The Future of Black Rock City: All Comm, All Comm… Come Back for BRC Operations

A series from the BRC Operations team about what our desert city can become and how we are preparing for the future. Read all the posts here.  

The event is canceled.
So… what’s the BRC Operations team doing?
The answer: Thinking about the future

To more fully answer this question, we are launching this five-part series. Our goal is to share information and provide a window into what we are doing and what we plan to do to tune up Black Rock City (BRC) for the future. Each post following this introduction will thoroughly examine a current area of work and dig deep into related topics.

BRC is made by and for the community; its form and potential impact are shaped and created by all of us. We each have a voice as we consider how best to use this time to address matters imperative not only to the future of BRC, but also to how we responsibly co-exist on the planet. We hope this blog series stimulates conversation and inspires action as we collectively consider our next steps and destination.

This post is Part I of the series. 

Purpose: (1) To provide an overview of what the BRC Operations Team (BRC Ops) is working on, how we got here, and what we are planning. (2) To introduce current areas of work that will be explored in further detail in future posts.

Table of Contents:

Past: How we got here: the Burning Man Bus

Present: Three themes & many areas of work

Future: How are we planning for it?

The FlyBrary by Christina Sporrong (Photo by Debbie Wolff)

Past: How we got here — the Burning Man Bus 

Burning Man is like a bus on a never ending route. Over the years, our “Burning Man Bus” has grown and it has never stopped moving. Each season, new luggage gets added to its roof and the load gets heavier. Our route to and from Black Rock City includes no time for pit stops; there are too many things to do in the short yearly cycle of BRC Operations to make big changes. As a result, processes get overloaded and cemented in place, and our ever-expanding bus becomes increasingly sluggish.

But this year, BANG!, our bus was forced to a screeching halt.

For the first time in over 30 years, BRC is not being built in the Black Rock Desert. This rare pause in our routine has provided us with an amazing opportunity to look at our bus, re-examine our work and operations, and unpack some luggage.

Photo by Manuel B Pinto

What have we found? An old event, with old systems, made for and by the old world; it’s time for us to make some changes.

Our bus needs some detailing, an oil check, and maybe its tires rotated. It was great when it was designed, and fit perfectly at the time, but the state of the world in 2020, combined with some older systems, are giving us a beautiful opportunity to rethink and reshape.

What does this mean?

We are asking ourselves and our community, when BRC comes back what can it be? There are many opinions about this and the answer can only be found in the collective engagement of our community.

We agree that BRC should showcase our best selves. Our city has always been a platform for progessive thinking, research, and development. Now is the time for us to expand and deepen our conversations, and do the work that we truly believe in for BRC and the world.

Photo by Gurpreet Chawla

Present: Three themes & many areas of work

Over the last few months, we have been compiling comments from a wide range of staff and volunteers, listening to participants, reviewing feedback from the 2019 event, speaking with professionals in our field, and staying educated on world developments. From this, we have identified potential operational improvements and built a narrative around 3 major themes:

  • Operations
  • Efficiency
  • Culture

We have been able to incorporate, ask questions about, and focus on an array of work areas within our BRC Operations including:

  • Sustainability: In partnership with BMP’s newly-formed Sustainability Team, we are examining every part of our BRC Operation and considering how we can make it more sustainable. Implementing alternative energy grids, strengthening our waste stream management, reducing our fuel-based infrastructure—the list of potential improvements and ideas is extensive and we are hard at work mapping out and analyzing all of them.
  • Diversity & Radical Inclusion: We are committed to deepening our understanding of institutional and systemic racism and are listening, reflecting, and acting. We have implemented unconscious bias and anti-racism training for staff, facilitating discussions and weekly conversations around racial justice for all layers of our community, and building a roadmap for more ways our teams can actively practice anti-racism and work towards better representation of People of Color in our city. A myriad of conversations are taking place as we embrace this moment as an opportunity to step up as an organization, a city, and a culture.
  • Resources: Quantity, Allocation, and Tracking: It takes a lot of things and stuff to provide for and take care of the staff and volunteers who work behind the scenes of BRC. We want to make sure that the distribution and care of these assets is fair and equitable, that the most effective technology for the organization, allocation, and tracking of assets is being used, and that the right data is being collected to lessen and prevent the wasting of resources.

