Taking a Stand on Convenience Camping – Preserving Our Culture Against Commodification

As Black Rock City 2023 approaches, we’d like to take a moment to focus on a topic that’s critically important to the preservation of our shared principles of Radical Self-reliance and Decommodification. Please remember — convenience camping (formerly described as turnkey or plug-and-play camping) is not permitted in BRC, and runs totally counter to the values of our community. We are actively working to extinguish this practice, and we need your help to do so.

In 2022, 60 camps, mutant vehicles, or artists received a warning or were placed on “Limited Standing” or “Not Good Standing” due to poor behavior or performance on-playa. These evaluations were made through Placement’s Good Standing process, which has also been taken on by the Art Department and Department of Mutant Vehicles. In total, nine groups were completely disinvited from Black Rock City for one to three years. One camp, La Grange, was evicted from the Black Rock City 2022 event — meaning, they will not ever be welcome back. Right now, we are more committed than ever to stopping convenience camping in its tracks.

We Can’t Do This Alone, We Need Your Help!

First, we need your help to 1) teach new Burners the right way to do Burning Man, and 2) educate those seeking convenience camping on the importance of self-reliance. Burning Man has never been about convenience! Acculturating newer Burners about the 10 Principles is a great mechanism to get into this topic, and can be an effective way to prevent commodification. Black Rock City is not a weekend festival and camps are not hospitality services — camps are communities brought together in a radical experiment in community.

If you encounter issues related to convenience camping or commodification — for example, a camp offering full amenities (housing, meal plans, bikes, etc.) for a set price-tag — report them to us at doingitwrong@burningman.org.

While we receive some reports before we get on playa, we don’t always see it until the event happens and count on your eyes and ears at the event too. If you see something on playa indicative of convenience camping such as paid staff working, or delivery of housing (i.e. RVs/trailers), please report them on-playa to Placement Headquarters at 5:59+Esplanade, or find someone with a radio to help report what you saw. Provide us with as much detail as possible so we can act swiftly. If it’s before or after the event, again, report them to us at doingitwrong@burningman.org.

Burn Your Money, 2012 (Photo by John Chandler)

What Do We Do with Reports of Doing It Wrong?

Pre-event, we promptly assess reports by gathering evidence and investigating. If we receive reports early in the season, we attempt to remediate and will work with the camps to correct their actions to align with Burning Man culture. If we discover continued wrongdoing, we disinvite the camp from receiving placement. We’ve not approved placement for camps throughout the last decade including several camps this year, and will continue doing so if more continue to arise. We will also publicly name camps that are so egregious to help protect community members from signing up for bad deals and unknowingly falling victim to predatory convenience camp organizers, and to show those organizers there are real consequences for violating our guidelines

During the event, we ensure that camps are abiding by our Outside Services Program policies and will turn around individuals attempting to circumvent them like hiring people to transport items or to build their camps. We also have the option to evict, and will do so if a camp demonstrates complete disregard of our instructions and our culture.

Post-event, representatives from multiple Burning Man Project departments collectively evaluate the challenges we’ve faced with camps and other participant groups. Consequences for bad actors include warnings, limitations or complete dis-invitation for future participation. While we do often offer second chances in good faith, we also have no tolerance for people who willingly attempt to deceive the community or the organization.

If you’d like to read more in detail about how we address convenience camping, please visit this webpage, “Eliminating Convenience Camping in Black Rock City,” that we’ve created to explain the steps we take once we have determined a camp/group Doing it Wrong.

Tents and bikes at BRC, 2017 (Photo by George P. Post)

What Is Okay and Not Okay?

Since the 2019 event, we have been actively adjusting our policies and protocols to move closer to our Cultural Vision for Residential Black Rock City. In the vision, we shared:

“Theme camps allocate their collective focus, time, and resources primarily toward their public contributions rather than personal comfort and convenience. Conveniences are used in service of the camp’s contribution, which adds to the vibrancy of the city.” 

