By Justine Schott
I was planning for 2020 to be my first burn. I was ready to turn my reality upside down. Little did I know that my reality would change drastically from my own home.
When I volunteered to write this blog post a few months ago, I wasn’t sure if I was the right person. I’ve never actually seen Black Rock City. How could I connect to a Burning Man community that I was just becoming a part of? Would the community trust that I was accurately conveying the context that our report is showing?
But now, we actually all have this shared experience of being a virgin: a virgin to this global pandemic, a virgin to massive unprecedented economic upheaval, and a virgin to being thrown into this world of forced physical distancing; however, we are not virgins to uncertainty and overcoming. We’ve all struggled with problems large and small. Though we each have unique challenges to overcome with COVID-19, we will always have this shared experience of exploring a new reality with alternating emotions of curiosity, fear, and even playfulness. We will all always have that shared experience from now on, whether we are in the Burning Man community or not. This year, we are all being thrown into a new kind of desert, all of us with a virgin mindset. Our global community is in the neighborhoods instead of Black Rock City, in street clothes instead of playa fashion, and wearing face coverings to prevent the coronavirus from entering our lungs, instead of the dust blown up from the desert windstorms.
I joined the Census Team to learn about the individuals who make up the Burning Man community. What I know about the Burning Man community so far is that Burners are tough and adaptable. Burners go into the desert to brave the elements and create connection in new and unexpected ways. Burners are radically self-reliant.
I know we have already started to adapt to these new rules of engagement and will continue to create within this new reality, including not building Black Rock City in 2020. As we look to what Burning Man is and will be moving forward, we aim to know more about how Burners and Black Rock City have adapted and changed in the past. Today, we see fewer Burners are coming to Black Rock City for the first time, and demographically we’re all getting a little older.
Black Rock City Census makes a commitment to collecting the data, analyzing the data, and reporting the data. We generally do not make a practice of interpreting the data; however, we are nerds and can’t help but sit around and postulate on what the data may mean about the people who come to Black Rock City. Here are some interesting data and some of the ideas our academics considered about how the Burning Man community developed in 2019:
The Community Population Shows the Most Stability Since 2013
The following metrics show that in 2019, Black Rock City has had the most consistency, i.e. little change in population demographics, in recent history.
1) Number of Burns attended
Tracking the proportion of virgins in Black Rock City can give the most insight into how much volatility should be expected in the population. However, in 2019, the decrease in the proportion of virgins attending Burning Man was the highest since 2013 at 18%. This is almost double the decrease of virgins in both 2017 and 2018.
2019 Decrease in Black Rock City Virgins Almost Double Previous Year’s Decrease
2) Age Range
Additionally, the median age of Black Rock City increased by one year for the second year in a row. A one-year increase is what would be expected if there were no change to the population. This is the first time in recent history that Black Rock City hasn’t shifted to be a younger demographic.
2019 Average Age of Burners Remains Stagnant for the Second Year in a Row
We Are Seeing the Community’s Life Journey Unfold
Given that the population is stabilizing, we are able to see how the community’s life journey has unfolded in 2019 with the following three metrics.
1) Relationship Status
For the first time in recent history, the proportion of married Burners was higher than the proportion of Burners in an unmarried relationship. One interpretation of this could be that Burners that were in an unmarried relationship decided to get married. Burners were most likely to have No Relationship, but that proportion has been steadily declining.
This also correlates with the median age data, above. As the median age has stabilized, this represents a higher number (or at least a stable number) of older Burners, who are more likely to be in a long term relationship based on the number of years they’ve been on this planet.
Black Rock City Changed its Relationship Status to Married
2019 increase In Married Burners was Over Double the Prior Year’s Increase
2) Personal Income
Also, Black Rock City participants were focusing on their finances. In 2019, the median annual income went up 11% from $65k to $72k. This is over double the annual increase from 2013 to 2018, which was 5%.
Black Rock City got a Raise
2019 Pay Increase was Double the Annual Increase in Recent History
3) Burning Man Ticket Source
Finally, we can deduce that more Burners made Burning Man a part of their lives outside of Black Rock City. This is one interpretation of the most likely ticket source for Burners, a Direct Group Sale, which may mean that they were involved in theme camps, art projects, mutant vehicles, or are staff/volunteers. The increase from 2018 was a whopping 22%, almost triple the previous year’s increase.
Black Rock City Made Burning Man Their Way of Life
2019 Increase in Black Rock City Year-Round Participation* Almost Triple Previous Year’s Increase
*Year-round participation is estimated using the Directed Group Sales tickets. Note, the number of Directed Group Sale tickets available is not consistent each year, and some of this increase is due to the increase in available DGS tickets between 2018 and 2019.
Increasing Diversity in BRC: A Work in Progress
While the trope of a largely white Burning Man is on the forefront of our collective consciousness these days, the ethnicity results in the 2019 Black Rock City Census tell a story of gradual progress. For the sixth straight year we have reported a decline in the percentage of participants selecting their ethnicity as “White/Caucasian (non-Hispanic),” from a high of 82.9% in 2013 to a low of 76.4% in 2019. While most ethnicity estimates have remained stable, since 2013 we have seen increases in the percentage of participants reporting Asian (from a low of 3.7% in 2013 to a high of 5.8% in 2018, and Hispanic/Latino (from a low of 3.0% in 2013 to a high of 5.4% in 2018) ethnicities, and the “other/multiple” category had the largest single year increase from 9.4% in 2018 to 10.3% in 2019.
In these trying times, it’s comforting to see that Burning Man has built a strong and stable community. There may not be a physical Black Rock City this year, but there is a reliable foundation for Burners to stay connected and keep the spirit of Burning Man alive in our own unique ways.
These are just a couple of conclusions that were drawn from the 2019 Census; there is so much more for you to explore at blackrockcitycensus.org. Feel free to explore topics like Black Rock City’s impacts, how people organized their camps, how people thought Burning Man should operate, and so much more. If you have any additional thoughts, we’d love for you to join us as a Census volunteer — we hope to hear from you soon!