    Photo by Philippe Glade
  • Logistics: Moving, placing, storing, sharing, renting—the number of moving parts needed to support the large amount of staff and participant “stuff” is massive. How can we simplify BRC operations and processes? What reasonable boundaries can we establish? Do we need all this stuff? How can we work together to better manage and coordinate all the things?

    Photo by NK Guy
  • Cultural Direction Setting: How people camp, how participants engage with volunteers, how our BRC Ops processes are carried out—these are some of the questions that have been asked and answered by our Cultural Direction Setting Team over the past two years as they have engaged with a diverse range of members from the community and organizational leadership. Let’s continue the evolution of this work, make it actionable, and implement it into our operations and policies. Think placement feedback process, ticket allocations, and camp and individual accountability.
  • Volunteerism: Did you know it takes about 7,000 people to keep BRC moving on the ground? We have dozens of people working year-round both in our offices and around the world to coordinate and work with all the teams and amazing humans that make our city run. How are we supporting these human ecosystems? Are we doing it in a way that is fair to the group? How are we honoring volunteerism, the bedrock of our culture?
  • Other areas we are diving into include: the public bus program, Burner Express, bike rentals, on playa water supply, on playa fueling, etc.

Future: How are we planning for it?

We are mapping out the numerous opportunities for the next iteration of BRC, analyzing their feasibilities, and determining:

  • What can we do
  • What MUST we do
  • In what order will we do it
  • How we will do it
  • How long will it take to do it
  • Who will do the doing of it?

Piecing together all of these thoughts in order to get us to the next Black Rock City, while factoring in the potential impacts of COVID-19, is complicated and will require the engagement of our entire staff and global community. This work is important and this opportunity once in a lifetime (we hope!).

Photo by Rich Van Every

As we stand on the side of the road, looking at our Burning Man Bus and discussing the many parts of our past, present, and future, we are excited.

The possibilities of this moment are great. This is our time to make positive, real, and enduring change to the event we love and for a world that will never be the same.

We hope this overview has been useful and look forward to continuing our conversation as we further explore the above mentioned topics in future posts.

Next up: Post II — BRC Ops and Sustainability

Top image: Photo by Scott London, design by Tanner Boeger

About the author: Charlie Dolman

Charlie Dolman

Charlie Dolman (aka Louder Charlie) oversees event operations in Black Rock City, including Emergency Services, Gate-Perimeter-Exodus, the Black Rock Rangers, BRC Department of Public Works, Community Services, the Cafe and Ice services, the Department of Mutant Vehicles, and on-the-ground Art operations. He also oversees the Special Recreation Permit Burning Man holds with the U.S. Federal Government during the event season. As part of this role, Charlie sits on the Black Rock City Operations Management Board, the Budget Committee and the Executive Committee. He also chairs the Event Operations Team and Event Leadership Team meetings.

28 Comments on “The Future of Black Rock City: All Comm, All Comm… Come Back for BRC Operations

  • anon says:

    At the top of the article, the link saying “Read all the posts here.” doesn’t work. It leads to an error page.

    For the article itself, I appreciate the attempt for info but this reads like another bland vague piece of corporate speak. I wanted to learn more, which was why I clinked on the link, but this article has no details or specific info. Articles like this keep defining the problem but not giving the solution(s). The Cultural Direction Setting is now two years in the making. Let it now rain down with the specific concrete actions that will take place instead of just telling us the issues.

    Report comment

  • Fabihealinglove says:

    I agree with Anon, also transparency and keep us informed in details on important events that could be obstacles in creating the city that we all love and miss.

    Report comment

  • splat says:

    Are there any discussions/feedback loops coming in the form of get-togethers, like town hall meetings, where these issues can be discussed out in the open? The Bruning Man Convention would be a great place for Burners to get reacquainted with people and purpose in a more tangible exchange. Yes, probably be quite fun as well. :) I know we all miss each other greatly.