Aerial view of BRC during Event Week, 2018 (Photo by Wayne Stadler)

Building on a stand taken against packaged tours and concierge experiences in 2014, we have added new policies to thwart outlandish conveniences. Camps are not permitted to deliver housing, and bike rental is not allowed in BRC. People cannot be paid to work for camps/groups unless they are approved by the Outside Services Program. We offer more examples of what’s okay and what’s not okay on our Decommodification, Gifting, Participation and PAYticipation page.

Join Us!

If you’re passionate about preserving the spirit of Burning Man, and want to volunteer to help in this work, email placement@burningman.org to let us know your interest in helping to make a Black Rock City where convenience camping is a thing of the past. Together, we can uphold the 10 Principles and keep Black Rock City a vibrant and authentic community of makers and doers.

Cover image of a row of RVs at BRC, 2017 (Photo by Philippe Glade)

About the author: Bryant Tan

Bryant Tan

Level, Burning Man Project's Placement Manager, started burning in 2009 and joined the Placement Team in 2014 after several years as a theme camp lead for Dilated Peoples Eye Spa. The Placement Team is a vibrant volunteer crew responsible for reviewing, mapping, flagging, and placing theme camps and other groups in Black Rock City. Prior to joining Burning Man Project's year-round staff, he worked for the City and County of San Francisco. He also worked for several community-based organizations in youth and community development, transportation planning, affordable housing development, program design and evaluation, public finance, and Asian Pacific Islander and LGBTQ communities. In his free time, Level enjoys playing Sim City and Tetris, doing anti-oppression work, hiking around the Bay Area, and serves as an Urban Planning Representative on the SF Entertainment Commission. He holds a Masters in City Planning from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and received his B.A. in Ethnic Studies from UCLA.

30 Comments on “Taking a Stand on Convenience Camping – Preserving Our Culture Against Commodification

  • christine kristen says:

    THank you, Level. Much needed information.

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  • Starlight says:

    Happy to see action is being taken. Thank you for this info!

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  • Trilo says:

    Very well said! It’s undfortunate that so many projects got warnings or had action taken, but that’s a function of their behavior… I’m grateful that you, your team, and other departments are taking steps to curb the practice.

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  • Old Coot says:

    Awesome, so glad I read this.

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  • Philflash13 says:

    Love, love, love to finally see this happening. Check out the outer streets for those you seek…. JM

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  • Giovanni Galvez says:

    How does this work for sound camps? In the article you mentioned “People cannot be paid to work for camps/groups unless they are approved by the Outside Services Program. “. Many sound camps rent their expensive name brand sound gear and pay sound engineers to run it all week.

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    • Tom says:

      They can’t. The rules are clear – no hired help. The camps have to run the sound gear themselves, with camp members. Many sound camps do just that already. You have to run your own lasers, your own pyro. Which means you need people who know how to do all that. But the Burn is filled with people like tht.

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  • Daniel Seaman says:

    Primal sez:
    What a refreshing approach to re-set the path forward (and away from) such a destructive and inauthentic evolutionary trend of/at Burning Man. Thank you

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  • Tom says:

    This is really great.

    However, some camps that got banned last year are coming back this year, just with a different name.

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  • Gigi says:

    Always wondered how all these service people got thru the gate w/o a ticket….do the concierge camps buy all of their sherpas tickets in order for them to be on playa? Otherwise it seems there had to be cooperation from bmorg in order to get on playa for any reason without a ticket. Not being snarky, truly curious.

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    • Dustin says:

      I would guess you mean no offense, but in case you or others don’t know: The Sherpa are a people of the Himalayan high country. Sometimes they do work as porters, but English has a word for people who get paid to serve others: servants. Calling servants at Burning Man sherpas is offensive. Let’s all stop. Thanks!

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    • Sad says:

      I agree. The rules seem really clear about showing up and being self sufficient. How are people demonstrating this effectively if they are renting RVs?

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  • Rex Hardbottom says:

    Fix it? This was intentional from BMorg – to mainstream the event, to target bucketlisters who will come for 1 or 2 years and move on. It’s not pretty but what you see now is the realization of that goal. Fix it? Don’t be silly.

