearing up to produce an 80,000-person event in one of the world’s most inhospitable ecosystems. In response to the new world we found ourselves in, Burning Man Project and the global community pivoted overnight into connecting virtually — via pixels, ether, and a lot of hope.
We offered up social, emotional, and logistical support, and developed human-powered systems that enabled us all to push into brave, new creative realms. They say this pandemic advanced many organizations’ digital strategies several years; we would argue that it took us into an entirely new realm — the Multiverse.
Our staff of intrepid collaborators made it happen, day after day. We refocused overnight to a distributed workforce that engineered lasting change around environmental sustainability, diversity and Radical Inclusion, local community resilience, storytelling, and digital convening. These are a lot of big words that stand for huge projects we advanced with blood, sweat, tears, and a steady flow of playa magic.
What Are We Most Proud of This Year?
Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, Burners Without Borders joined forces with more than a dozen decentralized databases to create the most comprehensive database of PPE needs and offers in the US, connecting people to 2.5 million units.
Recycle Camp launched a fundraiser that generated $15,000 for the Gerlach K-12 School — three times what they normally donate from cashing in Black Rock City’s recycled cans. Not content with letting the MOOP settle, our Environmental Restoration Manager DA walked 85 miles — all the way from Wadsworth to the Black Rock Desert, cleaning up the highway and raising funds every step of the way. Thanks to you, DA’s Black Rock MOOPATHON raised $31,000 to fund a solar powered Man Pavilion in Black Rock City 2021 and beyond.
We came together as a global community and BURNED at home, with close friends and family, while cultivating new friendships, experiences, and myriad possibilities across the abundantly flourishing Recognized Universes of the Burning Man Multiverse. During Burn Week, tens of thousands of Burners from 148 countries worked, played, celebrated and created across 10 standalone Multiversal experiences — exploring everything from VR playas to over-the-top Zoom parties, virtual Temples to beautifully-rendered virtual Honoraria art installations.
Burning Man Project built our own community-funding platform and worked tirelessly to launch the SAVE BLACK ROCK CITY campaign. More than 21,000 generous humans came forward to help us make it through 2020, donating more than $5 million to stoke the engine and ignite the next Black Rock City production cycle.
We burned the Man. In a ceremony orchestrated by a dedicated skeleton crew, we built and raised by hand our 2020 Man, then live streamed a surprise Burn to the world. The Man Burn was viewed 120,000 times on channels and devices around the globe. On the same day, 32,000 Burners around the world participated in Burn Night: Live From Home — a 24-hour live stream of effigy burns and celebrations from New Zealand to Hawaii, Denmark to Argentina, and everywhere in between.
And we did it all with financial constraints. It’s no small feat to keep this complex human ecosystem running without our raison d’etre and main source of revenue. Even with a prudent reserve, and cost reductions everywhere, Burning Man Project made it happen on a limited budget, aware that every decision we made impacted our future.
We’re proud of YOU. With only digital tools, imagination, and the power of community, we pulled together to support each other, co-creating radical expressions of Burning Man culture in a dangerous and extraordinary time. During a year when the world asked so much of each and every one of us, we continued doing what we do best — imagining new ways for humanity to live, create, celebrate, and grow.
Welcome to the 2020 AfterBurn.
Table of Contents
For complete descriptions of the various Black Rock City teams, visit the Teams page.
Burning Man Arts
Katie Hazard writes:
The Temple Persevered! We had selected Empyrean as the 2020 Temple back in December 2019. The Empyrean artists were already under contract, had received their first grant payment from Burning Man Project, were recruiting volunteers, and working on engineering when the event was canceled. With admirable resilience, the Empyrean team (headed up by co-lead artists Renzo Verbeck and Sylvia Lisse) persevered and pivoted to a digital experience.
They recruited Jeremy Roush, software engineer and camp lead of OKNOTOK, who developed a gorgeous and meaningful platform for the community to leave virtual offerings. The Art Department hosted two webinars to familiarize the community with the concept of interacting with a digital Temple. Participants made 3,141 offerings in the Ethereal Empyrean digital Temple experience, and these offerings were viewed 40,485 times over the course of event week. The Temple Guardians were on hand during this time to support the community with their offerings or emotional processing.
2020 event week closed with a beautiful Temple Burn. It opened with a program called Burn to Transform, which offered a moving musical journey and also featured sessions from healers, speakers, visionaries, and performers sharing their gifts to facilitate healing and transformation. The Zendo Project provided peer support throughout the evening. The Temple Burn was a 22-minute ceremony; it was unexpectedly moving, truly capturing the spirit of release.
In a year when we truly needed it, the Temple was there for our community.
Additionally, in line with our deep commitment to artists, we have been able to use this year as an opportunity to further support Burning Man artists through storytelling and education projects. We launched a new artist storytelling series, ArtSpeaks, that gives visibility to artists by illuminating their work for a wider online audience. The live, hosted show centers around interviews with artists, allowing them to tell stories about creating work for the playa, and to share what they’re up to now. Viewers enjoy sneak peeks into artists’ studios, fabrication processes, and sources of inspiration. Themes have ranged from sustainability, to a history of flame effects, to art for social change.
We’re also developing an education and capacity-building program that will empower artists and community members to teach and learn from one another via a collaborative, art-based curriculum. We first launched a course called “Burning Man Art: History, Place, Context,” which traces some of the ideas, people, and inspirations that helped bring us to where we are today. It looks at the confluence of technology, materials, and cultural evolution that has shaped the current “state of the art.” Additionally, the course invites participants to examine the more fixed aspects of the Burning Man environment that act as creative constraints, and explore the idea of the playa itself as an artistic collaborator. We anticipate a future Part Two of the program focused on logistical elements of bringing art to BRC. This portion will be a peer-to-peer format, with artists teaching one another and sharing their expertise and learnings.
We’re thrilled to be able to support artists in these new ways this year.
The Art Department pivoted from creating content that looks like sculptural work in the desert to creating digital content. Desert Arts 3View took place virtually and was very well attended and festive. ArtSpeaks happens virtually via Kindling, and the Art Education program is on a virtual learning network. Everything’s online! 2020, the year of Zooming.
And finally, despite not gathering in person in BRC, we were able to engage many of our volunteers throughout the year, from hosting social gatherings such as trivia night and a virtual barbeque, to discussing more serious topics such as diversity and radical inclusion in BRC.
Art Department staff were very actively involved in overseeing the Recognized Universes of the Burning Man Multiverse. And all of our team members were redeployed for a portion of time this year to support other mission-critical departments.
Burning Man Arts By the Numbers:
- Launched July 1, 2020
- 8 episodes in 2020
- Total reach/audience: 5,500+ participants/views (as of 11/18/20)
- Participating artists: 45
Art Grant stats:
- $1.3 million was budgeted in grant funding for art installations on playa (only $55k was actually issued, to the Temple)
- Grantees were selected for 2020 but not under contract; they will be rolled over to 2021
- 743 letters of intent received for the Honoraria program (most ever!)
- 71 Honoraria projects chosen
We received 20 Temple Grant applications (the most ever), representing a 67% increase over the number of applicants the past two years since this dedicated grant program started.
The Temple Grant was awarded in early 2020 with the grant agreement signed, first grant payment issued, and work underway before COVID-19 caused the event’s cancelation. The 2020 Temple, Empyrean, will become the Temple at our next iteration of BRC.
Ethereal Empyrean (the digital Temple offering):
- 2 webinars in advance with Katie Hazard interviewing the Temple artists
- Total reach/audience of webinars: 3,800+ participants/views
- 3,141 offerings were made in the digital platform
- Offerings were viewed 40,485 times over the course of event week
Looking Ahead to 2021
2020 has seen significant progress towards BMP’s sustainability goals and the Art Department has been actively involved with these efforts. We’re looking into issues like emissions and exploring ways to encourage artists to prioritize sustainability in their projects. We’re also interested in taking a closer look at which art projects on playa are allowed to burn, likely limiting the total number going forward. DaveX likes to remind us to keep the “Burning” in “Burning Man,” but we also need to take into consideration the environmental impact of burning large structures.
Through 2019, each year in BRC saw an increase in the total number of art installations. Given this annual increase, the Art Department was facing challenges around our capacity to provide a high level of pre-event support to each artist. We’ve since had the opportunity to re-examine our process and start to develop streamlined protocols, incorporating greater volunteer engagement, and simplifying our systems while continuing to keep things safe and supportive.
- Explore past and future ArtSpeaks episodes
- Katie Hazard speaks about the virtual Temple on NPR Morning Edition
Burning Man :: Live Conversation: The Burning Man Temple 2020 – Going Virtual
From the Journal:
Burners Without Borders
The BWB team writes:
Burners Without Borders (BWB) was created in response to Hurricane Katrina, a 2005 crisis. Although we were built on a traditional “disaster response paradigm,” for several years now we were seeing that the world was changing; the old ways of organizing needed to evolve.
As COVID-19 spread across the world, suddenly BWB’s work was front and center. Our essay, “The Long Disaster,” described our new everyday reality. No longer was the disaster rooted in a certain place for a certain amount of time — it was everywhere, affecting everyone, and was going to stretch out for what would feel like indefinitely.
BWB didn’t pivot; instead we emerged into our own moment. It felt as though BWB had been building towards this very time in history. The work BWB has done around community resiliency, mutual aid, activated citizenship and more were the very skills needed in 2020. BWB still needed to adapt the toolsets to work in these new circumstances. Out of this new framework, new collaborations emerged.
Mutual Aid With Community Roundups
Community Roundup Calls have become a signature for BWB over this past year. Before 2020, BWB had not hosted any regular, open organizing meetings. Now they take place on a bi-monthly basis. The calls have led to more connectivity throughout the network for folks interested in organizing mutual aid and community projects. One of the beautiful things about the open organizing meeting: it was able to remain agile and open. Our flexibility let us shift from COVID-19 to hurricanes. When racial justice issues came to the forefront (again) we were able to open the space to social justice. This helped keep the meeting viable, and we were able to change with the times.
More than 2,000 people with over 200 projects participated throughout the year. We built a community database around projects to connect individuals and needs. Non-Burners and outside organizations have attended our calls because of the value of our community’s creative and collaborative mindset. Subjects included: PPE creation and distribution, food security, maker spaces, mutual aid networks for the immunocompromised, building new response models for “dual disaster,” artistic interventions within COVID-19, racial justice, and more.
We created a toolkit that other community groups can use to replicate our method of organizing. We know of three other groups that have followed suit. New community experiences emerged out of these meetings, including Together We Grow — an every-Sunday meeting with members around the world focused on food security, seed saving, and growing your own food.
Providing Access to Essential Supplies with GetUsPPE
Initially, the BWB PPE drive joined forces with more than a dozen other grassroots and decentralized databases to coalesce under GetUsPPE (GUP). In spring 2020, it was the most comprehensive database of PPE needs and offers in the US and ended up connecting with 2.5 million units. Our collaboration evolved throughout the summer as BWB was a supporting member of a founding coalition. The coalition has since grown into a full-fledged organization that is currently (as of November 2020) gearing up for a second wave of heavy PPE shortages throughout the US.
Throughout our collaboration with GUP, BWB supported its growth by filling in gaps from last-mile logistics for PPE delivery, participating in the initial formation of regional partnerships, and building bridges with other groups, mutual aid initiatives, and communities through the BWB network. Notably BWB supported and built relationships leading to GUP’s emphasis on protection for tribal communities throughout the US. BWB was also represented in the GUP Executive Director and Operations Director hiring committees to bring a perspective representing the extended grassroots community. This and other emerging COVID-19 response initiatives were incubated in our emergent Community Roundup series.
Staying Connected Through Digital Convenings
Adapting to restrictions and community need during the COVID-19 pandemic, we hosted a growing number of digital convenings and virtual inroads for people to connect with BWB. We increased our virtual offerings to an average of one or two per week, up from one per month in 2019. These offerings remained agile throughout the year; themes for calls evolving from a pure COVID-19 focus to include discussions of dual and multiple disasters, social justice movement support, wildfires and hurricane/environmental disaster responses.
The BWB Spring Summit, usually held in person at Fly Ranch, moved to a virtual platform that allowed BWB to connect with more than 400 attendees and fundraise approximately $13,000 towards BWB microgrants.
The COVID-19 response inspired a 70-person Mutual Aid Panel on May 15 in partnership with three Burners and community leaders (representing Kostume Kult and Catharsis on the Mall).
Burners Without Borders By the Numbers:
BWB Spring Summit Final Stats:
- 8 hours of online content
- 12 community-led sessions
- Collaborated with Regionals, Civic Arts, Fly Ranch, Sustainability
- Approximately 330 people active at once, with more than 400 throughout the day
- $12,800 raised
Community Roundup Calls Responding to COVID-19 (and more):
- 27 calls since March (weekly through July and bi-monthly through the end of 2020)
- More than 2,000 callers supporting over 200 projects (based on available data through October)
BWB in the Multiverse:
- BWB took a decentralized approach to the Universes, encouraging community members to create content alongside us
- Christopher Breedlove gave two talks in BRCvr on “The Future of Burning Man?” and became the first “hologram” in the VR world
- The 6th Annual BWB Speaker Series went virtual for two days inside of the Infinite Playa, with our second day of programming in collaboration with The Design Science Studio. We presented 23 distinct talks and performances over two days of programming, with over 13,000 views
- BWB is continuing conversations with BRCvr around keeping programming in the space year-round
Civic Activation in the Multiverse:
- BWB hosted a “Running for Political Office” panel in collaboration with Burning Man Project’s “Embassy of Information” inside several of the Recognized Universes
- The panel highlighted three Burners who are running for political office and explored the ways in which Black Rock City and the 10 Principles inspired or affected their desire to get into democratic politics
- This event was well received, both live and in post-recording — showcasing an active interest in the topic
BWB focused its Fall Summit efforts on collaboratively producing the first “Green Theme Camp Summit” with theme camp leads from IDEATE, Hotel California and others.
- 4 days and 15+ hours of programming
- Infrastructure areas: power, water, food, shelter, waste
- Sunday livestream had 22,000 views
Looking Ahead to 2021
Competing priorities have been one of our biggest lessons and challenges in 2020. As we’ve picked up new initiatives, we have not sunset initiatives at the same pace. This impacts the quality of our work. Looking towards 2021, we are exploring how to focus our energy to ensure the quality and accountability of our work on a prioritized portfolio, aka right-sizing.
We’re planning an upgrade and facelift for the BWB website to create a more centralized community information hub that’s easier to navigate. And we’re exploring a friends of BWB “membership program.” This funnel would allow us to capture a node of the community that’s currently unmeasured and to experiment with different fundraising/community engagement methods. We’ll gain greater clarity around the fundraising power of BWB, and set a stage for future BWB and greater Burning Man Project budgeting and financial narrative conversations.
Next year BWB may prioritize initiating a COVID-19 conscious event framework and exploring opportunities to bring the community together safely in person.
We’re also planning to upgrade and evergreen our management process of the BWB Chapter Network, including all contract paperwork, the chapter binder, webpage offerings, and the transition/succession planning processes.
- The Long Disaster
- Community Roundup
- BWB Community Roundup COVID projects database
- Christopher Breedlove speaks about The Future of Burning Man
- Civic Activation: Running for Political Office
- Community Conversation: Burners and Mutual Aid panel
- Green Theme Camp Summit
- BWB Spring Summit Plenary Videos
In the Journal:
Joe Meschede writes:
Following more than a year of discussion and planning, Marianela Fuentes’ “Ichiro Sacred Beings” dinosaur sculpture was installed outside San Jose’s Children’s Discovery Museum. Ichiro was on playa in 2018 and then traveled to Washington, D.C., for Catharsis on the Mall, where it stayed on display at a local hotel. This year it became the seventh sculpture to be a part of the Playa to Paseo collaboration between Burning Man Project and San Jose’s Office of Cultural Affairs.
The piece is covered in thousands of glass Huichol beads, making it the most delicate sculpture to be installed in the program. Many hours of discussion and planning went into site selection, timing to avoid the rainy season, and lots of engineering. COVID-19 hit shortly after the piece went up; we weren’t able to fully activate the piece with the engaging children’s workshops and public events as planned. We are still proud to have provided something unique for folks to seek out while social distancing over the past eight months.
In 2020, Civic Arts hosted multiple online events to share stories and information about the different facets of Civic Arts work, inviting speakers within and outside the Burning Man community. We plan to incorporate elements from these events into shareable documentation about ways to support or create your own civic art projects. We also worked diligently to support the artists who were selected to work with Google, helping them navigate new timelines and design constraints.
The artist team involved with creating the second part of the Washoe ArTrail opted not to sign an extension of their contract. Everyone involved was disappointed but understanding of their situation. The team is a collective of professionals who are not working artists; the uncertainty around COVID-19 brought more risk than they could entertain. We will remain supportive of activating the trail in collaboration with Washoe County.
Looking Ahead to 2021
All future San Jose installations are on pause. We are discussing the possibility of resuming the project with one or two more installations to round out the contract. We are also discussing new ways to use the remaining funds to support the work of local artists in the digital and physical sphere.
It was hard to accept that Ichiro wouldn’t be experienced in the ways we had hoped. We are looking at new ways to provide engaging work in San Jose, including but not limited to online art and activities. We had planned to launch a Civic Arts newsletter that would focus on bringing together members of the Burning Man community who could benefit from direct interaction. Strategizing for the launch was paused as we focused on supporting current projects, but content is being developed for a launch in early 2021.
- Velafrons dinosaur on display outside of Children’s Discovery Museum
- “Grant Activation”: Storytelling With Youth
The first “Art Activation” call: Supporting Artists in Dynamic Times
In the Journal:
Steven Raspa writes:
The Burning Man Community Events team has historically created tools and templates that have been helpful throughout the Regional Network. This year members of the team helped prototype online events with the European Leadership Summit Online, Desert Arts 3View, and a Friday Burner Online Social as part of the Solstice Weekend in June. We also helped create online event toolkits and resource guides to share with staff and the Regional Network.
2020 Events in Review
Before COVID-19, members of our team once again supported the San Francisco Night of Ideas free public event at the San Francisco Public Library as a cultural partner, working with the San Francisco office of the French Consulate. This year’s theme was “Living on the Edge” and we had no idea then how close to the edge we all were. The event brought together academic, artistic, tech, and science communities to explore tensions that pervade contemporary society, and discuss what it means to live together.
In March, when COVID-19 cases began to appear in the Bay Area, we preemptively cancelled our Burnal Equinox in-person event out of concern for public health, modeling Civic Responsibility in the early days of COVID-19 spread. This proved to be the right decision, as a week later the City of San Francisco required the cancellation of large indoor gatherings.
We pivoted to online events in May and June and shared examples of what others did to take events online and think in new ways about community building during the pandemic.
In May we worked with the Burning Man Art Department to reconceive Desert Arts Preview to become Desert Arts 3View, which laid the foundation for the ArtSpeaks series now hosted by the Art Department. This virtual gathering is a reinvention of our long-running Desert Arts Preview event, which used to be a local event in San Francisco that only featured art destined for Black Rock City in a given year. Desert Arts 3View instead looked at the past, present, and future of Burning Man art, engaged the global community, and included artist studio tours and special breakout “lobby experiences.” This was the first step to not just bring existing events online but to add new technological features that increase accessibility. It allowed us to act globally, experiment with online interactivity, and explore our new ability to offer a variety of simultaneous experiences through breakout rooms and personal studio visits. We hope this model will be replicated throughout the network in the future. At Burning Man Project, this shift in approach inspired the Art Department’s highly successful “ArtSpeaks” artist interview series.
In June our team worked with the Philosophical Center and Kindling team to create a full weekend of activities around the debut of the Larry Harvey tribute film and Summer Solstice Weekend. This proved to be the perfect way to commemorate the first Burning Man on Baker Beach in San Francisco back in 1986 on the Summer Solstice. We organized a Friday online Burner Social as a weekend launch event. As part of that Friday event, we hosted a “Community Projects & Support” video chat to discuss civic and artistic projects people were looking to kickstart with others to Leave A Positive Trace in the world. We also dedicated time for people to share personal feelings related to COVID-19, to discuss racial equity and Black Lives Matter, and to offer emotional support for community members needing it. That experiment prototyped later online emotional support processes for the Multiverse and systems that Regional Rangers would later refine as part of their Digital Ranger program for Regional Events.
We sparked conversation about the future of in-person and online events to encourage innovation and evolution of online and in-person gatherings in our community. As part of that effort, Associate Director of Community Events Steven Raspa and Executive Producer Justin Katz hosted a Global Activation Call entitled “The Future of Co-Created Events?” as part of Burning Man’s Global Activation series.
July through early September, Community Events members (past and present) played key roles in the September 5 “Burn Night: Live From Home” 24-hour event. They worked with a team of dedicated Burners at PORTL, who gifted their time and platform to provide a way to share safe mini-Man burns and footage from Regional Events and communities around the world for 24 hours, across every time zone. This involved the global Burner community and multiple Burning Man departments including: The Regional Network and Regional Event teams around the world, Fire Safety, Fire Conclave, Man Build Crew (who provided a free mini-Man design and fire safety best practices), Tech team, Kindling, Communications, and the Philosophical Center.