    Report comment

  • Piko VonMitchellstein says:

    Why I stopped signing up to volunteer at the Gate, or anywhere else on the playa… Right away I could see, I wasn’t wearing enough black, and didn’t have “the attitude.” Then I was told to pick up trash, other volunteers’ trash they left on chairs, tables, and benches. You’re kidding right?
    That’s just one of a thousand little needle pricks is why I stopped driving my BLACK ROCK CITY SPARKLE PONY EXPRESS bus 500 miles to the playa, and stopped coming in 2016. It took 7 trips to see, the playa, unfortunately was not that different than my default world experiences. I could save thousands of dollars each each, and do something else. I did what I wanted, when I wanted, where I wanted to fulfill myself. Bottom line, the magic of Burning Man died for me, and I’ve moved on to other interests. I do however love/miss, the Mayan Warrior, and time I spent aboard it.

    It’s not you, it’s me.

    Report comment

    • Come back, Citizen, and pick up some trash with me. The magic’s there; you just have to look for it – in the people, the dusty sunrises, the art, and the trash. Hope to see you in the dust soon!

      Report comment

      • HR says:

        “We” (the org) this, “we” (the org) that. Figuring all this out by yourself are you? Well, not the financial part I guess. I find myself wondering where did the “us” go? It got lost somewhere in-between tell your citizens to pick up your trash and asking us to fund your gift.

        My only hope is someday you recognize the mental tramma your citizens experience when we realize our only purpose is to keep pumping cash into the corporate cow.

        Report comment

  • Candyass says:

    Great job Louder! So here for this series.

    Report comment

  • “…7,000 people to keep BRC moving…” That’s about 10% of the population; presumably most of these are volunteers. Imagine 100%. That would be a very different event.

    Report comment

  • R says:

    The problems we have our different from even the ones we’ve realized logistically.
    Even 10,000 people stopping near Gerlach/fernley will result in a viral spike whether the current 19 or the new D614G mutation

    How many years in a row are the locals gone tolerate that kind of nuttiness.

    Best case scenario is everyone drives through without stopping and spreading germs.

    BMorg please supply water and trash, and charge 200$ extra ticket money, and spread the extra money all over the region.

    We have to.imagine a new way forward. I don’t want to be an inconveince to our host community.

    Report comment

  • dusty_dick says:

    does anyone else remember every 10,000 person increase in capacity, they said they’d cap it? Yet the number keeps going up. I feel like they just sell as many tickets as possible.

    Report comment

    • Pablo says:

      Why should event be capped? Other than safety or physical space the event should grow. When tickets sell out in 10-15 minutes it’s obvious that thousands of people want to go that can’t get tickets. Every year I have friends wanting to go but can’t get tickets – let’s share this great experience with as many as can safely be invited.
      More people, more interactions, more art, more dusty souls to meet. Burning Man has grown and is different than “the old days” and I can understand it has outgrown what some people want but it’s awesome for most of those going. If it’s too big for your liking then go to a different event, make your own event your way or consider having a great attitude toward what Burning Man had become and enjoy it for what it now is and not what it was.
      I’m a Mutant Vehicle builder and theme camp leader, I appreciate all the things the Borg does and maybe because I get to see more than the average participant.
      Other points –
      – I’m for raising ticket price to help cover the 90% decrease in income this year. It’s an incredible deal for a weeklong event at current prices. Low income tickets are available for those who really need it and my son got one so I know they are real.
      – Details – if they gave details on every aspect they would spent valuable time that’s best used fixing & planning. If you really care about a certain part of Burning Man operations either volunteer & be part of the solution or have some trust they are doing what they have outlined. This is Burning Man not the mafia.
      – Donating – I have seen dozens of stupid reasons people say they aren’t donating. Let’s look at the positive side for those that want to go back to a Burning Man on Playa. If you want to go again then donate some money to keep the event alive. Personally I’ve cancelled my cable TV & donating the $100 per month to Borg cause I want to go back to the dust under Burning Man Org. I’m not excited to go back to playa with no rules, with people bringing guns, speeding cars everywhere, homemade fireworks, no toilets, etc…
      – Free way to donate. Add Burning Man to Amazon Smile & they get a small percentage of each purchase you make. If you know someone that buys a lot online learn how to add Burning Man on their computer and do it. Each account should donate about $20-$100 per year and it’s free. Google “Amazon Smile” & add it now before you forget.
      I look forward to seeing all you dusty souls again!

      Report comment

  • cupcake says:

    I dunno, burning man has become commodified. It’s probably time to let it go, and start fresh with new people. Keep the priniciples, maybe move to a new location, different time of year…

    It’s time for change.