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    • Dan Lockwood says:

      I suspect this rule still doesn’t apply to celebrities like Taylor Swift and Paris Hilton.

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    • Tami says:

      Rules for me not for thee … does this camp rule apply to every camp? Is Taylor Swift “radically self reliant”

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    • Eric says:

      These rules are at the center of the spirit of Burning Man. When I started seeing celebrities creating walled areas filled with servants and corporate luxuries I stopped going. The organizers will never say no to celebrity camps and walled gardens, which makes me sad. The whole point of Burning Man was supposed to be the realization that we’re all just people regardless of our particular station in life. It was a chance to throw off the chains of commercialism and spend a week being real. I fear those days have passed, but I hope I will be proven wrong one of these years. I would like to go back if the organizers put a stop to corporate and celebrity VIP zones with gates, walls, and private security.

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  • Irving Forbush says:

    I saw a hole bunch of trailers being delivered to a camp – right in front of center camp on the esplanade. I heard they have catered food, showers, and power too.

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  • 6 says:

    RIP La Grange, whose set one night in 2018 was the single best musical experience I have ever known, excepting Lou Reed at Le Poisson Rouge in 2010.

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  • Earth Muffin says:

    This article is so wonderful. Thank you so much for making this important and bringing it to people’s attention. It was so hard the last couple years seeing huge plug and play camps along with more and more MOOP, (beer cans in portas especially)!

    Let’s keep burning man, burning man. Let’s make Larry proud. Thank you Larry. )'(

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  • doc holiday says:

    Just wait until certain groups get named and BM has to backtrack to accommodate them.

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  • Snarcastronaut says:

    The Org sat on this for over a decade, not taking a stand because it’s serious revenue generation by charging those plug and play businesses to stage and drop equipment. When people with money started coming to Burning Man they do what they do best, throw their money at people to make their camps and creations happen rather than doing it themselves. Had this been addressed when it started to happen many years ago it wouldn’t be where it is today, turning many long term and potential new Burners from wanting to go anymore because they are surrounded by RV compounds blocking the plebians out out of their concierge run bars and kitchens.

    It’s a bit tone deaf to now tell the true participants of the event “It’s up to you to help thwart this behavior” when they’ve been trying this whole time as ticket prices rise and rise, much like big industry telling regular folx we need to recycle more to make a difference against their dumping waste water in the ocean and clear cutting rainforests.

    Unfortunaltey the millionaire cats are out of the bag and there’s no putting them back in.

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  • Special K says:

    Where can one find this list of banned camps? My camp was next to one of these ”connivence camps” and it was painful to see all the trash they left behind and obviously none of the “participants “ were actually there to set up or tear down the space let alone MOOP. A fleet of E-bikes, RVs and yurts all set up by “ sherpas”. Not the burner way by any means.

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  • Dan Lockwood says:

    Hmmm … does this rule apply to Taylor Swift or Paris Hilton ? Or others flying in? Isn’t paying to be flown in a “convenience”. Hmmm

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  • Solarlion says:

    Ban phones, cut the wifi, raise the flag. ‍☠️

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  • Ken says:

    Why do you hide legitimate questions and comments? BMorg Censorship ?

    Does the rule apply to celebrities … ? Taylor Swift and Paris Hilton are self sufficient?

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  • Stella Zeco says:

    While I understand the precautions against P&P camps, I think the ban on renting bikes locally is complete nonsense. What is sustainable about people buying a cheap China bike at Walmart that is too broken to gift to someone after the burn. You can see that many think this way with the many bikes that are just left on the playa after the Burn. It is every time again a very sad sight. But even if the bike is taken out again, it still has to be disposed of somewhere.
    In addition: On the one hand you want to motivate more and more burners to drive in with the burner bus. How are all these people supposed to transport a bike with it?

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  • Seester M says:

    This is not radically inclusive, and “doingitwrong” smacks of thought policing.

    At an “art” festival, of all things.

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  • Nick Chilton says:

    Burning man attendees seems to be the affluent grand kids of Woodstock patrons ..

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