In October and November we helped produce an online surprise thank you celebration and mixer for those who donated to Burning Man’s October fundraiser to save Black Rock City. This involved working with Sparkleverse, Build-A-Burn, BRCvr, and members of the community to co-create a 36-hour land of gratitude and magical experiences, featuring spaces to gather around virtual “burn barrels” to share stories, meet one another, and have fun! The emphasis was on peer-to-peer sharing and social engagement.
Commitment to Learning and Sharing
Our team remained committed to learning and sharing knowledge and experience. Associate Director of Community Events Steven Raspa spoke at an online conference for more than 900 European and global event organizers about challenges and opportunities presented by COVID-19 and online events. He also contributed key learnings about use of public space to a joint city publication about Oakland, California, and Saint-Denis, France, designed to support cultural activities and art spaces in cities faced with increasing development and gentrification risks. This was the follow-up publication to Burning Man Project’s 2019 participation in city-to-city learning expeditions. You may recall that in 2019 Burning Man Project organized visits to Oakland and San Francisco creative spaces as part of the study to further thinking about economic tools to preserve cultural spaces. Steven Raspa also shared lessons from Black Rock City that are applicable to urban planning; this 2020 publication is a high-level summary of the 2019 learning expeditions, including learnings from Burner-run creative spaces in Oakland and San Francisco. There is also a section on art pads and parklets, which Burning Man helped to pioneer.
In October, Executive Producer Justin Katz participated in an international event panel discussion as part of the programming for Amsterdam Dance Event, called “Fontys ACI Presents: Future of Events,” in which panelists discussed the changing reality of the event landscape throughout 2020, and how their various organizations have coped, pivoted, and thrived. Justin focused on the development and experience of the Burning Man Multiverse as a huge, successful community experiment.
Throughout the year, team members took lessons from in-person community events and online event training to other departments and advised on approaches to reorienting Burning Man department areas to become online content providers.
Adapting, Branching Out, and Switching Things Up!
Our team moved our regular in-person monthly team meetings online and added an emotional support check-in to all meetings to support volunteers and maintain supportive team relationships.
Members of our team were redeployed to participate outside usual in-person programming. Key staff moved to Kindling and other high-priority projects such as creating how-to guides for responding to COVID-19, safety, taking events online, and how to think about the 10 Principles in online environments. These were shared with staff and Regional Event producers globally to contribute as crowd-sourced documents that continue to evolve.
We brought together old and new members of our team to support new programming. Raspa joined the team advising the Multiverse platforms on applying the 10 Principles in online environments and capturing learnings from the Multiverse. We provided input into how Burning Man Project might become less reliant on Black Rock City for revenues, and we experimented with donation-based and suggested ticket pricing for online original programming.
A big decision made this year was not to host Decompression online. With people bringing the Multiverse and 10 Principles into their homes already, and even expressing some fatigue with online events, the mission of Decompression was called into question. In an important election year in the United States, in lieu of Decompression, Burning Man Project encouraged people to organize non-partisan voter parties to boost voter turnout.
On October 23, the Community Events team hosted an illustrative “Voter Party” of our own at San Francisco’s Civic Center voter registration area and official ballot drop-off point. A small but joyful, masked and safely distanced group of teammates encouraged and celebrated citizens exercising their right to vote. Our Voter Party gathered, waved, cheered and rang bells to support citizens’ personal participation in democracy! Signs included: “Express Yourself: Vote!”, “Make Voting Fun Again!”, “I Love Voters” and “Participate in Society!” This was a non-partisan effort to encourage and thank voters. And it did make voting more fun!
Community Events By the Numbers
Our smaller virtual events reached 1,000 households, definitely down from the usual 14,000+ participants in 2019 across in-person events our team hosted in the Bay Area.
But as mentioned, most of our team supported other teams this year to build capacity and shift to online programming to reach global audiences for online events and programs. This year was mostly about redeploying our in-person event team to other areas and experimenting with new community building tools and platforms such as Kindling.
Regarding the Community Event’s team involvement in Burn Night: Live From Home, the event was experienced by 32,391 unique households in 148 (of 195) countries, with 50,108 total sessions logged via PORTL. Additional Burners watched the live feed, which was broadcast to the various Universes of the Multiverse. There were more than 1.5 million group and person-to-person chat messages and excited comments made in 24 hours!
Looking Ahead to 2021
For 2021 we plan to continue to host and encourage 10 Principled online events. We’re thinking about ways to bring the global events community together to foster new levels of inclusive and global engagement, cultural activities, and 10 Principled community building.
We’ll continue to increase the skill level and engagement of Community Events team members in hosting online events and sharing more toolkits with the community. We’re considering ways to fuse online and in-person events, including: dispersed outdoor experiences, drive-through/sequential experiences, and new forms of social engagement that foster community.
We will continue to prioritize sharing health and safety best practices for both online and in-person gatherings. Our team will also continue to share and promote learning throughout the community and Regional Network.
Our team expects to play a continued role in supporting other teams and departments and to have an important role in fundraising events in the new year to help Burning Man Project survive.
- The Oakland / St-Denis study
- Recording of Amsterdam Dance Event Panel “Fontys ACI Presents: Future of Events”
Civic Engagement session: “The Future of Co-Created Events?”
In the Journal:
Global Art Grants
Laura Dane writes:
After 17 years of grantmaking, 2020 was the first (hopefully, only) year when, for multiple reasons, we decided not to move forward with the Program.
When the pandemic really began to hit, we were at the stage where our review committee was almost done reading the full proposals (the first round of applications is a review of Letters of Intent (LOI), and the second and final round is a review of proposals). We notified the review committee about the decision. About a week or so later, Harley K. Dubois (Global Art Grants Program Founder), Warren Trezevant (Global Art Grants Program Chair) and Laura Dane (Grants Program Manager) met virtually with the review committee to discuss the decision and check in with how everyone was feeling. All were supportive and expressed a desire to return as reviewers when the program restarts.
Here is our public statement about the cancellation of the 2020 program, and below is our public statement on when the program will restart:
“Burning Man Project greatly values the Global Art Grants program and is working to ensure it continues into the future. With the dynamic nature of 2020, we are postponing an announcement on the program status until we’re able to have a better sense of when we can reignite the program. We look forward to sharing an update as soon as possible.”
Global Art Grants By the Numbers:
- Received 308 Letters of Intent (LOIs) — this was double the 155 LOIs received in 2019
- Received 117 international LOIs (38% of all submitted LOIs were from outside the US) from 47 different countries
- Received LOIs from 41 US states, plus Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico
- Received 102 full proposals
- Received 44 international full proposals (43% of all submitted full proposals were from outside the US) from 28 different countries
- Received full proposals from 25 US states, plus Washington, DC
Looking Ahead to 2021
We hope to bring back the Global Art Grants program as soon as possible. When we do reignite the program, we’ll be looking into how we can best integrate applications from those who submitted 2020 proposals before the program was temporarily closed, while also welcoming applications from new applicants.
Through everything this year, we’ve continued to support our grantees and share their creativity, inspiration, and art installations with the greater world. For our Fall 2020 Civic Activation Community Call focusing on grants activation, we had a fantastic conversation with Molly Allis and Owen Lowrey, two previous Global Art Grantees, where we discussed their processes, working with the public and youth, and where they find inspiration. The call was co-hosted by Joe Meschede and Laura Dane.
We are currently building a network for our grantees within the larger Burning Man ecosystem to support storytelling, knowledge-sharing, and direct community connections between grantees. This work has only just begun in order for the network to grow and thrive in 2021.
Grant Activation: Storytelling With Youth
In the Journal:
Iris Yee writes:
When the lockdowns from the global pandemic began, and regional communities had to make hard decisions about whether to cancel or postpone more than 100 Official Regional Events around the world, the Regional Network Committee knew that we needed to bring Regional Contacts (RCs) and regional event leaders together to learn how community organizers were doing their work and swiftly develop resources to support them during these challenging times.
We hosted four video conferenced community discussions in April 2020 called, “Turning Lemons into Lemonade: How Do We Encourage Community and Togetherness During a Time of Social Distancing?” Participants were encouraged to consider how to fulfill Burning Man Project’s mission and vision under these extraordinary circumstances. The resulting Making Lemonade Summary of Findings report captured input from 114 participants from 23 countries, representing 36 events or entities. It outlines the challenges communities face in the pandemic and the creative ideas people are trying to keep their communities together, and it generated further ideas for community leaders to consider trying. This report was shared with Burning Man Project staff and Regional Network leaders. It also helped inform the Regional Network Committee on how to help address the challenges and foster community among the community leaders.
Responding to the Challenges of COVID-19
We hosted and moderated a series of Regional Contact Peer-to-Peer Support Calls where Regional Contacts could come together to seek emotional support and practical project support from each other, discussing both personal and community challenges and potential solutions. These support calls would turn out to not only be useful for support in response to the pandemic but in providing support during racial injustice protests in the US that spread to other countries who protested in solidarity.
We developed toolkits to help Regional Contacts, Regional Event organizers, and Burner groups respond to the challenges of COVID-19 and stay safely connected with their communities, including:
- A “Regionals Toolkit for Online Town Halls”
- “Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Event Considerations,” a global safety planning document for guidance when in-person events could take place again
- “Taking Your Event On-Line – A guide to Virtual Burning,” compiled by the Regional Events Committee and intended to help communities successfully pivot their in-person gatherings to online
We continued to hold quarterly Regional Contact Forums to keep Regional Contacts informed and engaged with Burning Man Project and each other, and we held a Regional Network Leadership Strategy Forum of community leaders including Meta Regional Contacts, the Regional Events Committee, and the Local Leadership Event Organizers. These groups assessed what needs the Regional Network reported in their 2019 Annual Regional Recap Reports and considered these in light of the global pandemic challenges revealed in the Making Lemonade conversations.
Imaginative Events That Spark Connection and Community During COVID-19
The Regional Network has continued to support the development of regional community leaders through tools and support, and these leaders, in turn, demonstrated their leadership, innovation and ingenuity in creating new ways to stay socially connected in the spirit of the 10 Principles.
Some of these include:
The Argentina Burner community created No Al Deprecamp TV, a co-created online system allowing any community member to create and share events. They also created “Mission Veleta” where people could post a wish or mission impossible task they would like someone to take on, and people could adopt a wish.
A Vermont RC organized a Reverse Parade where residents set off legal fireworks in their front yards on a parade route and everyone was invited to drive by to watch and cheer.
The Austin Burning Flipside community pivoted from their annual in-person Official Regional Event to create a COVID-safe Burner Art Safari where participants co-created a digital map of their artwork and socially-distanced participatory experiences in their front yards. This Memorial Day weekend event was so popular that the map remains available for anyone to add to it from anywhere around the world.
The Seattle community consulted with Austin’s Art Safari leaders to learn how they could best create their Seattle Multiverse Actual Reality Trek (SMART). This Burn Week adventure featured theme camps offering COVID-safe interactivity and art set up throughout the city. Organizers developed clear safety protocols and monitoring during the trek. A popular stop was the Pie Chute, a 12-foot pipe for sliding small pies to participants on the sidewalks. It served more than 1,000 pies. Seattle iterated on the success of SMART and the popularity of the pie chute, bringing their community together for a COVID-safe, candy-filled edition called Halloweekend.
More than 50 Tahoe Burners, in collaboration with their local Burners Without Borders group, participated in MOOP the Lake, a cleanup effort inspired by a dramatic increase in trash being left in the Lake Tahoe area due to the COVID-related increase in tourism. Small teams dressed in fun Burning Man costumes and collected over 235 pounds of MOOP across 21 locations between September 8 and 10.
Sacramento Burners held a MOOP Your City Trash Collection Challenge, the fourth in a year-long series of challenges undertaken with a grant from Burners Without Borders to develop city-wide trash collection challenges around the globe. Seventy participants on 15 teams from Sacramento, Ventura, Massachusetts, Oregon, and Berlin collected 450 pounds of MOOP, bringing their year-long total (which they are still tallying) to approximately 904 pounds of MOOP.
Sacramento Valley Summer Spark Drive Thru, inspired by Burner art and performances, was a COVID-safe drive-through experience that drew 900 cars and approximately 2,000 participants.
In Seattle, Iron Monkeys launched an adopt-a-tree program where anyone could bling a tree to delight passersby.
Burn Barrel is an informal webinar series of interviews with familiar and not-so-familiar faces of the Burning Man community as interviewed by current and alumni Meta Regional Contacts and Regional Contacts.
Idaho Burner Alliance raised funds for artists and the Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline, hosting an Art on Fire online art auction with a twist: art that does not sell is burned, live-streamed for all to watch.
These are just a few of the many examples of Burner ingenuity in the time of a global pandemic. We continue to find ways to bring people together in the spirit of the 10 Principles, creating and sharing inspirational examples of community-building activities that are replicable by Burners and non-Burners alike.
Supporting the Community with Virtual Convenings
In April the Regional Network pivoted to virtually host our seventh European Leadership Summit (ELS), which would have been held in Tallinn, Estonia, in collaboration with the Estonian Burners. This is the first time this annual gathering was held entirely online. Participants were ELS attendees from current and past years. Program highlights included: the relevancy of the summit’s theme of “Human Being: Being Human” during these uncertain times; lightning talks highlighting temporary and permanent temple projects; breakout discussions proposed by participants; and pre and post socials.
The Regional Network Committee highlighted the ways communities were “Out-Weirding the Pandemic” in a Burning Man Live podcast. As hosts of the August “Community Activation Community Call: Responding to Needs, Responding to Change,” we shared how AfrikaBurn and Burning Flipside communities were creatively responding to the pandemic. The Regional Network was represented by Regionals staff members during a September 7 BMIR radio show highlighting the Regional Network, Civic Activation, and BWB.
Events and Participation in the Burning Man Multiverse
Regional Events and communities were represented in the Burning Man Multiverse in a variety of ways. Burners from around the world shared their effigy burns and celebrations in Burn Night: Live From Home. Informational content in the form of digital posters and video playlists about the Regional Network and official Regional Events was made available inside Burning Man Project’s Embassy of Information in multiple Universes to educate and inform Burners and the Burner-curious.
We hosted two Regional Network Social Mixers in two Universes, open to both RCs and the public. The Build-A-Burn Regional Mixer saw 21 participants including RCs from Germany, Israel, Hungary and the US. The Regional Network tent was also used by Japan and China RCs to host local meetups in the Multiverse. The BRCvr Regional Mixer in the Embassy of Information saw an estimated 100 participants over a two-hour period, including a mix of Regional Contacts and the Burner-curious. The event’s participant maximum was exceeded and we learned that future virtual mixers needed to accommodate more participants!
RCs helped get their local regional volunteers involved in roles throughout the Multiverse. Best practices for Rangering online were created and prototyped in the Multiverse. This laid the foundation for Regional “Digital Ranger” best practices and a global team to support online regional events.
Supporting Regional Contacts and Event Leaders
The Regional Network Committee initiated 11 Regional Contact searches in existing regions around the world between April and October, with new regional volunteer leadership either stepping forward to decentralize the search process as members of the interview team or as candidates to increase the level and scope of participation in Burning Man culture around the globe.
Regional Event leaders have remained in contact or continue to request online community engagement tools and support. The Regional Events Committee has responded by creating online event toolkits/training and global safety planning documents for when in-person events can take place. The annual European Leadership Summit was hosted entirely online for the first time. Many groups are interested in creating new global online events, working across regions.
Changes to the Regional Network team
The Regional Network Committee became a radically new team under the newly formed Civic Activation department. Iris Yee became the new Head of the Regional Network after the departure of Meghan Rutigliano, and one new team member was hired in December 2019.
There has been rapid learning of roles required of everyone and team forming and norming while coping with the challenges of a global pandemic and shifting to fully remote work. Challenges of learning how to create and participate in the online Recognized Universes of the Multiverse was also an unforeseen requirement with a steep learning curve. The team of five worked collaboratively to support each other and the 280 Regional Contacts across 37 countries, as well as activities of other teams within the Civic Activation department.
The Regional Network By the Numbers:
- There are more than 280 Regional Contacts in 37 countries, including 44 US states and one virtual Regional
- In 2020 there were 20 official Regional Events, down from 108 in 2019
- There were 11 in-person official Regional Events: seven before the pandemic; four since the pandemic (with appropriate safety precautions and no reported incidents of COVID-19 infections)
- Nine previously in-person official Regional Events went online
- Two new Regional Events this year: RoBurn in Romania and Magic Forest in Ukraine
- LoveBurn in Miami was the largest Regional Event in 2020, held in early February with 4,200 participants
- Ogonek in Russia, with 1,234 participants, and Amber Burn in Lithuania, with about 750 participants, were the next largest in-person Regional Events in 2020
- ELS Online welcomed 233 participants across 29 countries for a six-hour virtual convening
- The BRCvr Regional Mixer in the Multiverse Embassy of Information saw an estimated 100 participants over its two-hour duration
Learnings From the 2020 Burning Man Multiverse
The Burning Man Project Embassy of Information inside the Burning Man Multiverse universes was not as participatory as an in-person Everywhere Pavillion. It housed information about the Regional Network and other Burning Man Project programs, but it was difficult to know how to make it interactive, especially across several Universes using different platforms. Attempts to have staff in the Universe spaces to greet and educate visitors met with mild interest and sporadic success. Having participated in the Universes and having experimented with creating social mixers in some of the Universes, this year has given us a better understanding of what platforms are capable of; our skill levels to create and participate in them; and what we might do differently next year to engage more volunteers and educate the Burner-curious about Burning Man culture and the Regional Network.
Looking Ahead to 2021
It’s unlikely that in-person leadership convenings such as the European Leadership Summit will happen in 2021 due to evolving health and travel guidelines and the budget constraints of Burning Man Project. We will continue to focus on online leadership development tools and forums for community engagement.
If we are able to host Black Rock City in 2021, engaging the Regional community globally online will be important to consider, especially if there are still travel restrictions in place or Burners have other constraints that do not let them participate in Black Rock City in person. Online events are accessible (in terms of cost and mobility) and there is a growing expectation to have an online component to in-person events. We will continue to support the officializing process for both in-person and online regional events in 2021 and may even need to begin considering hybrid in-person/online events.
- “Regionals Toolkit for Online Town Halls”
- “Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Event Considerations,”
- “Taking Your Event On-Line – A guide to Virtual Burning,”
In the Journal:
2. The 2020 Burning Man Multiverse
Gloria Beck writes
2020 was our big chance to invite a much larger audience to Burning Man by pivoting from a physical event to a virtual one. The 2020 Burning Man Multiverse was a remarkable adventure, one that allowed us to experiment with a new way of filling the void after announcing that the community would not be co-creating Black Rock City in 2020.
Back in April, after learning we would not be gathering in Black Rock City, the Virtual Black Rock City team sent out a questionnaire to our community to gauge interest — and a whopping 14,000 people responded expressing enthusiasm for creating a virtual event. There was initially some thought within Burning Man Project that we might build a virtual Black Rock City ourselves. However, it soon became evident that among the many enthusiastic Burners there were folks who had the skill sets well beyond our in-house capacity to create fantastic virtual experiences. We decided to harness that enthusiasm and creativity to create the 2020 Burning Man Multiverse.
We worked with our Legal team to create a licensing agreement for the “Recognized Universes of the Burning Man Multiverse,” and we ultimately licensed eight “Universes” and one Burn Night platform to create recognized virtual experiences. We were off to the races.
The Multiverse team is proud to have facilitated this project in an extremely short timeframe. We began talking to prospective Universe creators on June 10, and within the next two-and-a-half months we collectively managed to pull off a truly remarkable feat.
Coordinating Across Eight Distinct Universes
The Multiverse team coordinated the efforts of the Universe builders across multiple technology platforms. We generated enthusiastic support among staff and the wider Burning Man community to help by volunteering developer skills, building virtual art and theme camps, and hosting events in the Universes or on Kindling. Meanwhile, working across multiple platforms and teams, we succeeded in creating a presence for Burning Man Project within each of these Universes.
Each of the Recognized Universes of the Burning Man Universe was indeed a Universe unto itself, filled with theme camps, art installations, and participative experiences — just like Black Rock City. Theme camps, performers, and creators came forward to develop virtual versions of their real-world gifts to the community. In some cases, individual theme camps gifted their experiences in multiple Universes simultaneously, around the clock, throughout Burn Week.
Before and during Burn Week, we monitored the Universes’ promotional activities and “in-world” efforts to ensure they were abiding by Burning Man’s cultural values and 10 Principles. Admittedly, this was challenging, as there were many different contributors and cultural ecosystems involved. Questions around Decommodification and acculturation underscored the need for consistent, ongoing community involvement in cultural stewardship.
To get the word out about the Burning Man Multiverse, we created and built a robust Multiverse page on Kindling and a communications plan leveraging Burning Man Project’s digital properties, social media, and key publications that drove excitement and participation among builders, contributors and participants during Burn Week.
A Multiverse of Experiences and Stories
So many remarkable stories came out of the 2020 Burning Man Multiverse.
One young woman who had never been to Black Rock City, yet was so excited by her experience in the Multiverse she now considers herself a Burner. She’s saving up her money to buy a better computer and VR headset for future virtual burns — and hopefully a ticket to the next event in Black Rock City!