    Report comment

  • TheDuke says:

    I love your positivity Pablo!

    Report comment

  • TheDuke says:

    A nice discussion about the built-in contradictions that always crop up would be great. Is radical self-expression radical if it only exists within the boundaries of rules you yourself haven’t made? Is Leave No Trace really happening if we spread pollution into the sky? And on and on…. these things can be defined and discussed and shared widely, and should be. I agree that this post was vague when we all yearn for clarity.

    Report comment

  • Dusk Rider says:

    Hey, Burning Man Project Inc., out of touch much? Ever consider putting together a few pertinent questions and asking the community to respond directly to you in order to gauge what we think might be best for the order? The types of questions would be telling, and your public response to the answers you’d receive, even more do. I would have a lot more respect for the Borg Board if I felt they actually gave a damn about what BRC citizens think and feel regarding the issue of “saving” BRC, i.e. bailing out the Board. Or, you can carry on in your assumption bubble and endure the endless slings of snark that will no doubt keep coming your way. Just an idea-

    Report comment

  • Geomom says:

    “We agree that BRC should showcase our best selves.” No. We neurotically do that in the default all the time. “Be Best”, right? I thought BRC was a great place not to do that. To explore, take off the shell, be a complete idiot, not worry if your boobs are hanging to your waist, do something completely off the wall, be a raving, dribbling mess even. I guess the selfie era has changed all that.

    Report comment

  • Fuck Your Event says:

    To summarize: “We have been talking about things. So many things. Thank you for paying us to talk about things while millions have lost their jobs. We will protect the event, no matter the cost!”

    All hail the commandant Louder Charlie and his minions!


    Report comment

  • Breaker says:

    We don’t know if the event can happen in 2021, so Event Ops may need to take a break, claim unemployment for a bit and get back to the game like so many others who have lost their jobs.

    There’s only so much talking that can happen, the book has been written, there are already 10 year plans for Event Ops so just take a pause and then when things are open, you can get back to work. Appreciate all the hard work you’ve done so far, but how much “thinking” is really necessary. The event is run quite well, and can only be re-invented so many times organizationally.

    Report comment

  • Playa Dude says:

    From what I’ve seen since 2010 is a natural trend towards more bureaucracy within the BMORG service groups. This is actually somewhat needed to handle the larger events. However, I do think they have lost their way and focus more inwardly within their groups rather than helping the Burners who attend and want to participate.
    It is rather discouraging to volunteer and then feel like a lost outsider within the group.
    Things need to change and go back to simpler times!

    Report comment

  • Melnick Yawawa says:

    Personally I have volunteered every year I have gone. it really strengthens the whole vibe for me and I get to meet some really wonderful people I would never talk to otherwise. I feel it should be a requirement for attendance & a door to a ticket to purchase. This is a crowd sourced temporary community of beautiful people for the most part. I do miss the old days when EVERYONE pitched in for infrastructure and interactive camps. Now I see and talk to many corporate camps with paid staff and “guests” who don’t volunteer. They appear to be there to check it off their party list and move on to the next EDM fest. It hurts the experience for me and others. The BORG needs to enforce their stated values. Count me in for the next playa event and tell me how I can help build our city again! And yes, let the snark continue….

    Report comment

    • ElTee says:

      That’s exactly what I would have written, so, thank you very much, Melnick Yawawa!
      Volunteering should be mandatory for everyone, because, that’s a very important part why we go there, an’t it? And, by volunteering you actually change the experience for everyone, you make it better for everyone! I’d also put a cap on how many RV’s or Trailers are allowed on the Playa, that’d reduce the carbon footprint (and much more), and focus more on the Burner Express Bus, enhancing the schedule for it, so that Crews like the one I’m lucky enough to be part of, the Center Camp Cafe Production Team, that needs to be there three weeks prior to the event, must not use a vehicle powered by fossil fuel.
      And, as sad as it is, I kinda don’t think that 2021 would be very safe to happen.

      Report comment

      • MakersTeleMark says:

        If you want to reduce waste and energy, get rid of center camp and all the infrastructure it “requires”. So sorry you will have to make your own latte with your own water.

        Report comment

  • Comments are closed.