The 82 Rangers and harm reduction volunteers who put in more than 900 hours of volunteering during Burn Week and “got to perform their art — people.”
One woman was brand new to VR. She had no idea how to create 3D models, yet within a couple of days learned a new medium (3D world building), and created an art Installation for Pink Heart camp in BRCvr. “I was up all night for two days straight, and was able to finish the art installation during Build Week, a few hours before Burning Man opened on August 30th.”
A physically disabled young man expressed interest in the Multiverse because his medical conditions prevent him from going to Black Rock City. In the Multiverse his friends were so excited that he was able to meet up with them and “dance” at Mayan Warrior.
Our very own Christopher Breedlove, who broke new ground with his talk “What is the Future of Burning Man?” in the BRCvr Playa Alchemist Pyramid. He became the first human to be holoported as a live 3D version of himself into a VR space, thanks to cutting-edge volumetric scanning technology. The same technology was used by Diplo during his DJ set later that same evening.
2020 Burning Man Multiverse By the Numbers:
- 10 community-created immersive experiences — including eight Recognized Universes of the Burning Man Multiverse, one Virtual Temple, and one live, globally distributed Burn Night
- Participants from 148 countries
- Nearly half a million sessions
- More than 800 creative group collaborations within the Universes
- Less than a three-month development cycle
Looking Ahead to 2021
We are looking ahead to co-creating a 2021 Burning Man Multiverse, whether or not we are able to gather in Black Rock City. The question on the table is: are nine distinct experiences (eight Universes and one Burn Night) too many, or too few?
Downsides to nine experiences: Communications were complicated and confusing; it was difficult for participants to understand how to access the different Universes; there were challenges around coordinate offerings across multiple technology platforms.
Upsides to nine experiences: There was something for everyone — irrespective of device (VR headset, computer, phone), interest (DJs, meditation, hot tub parties), or technology comfort level (Zoom, 2D, 3D VR).
We are exploring the types of data systems we might need to gain a more comprehensive picture of participation in virtual experiences for 2021.
Gearing up for 2021, we will be starting this conversation much earlier — in January instead of June. This will make it easier for us to:
- Communicate clearly about how people can get involved in these experiences
- Work with volunteers and the experience producers to create capacity-building programs for our community of artists and makers, helping them develop new skills such as 3D modeling to create their own digital artworks, camps, and experiences
- Explore and potentially build supportive technology — such as single sign-on or a unified ticketing system — that would streamline the experience for participants
- Explore the possibility of multiple virtual experiences throughout the year, not just during Burn Week
- New York Times: Is Virtual Burning Man the Internet’s Ultimate Test?
- Wired: Covid Snuffed Out Burning Man—but the Festival Goes On in VR
- TechCrunch: Digitizing Burning Man
In the Journal:
Burn Night Live From Home
Sunshine Daydream writes:
I wanted to create an insanely great way for all Burners around the world to celebrate Burn Night around the Man, with real heat and with each other — a digital way to join thousands of backyard burns into one giant 24-hour Great Circle around the Man. I convinced Steven Raspa it was both possible and necessary, and then a small team of us came together and did it despite all the dust storms.
In 2020 we traded in our side grinders, nail guns, and welding machines for Slack channels, Zoom meetings and broadband Internet connections. Burning Man Tech became the new HEaT. It was different for sure, but our community really responded and we created a one-of-a-kind experience!
Burn Night: Live From Home involved live-streaming Burns from time zones around the world, starting at 9:00 pm local time in New Zealand and rotating around the world in one-hour increments until all 24 time zones were covered.
A 24-hour live stream of user-generated content had never been attempted before by Burning Man Project, nor perhaps many other times at all. The team had not worked together before. PORTL, our producer, had not worked with Burning Man Project before, but gifted their platform to our community to use. The technology platform had not performed at this scale before. There were no comparables to forecast technology resources, capacity planning, or support needed. The messaging was delayed a week due to wildfires in California and Oregon, so outreach to the community occurred only eight days prior to Day of Show. The ultimate risk was that we might not get enough compelling content to keep everyone energetically participating around burning the Man for 24 hours, especially because the amount, runtime, and quality of live streams submitted from participants is inherently unpredictable.
A Decentralized Experience that Connected Us All
Although the theme for 2020 was The Multiverse, the less obvious theme was decentralization. Due to COVID-19, participants, volunteers, artists, and staff were all creating magical experiences, but doing so in a decentralized fashion working remotely. Was it even possible to create the magic of Burn Night that way?
Despite these challenges, Burn Night: Live From Home succeeded in producing and streaming 24 hours of content that connected us — including Fire Conclave and the Man Burn.
Burn Night: Live From Home was a multifaceted project, which involved:
- Burn Night 24-hour live stream, featuring individuals and groups burning live from time zones around the world
- Collaborating with PORTL, our live stream producer, to build out and deploy a platform integrating multiple live streams, chat, and camp-scale watch parties
- Cutting Man Burn live stream into the PORTL 24-hour main feed in collaboration with the Man Burn project team, Burning Man Tech, and PORTL
- Determining how and where to cut Fire Conclave into the PORTL 24-hour live stream
- Integrating Dave X and the Man Build Crew’s downloadable, scale drawings for building and burning your own Man at home
- Multicasting the live-streamed Man Burn into some of the Recognized Universes of the Burning Man Multiverse
Getting the Word Out to Contributors and Participants
Each of these projects required its own messaging on Burning Man Project’s media channels (Kindling, JRS, Journal and social media) and targeted email campaigns to various Burning Man mailing lists (Regionals, artists, volunteers, camps, FAST, ESD). The first three (and ultimately four) weeks of August were dedicated to writing and revising copy, tailoring messages to specific groups, personal outreach, approval of copy, and launching on Kindling, JRS, the Burning Man Journal, and social media channels.
Once we launched messaging to the community and Raspa reached out to Regional Contacts, pre-recorded content of past Regional Burns and requests to stream live burns started flowing into our inboxes from all around the world: Belarus, Arkansas, Russia, South Africa, New Zealand, Cincinnati, Philadelphia… and the list went on and on. Each response from a Regional reinforced with our team that we were truly creating a place for our global community to “show its stuff” in a much bigger and more expansive way than ever possible on playa.
Burn Night: Live From Home by the Numbers:
- More than 50,000 sessions were recorded over 24 hours
- 32,391 unique devices joined the experience
- Likely more total humans than have ever gathered in BRC
- Over 1.3 million chat messages were sent between 280 camps
- Viewers tuned in from 143 out of the 195 countries on Earth
- Showcased live burns from San Francisco to Switzerland to Tahiti
Looking Ahead to 2021
We are all hopeful that we will build Black Rock City in 2021, so there will be no need for another Burn Night: Live From Home nor a live Man Burn that can’t include 80,000 of our favorite humans physically together. But if it is needed, we will do it better!
Lessons learned that can improve our operation in 2021: we need more time! This was a high tech product launch and a major online event combined, on a severely compressed timeframe of only two months from idea to event. We were alpha testing features in the days immediately prior to the event, including browser compatibility, audio/video levels, chat features and all of the links. We released messaging about Burn Night: Live From Home only eight days prior to the Man Burn. The team feels that to maximize participation, we need to inform the community at least 90 days in advance.
we need to start earlier with assembling pre-recorded content and sending the live content call-out to Regionals. If we do this again, we plan to create a simple set of steps on how to submit/stream content and register/join a camp, with graphics and/or instructional videos to illustrate the steps. We’ll then follow up with camp registrants to convert camp registrations into actual camp watch parties.
Clearly, 2020 was an unusual year (hopefully). Whether we can return to build Black Rock City in 2021 remains unclear at this time, but what is clear is that we must keep our community intact — and joining together around the Man on Burn Night is our most central ritual for doing that, worldwide. We’ve proven that using digital tools to create rich, human connections is one way to provide a space for our community to gather and prosper. Burn Night: Live From Home may be a unique event, or it may be the way things will be for some time into the future — that’s inherently unpredictable. What is predictable is that we will always burn the Man, and we will always find a way to do that together.
Thanks to the entire Burning Man community for pivoting to meet the challenges of the moment, and for doing it in a way that aligns with our culture and our 10 Principles — and fire!
In the Journal:
Athena Demos writes:
The origin story of BRCvr is filled with moments of playa magic and Immediacy. It all began in 2014 when Greg Edwards first went to Burning Man, then decided to recreate it in Virtual Reality to archive the experience. In 2015, Greg teamed up with Athena Demos and they went to San Francisco to share their creation with Burning Man Project. We are grateful and honored that Larry Harvey experienced BRCvr, then called VBRC. It took five more years for BRCvr to be fully realized and experienced by the global Burning Man community.
Everything came to a stop with the COVID-19 pandemic. We were physically distanced and isolated from each other. Doug Jacobson was planning a momentous birthday. Looking for a COVID-friendly outlet, he reached out to Greg to discuss VR options for the celebration. On April 3, Doug and Greg uploaded the 2014 digital playa experience, then stood together on the playa. They knew, in that moment, that Greg’s archived BRC experience could become something huge. One week later, on April 10, Marian announced that the community would not be building Black Rock City 2020.
Now the race was on. We needed to teach an entire community of physical artists how to translate their art into the virtual world by learning the tools, or collaborating with 3D modelers. The technology we were working with changed from moment to moment, adding to the complexity of our project.
Another playa magic moment is worth noting: BRCvr was built on Altspace, a platform created and currently run by Burners. Microsoft acquired Altspace thanks to an encounter in Black Rock City. Coincidentally, BRCvr chose the Altspace platform because its community felt very much like a Burning Man community… because it is.
Many playa magic moments occurred, and continue to happen throughout Build and Burn Weeks. One in particular gives us a glimpse into the future of this platform. Applied geographer and culture hacker Mike Zuckerman is involved with Uhuru, a Burners Without Borders project in a refugee camp in Uganda. Using his phone, Mike created a 3D scan of an area of the camp that made it possible for him to add the camp to BRCvr.
One night during Burn Week, Mike and Athena were talking at the Burning Saucer. Mike introduced Athena to one of the refugees, who wanted to experience BRCvr. It’s much easier to teach someone from inside VR than outside. Athena met Ibraham and taught him about basic movement, how to touch and pick up stuff, about portals and how to fly. Ibraham took to flying and he was gone. Later we learned that Ibraham explored quite a bit and decided that he, along with other refugees, want to design their camp in VR while building in efficiencies that they can apply to the camp’s real-world design. This is the future: how we use VR and BRCvr to change the physical world around us.
The BRCvr crew shared a new technology with the Burning Man community and the community took on the challenge to learn it and create their art virtually. By providing the tools needed to keep teaching, learning and growing, we ushered in a new generation of Burner artists who have begun to create with VR technology.
We collaborated virtually with team members in several different countries — sometimes on video chat and other times via Virtual Reality. For most of Burn Week we did both simultaneously. We used video chat as our two-way radio system while we were in VR troubleshooting. We have recordings of 10-hour video calls where we are in our headsets. When we needed someone, we would unmute our video feed and call to the person we needed. They would lift up their headset, unmute, respond and we’d get what we needed to solve a problem.
It was advantageous to have a globally-distributed team. Tapping into whomever was available allowed us to co-create greater possibilities for participation. This was true overall with participation, not just for our team. Attendees were present in every time zone. No matter when you entered BRCvr, there were people participating from some waking hour time zone. We learned, for example, that dawn PDT was prime party time for people in Hong Kong.
Because of the time zone differences, we planned our Man Burn to happen every hour on the hour, starting with the live-streamed Burn and continuing after that for 24 hours. People came back on average three times to watch the Man Burn over and over again.
We had some technical difficulties that manifested in ways that were “just like Black Rock City.” For example, on Wednesday of Burn Week we experienced a white out! The main playa was just white: no art, no ground, no Man, no tents or RVs, nothing — just white. The program had crashed. It took three hours of troubleshooting to find a solution. Meanwhile, we announced on social media that we were having an extreme white out — everyone had to put on their mask and goggles, and find a friend or make a new one in another World to hang with while the dust settled.
BRCvr By the Numbers:
Looking Ahead to 2021
We intend to start the planning process much earlier — in January or February. We need to start the education and knowledge-sharing process early with classes to teach artists how to use this ever-evolving technology. We will require contributors to build their Worlds by May or June so the BRCvr team can inspect them and help more with optimization.
We are putting together an Events Support team to help Worlds incorporate more participative community programming. The support team will stay up to date on new technologies so they can provide assistance as needed. To enhance community engagement, worlds will be encouraged to host programming year-round, much like Regionals. It’s our goal to have a World for each Regional Burning Man event, to represent that region and host their programming whenever their event is happening. There are three “Mini Burns” happening with multiple Worlds participating: October 30 to November 2 for Day of the Dead Weekend; November 27 to 29 for Gratitude and Gifting Weekend; and December 31 to January 3 for New Year’s Weekend.
#thisburncounts is a hashtag we started that swept social media. The nature of immersive VR in combination with the immediacy of Black Rock City created a compelling experience that kept participants coming back hour after hour, day after day, and now post Burn, week after week. The community has requested more. The BRCvr team is doing its best to meet that immediate need for communal effort and social interaction. We are excited to see what the community builds next and how that will push the limits of technology even further. By having a strong community foundation, we have an opportunity to usher in a golden age of technology that works with and for humanity.
In the Journal:
Dylan Jones writes:
We are so proud to have helped enable hundreds of camps to more easily adapt to a virtual presence on the Build-A-Burn playa and bring their people together. We had parents and kids submit napkin sketches to be placed on playa, people creating porta-potty mazes with way too many sound effects, and long-time artists adding photo-real renderings of their playa art for all to enjoy. It was amazing to see the Burner community show up as they do and be so present.
As we wandered the Build-A-Burn playa and talked to new friends, we kept hearing people say “Have you been to Sock Drawer yet?” The only way to find this camp was to stumble upon a single sock in deep deep playa. If you clicked on it, you would shoot through a portal into a truly surreal sock drawer. Just like the other camps, someone had used the Build-A-Burn building tools to create an outer dimensional giant sock drawer. Inside were dozens of people literally burning their socks and all chanting “SOCK SOCK SOCK” as everyone’s socks went up in flames. It’s crazy to think that was just one out of more than 700 camps added to Build-A-Burn. Only on the playa.
Build-A-Burn week by the Numbers:
- The community created and visited more 700+ camps on the Build-A-Burn playa!
- People spent 5,300+ hours talking in Build-A-Burn with more than 24,000 sessions
Looking Ahead to 2021
We’ll continue working with the Burning Man community. We’ll also be striving to get the word out about the more accessible ways to access virtual Burning Man experiences and conversations. The community provided so many ideas and features we’re working on adding for upcoming Regional events and people on Build-A-Burn. We hope to hear from more!
Super Suz writes:
Hosted in the Second Life virtual world, Burn2 is the only recognized Burning Man Regional event in the virtual world. Burn2 hosted “VRC Week” in its own virtual Regional environment called Deep Hole. A limited number of participants were able to access Deep Hole, where they found a virtual world filled with experiences that were strongly evocative of Black Rock City.
VRC Week in Burn2 featured art installations by artists known across the Second Life virtual world, alongside renderings of several past builds of the Man. Members of the Burn2 community took to the stage to share live DJ sets and other performances. The Burn2 crew held a Man Burn on Burn Night, and burned a rendering of the Empyrean Temple on Sunday night. Because the number of avatars allowed in Deep Hole were limited, Burns were live streamed on the BURN2 website to ensure everyone could participate.
An established virtual Burning Man community, many Burn2 participants have been involved in the community and events for a long time. Veteran participants were delighted to welcome and acculturate new Burners who came to explore during Burn Week 2020.
One story that comes to mind: Dr. Dave is a Burner from California who came to hang out in Burn2 even before Burn Week. He was pretty active in building camps and being present during earlier events. For Burn Week, Dr. Dave saw just how many new avatars were coming in to check out Burn2. The new avatars were the stock versions that new people could create for themselves. They are complete, but not unique to individual tastes.
The Burn2 environment lets participants fully customize their avatars, allowing them to be anything, wear anything, or nothing at all. Dr. Dave set out a collection of gifting boxes full of free clothes, avatar skins, accessories and other useful stuff. It was great to see Dr. Dave and his campmate Candace chat with new Burners and explain how to change out their avatars to what suited their tastes.
By the end of the week, new Burners were walking around wearing tutus, wacky hats, vintage ‘beer bottle’ goggles from the early 2000’s Second Life era, and having a great time. It was fun to watch people express themselves with their newly found avatars — just like sitting in a comfortable chair in Black Rock City watching the scene go by. One late afternoon during the week Dr. Dave and Candace sat drinking a beer at sunset, and watched fancy Burners in their playa wear come and go. We’re grateful to Dr. Dave and Candace for gifting fancy playa gear to help Burners feel at home and ready for their night of playa fun.
The Burn2 Black Hole Sim had room for 22 artists. We invited artists from past Burns to put out their art, resulting in installations from Caravansary, Carnival of Mirrors, Radical Ritual, and other years. DJs and performers appeared on the Black Hole Sim main stage. We hosted ten workshops, including in-world, virtual photography, fashion fitting and wear, how to stream music performance online, and advanced DJ skills.
Burn2 By the Numbers:
- At least 4,030 individual visitors participated in BURN2 during Burn Week
- Approximately 75 Greeters, Rangers and Lamplighters helped to make Burn Week feel organized, inviting and comfortable
- 1,600 people watched the Burn2 instructional video on YouTube
- VRC Week in Burn2
- SL Newser: “Burning Man 2020 The Multiverse” in Second Life
- BURN2 Regional in Second Life YouTube channel
Simeone Scaramozzino writes:
Replacing the hammers and welding stations with our collaborative creation of 3D content in the cloud, the silicon playa magic rematerialized into silicon chips. From the sublime to the ridiculously fun, every inch of dusty awes and uncontrollable laughters vibrated with its supreme potency through bytes and digits. The installations and the theme camps, with digitally-enhanced interactivity, favoured the connection with the artists and their work in an unprecedented, no space-time constrained fashion. Visionary art, such as “Blockchain Art” that had never made it — or would never have made it — to playa otherwise found its new meta home. The MysticVerse build experience, although not linear and “murky,” was just as engaging and fun and bonding as the build experience on the playa. Participants from all walks of life felt inspired and eager to express their talents and gifts, learn new skills, and collaborate in our epic endeavor. Our Digital Village of more than 150 artists, project managers, technical and non-technical volunteers, and amazing humans spanned the physical distance and connected from all corners of the world, opened their hearts to this virtual experiment, and contributed so much magic and energy in the weeks leading up to the Burn.
The transformative and healing magnitude of the spiritually charged Temple Burn Ceremony offered participants new perspectives — both visually and metaphorically — and experimental ways to connect inwardly and outwardly. To enhance the collective journey of purification and shedding, we interweaved ancient, ancestral sounds and neurostimulating, healing, and aligning binaurals and solfeggio frequencies nested into euphonic soundscapes. Creating collaboratively in a “virtual studio” across different time zones was a stimulating journey, with different talents connecting around cultural identity.
We centred around our fire with a felt sense of interconnectedness, collaboration, stewarding off each other’s efforts and a ritualistically being of service to one another. We tuned into a flow that helped us counter overwhelm, disempowerment, uncertainty, and a sense of void and hopelessness about the future that we would have certainly been faced with should the Multiverse had not taken shape in the immaterial realm.
MysticVerse By the Numbers:
- Approximately 180 collaborators built MysticVerse
- 80 art projects
- 15 theme camps
- 5 mutant vehicles
- 190 submitted events
- 33,000 pageviews during Burn Week
- 83,000 pageviews for Temple Burn
We are in the process of aggregating a new team to continue to expand our Universe for Burning Man 2021. We already have a few events in mind…
Thomas O’Duffy and Chris Adams write:
SparkleVerse was a marvellous act of collective and community creativity, a story of optimism and friendship — and what is possible when hearts and minds align with inspired focus.
Ed Cooke, an amateur party philosopher, initiated this adventure by throwing an experimental online party called “The Zone” in early April. Through this he met Chris Adams, Natasha Fong, and Thomas O’Duffy… and later, Jessica Sharples and Sofi-Lee Henson. Along with a group of spirited artists, Burners, technologists, and polymaths, they formed the Co-Reality Collective and created unique online parties every two to three weeks to cheer up their friends during lockdown.
Through online parties, we experimented with and explored how technology can foster better connections and stronger community. Despite a dystopian year, producing these events attracted amazing people and led to many soul friendships and very creative fun.
This group of friends, led by Ed’s party philosophies and supported by Thomas’ ideas about consciousness, envisioned a way to translate the magic of Burning Man into an online experience.
A Tech Platform Built to Microdose Each Other On Magic
Based on an open source project built by Ed and Chris, SparkleVerse was built to make it easy for the Burning Man community to concentrate and organize their creativity to microdose each other on fun and magic.
We created a new kind of tech platform, a visual directory with social features, that enabled the community to create and share experiences with each other. We did this over the course of several weeks — with limited resources — and had great fun doing so.
Hundreds of co-creators came to our webinars and then set up camps, art pieces and experiences to build the SparkleVerse. We set the stage for participants to realize it was possible to feel the kinds of connections, community, and shared magic they once thought they had to go to Black Rock City to feel.
Stories From the SparkleVerse
We heard so many stories of friends and strangers alike expressing that they weren’t sure how the online burn would work out, but it really felt like being in Black Rock City. People told us of profound adventures they shared and moments of music and magic that rocked their worlds. They told us how they felt connected to and nourished by their community once more, and that it was the burn they needed. They told us stories of their mixed reality hot tub, disco dreams coming true, moments of awe and intimacy, and so much friendship and love.
Chris: “Out on our playa for SparkleVerse Ed created a venue, which was a little ship. He called it Captain Cooke’s Ship, and it was open to whomever happened to show up. If you clicked it, you’d be taken to a Zoom room, where Ed and I were hanging out. Ed and this guy got to chatting and worked out what countries they were both in. They were able to turn their computers and bodies so that even though they were thousands of miles apart, they were facing each other — one of so many moments of connection.”
Thomas: “We shared many magic moments of diverse kinds — dance-offs, group meditations, and witnessing so many people from across the Earth having fun. While these were wondrous and delighted us, one of the best stories from our team this year is that of our shared friendships and hope. We became great friends by working on this together. Through SparkleVerse and the online burn, we discovered we don’t need to travel thousands of miles to the desert to share the magic of Burning Man. This means the Burning Man effect is 100 times more scalable in the world than we ever realized. We hope our story inspires yours.”
SparkleVerse by the Numbers:
- 9 days
- ~353 venues
- ~4000 attendees from more than 100 countries
- 1,400 participants at our peak
- 268 unique groups of Burners co-created 130 art projects, 116 theme camps, 107 experiences, and 930 scheduled live events
- 1 radio takeover by the magical Decentralised Dance Party crew
- 1 epic hot tub party!
Looking ahead to 2021
This year was an exploration of possibility — a first step — with so many lessons learned. We intend to radically upgrade our platform for scalability and for collaborative creativity. For truly multiversal events, we’d love to see centralized ticketing and single sign-on capability.
We will aim to support multiple follow up events co-created by Burner communities. We hope to play our part to create 100 times the Burning Man effect in the world, to create 100 times more shared fun and 100 times more loving connections.
And now, even though you are reading a report, we invite you to play some music and dance.
The SparkleVerse Origin Story
The Bridge Experience / Metaburn
Paul Bronstein writes:
Metaburn in the 2020 Burning Man Multiverse was the ultimate course and classroom for learning to build up a global collaborative remote event with one of the greatest gatherings on Earth. While we faced many technological and human challenges during the two-month build up to Burn Week, it was one of the most enlightening and rewarding experiences we have worked on. Seeing Metaburn come alive with hundreds of users in the virtual playa was as incredible as watching a space launch.
As an organization we were transitioning into the COVID-19 era. We co-hosted and collaborated with seven other groups in the world’s first virtual Burning Man event. It was challenging to start working remotely throughout the first phase of the pandemic.
Working alongside our collaborators, we developed a fully working Metaverse WebVR app that could be accessed on any device. As XR/VR/AR developers, it didn’t take us long to visualize and design the skeleton of Metaburn. Burning Man 2020 gave us the challenge and playground to develop new concepts and products, and gave artists in our Miami community a canvas on which to paint their story.
The Ethereal Empyrean Experience Temple
Sylvia Lisse writes:
In late 2019, Burning Man Project selected “Empyrean” by Laurence “Renzo” Verbeck and Sylvia Adrienne Lisse to be the official Black Rock City Temple for 2020. As announced in the Burning Man Journal, “Empyrean was chosen for its lovely geometry and inclusive design, as well as for its strong leads and crew who have demonstrated the experience, integrity and feasibility necessary to create this unique space.”
Fast forward to spring 2020, when it became clear the community would not be building Black Rock City this year. The Empyrean creators embraced the challenge, dedicating themselves to creating an inclusive, healing virtual Temple space where visitors could share, express, process, grieve, and heal during this transformative time. The result: the Ethereal Empyrean Experience, our 2020 virtual Temple.
Many participants reached out to us leading up to, during and especially after Burn Week to share the meaningful and connective moments they had with the Ethereal Empyrean Temple Experience. Many shared that they felt connected to the healing Temple energy through our virtual Temple project. Just like the personal stories you hear from the physical Temple on playa, we heard stories of serendipity, stories of hope, stories of profound release, and healing connection. We welcome and cherish each Temple experience story shared with us, and we’re grateful that participants connected so deeply with the Ethereal Empyrean Temple project. We would absolutely do it all again!
We helped light the way! We collected information about the potential Universe platforms, and we introduced some of the Universe leads to Burning Man Project. The Ethereal Empyrean Experience team reached out to the other 2020 Honoraria artists to introduce them to the Multiverse platforms, to encourage them to participate, and to connect them with 3D artists who could help get their Honoraria projects created in 2020.
Burning Man Project’s Art Department deserves a huge shout out for organizing the live webinars for the Temple project. Those videos sparked the curiosity, confidence and courage in Burners to tune in, and to participate in this overwhelming, tech-filled Multiverse Burn.
- There were multiple Empyrean Temples present throughout the Burning Man Multiverse:
- Our own standalone Temple application download with the digital offerings — Ethereal Empyrean Experience (EEE)
- The EEE Offerings Workshop website
- The Ethereal Empyrean Temple world (the 3D VR Temple with offerings) in BRCvr Altspace
- We worked closely with Simeone Scaramozzino to design the 22-minute Temple Burn 2020 ceremony for September 6
- We worked with Wave VR Resident DJs to create an Empyrean Temple music and meditation event for September 6
- We worked with Android Jones to create an Empyrean Temple experience with his sophisticated VR software
- We worked closely with the Universes to make sure the Temple was present in:
- Dusty Multiverse
- The Bridge Experience
- The Infinite Playa
Almost every Universe met with us multiple times to discuss and approve how the Temple was represented in their corner of the Multiverse. A “Temple Etiquette in the Multiverse” directive was created and shared with each Universe to keep the Temple values consistent.
- SparkleVerse and BRCvr in Altspace live-streamed the Temple Burn 2020 ceremony on Sunday, September 6
- Jeremy Roush live-streamed the EEE digital Temple Burn via YouTube on Sunday, September 6
While all of the VR temples were being created, our original Empyrean Temple team was still working hard on projects related to our physical playa build. Renzo and I have both been working nearly full-time on the Empyrean Temple project since its inception in September 2019.
Each member of our Temple team has been working full-time default world jobs in addition to the countless volunteer hours worked for the Multiverse event. Building a Temple with pixels is very different from building a Temple in physical reality. Our biggest challenge/question was, “Is it possible to channel the Temple energy through technology?” We were eager to find out. Day one after the virtual pivot was announced, we began exploring how we could bring the Temple to the community. Jeremy Roush, an independent VR developer, joined the team with his ideas and software. Within the next month we gained two full-time 3D artists, set up a project management system, determined design goals, set deadlines, and away we went.
The Ethereal Empyrean Experience By the Numbers:
From our Offerings website:
- 3,141 Offerings were made
- 293 Remembrances reached Closure
- 184 indestructible forged affirmations were contributed
In the Temple:
- Offerings were viewed 40,479 times within 5,992 personal Ethereal Empyreans downloaded from the EEE application
Looking Ahead to 2021
We are further developing our standalone virtual Empyrean Temple experience. Also, we’ll pick up where we left off in April to build the physical Empyrean on playa. When given the green light to build, we’re ready to hit the ground running.
Ethereal Empyrean Experience Preview
In the Journal:
3. Burning Man Project Staff & Operations
Business Culture & Ticketing
The Business Culture team champions strategic, community-centered design and cultural integrity within Burning Man Project’s revenue-related business operations. This extraordinary year has proven to be a real opportunity for the Business Culture team to crystalize and prototype the ways we can work with internal and external collaborators.
After the COVID-19 pandemic prevented the community from producing Black Rock City in 2020, we got to cut our teeth on some important projects, such as facilitating event ticket refunds/donations, which netted $3.7 million in donations. We then had the enjoyable task of creating and sending unexpected meaningful tokens of gratitude to donors and staff. Once refunds were processed, members of the Ticketing team were largely refocused on other strategic endeavors.
We experimented with different modes of being of service to other teams and new initiatives, from one-off consulting, to assisting with an idea pitch and business plan, to embedding on a project. As just one example, Business Culture contributed to the design of Burning Man Project’s Community Funding Campaign to ensure it retained cultural integrity.
Ticketing & Box Office
Aside from the expected sadness about not building Black Rock City and about the general state of the world, Ticketing was especially disappointed to not get to put into production many of the improvements we had planned for 2020. With the benefit of lessons learned from 2019, our first season with our ticketing partner, we felt especially well-poised to address the issues from that year and build upon the successes.
We were excited to bring that change to the organization and community. In the absence of a physical Black Rock City, however, we focused our efforts on designing and facilitating the ticket refund and donation process, consulting on other initiatives, keeping our tight-knit Box Office community connected, and producing four beautiful Multiverse tickets for those who were so generous with their donations.
Building a Ticket Refund Tool and Process
We facilitated the ticket order refund/donation process and tool design. This was a huge and complicated lift, but we kept hearing how people wanted to donate some of their ticket money to help keep Burning Man Project afloat, so we created a way to do that. Even though Burning Man tickets have always been non-refundable, we were proud to be able to offer refunds to those who needed them during this unexpected and difficult time — even potentially at risk of our own survival.
The ticket order refund process was actually quite involved, as there were more than a hundred possible order/refund combinations. It was compounded by the fact that we were required to return 100% of the Nevada Live Entertainment Tax collected from buyers before the state of Nevada would review our refund request for the tax money we had already sent them. This meant we were out of pocket for that amount for a couple of months while we worked with the state’s auditors and Tax Commission to review our records and process our refund request. But we knocked it out of the park, and passed the audit with flying colors. Once our request reached the Commission they didn’t hesitate to approve our refund.
We put a lot of energy into nurturing the community of Box Office staff, which has enabled us all to stay connected throughout the year even in the absence of building Black Rock City.
Once we finished processing the refunds and producing the Multiverse tickets, we refocused and served as advisors and project managers for other new initiatives at Burning Man Project, such as the community funding campaign and the Burning Man 2020 Multiverse.
Creating Four Unique 2020 Burning Man Multiverse Tickets
We seized the opportunity to create four different versions of the 2020 Multiverse ticket. Since we weren’t constrained by the requirements of making a secure entry credential, we were able to be a lot more flexible and playful with the designs to truly embrace the concept of the Multiverse. We also loved the surprise element of people not knowing which version of the Multiverse they would get.
Ticketing By the Numbers:
- $3.7 million in donations collected through the ticket order refund/donation request tool
- $16.2 million refunded to participants who had purchased tickets
- After the order refund request period closed, we called more than 600 participants who didn’t make a request one way or other to confirm how they wanted to proceed and help ensure they got what they needed
- 4 gorgeous ticket designs representing different facets of the Multiverse, created by four past ticket designers
- Hosted 7 nights of Box Office’s traditional nightly happy hour, each with a different theme, throughout the virtual event week
Looking Ahead to 2021
We’re rethinking every aspect of how we do ticketing, top to bottom. Accessing the event will be a totally different animal by necessity, whether looked at from the standpoints of health and safety, the global economy, or the deep healing we know the community is craving. All of the previously known variables have changed.
In the Journal:
Dominique Debucquoy-Dodley writes:
In a year without Black Rock City, we remained busier than ever telling the stories of this remarkable culture and organization. It turns out Burning Man Project’s programs, along with goings-on in the larger Burner community, provided us with an endless supply of stories to tell, events to showcase, and media projects to support. This community is a culture engine; with or without Black Rock City it is alive with characters, events, and creativity.
Beyond Burning Man on Medium
We launched Beyond Burning Man on Medium to bring new readers into the Burning Man ecosystem, to expand to those who are Burner-curious or perhaps have no personal connections to Burning Man (yet). Whether we know it or not, our lives are being touched by vast, interconnected networks of creative industries, entrepreneurs and social activists, all of whom are applying the values and civic design of Black Rock City to conventional challenges. “Beyond Burning Man” is a new space to tell those stories — it’s where you can see how the Burning Man ethos is playing out in the larger world of business, academia, creativity, self-discovery and more.
Diversity & Radical Inclusion
Communications played a central role in Burning Man Project’s 2020 work around diversity and Radical Inclusion. We wrote Journal posts, organized community leader virtual sessions, promoted a community town hall and other efforts on social media, sat on the internal Diversity, Equity and Inclusion stewardship group, and published a new section of the Burning Man website devoted to many aspects of this important topic.
We continued our long-form Diversity & Radical Inclusion series with first-hand stories from influential Burners in the community, including Dominique Debucquoy-Dodley, Yodassa Williams, Ed Fletcher, and Erin Douglas. We shared the concrete steps that Burning Man Project took and is taking to ensure that the community, culture, and Black Rock City becomes more aware and inclusive of BIPOC — in 2020 and in the years to come. And we published Burning Man Project’s first public Statement on Racial Justice and Radical Inclusion.
Art on Fire and Mirage, Our First Global Film Premieres
With the “Art on Fire” film screening, Communications teamed up with Kindling to move into the new and exciting realm of broadcasting live, digital film screenings. Created by Sophia Swire, Art on Fire documented Black Rock City artists — including the Temple Crew and Man Build Crew — as they built and shared their large-scale creations in Black Rock City 2018. The producers gave Burning Man Project a special opportunity to premiere and screen the documentary to our community before it was distributed elsewhere. The screening used a new process and technology, very successfully becoming Burning Man Project’s first global, digital film premiere. 2,813 people attended the live-streamed event, with another 2,110 people opting for on-demand screenings.
Communications also supported our second film premiere, “Mirage,” created by the International Wood Culture Society (IWCS). The film highlighted Black Rock City 2019 and the myriad teams that help bring the event to life. The IWCS team has been making beautiful, thematic BRC documentaries for years, and this latest installment is already a fan favorite.
COVID-19 and the Multiverse
The Burning Man community erupted into a flurry of activity in spring 2020 when COVID-19 hit, sending Burners around the world under lockdown. One of Communications’ first tasks was to inform the community that we would not build our city in the desert in 2020. Through the Journal, a robust FAQ, media/press outreach, and social media campaigns, Communications helped the community pivot to a year of virtual offerings and connection.
We reached out to people in our global community to share stories about how they were coming together to collect essential supplies, support one another, and provide oh-so-essential online community gatherings to weather the storm. The Communications team produced a weekly roundup of online experiences produced by the community. We shared anything fun, supportive, community-oriented, and creative that Burners were taking the initiative to imagine, co-create, and share for the sheer joy of lightening the emotional and social burden of those challenging early months.
As we prepared for a year of virtual Black Rock City, Communications collaborated with the 2020 Burning Man Multiverse team to develop strategy, messaging, and content to tell the Multiverse story, and to share logistical information about how to get involved and participate in various Universes and experiences. We shared this content across Burning Man Project’s digital channels — from Journal stories, to social posts, to Jackrabbit Speaks updates. We drafted press announcements that were picked up by national and international media, which generated a fair amount of buzz and momentum around our grand Multiversal experiment. In partnership with the Technology department and our designer extraordinaire Tanner Boeger, we launched a new Burning Man website homepage that made it easier for the community to navigate the Multiverse offerings at their fingertips.
We Will Always Burn the Man
On Saturday, September 5, as we’ve done every year since 1986, we Burned the Man. The Burning Man Webcast team, led by Motorbike Matt Reyes, produced a livestream for all around the world to enjoy. This annual ritual (which took place at Fly Ranch and not the playa of Black Rock City), this important marker in time, this anchor of our community and culture, was a gift for the global community.
Save Black Rock City Campaign
In partnership with the Philanthropic Engagement and Technology teams, Communications developed and project-managed Burning Man Project’s “Save Black Rock City” community campaign. Through the main campaign copy, development of Peer2Peer pages, social media campaigns, special edition Jackrabbit Speaks newsletters, community-sourced support videos, and more, Communications was at the forefront of our campaign to raise $1.5 million to support the future of Black Rock City (a goal the community helped us surpass!).
Working Differently in 2020
A year without Black Rock City required the team to restructure roles, as well as adjust to a geographically distributed working environment. We detached roles and processes from the annual event cycle, and redeployed year-round Burning Man Project communications to people who were normally devoted to Black Rock City communications. There were also staff changes within the team that required us to adapt to a different year-round workflow and process.
With many Burning Man Project departments pivoting to digital storytelling — from live workshops to conversations to podcasts and beyond — 2020 turned out to be an exceptionally busy year for the Communications team. We had to think differently about what our community needs, how they engage with us, and how we can best share the goals, spirit and mission of Burning Man Project in a year without Black Rock City, but also in a year when many people were sheltering in place without the opportunity to share culture and community in person.
This meant we were busier than ever showcasing new digital content, sharing Multiverse stories, supporting Kindling communications, kicking off storytelling on Medium, and adapting our workflow to gathering and sharing a million digital stories aimed at connecting, informing and inspiring our globally distributed and homebound community of dreamers, makers, and doers.
Communications By the Numbers:
- 115 Burning Man Journal posts were published in 2020
- 890,000 people visited the Burning Man Journal
- 220,000 subscribers to our newsletter, The Jackrabbit Speaks
- 24 Jackrabbit Speaks issues sent
- 1 million+ followers on Instagram
Doing more with less was the theme for Communications in 2020. It was also a difficult year being away from our Media Mecca family. This amazing group of volunteers normally processes, registers, and acculturates hundreds of professional media members before, during, and after the Black Rock City event. They also help run our home on playa, Media Mecca, a Center Camp staple where you can always come in for a fresh drink and a good story. We kept the spirit alive with virtual happy hours, and we can’t wait to see our entire Mecca family in the dust again.
In the Journal:
Diversity & Radical Inclusion
Harley K. Dubois and Level write:
We are in the process of changing the landscape of Burning Man Project, Black Rock City, and other Burning Man spaces with regard to diversity, equity and inclusion. We see this not as a project to be completed, but part of our ongoing evolution as a community. We understand that this work is ongoing. It is individual and deeply personal as well as institutional, and it is at the heart of what it means to be civic-minded.
For many years we have been interested in understanding why we were not attracting more people of color to Black Rock City. Even our office staff was more diverse than the Black Rock City census data revealed. In 2017 we began to challenge ourselves, devoting thought, time, and resources to creating a more inclusive city in the desert. Our efforts bore some fruit with our Cultural Direction Setting program, which addresses issues surrounding access to tickets and placement in Black Rock City.
The confluence of COVID-19, the death of George Floyd, and subsequent nationwide protests propelled us forward. We are taking as much advantage of this groundswell of awareness as possible. Without an in-person event to produce in 2020, we were able to start to create an infrastructure for antiracist behavior within our organization. Collectively, we began the process of engaging our greater Burning Man community on diversity, equity, and inclusion. The work has just begun, but it has been ample to say the least.
It all began with a meeting of POC leaders in the Burning Man community three days after the first COVID-19 shelter in place order took effect in San Francisco. We began to listen carefully and take action. It became clear that we needed to begin by getting our internal house in order. We held a scoping meeting with our employees to discuss what they felt were the most important first actions to take. We shared readings, trainings, and resources with each other and began regular communication channels. We researched other organizations’ efforts to find best practices. We set the expectation of our staff teams (employees and volunteers) that we are committed to change as an organization and a community.
Once we laid some foundations internally, we turned our attention to external work. Black Rock City’s leadership team hosted a Town Hall meeting that welcomed Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) to share their experiences at the event. We’re in the process of analyzing the results for action steps to make Burning Man spaces more welcoming for the BIPOC community.
We had already created ways to make Black Rock City more accessible to the BIPOC theme camp community via the Cultural Direction Setting process. We are examining our Art department and Mutant Vehicle program for similar changes. We are also collaborating with other Burning Man entities to address the issue of access for our BIPOC community. We will be developing more listening and learning opportunities similar to the Town Hall to establish a norm of open communication so we can all grow together.
This begins a new phase of our work on diversity and Radical Inclusion. True to Burning Man form, we don’t know exactly where this work will lead us and what our new landscape will look like. We need everyone’s participation to reveal its form as we go. We will put out statements — much like survey flags — so the community can hold us accountable as we go. We are looking for maximum participation; the best way to make change is one person and one institution at a time.
We summarize our 2020 Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion projects and initiatives below. To learn more about these initiatives, visit our Diversity & Radical Inclusion page.
- Released our first public Statement on Racial Justice and Radical Inclusion in May 2020
- Formed a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Stewardship Group, a cross-departmental workgroup of anti-racism and racial justice staff advocates within the organization who are moving this work forward
- Formed the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Advisory Committee, a group of community leaders who are helping us roadmap ways to practice anti-racism and enable better representation of people of color in Burning Man spacesBurning Man Project’s Board committed to anti-racism training and doing group work in Martin Luther King Jr’s Beloved Communities and Burning Man, facilitated by Shirley Strong
- Implemented unconscious bias and anti-racism training for staff, starting with our year-round employees, then rolling out to volunteer leaders and teams with the intention of expanding access to Regionals and the broader Burning Man community
- Established bi-monthly internal staff “Diversity Chats” to discuss topics related to diversity and anti-racism
- Gathered data around the self-identified racial and ethnic representation among our employees and assessed diversity within our leadership teams
- Hosted a virtual Diversity & Radical Inclusion Town Hall, which invited Burners who are BIPOC to share their experiences with Black Rock City’s leadership; more than 450 virtual participants held space for 34 individuals to share their stories
- Elevated voices of color on our communications channels, bringing BIPOC voices and storytellers to the forefront, including in our long-form Diversity & Radical Inclusion series in the Burning Man Journal
- Burning Man Information Radio (BMIR) hosted a Justice and Equality Series during Burn Week 2020, which dedicated 72 hours of programming to amplifying voices and discussing pressing issues — from Black Lives Matter, to LGBTQ civil liberties, to the plight (and future) of Indigenous peoples
- Burning Man LIVE, our in-house podcast, hosted Racial & Radical Inclusion: What Can Burners Do? — a discussion between community leaders who have devoted much of their lives to the fight for racial justice
- Statement on Racial Justice and Radical Inclusion
- Diversity & Radical Inclusion page on Burningman.org
- BMIR’s Justice & Equality Series
- Racial & Radical Inclusion: What Can Burners Do? on Burning Man LIVE
- Diversity & Radical Inclusion Long-form Series
In the Journal:
Michael “Dustin” Fasman writes:
2020 was a quiet year for the Documentation team; we’re usually busy telling stories and collaborating with other content creators before, during, and after the event in Black Rock City. During this quiet year, we stayed connected through regular video calls and social media conversations.
We collaborated with the Communications team to donate our best Black Rock City photos for a potential fundraising effort. From there, we combed through thousands of images to identify the best 30 photos to reproduce for the project.
Looking Ahead to 2021
We’re eager to return to Black Rock City for 2021. In preparation, we’re planning to get an earlier start at defining both our goals for documenting the event, and at our team-building and fundraising efforts. Overall, we’re working to put systems in place that enable closer collaboration on playa.
Kari Gregg writes:
The Education team has had a fantastic year making critical advancements in our department’s work and our overall contribution to advancing the global objectives of our Burning Man network. The biggest highlight of our year was launching an online social learning network to exchange stories, skills, and knowledge with Burners and other like-minded creators. Planning and work for this platform has been ongoing since 2019, and our small team was able to come together during this pandemic year to bring this new space to fruition.
In August, we invited our staff news list to join the learning network, and we’re in the process of bringing on more Black Rock City departments and teams. In 2021, it will become more widely available to the global Burning Man network.
Getting this platform up and running took a lot of collaboration and hard work. We are working closely with Black Rock City teams and other Burning Man Project program areas and their staff to sync content with various content creators across the organization.
In addition to all these collaborations, we have worked hard to put processes into place to help this new learning network run smoothly. There’s a lot of teaching and education that goes into adopting a new platform, including empowering and teaching others to create learning content. We are definitely still in the process of doing this work, but have come a long way in advancing it.
We are gradually breaking down some of the content silos between departments by bringing everyone together to share knowledge, co-learn and create courses. When most of our learning content is in one place, we can nurture collaborations between departments, empowering people to help our culture have more impact. For example, what skills, knowledge, and technologies have our community figured out for Black Rock City that could be helpful in disaster zones or refugee camps, and how can we better share that knowledge? How can we teach other events and even actual cities about the ways Black Rock City operates? How can our People Operations team co-create trainings and courses related to mental health and wellness? How can we learn from other industries and how can those industries learn from us? How can we collaborate with other communities to advance our skills and knowledge?
The Art team launched an Introduction to Burning Man Art course. This is the first course in a series of learning opportunities for artists, which will roll out in 2021.
We worked closely with the Black Rock Rangers to move a significant portion of their in-person training to an online format for people to complete in advance of the day-long training. The Rangers have many specific needs for their trainings and technology systems, so this felt like a huge feat. We were just about to launch the new training when COVID-19 hit, so sadly we weren’t able to see that project through this year. But we are ready for next year!
While we were planning for this learning network before the pandemic, our 2020 reality allowed our platform to thrive and become more relevant more quickly. With the entire world moving virtual, it became easier to teach and explain how this new platform works. People are more accustomed to these virtual technologies, and they are more comfortable using them, which is allowing us to expand and grow our impact even faster.
Burning Man Education by the Numbers:
- From July to October 2020, approximately 400 Burning Man staff joined the online social learning network
- We began 2020 with two available online learning courses; by October 2020 we had five
Looking Ahead to 2021:
We are in the process of launching leadership, sustainability, and diversity, equity and inclusion learning frameworks to spark conversations on these topics and advance learnings. By the end of 2020, we hope to have more formal learning courses on these topics that we can share with the global network.
We are developing a volunteer team to support Education and the new social learning network. This is an exciting new area of the organization and a great opportunity to bring more people in to contribute and get involved.
The Education Department is in the process of building out a new learning course application process that we will prototype at the end of 2020 and launch in early 2021. Through this process, we will invite members of our global network to submit their ideas and qualifications to build courses on the online social learning network that we can share with the global community. We are inviting collaboration but also curating and facilitating content so that the learning courses on the network are of a certain standard and quality.
In 2021 we will begin to explore paid educational content, such as Burning Man Project’s Leadership Curriculum, to provide deeper learning opportunities and experiences for our global network. We will also continue bringing Burners into the new learning network, ultimately inviting a wider audience of Burner-curious and Burn-adjacent groups and individuals to join the conversation.
In the Journal:
Matthew Sundquist writes:
The Fly Ranch design challenge, LAGI 2020, has been our biggest focus in 2020. We have dozens of technical advisors and 32 judges who will select which projects will be built. We had planned to have the application deadline in May, but pushed it back to October 31 due to the pandemic. We have had virtual calls and community engagements. We hope to build a dozen or more projects at Fly Ranch in 2021 focused on food, power, water, shelter, and waste management.
The Fly Ranch Geyser Guardians program has scaled up this year. A few dozen people have come out to steward the land and keep an eye on Fly Geyser. A team called the Guardian Cadre has managed the Geyser Guardians program with support from Fly Ranch Operations Manager Zac Cirvello, our Fly Ranch Land Stewards Joe Childs and Lisa Beers, and our Volunteer Coordinator Erika Wesnousky.
Fly Ranch nature walks, organized by the Friends of Black Rock High Rock nonprofit organization, resumed in September. We’ve had more than thirty socially-distanced walks and will continue to host walks over the winter. Our Operations team has managed day-to-day operations. We acquired two excellent portable solar power units for use at Dog Ranch and at Fly Ranch. We’ve started to consider how we could scale this approach. We were also able to take care of a number of property issues (new gates, roads, new fences, etc).
Fly Ranch By the Numbers:
- 19,000 people joined our Facebook Live event on LAGI
- 22,000 people joined the Green Theme Camp Summit on LAGI
- Fly Ranch hosted 30 nature walks in 2020
- Dozens of volunteers trained to become Geyser Guardians
- 32 jurors will evaluate LAGI contest submissions
In 2019, we hosted 21 campouts that were organized by the community and focused on a range of topics. While we still plan to still host people in 2021, we hope that the focus of those events will be on the build of projects selected from the LAGI design challenge, and these projects will be our team’s primary focus in 2021.
- Explore more than 100 links and photos on the new Fly Ranch website
- Read Burning Man Project’s 2020 Sustainability Update
Take a Virtual Nature Walk on Fly Ranch:
In the Journal
Marnee Benson and Cailen Caplan write:
This year of change, challenges, and uncertainty brought about the opportunity for our department to work closely in collaboration with local partners and permitting agencies.
We made progress in articulating our positions and record of success to the Bureau of Land Management and toward establishing the best possible terms and conditions for our Special Recreation Permit. Our newest team member will help lead the charge to advocate for the interests of Burning Man Project and Black Rock City. We have continued to collaborate with our Legal Department on numerous actions and negotiations to protect the integrity and autonomy of our event production.
Over the summer, we reached out to local community members and agencies across Nevada to better understand preferences and concerns around travel, COVID-19 safety, and playa recreation. We collaborated with the Communications Department to help inform the Burning Man community about best practices for travel through local communities and environmental stewardship in the National Conservation Area. We stayed in close contact with our partners to understand the evolving tides of COVID-19 and the impacts the pandemic was having locally.
In this year without Black Rock City, Government Affairs has had the opportunity to focus on long-term permitting and planning, advancing our organization’s environmental sustainability goals, understanding the impacts of COVID-19 and the cancellation of large-scale events on the State of Nevada, and supporting new Burning Man Project initiatives in Northern Nevada. We’re grateful that all of us at BMP have banded closely together to support each other and our broader community in a year of unprecedented upheaval and unpredictability.
In the Journal:
Colette Crespin and Justin Katz write:
Kindling has been on an incredible journey over the past 12 months. We began as a concept for an in-person convening, as a replacement for the annual Global Leadership Conference, and as a way to grow our outreach to more Burner-curious audiences. Spring 2020, we morphed and transformed into a destination for the community to get together during COVID-19, and as the gateway for the 2020 Burning Man Multiverse.
We pivoted into an online portal within three months. This in and of itself was an enormous achievement, as was the process of ideation, creative execution, and migration from a Wix website into Burning Man Project’s WordPress system. The Kindling team devoted time to collaborating with the Technology team, creating more integration, and enabling a single sign-on via Burner Profiles.
Kinding became THE gateway into Burning Man culture, as a digital portal to the community. We were a space for the community to share their live, virtual events. And we provided a destination for sharing all of Burning Man Project’s public-facing program content. Burners Without Borders, the Art department, Communications, the Regional Network, and Community Events all created and shared live events via Kindling.
Events created by the community and promoted on Kindling needs to align with Burning Man’s 10 Principles — they need to be decommodified, participatory, and community-oriented. We featured workshops, dance parties, sewing circles, film premieres, coffee conversations, burlesque, community activations, virtual worlds, and beyond.
With user-generated and Burning Man Project content abundant, the next phase of our evolution involved becoming a portal into the 2020 Burning Man Multiverse. Working in collaboration with the Tech team and several other internal teams, we raced the clock to create a multifaceted landscape that delivered information on each Recognized Universe of the Burning Man Multiverse, including details on where to learn more, how to participate as a content provider, how to dive in and explore, and an explanation of which Universes were accessible through which technology platforms.
The Kindling team worked closely with Tech to develop several iterations of improved content submission systems, including enlisting volunteers to help vet, sort, and publish the myriad events and experiences that the community wished to share. We published detailed pages on both the virtual Temple and the global Man Burn experience, preserving and widely sharing the communal rituals so desperately needed in this challenging year. When Burn Week arrived, usage of our Kindling Multiverse page spiked so quickly and dramatically that we in effect crashed Burning Man Project’s servers!
Quickly, Kindling evolved as a solution for many of the challenges 2020 presented, including developing a way to digitally share live content during a time when people couldn’t gather in person. Kindling successfully hosted Burning Man Project’s largest revenue-generating virtual event, the Art on Fire documentary. This marks the organization’s first foray into producing and streaming live and on-demand events to a large, global audience.
Kindling became a new source of income for Burning Man Project, generating more than $100,000 from ticket sales for live events produced by the organization.
The Kindling team has been working with the managers of existing Burning Man Project web properties to create a more cohesive network of digital assets and to identify places where content and community cross-pollinate and support one another’s audiences and core missions.
Challenges involved figuring out how to reposition and reorient Kindling knowing that it wasn’t possible to host an in-person gathering in 2020. Once we shifted to a fully digital space, there was a shift in roles and technology resources to support Kindling’s pivot. Staff was redeployed to support planning, design, development, and operation of the website. The Kindling website had to develop and shift quickly to accommodate the Burning Man 2020 Multiverse content and audiences.
Kindling By the Numbers:
- 707,000 pageviews since launching in May 2020
- 48% of pageviews were for the 2020 Burning Man Multiverse
- 240,000 unique visitors
- Visitors from 191 countries
- 5,000+ subscribers to the Kindling Newsletter
- 300+ events published and shared related to the Multiverse
- 500+ global events
- 51% millennial participants
- 41% new to Burning Man culture
- 58% of users on their mobile devices
Looking Ahead to 2021
The Kindling team is developing a comprehensive content strategy and direction that supports Burning Man Project’s overall mission and vision. What interest and capacity does Burning Man Project have to continue to develop digital properties and content if and when we can start producing in-person events again?
More people are recognizing that participants don’t automatically attend our online events and digital media “because we’re Burning Man.” So we need to work hard to develop strategies and channels for reaching and engaging with our community.
Kindling has been challenged to date to reach audiences outside the Burning Man bubble (albeit a very large bubble of at least one million followers). We need to continue to imagine and develop relationships and channels that drive awareness of Kindling’s offerings in adjacent and aligned communities and audiences.
- ‘Burning Man: Art on Fire’
- Burning Man 2020 runs online through Sept. 7: How to attend and what to expect
- Burning Man 2020 Goes Virtual
- Burning Man 2020 Goes Burn-From-Home, Courts Potential Global Audience
In the Journal
Lisa Nash writes:
Wildlife! We had cows, bobcat babies, mountain lions, coyotes, wild horses, not-so-wild horses, dogs… And did I mention cows? We had cows. Now normally we always have cows in the Hualapai Valley, but this year was interesting. The grazing leases were changed in the valley and this had an unexpected, and at times hilarious, result. The cows were not in their usual pastures and pretty much roamed parts of the valley freely. It was a regular activity to hear a call over the radio saying we had cows (again) on the Burning Man work ranch. This involved a group activity to open the gate, herd the cows, and try to figure out where they entered from this time.
To add to that, we had bobcat babies living under one of the containers in the yard, coyotes in the shops, a mountain lion on the road out front of the ranch, wild horses that no fences could keep out, and random visits from neighboring dogs. With fewer staff and activities on the ranch this year, we had a unique opportunity to watch nature retake parts of our world. It was fun, exciting, exhilarating, a little scary, and definitely kept anyone from being bored.
2020 was a tough year for our team. We were a very small team — eight people instead of our usual crew of more than 30. We still maintained the properties, worked on the facilities in Gerlach and the work ranch, and did our best to stay safe in the time of COVID-19. We managed to keep up with repairs and make a little progress on properties here and there. We are most proud of being an awesome, solid, supportive, and collaborative team in a year of unknowns, uncertainties, and incredible flexibility required of us. We had additional properties added to our plate and still kept making progress while having some fun in the process.
We all had to learn new skills (such as heavy equipment, generator maintenance, fueling, construction, etc.) and carry out our work differently, as we needed to maintain and improve our properties, with new safety and health requirements. Our teams always have to practice flexibility; our duties change daily in the maintenance world, and this year really put us to the test. The ever-changing nature of our planning and work was demanding. We overcame it by sticking to five-day weeks — something not possible in the past. We also had the opportunity to practice letting go of our bigger plans and instead stayed focused on the day-to-day. We still kept the same level of quality in the performance of our jobs, learned to accept that our deadlines were suggestions, and relaxed more into doing what we could.
It was a hard year. It has also been a year of incredible connections while simultaneously the most distanced ever. So maybe that makes it the most unusual year: lots of contradictions and challenges requiring creativity and socially distanced team efforts.
Looking Ahead to 2021
This year was such an anomaly that I can’t base next year on it at all. We will have projects that were delayed a year, and maintenance that wasn’t performed, so 2021 will likely involve a lot of trying to catch up.
Karen Jacobs and Rikki Thompson write:
The story of People Operations in 2020 is one of transitions. During 2020, pretty much everything that was, changed into something that will be… something else. Like the rest of the world, like the rest of our industry of live events and entertainment, like the rest of Burning Man Project, People Operations was deeply affected by the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Our team faced many challenging firsts in 2020. Following the first-in-our-history cancelation of our event in Black Rock City, People Ops facilitated a first-in-our-history round of layoffs and reductions in pay. This work was gut-wrenching. People Ops also participated heavily in the work of transitioning Burning Man Project into a remote-working organization, and we helped develop new processes and tools to allow our remaining year-round staff members to effectively work from home.
New work emerged this year in areas such as fundraising and long-term planning for the future of the event and the organization. People Operations supported some staff members pivoting to address these new buckets of work.
These transitions have been challenging and complicated, on individual, team, and organization levels alike. The impacts are interconnected, multi-layered, and ongoing. Everyone within Burning Man Project has been affected.
People Operations has worked hard to support our staff more than ever in the face of all that is unfolding. We have significantly expanded our efforts and our outreach around mental and emotional health and wellbeing for all of our staff, year-round as well as seasonal, those currently working and those who have been impacted by the changes and event cancelation forced by the pandemic. We are grateful to be able to support the wellness of the most important aspect of Burning Man Project: our people.
These outreach and support conversations took many different forms:
- Listening Circles for our year-round and seasonal staff community
- Collaboration with the Education Department to provide on-demand trainings for staff, including giving and receiving feedback and escalated conversations
- Co-facilitation of diversity, equity and inclusion/anti-racism conversations with multiple Black Rock City volunteer teams
- Mental health support with the Employee Assistance Program (EAP)
- One-on-one conversations and listening/compassion circles, Wednesday wellness emails, and the new online social learning network wellness channel
This story is not ending. People Operations is still deep in this work, swimming the waters of transition.
People Operations by the Numbers:
- For more than 25 consecutive weeks, we initiated and held Listening Circles — a space to share, be witnessed, and connect in recognition of the waves and layers of transitions faced by the community in 2020
- Three times the number of people relative to 2019 took advantage of the EAP resources offered, available to all paid and volunteer staff and their family members
Looking Ahead to 2021
We’re placing a huge emphasis on diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives through training, staff support, and evaluation of our human resources practices. We will be offering anti-racism training to all staff, including volunteers and employees, hosted on our new online learning network. We also plan to offer anti-racism training geared specifically to managers of teams, while providing additional support for staff who identify as people of color. We know anti-racism work is not a box to be checked, but rather a journey of ongoing learning and teaching.
Our organization’s commitment to sustainability means every single team at Burning Man Project is looking at their practices to see where we can make changes, big and small. We will support all teams in that exercise, and also look inward and make difficult decisions to create a more sustainable future.
We see an opportunity to collaborate and coordinate even closer with other support services groups such as the Temple Guardians, Black Rock Rangers, and other harm reduction volunteers in the digital world and beyond to show up for our community in more places.
In the Journal:
Andie Grace writes:
One of our most glorious collaborations this year was with the Profiles in Dust team, who created the beautiful Larry Harvey tribute documentary, LARRY, A Burning Man Story, and turned lemons into lemonade by coordinating to create an online premiere for the film. This live virtual gathering helped bring people together during the pandemic to celebrate the life of our founder in a new way, while enabling us to prototype the options for presenting films as virtual events in the future.
We created a podcast! With a rapidly evolving team, we built a highly polished production for mass release, with very little development time. With the pandemic, the decision was made to move the Burning Man Live podcast launch up from “Q3 development” to an “early Q2 launch—let’s GO.” Our whole team leaned hard into building a production worthy of being an official podcast from Burning Man Project.
We saw an immediately impressive reach in a crowded market of listeners, and we’ve built an audience that continues to grow healthily. We’re also getting more precise about our goals and execution. We are getting great feedback and reviews, and the future looks bright!
When we planned the publication of our first-ever book, “Built to Burn: Tales of the Desert Carnies of Burning Man” by Tony (Coyote) Perez, we had no idea that the pandemic would throw plans sideways. The process became more complicated every step of the way — from production and printing, to release and marketing. The book is amazing, but marketing a first book is not easy (and then…2020).
We worked with our author to transition into working from home and to virtually pull off the most successful launch possible, even with a multitude of delays in publication, and a loss of the in-person events and external PR services we had originally planned. We have plans to publish more books in the future to continue helping authors bring forth stories of Burning Man culture to the world.
Overall, the Philosophical Center is engaged in a larger conversation across departments to identify stronger collaborations as we help share cultural voices with the world. It was a crazy year for everyone. Oddly, some things about this pandemic accelerated our mission and efforts in positive ways.
Philosophical Center by the numbers:
- 25,000 downloads of our Burning Man Live podcast in just under six months
Looking Ahead to 2021
In the coming year, we’ll be developing plans for wider collaboration and an overall strategy process for content we create, produce, publish, and promote. We’re casting a wider net for involving volunteers and other creators to contribute to the podcast and similar efforts. And we’re expanding our exploration of the potential to collaborate with academics who are studying Burning Man culture.
Learn about “Built to Burn” by Tony (Coyote) Perez:
Listen to the Burning Man Live podcast:
- Discover all episodes on the Burning Man Live website
- New podcast: “Burning Man Live” offers stories from its community
In the Journal:
Laura Day, Matt Sundquist and Christopher Breedlove write:
It was a big decision for Burning Man Project to publish the 2030 Roadmap in 2019. In 2020 we pushed forward the roadmap with greater speed and bandwidth than we had expected. Black Rock City staff, other members of Burning Man Project, and Burners worldwide created working groups and events that advanced our goals both internally and externally. Internally, we created several new workgroups, subgroups of Black Rock City’s new Sustainability team (sTeam). These are: Waste Streams, Sustainability Education, Travel Naked (Carbon Emissions), and Systems and Support. The Green Theme Camp Community has also created several working groups to take on sustainability goals in Black Rock City.
To make the 2030 roadmap actionable, we released drafts of subject-area roadmaps for all three goals.
As we wrote in our 2020 update on the 2030 roadmap and goals: “We’ve done what we said we’d do — and a bit more.” Our work included a sustainability summit at Fly Ranch run by Burners Without Borders that generated 17 ideas through an EcoSprint and a permaculture action day in Oakland. We prototyped using solar trailers at Fly Ranch and Dog Ranch that could become a fleet.
The Sustainability team moved all our programming online. We hosted digital events that helped us share the goals of the roadmap and get the word out about our work. Events included DA’s MOOPathon, and the Recycle Camp fundraiser for the Gerlach school. We held our one-year update call online, and Breedlove ran a variety of calls and gatherings — including a 16-hour, four-day Green Theme Camp Symposium/Summit that included a discussion about the Fly Ranch LAGI design challenge.
All our team meetings moved to an online format, which had both positive and negative results. Positives included greater accessibility and inclusivity, and negatives included missed interpersonal relationship development opportunities.
All together, this work lays a foundation for the work that is to come over the next nine years, and engages the community in supporting us to achieve our audacious goals.
Sustainability By the Numbers:
- 19,000 people joined our one-year Sustainability Roadmap call
- DA raised $31,000 that will be used to create a solar-powered Man Base
- The Recycle Camp fundraiser collected $15,000 for the Gerlach K-12 school
Looking Ahead to 2021
We aim to formalize and publish the roadmaps for each goal, complete our emissions inventory, launch a solar cooperative, create a mechanism to capture and store carbon, and establish a direction to better manage waste. We are planning to prototype some carbon capture and storage projects. We’re currently piloting solar at several of our properties, including Fly Ranch, and hope to further scale those.
There’s a plan in the works to invite all Regionals and theme camps to take on the same sustainability goals as Black Rock City, and to challenge them to beat us to completion. The community is coming together around this important work and we will begin to see the evolution of our beloved city when we return to the desert once again.
- 2030 Environmental Sustainability Roadmap
- Burning Man Project 2020 Environmental Sustainability Report
- Find Out What’s Going On With Burning Man Project’s Sustainability Roadmap
- DA’s Black Rock MOOPATHON
Ecosystem Activation: Year One Report- Environmental Sustainability Roadmap Webinar
In the Journal:
Steven Blumenfeld writes:
I showed up at Burning Man Project in the middle of a hailstorm. Not literally, but figuratively. The world was changing, work was changing, the organization was changing, and people were adjusting. It was under this backdrop that I got my first taste of Burning Man Project from the inside. Those early days (six months ago seems sooooo long ago) were in some senses a blur. A blur of activity and a blur of learning a whole new language. Grabbing onto discussions about staff, efficiencies, and workload was interesting as I barely knew anybody. Even to this day, I mostly know people as little squares glowing on my computer monitor. Fast forward a few weeks and I was immersed in the Multiverse and seeing first hand all the great community members who were involved.
On the technology side, Kindling was probably the first big decision we were facing. It had launched online under a templated site builder, but the team had bigger plans for features and functionality that couldn’t easily be handled by this platform. After discussions with the Tech and Kindling teams, we decided to move the site to WordPress with the rest of the organization’s websites. The execution and relaunch of the site were a large lift for the Tech team, and they accomplished it fairly seamlessly.
Next up was the 2020 Burning Man Multiverse, which has been written about by others, so I will just add that it was a fantastic experience. To see a germ of an idea grow within a community and then experience the enormous amount of participation — it was one of the most amazing projects I have ever had the pleasure to be involved in.
Hot on the heels of the Multiverse was a very significant project for the organization: the Community Funding Campaign. At first I had my doubts about whether we could build out the functionality needed to do this, but from the first demo, I knew we had it. The entire team leaned into making this a success, and we hit our mark. Learnings from the crowdfunding campaign are still being internalized, but the takeaway is that it was extremely positive for the organization and the community, as we introduced many more first-time donors to Burning Man Project.
Looking Ahead to 2021
As our attention turns toward Black Rock City 2021, we will all be learning new ways to engage and facilitate the event. We will be implementing an organization-changing single sign-on technology. Everything from how we sell tickets to how we handle radios is going to have to change. Change is interesting, not always welcome, but always different. I am looking forward to working with the amazing employees and larger staff to make Black Rock City 2021 memorable.
Jon Rosen writes:
2020 was an interesting year for the Technology Department. Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the department was already in a cycle of change: hiring and onboarding new leadership, introducing product management, adopting better development processes, and generally trying to improve the quality and timeliness of the professional services we provide.
With COVID-19, many of Burning Man Project’s programs began using technology as key components of their initiatives. In many instances, technology became strategic, rather than a tactical support element. As the decision to cancel the 2020 event came into focus, it brought with it a need to develop a new website homepage, themed appropriately to the multiverse of possibilities we were facing, as well as a system to allow participants to request ticket refunds or to make a full or partial donation. Both the homepage and the ticket donation tool were ideated, developed, and released in record time.
As the entire organization moved to working remotely, the Technology Department not only had to shift how it conducted its own work, but it also became deeply involved in supporting the remote working environment of others. Online video meetings and webinars became the norm, and behind the scenes in most cases was a member of the Tech team helping. As Burning Man Project adjusted, the responsibilities and expectations for Technology increased. I felt fortunate to see my team members adjust quickly to working remotely while simultaneously rising to the challenge of the increased role our team played. As the Recognized Universes of the Burning Man Multiverse began to roll out, we started spending a great deal of time in BRCvr. We very much wanted to speak to all types of participants to understand their experiences, their expectations, what they liked, and what they didn’t.
We were lucky to be in BRCvr during their build out, and to have the opportunity to spend time with one of their leads, Doug. It was really amazing to see how much was added each day. Many of the theme camps and art were built incrementally over time — not unlike how Black Rock City comes together. As the volume of experiences in BRCvr began to take shape, we realized the Multiverse was going to exceed our expectations in terms of quantity, scale, and quality. We saw a city begin to take shape.
Similar to Build Week in Black Rock City, as the build went on we began to see the population increase. We saw art emerge and small gatherings come to life at theme camps. BRCvr started to not just look like Burning Man, but to feel like Burning Man. My expectations were being blown out of the water. I was meeting new people, making new friends, starting to show these new friends the cool things I had seen. It felt very much like Black Rock City. When a new friend would arrive, I would show them the lay of the land — take them to see the Man, and a couple of my favorite art projects that were coming together. We’d run into a few other friends along the way and everyone would meet. I was surprised by how much the interactions or way of life resembled experiences I’d had in Black Rock City. I had thought it would resemble Black Rock City aesthetically, but this was about much more than aesthetics.
One evening our CTO Steven and I ran into Doug. He wanted to show us something he had been working on. We followed him through a portal and wound up in what looked like a dome. Doug excused himself for a moment to take his headset off, to start whatever it was we were supposed to be seeing in the dome. It looked like a dome you might see in Black Rock City with some carpets and pillows lining the ground. Doug came back and a moment later the walls of the dome started to move. A movie began playing on the dome. This was no ordinary movie with a flat screen. The entire, curved inside surface of the dome was a continuous screen and it began playing Android Jones’ Samskara. It was simply incredible. I’m not sure how Samskara was originally intended to be consumed, but seeing it in VR, and having it surround us was simply the coolest thing I saw in the Multiverse. It blew my mind. While expectations were regularly exceeded throughout the event, this was the single defining moment in which expectations were shattered.
Looking Ahead to 2021
We are currently spending a significant amount of time debriefing on the Multiverse. As we prepare to make decisions about the nature of virtual events in the future, we are taking in a lot of feedback to ensure we make informed decisions. In addition to collecting surveys from Multiverse creators and participants, we’ve been involved in one-on-one meetings with participants and multi-hour debriefs with each Universe.
We are excited to expand the use of Burner Profiles as a single-sign-on service to more Burning Man web services, to continue to develop ways for our community to connect with one another, to collaborate on 10 Principles-driven activities, and to help consolidate our web properties into a more centralized and easy-to-use experience. We hope that connecting with Burning Man online will be easier than ever before, and in our hearts we believe that digital connection has never been more important.
Patrice Mackey writes:
The User Success team manages the internal helpdesk and technical training within Burning Man Project. This year, with the move to remote work due to COVID-19, much of our work was focused on supporting Burning Man Project staff as they transitioned out of an office environment. Much of this support involved helping set up and educate people on remote conferencing software, helping manage video meetings and webinars, and moving much of our general support to a remote footing.
User Success By the Numbers
In terms of direct support, the Technology team handled 5,244 technical help cases from the end of Burning Man 2019 until the same time in 2020. Through our helpdesk system, we answered 17,353 cases from both inside and outside Burning Man Project. This volume represents resolving technical issues for staff as well as answering general questions from participants and others.
Looking Ahead to 2021
We are now gearing up to do some of the work we put off during this year, so we are better positioned to start our event cycle up again whenever we are able. We will be focusing on improving our training programs for staff, streamlining our processes so we are more effective in our technical solutions, and looking to find ways to reduce our overhead…all with the goal of having fewer tools that work better for more people.
In the Journal:
Kristy Hilands writes:
While we were sheltering in place, and after learning we weren’t going to build Black Rock City in 2020, team check-ins became more important than ever. It began with a shared spreadsheet where manager-members of the Black Rock City Operations teams could share their staff resources, community projects, Multiverse engagements, virtual meeting tips, newsletters, programs, and best practices. We are developing a team engagement group in Burning Man Project’s online social learning network for a more engaging and interactive way to capture and expand upon this information.
The Peer Support Counseling and Coaching team has been working throughout the pandemic to provide emotional support to the volunteers in our community and help them with team management. We also led a few group counseling and listening sessions, and we have expanded our reach to supporting volunteers and teams within the Regional Network.
We have curated and co-produced all four of Burning Man’s first fully virtual all-staff meetings this year. These have been drawing 400-500 staff members from our volunteer network each time, and they have been a huge help in keeping our staff community connected and informed during 2020.
The Volunteer Leadership Council moved from interviewing 56 team leaders — in Black Rock City and across the global Regional Network — to the publishing phase of our year-long research project, examining volunteer appreciation across our culture.
We migrated and recreated our “Introduction to Volunteer Leadership” course into Burning Man Project’s new online social learning hub.
We were able to conduct an analysis of all the volunteer teams and determine the ballpark number of volunteers in our network. It has been exciting to finally have an estimate of the number of volunteers within our community, even without a database! We hope to be able to share these numbers soon.
Looking Ahead to 2021
Everything will be different in 2021. If we are to have the event, many extra safety measures may need to be in place. We may be expanding our Peer Support Counseling team and the services they offer — more to come.
4. Black Rock City & Multiversal Operations
2020 Man Burn
Kimba Standridge writes:
In the shadowy background of all the other work, the members of the Man Pavilion team quietly made plans for a surprise Man Burn. This Burn was to be a physical Man, and a physical Burn, but our participants would be remote. It had the potential to reach more Burners than might attend in a “normal” Black Rock City year. The team, in an extremely scaled back and bare bones representation, pulled together many of the core components needed to make this happen. The livestream of the 2020 Man Burn went out to the world of Burners via many streaming options. The surprise was complete and the reaction was overwhelmingly positive. We built a Man, and we burned it! The installation, burn and leave no trace efforts were complete in under 48 hours — and we reached tens of thousands of Burners around the globe.
The vast majority of our team was unable to participate, or even know about, the Man Burn. We were in the very unusual position of not being able to welcome everyone due to the public health concerns of COVID-19. We also worked closely with Government Affairs to coordinate with local agencies and obtain a permit for the burn.
“Unprecedented” has to be the most overused word in 2020. With each passing day, it seems that the world has thrown us yet another curveball or crisis. Between pandemics, civil unrest, a polarized political landscape and natural disasters, it’s been a tough year on everyone. Following the same trajectory, That Thing In The Desert (TTITD), which means so much to so many of us, also fell victim to 2020. And yet, at a time when our community needed each other the most, we were isolated from each other, not gathering to build art or plan camps or dance or celebrate our culture…
When Marian announced on April 10 that we were not building Black Rock City in 2020, there was a collective sadness across our community. As typical for Burners, we were not deterred by obstacles. If we can create a temporary city in one of the harshest environments on Earth every year, we can weather 2020.
In fact, the Burning Man community created The Multiverse, a collection of ten Universes made possible by the unbridled creativity and generosity of Burners around the world. It was a grand experience, whether using a virtual reality (VR) headset or watching a 24-hour live stream of Burners around the world, our community stepped up to provide connections and experiences unlike any previous Burning Man!
But, there was still something missing…. The first word of Burning Man is burning. The rituals created through fire were nearly impossible to create in a digital format. There was rampant speculation in our community about whether there would or would not be a Man Burn, focused on “What will the Org do?”
Enter the 2020 Man Burn
In total secrecy, a small group of Burners planned a Burn that was a throwback to the earliest days of our history. Among the teams were: Man Build Crew, Fire Arts Safety Team (FAST), Emergency Services Department (ESD), Rangers, Heavy Equipment and Transport (HEaT), Tech, Communications, Playa Restoration (Resto), Fly Ranch, Nevada Properties and last, but certainly not least, Founder Crimson Rose.
Planning and logistics were not easy. Due to COVID-19, gatherings were restricted. Due to extreme wildfire danger, Washoe and Pershing Counties had a ban on open fires. No worries, ”We will always burn the Man.”
But how could we share our Burn Night ritual with the rest of the world?
Undaunted, the Man Build Crew started designing the Man and cutting wood at a studio in Eureka, California. The Tech team planned to erect a communications tower for a point-to-point microwave radio link to connect the cameras capturing the Man Burn to the Multiverses and Burningman.org. ESD Department created an Incident Action Plan (IAP) and planned for a fire crew and equipment to be on site. FAST planned the ignition sequence with Crimson Rose. HEaT created plans to assemble and erect the Man. Communications planned the timing of the notifications to the world of Burn Night. Resto planned for a much smaller resto. And so it went…
Finally, Saturday, September 5, was upon us… it was a day to be remembered in Burning Man history! The skeletal crew gathered in the shadow of the 1995 Man Burn site at Fly Ranch in 100-degree heat and started assembling the Man. All of the teams were dutifully following their own detailed plans for their part of the Man Burn all day. At 5:12 pm PDT, Bruiser called for everyone to grab one of the six wire ropes that were attached to the Man and called for the Man to be raised by hand, old school! It was a glorious and memorable moment! Once the Man was raised, we looked back on the work we had done in secret on behalf of our community and there was a collective “this is really happening” moment.
As darkness fell on Fly Ranch, the Communications team double checked all of their plans for an 8 pm “news flash” to our community across social media and the Burning Man website. The Tech team double checked their cameras and network links. ESD double checked their equipment. Rangers met with Washoe County Sheriff Deputies. At 8:45 pm, Crimson Rose convened Dave X (FAST), Precious (ESD) and Kimba (Man Build Crew) to make the final Go/No Go decision on ignition. The winds were calm and all teams were ready, so the decision was made to GO!
Crimson Rose approached the Man at 9pm PDT and began her fire ritual.
It was a beautiful, silent, solemn Burn… more reminiscent of Temple Burns than the high-energy chaos of Man Burns. All of the plans from all of the teams worked. The Man Burn was viewed 120,000 times on various channels on the internet! In many ways, it broke new ground in technology, but also took us back to our roots of a small Man Burn at Fly Ranch.
Huge shoutout to the Burners who made the 2020 Man Burn happen!
While we can’t predict the future with any accuracy (especially after 2020!), we demonstrated to our community and the entire rest of the world that “We will always burn the Man!”
In the Journal:
Melanie Johnson writes:
The best story from this year was our amazing retreat getaway, basically right before COVID-19 closures hit. Arctica plans a yearly retreat, and we all pitch in our own dollars to go somewhere warm or just plain neat for three days, usually around February or March. We were able to go to Santa Fe, New Mexico, with group field trips to Taos and Meow Wolf. The shared experiences were SO much fun. These retreats really cement our friendships and relationships, allowing us to have better working connections while on playa or otherwise. This year, we talked about how to stay mindful of the community we build, both in the ice houses and in our camp, which led to a great discussion about how to call people in and educate them on the values we hold dear.
We’ve managed to stay connected on a couple of different digital platforms. We have an active core group of staff, and other staff members pop in and out on whichever platform, based on their time or energy. We’ve done video chats and online dance parties, collaborative multiplayer gaming, group conversations with custom emojis, and chill video hangouts while working on our latest crafty ideas. I’m incredibly proud of how close we’ve been able stay this year amidst COVID-19 restrictions.
We handled this year much like any other year, just without being at the Burn. We had fewer conversations and meetings on the calendar, but we still stayed connected through a lot of different ways. Our focus this year was to approach everything with trust and curiosity; I think we’ve done a great job so far.
Arctica By the Numbers:
- Six new and easily implementable ideas for communicating hours of operations
- Five ways to earn a Work Access Pass
- Four different means of staying in touch with fellow staff members
- Three days of connection at our retreat
- Two countries from which we all travelled
- One amazing team of phenomenal people
Looking Ahead to 2021
We are planning more cross training between subsets of Arctica (transportation, dispatch, and retail), being as transparent as possible about staffing decisions, encouraging folks to take a sabbatical year (to be fair, this has already been in play since 2019), and rolling with whatever changes need to happen due to lower budgets that will likely come with the continuation of Burning Man Project after 2020.
Black Rock City Event Operations
Charlie Dolman writes:
Closing down Black Rock City was one of the hardest things to do. Telling thousands of people that their yearly work trip to the playa was cancelled was tough. For many, many people, the gathering in the desert is a recharge. Working behind the scenes for the event is sometimes tough, sometimes hilarious, and usually fun. At the same time, it can be the hardest thing, with real tragedy, real conflict, and some tough decisions. And even so, this year we were all going to miss it.
The best story I have from 2020 is how all the teams that make up the city infrastructure came together to support each other in our biggest pivot in 30 years. Building Black Rock City requires about 80 teams split over approximately 30 departments. Nearly every team continued communicating in whatever form that took. Some folks did karaoke, some did whisky tasting, some gathered around the burn barrel and told stories. However they decided as a team to keep supporting each other, as the world around us turned inside out and upside down, they did.
Here’s why Black Rock City makes me proud: the community knows how to support people; we’re able to find endless kindness; and when we look to the future, we manage to keep the band together for the next show, whenever that is!
Behind the scenes, Black Rock City leadership has been very grateful to have the time and opportunity to dive into some of the work that we never normally have time to do. Much of this work will take many years to come to fruition, but we have properly started conversations around sustainability and diversity, equity, and inclusion. Black Rock City should be a model of how we can live, and should provide a platform for participants to experiment with options and ideas for solving some of the world’s major issues.
Almost everyone on the Black Rock City full-time staff list ended up supporting other areas of the organization or other community endeavors. Many other Black Rock City staff helped and supported the Multiverse efforts. Online Rangers, Crisis Support and Temple Guardians were all part of the offering, providing real-time support to thousands of people, including many first-time Burners, who attended one of the Multiverse events.
Black Rock City Event Operations by the Numbers
In a normal year it takes 14,000 people — nearly all of whom are volunteers — to keep the wheels of Black Rock City turning!
Looking Ahead to 2021
For some time now, we have been concerned that Black Rock City has become a “places, everyone” event — in other words, a typical event where everyone and everything needs to be ready when the gates open on Sunday evening.
This was not the case for many years. Instead, the work (and being part of the work) was part of the event. Turning up on opening weekend still left you plenty of opportunities to volunteer for an art project, or to help out in your theme camp. Various changes, all made for good reasons over the last five or so years, have reduced the options for engagement and moved us toward this “places, everyone” model.
We want to change that back. One of the 10 Principles is Communal Effort. We want to restore a chunk of that opportunity back into the flow of the event time on playa. It’s a complex operational and cultural pie, but we hope that the next time we get back to the playa, we will have been able to make some changes toward having each one of us engaged in building and making something.
In the Journal:
Jennifer Csicsery-Ronay writes:
One might argue that this year has been our most powerful and important to date. We set out on a strong and fierce mission, one that allowed us to take many risks. There were many challenges in achieving our very ambitious goals — from technical, to our staff being scattered globally — and yet we overcame them simply by being the team that we always have been. This year, BMIR created some of the most compelling, brilliant, and important programming of our station’s existence. Our DJs brought powerful interviews, confronted extraordinarily complex topics, and supported each other consistently throughout the process. Our engineers and managers developed a streaming pipeline that enabled a flow of music and conversation which allowed for a far greater reach than we could have ever anticipated.
BMIR’s 2020 Burn Week broadcast brought forth a new mission of utilizing our voice to facilitate a container for discussing social injustices, Black Lives Matter, LGBTQIA+ civil liberties, the plight of Indigenous peoples, and much more. Together, we created something remarkable that has set the bar for future broadcasts.
We took on the challenge of staying true to our 24/7 broadcast, and we utilized our internal network of talent to queue up near-seamless global broadcasting that was freely accessible to all within and beyond the Burning Man Multiverse.
We onboarded first-time volunteers who embraced this unique challenge and showed up above and beyond expectations.
We installed fail-safe support for our team, whether facing technical problems or emotional setbacks. There was never a moment a volunteer did not have support from upper management.
As you can imagine, running a 24/7 station is already a complex endeavor. However, given the amazing team we’ve established, our main challenges fell into the subject of technical rather than staff. We were able to overcome any technical challenges with a ton of work and passion from every member of the team.
We are fortunate to have a vast array of talent within our team that allows us to easily empower those talents into building something uniquely beautiful within a realm of chaos. Our streaming engineer developed a pipeline that allowed for each DJ’s show to flow almost seamlessly; the process was simple enough for those of varied experience levels to understand and execute. Given our crew is international, we were able to keep to our 24/7 broadcast by scheduling our DJs all over the globe, including Australia, Denmark, Amsterdam, and the UK. Our DJs were given carte blanche to dive head first into the social injustices of the world, and our communication with our team never ceased. While we all so desperately wanted to be together physically this year, we managed to pull off something magical that perhaps brought us even closer.
BMIR By the Numbers:
- ~30 staff (including volunteers)
- ~10 international staff
- ~600 listeners at any given time, globally (with an upper bound of ~850)
- 2 first-time volunteers
Looking Ahead to 2021
We plan to utilize the engineering talents of our staff, and work to develop our own platforms for running the core of our station. We also plan to continue with the captivating programming that brings to light many of the hard-to-face topics of the world today, especially within Burner culture.
In the Journal:
Andi Morency writes:
In a year without Black Rock City, the Census team stayed connected without being physically together. We created a non-census census, just for fun, and scheduled “shifts” during Burn Week just to get together and hang out. We even had a diehard group who got up early for our annual sunrise shift!
Looking Ahead to 2021
We’re planning to acquire a new vehicle for transporting volunteers; we’re working on a more distributed leadership structure; and we will be creating more quick-reference documentation for the team.
In the Journal:
Center Camp Café
Connecting, learning, engaging, and bonding were our focus this year. The Center Camp Café team connected more and more on a regular basis and it strengthened us as a true community/family. We laughed together, shared stories, shed some tears. We had time to learn and brainstorm around sustainability, diversity, equity and inclusion, and more! We gathered for team art tours in the Multiverse, and met up for Multiversal adventures where we inevitably lost one another.
The Center Camp Café Production Crew hosted a performance room in BRCvr that was nearly full every day! We ran 12 hours of performances. The Café Leadership team gathered weekly on Friday mornings for a Coffee Connect hour. We did bi-monthly Lunch & Laughs, and monthly evening meet-ups with a focus on learning and supporting each other. We connected via one-on-one phone calls. Overall, we bonded and supported one another during this unique time, learning more about each other and our off-playa lives and personalities.
The Café’s biggest news of 2020: our fearless leader, the amazing and one-of-a-kind Marcia Crosby, departed after 15 years. Marcia was integral to making the Café what it is today and her impact remains — her touch is visible everywhere one turns in the Café. It was simply fun and an honor to collaborate with her. We will miss Marcia beyond words, but are thrilled for her — she left us for love and amazing life adventures! (What could be better reasons?) Her compassion, empathy, fun, inspiration, and even perfect Burning Man snark made her a unique and beloved leader. Marcia will always be Café family. One could fill the entire website with stories and words about her — she is an institution all to herself. Thank you Marcia!
Looking Ahead to 2021
Looking to Black Rock City 2021, we came up with new ways to make Center Camp Cafe even more sustainable. We’re considering creating a mission statement that will serve as a foundation to guide us through changes.
Department of Mutant Vehicles
Terry Schoop and Dapper write:
We maintained momentum, despite the fact that our on-playa work was canceled this year. Rather than “taking the year off” we have taken on a list of tasks that we otherwise would not have been able to accomplish because of the quick turnaround on facilitating the event every year. Specifically, we are re-working our pre-playa vehicle processing procedure from scratch to respond to all the lessons we’ve learned since we went digital. We are also working with Tech to transition our backend software to a new platform.
With the advent of the pandemic, we saw a COVID-19 parody DMV driving permit produced independently by a previous year’s permit designer.
When mutant vehicle owners requested 2020 driving permits to complete their set, we answered the call to them, and to Black Rock City staff, producing “official” mutant vehicle and staff permits, and in fulfillment, we raised the modest donation of $1,780 to the Save Black Rock City fundraising campaign.
Department of Mutant Vehicles By the Numbers
The absence of two council members was felt: one 2019 resignation and another taking 2020 as a sabbatical year. Issuing from the council resignation and the desire for mutual support and understanding, we focused a good deal of time formally clarifying and documenting what it means to be a DMV council member. Without holding the event, it’s not really meaningful or possible to say how many volunteers we had this year, but traditionally we’ve had *very little* attrition.
Looking Ahead to 2021
We are rebuilding our on-playa vehicle inspection procedure from the ground up. Many things will end up looking the same, but we aren’t taking anything for granted. Specifically, we are focusing on reducing vehicle wait time, without putting pressure on volunteers to “work harder.” That will look like a more mass production approach to the way volunteers interact with the vehicles, and fewer “vehicles waiting in line to work with the one pair of volunteers that will do everything for them.” We’re also looking into eliminating steps that can now be automated with better technology and processes (e.g., pre-numbering the license stickers). Finally, we’ve been working really hard to get our existing and new roles and processes documented, to better support bringing on new team members (particularly to the council and shift lead roles).
Department of Public Works
ChAos and Logan Mirto write:
For the first time our seasonal start was cut short just as things were getting off the ground. We had high hopes for a great year and were working on many improvements to our event production. The cancellation of Black Rock City put us in a position of needing to lay off many of the seasonal staff already working on the 2020 event, and to halt the contracting of hundreds of others who look to the event production season as an important part of their annual rhythm. We instantly became a ship full of carnies lost at sea.
As soon as the realization that we would not be building Black Rock City sunk in, our operations team quickly began work on a road map of improvements needed for future iterations of the event. The list includes a variety of topics under the headings of sustainability, revenue, cost and efficiency, and culture. This work helped us to better understand where we could have the biggest impact over a summer with limited staffing.
The biggest challenge had to be reaching consensus on which work should be prioritized in the short-term. The year-round members of the DPW Council were quickly dispatched to support initiatives outside of our normal operations, making it a challenge to focus on the future of Black Rock City. We worked on everything from the kickoff of the Burning Man LIVE podcast, to producing content for Kindling, to releasing the first book to be published by Burning Man Project, “Built To Burn” by Tony “Coyote” Perez.
Throughout the summer we continued our work to support the DPW community and, frankly, to talk through the loss that many were feeling amidst so much anxiety. We were without the usual cure of a DPW season to help get us through the year, and this year was tougher than most.
For some of us, event week was an opaque barrier that we just couldn’t see past and there was no escaping the absence of Black Rock City in our days. When event week finally passed and we had successfully burned the Man, the emotional roller coaster came to a halt. Since that time we’ve been getting our feet back under us and looking to the horizon once again toward Black Rock City in 2021.
Looking Ahead to 2021
If we have an event in the desert in 2021, we are going to have to reimagine our operation from the ground up. Since we largely function as a service department, we won’t know how things are going to change until we know what we need to build.
Bringing Black Rock City back to life is going to be a monumental task in every scenario. The world is changing and so must we. For one thing, finances will dictate that we take a fresh look at everything we do. And while we figure out how to get things done with less and improve efficiency, we’ll be factoring sustainability into every decision we make. The primary hope is that we can simplify operations to lessen the strain on staff, lower our costs, and reduce our overall impact on the environment.
This year has shaken us all up, and that is a very good thing. It allowed us to take the time to reexamine how we make Burning Man happen, and make use of the opportunities to optimize and reinvigorate our collective efforts.
There are many unknowns for sure. First we need to carefully consider what Black Rock City might look like in 2021. From there we can begin taking a look at everything we do to make it happen through a new lens.
In the Journal:
Karinna O’Connor writes:
Earth Guardians focused their creative energy on different projects this year. One example: our build and teardown manager (Tony, aka the Bee) has always wanted to build a Man. Many years ago, before our 15-year-old son was born, he and I crawled into a container on Fly Ranch and spent the afternoon measuring the Man before it headed out to Black Rock City. This mission came from former City Manager Rod Garrett, who entrusted the Bee to develop construction drawings of the Man. At that time, the Bee was responsible for city AutoCAD plans and helping Rod with drawing the Man Base. We’ve always been too busy to spend summer time in the wood shop building a Man. However, this year, it finally happened. We built our Man — who currently lives in our living room!
Like many other teams, it was very difficult not being able to connect on playa this year. We did manage to have quite a few video calls to connect, and we stayed in touch on social media. Martine, one of the Earth Guardian Volunteers, made us all smile with her weekly Tutu Tuesday posts, reminding us all of our connection to the playa. Our Build Manager created a whimsical graphic of the Man that encouraged us all to exercise Civic Responsibility and vote. We were hoping to have a small retreat — but had to cancel due to the pandemic.
Looking Ahead to 2021
Earth Guardians are hoping to host a Leave No Trace training in cooperation with Friends of Black Rock High Rock, perhaps on Fly Ranch, and to get together more often virtually and possibly in person!
Emergency Services Department
Kate Gonnella writes:
Hundreds of Emergency Services Department (ESD) volunteers have been a part of COVID-19 response teams. Many were deployed to New York City in the early stages of the pandemic and subsequently redeployed to other hotspots throughout the country. Others used their Incident Command System (ICS) expertise in command centers, helping to create a rapid and effective response to the crisis in their counties.
Hundreds of our ESD firefighters have been working overtime to fight the fires raging throughout the western states. Some have stayed close to home, while others have traveled west to assist the California, Oregon, and Washington firefighters in their attempt to contain more than 6050 wildfires caused by the freak lightning storms that occurred on August 16, 2020.
Protests erupted across the country in response to the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and our folks hit the streets to provide medical care. Some joined existing street medic teams, some created their own teams, and a few created street medic training programs in order to rapidly train others to help fill a growing need. This was a grassroots volunteer effort addressing a critical need during turbulent times. Many were shot at and gassed by police personnel but soldiered on. So proud of them!
Gate, Perimeter & Exodus, Rangers, and ESD recognized a need to support our fellow Black Rock City community in the aftermath of the event cancellation. So many relied on their Burning Man Project employment and the Black Rock City community and it was suddenly gone. We did a shout out to all the Black Rock City department teams asking if anyone needed help or could offer help — financial, emotional (job loss, domestic violence, etc.), or physical (car repair, moving, etc.). Nearly 90 people entered their names into BRC AID, our volunteer database, offering to help others.
The bulk of our team is employed in emergency service industries and were deployed across the country to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, unprecedented wildfire and hurricane activity, and protests. So while most were employed and thus weren’t affected by the unemployment and housing crises so many other Burning Man volunteers experienced, they worked tirelessly on the front lines of the tragedies that beset our country over the last several months. We didn’t go to Black Rock City to provide the vital services of medical care, fire suppression, mental health crisis intervention, and 911 dispatching, and everyone missed that opportunity immensely, but our team stays strong, communicating with and supporting one another on social media platforms, and we all look forward to our return to our Black Rock City community, both to be with one another and to serve.
Looking ahead to Black Rock City 2021, the big push will be to plan for an eventual safe return to the playa. Our department expects to be busier than ever.
In the Journal:
Everywhere Pavilion (aka The Embassy of Information)
Kye Horton writes:
This summer I was tasked with figuring out how to represent Burning Man Project in as many of the virtual Universes that made up the 2020 Multiverse as possible. We knew that having a vast online event would allow us to reach an untold number of “Burner curious” participants who had not attended our physical event in the desert. So we needed to distill information about Burning Man Project and get it into as many Universes as possible to educate participants about what we do. Thus, Burning Man Project’s Embassy of Information was born.
I met with the creators of all the Universes to figure out the best way of achieving this goal. Many of them went above and beyond in creating a place for participants to learn about our culture. For example, BRCvr dedicated an entire team to creating a 3D version of the Everywhere/ARTery pavilion to host all of our informational posters. Infinite Playa did the same, while Dusty Multiverse pointed us toward one of their best developers. I also had one-on-one sessions with the creators of Build-A-Burn and SparkleVerse, who walked me through the process of creating an embassy in their Universes.
We were constantly adjusting during the development of the Multiverse. Eventually it became clear that having a space in all eight Universes would, unfortunately, not be possible. We chose to focus on the ones that were achievable.
When Burn Week began on August 30, 2020, we launched an interactive Embassy of Information in five of the Recognized Universes in the Burning Man Multiverse. Each Embassy featured more than 50 different media assets about Black Rock City and Burning Man Project.
Fire Conclave Council
Crimson Rose writes:
The Fire Conclave is comprised of event participants who practice fire arts around the Man on Burn Night. What the Fire Conclave Council does is bring together this community of performers and give them an outlet. This year we focused on that community, giving as many of them a place to connect and perform in this weird and complicated year.
When the pandemic began, but before the event was cancelled, the Fire Conclave Council decided that keeping connected with members of the Fire Conclave was important. We created a weekly meetup/happy hour called Sit & Spin. This was an informal video call that brought together group leadership and the Fire Conclave Council. After six months of weekly happy hours, all felt more connected to one another.
In spring 2020, many of us were living in loneliness and uncertainty. As the Fire Conclave Council gathered over video chat with the leaders of the fire groups across North America, we recognized the need for connection and art as a way to make things just a little better. Dancers who would have gathered to create and rehearse their performances for Black Rock City were grounded; people could not meet and dance together. What could we do?
“Pass the Flame” was a spark in the dark for us, a project created and brought to life by fire Conclave member Tabasco Mills. His invitation to just a few of us at first created hope that we could still burn. I remember his text message: “Can you eat fire? Give me a couple 30-second clips and pass the flame on/off the camera.” “…Uhmmm ya sure,” I replied. I had not touched a flame to my lips in about 10 years. But hell, it sure beats sitting inside staring at the four walls. Suddenly I had a mission, I had purpose, how invigorating!
Word spread over the summer. Fire artists filmed their clips and Tabasco knitted them into a 10-minute video that brought us together in a way that we physically could not. To us it was a proof of concept that we could still burn despite social distancing. To many more it was a beautiful gift feeding our creative spirit.
After several years of trying to figure out the best way to connect and share what we were doing, the Fire Conclave Council decided that a website was the best option. Knowing that Burning Man Project had bigger fish to fry, we bought fireconclave.org to host our site. Currently just a gallery of images collected over the years, we have started to figure out how this can be expanded to become an educational resource for both Burning Man and the broader fire community.
The Fire Conclave Council also hosted several events intended to fuel connection and support co-learning. A fire photography workshop gave fire photographers the opportunity to meet with Great Circle documentarians Espresso Buzz, Grant Palmer, and Kevin Levezu to discuss techniques and best practices in photographing fire. We invited fire groups from around the world to create and submit video content to be shared through the Fire Conclave media channels. And we collaborated with Profiles in Dust to create Lighting Up!, a series of video interviews with fire artists speaking about fire dance and participating in the Fire Conclave.
It wouldn’t be Burn Week without some spectacular Fire Conclave performances. For the 2020 Burning Man Multiverse, we collected approximately 38 hours of fire performance content from the community. During Burn Week, the footage was available for anyone to watch via 24/7 video loop on several virtual platforms and in some of the Recognized Universes of the Burning Man Multiverse.
The Fire Conclave Council also hosted a number of live events during Burn week: an Opening Ceremony, a Sit & Spin Zoom live video cocktail hour, How to Shoot Fire, a fire photography workshop, Dance Dance Fire Jam, and pre-burn performances on Burn Night. All events were broadcast on social media platforms and fireconclave.org and shared in the Multiverse.
Always keep the fire alive!
Fire Conclave By the Numbers:
- Participated in several Universes of the 2020 Multiverse
- Curated more than 38 hours of Fire Conclave video for the Multiverse
- Hosted 27 Sit & Spin events
- More than 250 people directly participated in Fire Conclave Council projects
Gate, Perimeter & Exodus
Tabitha Hewitt writes:
There is no one best story from 2020. Rather, there are a myriad of amazing ways the crew of Gate, Perimeter & Exodus (GP&E) showed up to support each other throughout the last number of difficult months. From creating and burning art together for a virtual Early Burn, building a virtual Black Hole camp, running a playa-focused radio station 24/7, to challenging folks to build their own camp in miniature. From holding our annual logo design contest, to folks volunteering to wrangle the production and distribution of swag, to sharing surprise stickers. From sharing beautiful stories of struggles, successes, and magic, to supporting the hard conversations around displacement, diversity, and fear. There have been movie nights, morning coffee talks, and online parties that lasted long after the moderators had fallen asleep.
There have been beautiful cards, notes, gifts, and pocket bacon mailed all over the world. The team has proven that, with or without Black Rock City, we will continue to support the relationships that have formed through our shared experiences in the desert. More than that, we have created new common tales to tell around a burn barrel in the future.
Recognizing an unmet need in the staff community, members of GP&E have joined together with teammates from DPW, Rangers, and ESD to create a centralized mutual aid tool and website. BRC AID is a cross-departmental collaboration of Black Rock City staff and volunteers working to create a tool to offer and receive emotional, logistical and material support as we attempt to survive together in the default world.
GP&E hosted the “official” online Early Burn Party for staff. Thirteen people built effigies and burned them together in a 10-hour celebration that drew more than 300 people. One of our crew built an incredibly detailed virtual front-of-house version of the Black Hole Bar and made it possible to climb on the container to see the sunset, flip cones, grab a cocktail, and even go into a porta-potty for that authentic playa feel. We held our annual logo design contest, voted until a winner was picked, and have produced hundreds of t-shirts, cups, bandanas, and other swag.
Gate, Perimeter & Exodus By the Numbers:
- Shortest wait times at Gate ever, or longest depending on your perspective
Looking Ahead to 2021
We’re hoping to move most of our training online to allow for additional educational opportunities pre-event. We’d like to find solutions to using our resources more collaboratively, to being more sustainable, and to reviewing and improving our processes to ensure we are providing access for all people.
Since there was no Burn and people were really bummed out, I organized mini Lamplightings in seven cities around the world that had decent-sized lamplighter populations. We kept it a secret. In each city, Lamplighters filmed themselves lighting parks, streets, whatever they could, in bath robes and masks (since it’s a pandemic and everyone is stuck at home).
We played a video each night on our social media to surprise the rest of our volunteers. There were a lot of emotions and tears of happiness. We also made a mini Temple (The Temple of Tye-Dye) to honor one of our longest villagers, who we lost to cancer. We burned the Temple over video chat; it was very emotional.
Even though we weren’t together on playa, we tried to bring everyone together over other avenues. We kept the flame going through social media. We held lots of video meetings, sticker exchanges through the mail, daily party playlists… anything we could think of to keep villagers and volunteers engaged and feeling a part of something.
Lamplighters By the Numbers:
- Even without an event, we lit seven cities around the world.
Looking Ahead to 2021
We don’t expect a ton of changes to the way we work in Black Rock City 2021. We have a pretty solid management team and infrastructure that works like a well-oiled machine. The only thing I can think of that we’d like to change, and this is based on Burner feedback from inside and outside the camp, is our white robes. With all the racial injustice in the news and in the world right now, many people feel we shouldn’t be parading around in white robes. We may just dye the ones we have during our annual work weekend next summer.
There was so much disappointment around no Burn this year that I’m pretty sure we’ll have a record number of returning veterans in our camp next Burn.
At many meetings in 2019 there was talk of how to make Burning Man more accessible. The 20th photo in this Mobility Camp slideshow shows camp members Lamplighting — something they have done as a camp for the last four or five years. Other departments are just starting to think about making their Black Rock City activities more accessible, but we’ve been doing it for years.
Lost & Found
Sparkle Ann McCandless writes:
Oh, the plans we had! And NO ONE lost anything this year! Not even one item, unlike the previous year when 2,330 items were logged into our database. We suspected that would be the case, so although Playa Info was available in the Multiverse, we chose not to bring in our Lost and Found team. Lost something? Humm… Search your house; that may be where your phone or backpack or favorite item of clothing is hiding.
Planning for 2021, the following items will be taken to San Francisco for post-playa reuniting: IDs, phones, backpacks and bags, cameras, electronics, medical equipment and medication, lighting, gear, jewelry, nice costumes and coats.
We made decisions about how to handle some of the items that are seldom claimed. Prior to leaving the playa, unclaimed drinking vessels will be donated to Witchy’s border charity. Clothing will be donated to Friends of Black Rock High Rock. Bike-related things, including seats and baskets, will be offered to Community Bikes.
Kimba Standridge writes:
In a typical year, we would pick one design for the Man Pavilion and execute it. In 2020, we picked one, and then pivoted to look at three others, and finally implemented a fifth iteration of the Man for the year.
With the cancellation of Black Rock City 2020, many months of design and engineering work on the Man Pavilion were shelved for future use.
We will always burn the Man. While we weren’t able to burn the way we had hoped, members of the Man Build Crew did join a skeleton team to build and burn a Man on Burn Night. The Man Burn was live streamed to thousands of Burners around the world.
Man Pavilion By the Numbers:
- We accomplished the Man Burn with roughly 1/20th of our normal staff
Looking Ahead to 2021
I sure hope we build and burn a Man in Black Rock City 2021, joined by nearly 80,000 of our closest friends and family. While not yet confirmed at any high level, the team is preparing for some austerity measures to be embraced for 2021. This will likely impact the scale of the Pavilion and hopefully will lead us to see how we can do more with less.
In the Journal:
Multiverse Playa Info
Mike McFarland writes:
Playa Info in the Multiverse started with a simple idea: could we participate in Burning Man 2020? Even though this idea came to us in late July, no one at our regularly-scheduled monthly meeting knew anything about the Multiverse at all. A couple people decided to go exploring.
Fortunately, the next day we received a copy of an email from a group of intrepid individuals who were interested in setting up back-channel comms for the Black Rock City Community Services Department. This was the beginning of an incredible adventure that culminated in what, for many of us, was a true Burning Man experience.
There were three things we immediately discovered. No one really understood what an online Burning Man event could be, but we were certain it was going to happen. There was no central planning or support for providing the traditional Black Rock City Burner support services. Most importantly, there were Burners who passionately believed that such services were essential to the online community and were willingly dedicating all their time to figuring out how to do that, with only four weeks left to opening day. This was the basis of the Multiverse Support Services Exploration Group (MSSG).
It turned out that there were previous online Burning Man Regional events with experienced volunteers who understood online culture: Burn2 yearly since 2005, and Virtual Del Fuego in April 2020. The experience of these individuals from both events was critical to the rapid formation of MSSG’s communications infrastructures and service protocols.
In trying to understand how Playa Info could provide services to the online Burners, we looked to what Playa Info does in Black Rock City. We provide in-person information on events, an online means of connection through a Burner-generated Directory, Lost and Found, and mentoring on the ways of Burning Man’s culture and 10 Principles. In adapting this to the Multiverse we assumed that Lost and Found and the Directory were not applicable. But all other services could and should be made available.
One additional, critical, aspect of Playa Info: we are a “camp” where like-minded people hang out and interact with Burners. Many of us wanted that same experience during the online event. All this information was presented to the Playa Info Council and a decision was made to participate.
In a short period of only three weeks of very long days, and with the help and support of the core MSSG team, Playa Info Multiverse was up and running. A core team of amazing volunteers was in place to staff a public Zoom room that could answer any and all questions for participants from all the different Universes. A Discord server was available to help coordinate and communicate among the volunteer team. The team was backed up by a well organized and highly trained Ranger and harm reduction team. And with the participation of volunteers from Asia we were able to provide daily coverage from 10 am PDT through 6 am the next morning. Two days before the official start of the event, we went live and still didn’t know what would happen.
What happened is that we had a very Burning Man experience. It was a new and exciting expression of Burning Man culture. Just like Playa Info in the dust, we answered many questions, either in the Zoom room or our public chat interface. We fielded questions such as: how to use each of the platforms, when certain events were scheduled, why some of the Universes were not online. We developed protocols on how to deal with trolls and lurkers. Working with the Multiverse Rangers we figured out a process to successfully bring harm reduction Rangers into a Zoom conversation to help participants in need.
The traffic from the Universes was not very high. However when we, late in the week, focused on getting the word out to the default world on social media, we got more visitors with questions about the event itself, what it was, how to connect and which Universes did what. We also stumbled on the notion of creating our own events to raise the awareness of Playa Info. We had two very successful events: the annual Red Party and talent show and a Burning Man storytelling event.
The concept of providing live, information-based interaction for online events was validated. The technology we used was successful and the process of setting up and running this effort felt like being at Burning Man.
Multiverse Playa Info By the Numbers:
- 37 volunteers, including 6 new volunteers (who we could not have done without!)
- 5 shift leads
- 137 hours of shifts covered
Looking Ahead to 2021
In the future we will need to get the word out about Playa Info and its services much earlier. We need to be more visible across all recognized virtual experiences. We need to send Playa Info Ambassadors directly into the Universes. And we need to be available to the general public, outside of the experiences themselves, as a source of information about Burning Man.
In the Journal:
Coming into this year, with the feedback received through the Cultural Direction Setting project about being more transparent, having a stronger relationship with theme camps, and providing direct feedback, we intended on increasing the size of our 17-person Placement team by at least 50%. The plan was to include new types of specialized roles to support our overall process and to recruit additional Placers for each sector. I’m proud of our team for embracing these changes that would inevitably impact not only how we do things, but the culture of our relatively small team.
Taking Cultural Direction Setting to the Next Level
Our largest success has to be Cultural Direction Setting Phase 2, which kicked off at the 2019 Burn with nine working groups containing approximately 80 people who met from October 2019 through April 2020. Several of the groups met weekly during that seven-month period. It was the largest community engagement process Burning Man Project has led, and it resulted in concrete changes to Black Rock City’s Placement process, including revised expectations of theme camps.
Phase 2 was a human-centered, participatory, interactive design approach facilitated by former Placement manager Trippi Longstocking, lead facilitator Simone Torrey, and current Placement manager Level. The end result is a model for community engagement and consensus-building, documented in a toolkit and case study intended to be shared with the wider Burning Man community. We also hope this model can be used outside of Burning Man contexts to demonstrate how civic engagement can work to solve complex community issues.
Spacious from Anahasana Village had this to say about Phase 2 of Cultural Direction Setting: “Such sweet architecture of collaborative facilitation to keep things open. Thank you for listening to my objections and dissenting opinions openly and I am glad to hear that this will be iterative and evolving. It was a huge privilege to be part of this. I want to celebrate our culture for reaching out, including and investing so much into volunteers.”
New Training Documentation for Future Placers
Without an event, the Placement team created new trainings to help onboard future Placers and to share knowledge about how we do what we do. Placing theme camps is a complex process with limited documentation and relies heavily on oral history. This new documentation will be very beneficial for future team members, and also helps to build more consistency into our process across our sectors.
It was a rough year overall, and it was hard to keep people engaged. The Placement team continued to meet monthly, mainly to socialize and check in on how team members were doing. It was difficult to pivot because their role is so event-specific.
A Team and Virtual Events to Support Camps Year-round
While the Placement team’s role is event-specific, the Camp Support team works year-round in supporting and advising camps. The major pivot for the Camp Support team occurred in producing this year’s Theme Camp Symposium (TCS) at the end of March. We had originally planned for that event to be both in-person in San Francisco and live-streamed for online participation. With local shelter in place orders, we had to go fully digital.
I’m really proud of how we pivoted and the TCS became Burning Man Project’s first fully virtual large-scale offering to the community. The event took place only a few weeks into the lockdown and people were just getting used to being on video conferencing for long periods of time. At its peak, we had 900 attendees — 300 more than we could accommodate with an in-person event. We planned the schedule so participants from different continents were able to tune in at various points.
The things we tried and learned at the TCS became a model for subsequent online events, including the European Leadership Summit and all-staff meetings. Not only was it an example of how to produce an online event, but the refund process for the in-person tickets became a barometer of how we could handle ticket refunds for Black Rock City.
Here are a few results from the evaluation:
- 90% rated the TCS a 5 and 8% rated a it a 4 on a 1-5 scale
- 50% prefer a virtual TCS, 20% in person, and 30% no preference
Feedback from a TCS participant:
“While many probably lament the inability to be face-to-face, I saw this as a great opportunity to bring the experience to many more people. I personally think the broad participation made this more desirable. This will be my 10th Burn, and first as a camp lead (Theme Camp Organizer). So much for me to learn. This was so helpful. Thanks.”
Placement By the Numbers:
- 900 attendees for the virtual Theme Camp Symposium — the most ever!
- 80 participants in Cultural Direction Setting Phase 2
- Two new volunteer teams — Camp Survey Squad Leadership team (to help manage an on-playa volunteer effort to visit and gather information about all placed camps) and a Camp Network team (to produce monthly online theme camp convenings)
- 23 Camp Advisors trained for the Camp Advisory and Mentorship Program
- Nine new volunteers across Placement, Camp Support, and Camp Survey Squad teams
- Zero camps placed
Looking Ahead to 2021
With the scope of Black Rock City still unknown, we have not discussed if anything will change — so much is still in limbo. We expect to continue working in a similar way, unless we’re constrained by population size, resources, or variables such as public health accommodations for COVID-19.
For Placement, we still intend to roll out more of the process and policy changes that resulted from Cultural Direction Setting, where relevant. After a year off it feels like we may be able to make some bigger shifts that may have taken longer without this major shift in the world, including more emphasis on sustainability, diversity and inclusion, and ways to curtail convenience camping.
We had planned to continue holding the TCS virtually after this year. That said, this prolonged period without being able to gather has reinforced the importance and value of in-person gatherings. We’re thinking about how we might augment a virtual TCS with in-person elements.
In the Journal:
Playa & Highway Restoration
Dominic “DA of Black Rock” Tinio writes:
In 2020, the year without the Burning Man event in Black Rock City, Playa Restoration Manager Dominic “DA” Tinio was inspired to attempt a fundraising stunt to raise money and awareness for Burning Man’s 10-Year Sustainability Roadmap by walking 85 miles along the desert highway 447 from Wadsworth to the Black Rock Desert, all the while cleaning up Matter Out of Place (MOOP) along the journey.
With a small support team, this fundraising effort known as DA’s Black Rock MOOPATHON took eight days from June 26 to July 3, 2020. DA picked up more than 2,000 pounds of MOOP and raised over $31,000 in donations toward Burning Man’s Sustainability Initiatives.
BIG NEWS: The MOOPATHON funds raised will go towards running the Burning Man Pavillion on solar power at Burning Man 2021 and beyond! That’s right, The Man will be powered by the sun and stand as a symbol of our dedication to sustainability, thanks to the community’s support of DA’s Black Rock MOOPATHON! Leaving No Trace was just the beginning!
The Playa Restoration team rode high into 2020, bringing from 2019 the greenest and cleanest MOOP Map in Black Rock City history, and achieving the highest score ever on the Bureau of Land Management Post-Event Inspection.
With no event during difficult times, the team focused on keeping the DPW Playa Restoration community connected through smaller online events. A small Playa Restoration crew was on hand to lead the cleanup effort and Leave No Trace after the Man Burn that was broadcast around the world to unite the community during these times.
Playa and Highway Restoration By the Numbers:
- Four was the number of in-the-field MOOPATHON Support Staff
- 2,000 pounds is the approximate weight of all the Matter Out of Place cleaned up along Highway 447 and State Route 34 by DA’s Black Rock MOOPATHON
- Eight was the number of days it took to walk to the Black Rock Desert from Wadsworth while cleaning up MOOP
- 43,428 is the number of recorded steps from Wadsworth, Nevada, to the Black Rock Desert (but the actual number is higher due to occasional dead battery)
Looking Ahead to 2021
Playa Restoration will create more opportunities to help keep the Black Rock Desert and local community areas clean, beautiful, and without a trace. The possibility of a Burning Man event for 2021 is a long way away still, so the plan for now is to safely stay the course. If the event is a full go, our main priority as always will be to Leave No Trace on the Black Rock Desert.
In the Journal:
Our best story of 2020 is the continued year-round operation of many of our Ranger teams, who kept the home fires burning despite the cancellation of the 2020 event.
Our Volunteer Coordinators, Communications Cadre, and Mentors kept our volunteers engaged year-round by hosting virtual town halls and socials, while individual Rangers hosted “Rangers Talking Shit” (RTS) virtual hangout sessions. The Training Academy used 2020 to move some of our Face-to-Face Ranger training content into an interactive online format. The Tech team pushed out improvement after improvement to the Ranger Secret Clubhouse, our volunteer management system. The Ranger Operations team, Ranger Council, and multiple Cadres continued to meet virtually on a regular basis. While 2020 brought a lot of challenges, we’re very proud of and grateful to our volunteers for not just hanging in there, but truly keeping the Ranger machine oiled and humming until we can return to the playa.
Ranger Gatherings and Events in 2020
One of the bigger changes this year, of course, was a transition from being able to gather in person to doing nearly everything over video conference. Here are a few specific ways we kept the department connected:
- Town Halls: We’ve continued to hold quarterly virtual town halls, open to the entire Ranger department
- Newsletter: We launched a recurring newsletter as a way to spotlight specific activities, share best practices, and provide our volunteers a space to share long-form/narrative writing with others in the department
- Virtual Socials: In place of our on-playa Tuesday and Sunday night Ranger Socials, our volunteer coordinators put together two great virtual events (on the same days they would have occurred on playa), with four breakout rooms:
- Create, Show, and Talk: a space to share art, projects or pictures. Come for the crafting, stay for the chat
- Rangers Talking Shit at the 10/7 bar: a place to hang out, tell stories, get assistance from the bartender on making a drink with what’s on your shelves, photo sharing, tall-tale telling, and rants
- Ranger Quest: A race, a scavenger hunt, a competition. A way to meet other Rangers and compete in a battle of wits, creativity, and silliness
- Tuesday/Sunday Night Social: A place to meet other Rangers, ask questions, hear opinions, stories, and share your regional and international experiences
- Virtual RTS: Many of our volunteers hosted impromptu virtual hangouts over video chat
- New volunteer outreach: The Ranger Mentors are hosting a series of virtual events to help connect our newest (1-4 year) volunteers with experienced Rangers and Ranger Cadres and give them practice with “what if” scenarios; the Mentors are also creating an email list for newer Rangers where they can feel safe asking “newbie” questions
- Online training: The Ranger Training Academy redesigned the Ranger training to move more of the lecture components into an interactive online format, and to focus the Face-to-Face training on scenarios; the redesigned training will be available in 2021
Department of Institutional Memory (DIM) is an online archive for curating, collecting, and sharing our memories before they fade into the dust. Initially set up by Rangers, the hope is that other departments will create their own sections on this page to house their photographed, written, spoken, and shared memories.
Radio Check is a new podcast series about Rangers, Rangering, and the DIM memories that Rangers have of their origins, adventures, and history.
Rangers in the World:
Rangers are always ready to jump in and help, and even though we didn’t get to be together on playa this year, 2020 provided a lot of opportunities for folks to help in the default world. Multiple Rangers (as individuals, not in their capacity as Rangers) volunteered in their communities in many ways, including as poll watchers, de-escalators, and makers and distributors of masks.
We received many questions (internally within our department and from participants contacting us) related to the Black Lives Matter movement and whether the Ranger model could be used effectively in the outside world. Rangers Tool and Thespian joined the organization’s law enforcement liaison, Roger Vind, on Burning Man Live to discuss law enforcement and alternative public safety models with Stuart Mangrum and Logan Mirto.
The Ranger Training Academy is working on a de-escalation training module for sharing with the greater Burner community.
Rangers in the Multiverse
The Black Rock Rangers did not have an official presence at the virtual Multiverse events. Instead, Rangers Tranquilitea and Zen Panda organized the Multiverse Support Services Operations, including a team of Multiverse Rangers. Ranger Diver Dave and the Regional Ranger Network were instrumental in the logistics and operation of the Multiverse Support Services Organization. Multiverse Rangers staffed a Ranger HQ video conference room 24 hours a day for eight days and interacted with participants via video, audio, and Zoom and Discord chat. This group now has a great skill set that can be a resource for virtual Regional events going forward.
Rangers Belmont, Crow, and Coal Smoke, with non-Rangers Marshmallow and Jefferson, built realistic models of Ranger HQ and Ranger Outposts Tokyo and Berlin in BRCvr. These virtual spaces could open up future opportunities for training, scenarios, and orienting new volunteers to key on-playa locations.
During what would have been the event period, Burning Man Project deployed a small group of Rangers and ESD to support Gerlach. The goal was to minimize the potential impact of a possible large influx of visitors to Gerlach, provide a calming presence, check on Burning Man Project properties, answer questions, and assist locals, if requested.
The focus was on Gerlach. Aside from assisting with several vehicle recoveries, Black Rock Rangers did not have an on-playa presence. We worked in close cooperation with the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office and appreciate the support they provided to the community in Gerlach. While the large influx we worried about did not happen, the Gerlach community was happy to have us there and felt very supported.
Rangers by the Numbers:
Operation Non-Event in Gerlach during Burn Week:
- 17 Rangers were deployed: 4 Leads, 4 Troubleshooters, 4 Green Dots, 3 Gerlach Patrol members, and 2 SAR/Recovery
- Around the clock, Rangers worked 8-hour shifts for 13 days in a 15-day period
- Totals worked were: 181 shifts and 1,448 hours (this does not include 4 medics who were on standby for 8 hours per day in staggered shifts)
- There were 21 total incidents, 6 of which occurred after the operation was over and most of the Rangers had gone home
Looking Ahead to 2021 and Beyond
We plan to focus on health and safety for our volunteers. We will be working closely with ESD to identify and implement appropriate safety protocols for future events.
- Department of Institutional Memory (DIM)
- “Radio Check” Podcasts
- Burning Man Live episode about Rangers and Law Enforcement
- Multiverse Rangers Website
In the Journal:
The best thing to happen this year has to be the fundraiser for the Gerlach K-12 School. In a year without an event, without any aluminum cans to recycle, we found a way to raise $15,000 — a whopping five times the amount we have typically been able to donate through Black Rock City recycling alone. We shared our story and 158 contributors gave from their hearts, for the kids.
Our participation in the 2020 Burning Man Multiverse was a huge success for Recycle Camp. One of our campers took on the challenge of building a virtual Recycle Camp. With a little design help and cheerleading from the default world, they were able to produce not just one Recycle Camp, but two. That’s right, we had an amazing VR version of Recycle Camp that really had a lot of the key infrastructure, and boxes of fireworks. And we had a whole separate design theme for our Annual Silver Party on Sunday night when the gates opened. The whole camp was silver! More than 500 people joined the party through the special portal we created in the BRCvr Recycle Camp.
Like everyone else, throughout the year Recycle Camp stayed connected through regular video calls. We shared our experience of pandemic life every Sunday from 12 noon (PDT) until whenever the last person signed out.
Recycle Camp By the Numbers:
- Our Volunteer Coordinator hosted video meetups every Sunday from March through September; now they are every other weekend through the winter
- We raised $15,000 in contributions for the Gerlach K-12 School in the first-ever Recycle Camp fundraiser; 158 people contributed
- We raised five times our initial goal of $3,000, the amount we had hoped to raise from collecting aluminum cans in Black Rock City in 2020
Looking Ahead to 2021
We are considering running another fundraiser for the school with our on-playa efforts, extending the opportunity to support the school to the off-playa community. We will continue to develop our VR presence in BRCvr and other Universes in the Burning Man Multiverse. Video meetups will continue through the off season to keep us connected and advance camp planning. We will be reviewing the Recycle Camp 2021 budget for economic and environmental sustainability.
In the Journal:
I’m most proud of three things that 2020 brought the Temple Guardians. We provided an opportunity for our Temple Guardian community to connect and support each other in a very difficult year. Fifty-six Guardians served in the Burning man Multiverse this year, which is much more than I expected (we normally have about 400 on playa). We integrated really well with the Temple artists and Rangers — probably better than any prior year. We really were one big team. Several leaders emerged who we didn’t expect and greatly appreciated. This will make us stronger on playa.
We worked remotely across five countries (USA, UK, Netherlands, Australia, Hong Kong) on four continents. We used new technologies (Discord, Altspace) as well as familiar ones (Zoom). To adapt to the Multiverse, we changed our shift structure, and we changed our role structure.
Temple Guardians By the Numbers:
- 56 Temple Guardians served shifts
- 239 shifts were served (average of 4 per Guardian)
- 1,488 volunteer hours logged
- 1,700 estimated participant interactions
- 3,141 Temple Offerings
During a year when we were not able to be together in Black Rock City, some of us shared a mini-Burn on Dutch’s property. Two media stations with large screens made it possible for us to connect virtually with VRT members from around the world.
There was a major shift in the management of the VRT. The VRT Council was dissolved. Retro started the VRT Reboot by inviting Dutch and Groove as a leadership team.
We created a Master VRT Task List that contains all on- and off-playa tasks/dates/deadline/to-do’s that the VRT managers need to complete each year. The Master VRT Task List will document details of different steps that need to be taken, with the eventual goal of dividing up the tasks more easily among VRT members. This idea was born out of the concern that knowledge was held by a few members and not easily transferred to others on the team. If someone left the VRT, the tasks generally had to be re-learned.
Scheduling and budgeting spreadsheets were created to better manage VRT members on playa. We tried to implement a management structure for this year where different tasks were divided among VRT managers, with the goal of having more managers/stakeholders and fewer council members. Managers will also have a voice in the VRT decision-making process.
We had a virtual VRT V-Spot presence in Build-A-Burn, one of the Recognized Universes of the Burning Man Multiverse. We met many folks in Build-A-Burn and developed some new friendships.
We are managing VRT swag more effectively. Groove has been collecting some of the VRT graphic files from previous years in order to modify them into editable files that can be used in the future.
Looking Ahead to 2021
As soon as Black Rock City 2021 is confirmed, VRT management will contact each Member to inspire a new commitment and solicit new ideas moving forward. In 2021 we’re planning to create better documentation and videos for our Training Library.