The future of Burning Man

THE GUARDIAN GUIDE TO BURNING MAN: In setting up its new nonprofit, the Black Rock City LLC board is looking beyond the event

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Black Rock City will be a dynamic, 24-7 city starting on Aug. 29 before it begins to disappear a week later
PHOTO BY MR. NIGHTSHADE/THEBLIGHT.NET

steve@sfbg.com

PLAYA PREP Burners everywhere were frantically preparing for the playa, or scrambling to find scarce tickets to Burning Man, which had just sold out for the first time in its 25-year history. But when the board members who stage Burning Man gathered in the 15th-floor conference room in their new Mid-Market headquarters to talk to the Guardian on July 28, they didn't even want to talk about the event that begins Aug. 29.

Instead, they wanted to talk about the future of the dynamic culture that this unique countercultural event has spawned, a future that has as much to do with San Francisco as it does Black Rock City, the temporal Nevada desert town of about 50,000 people that most people know simply as Burning Man.

Event founder Larry Harvey, who chairs the Black Rock City LLC Board of Directors; Harley DuBois, who acts as the city manager; and Marian Goodell, who runs the business and oversees communications, have served on the board that stages Burning Man since the LLC was created in 1996, along with Crimson Rose, Will Roger, and Michael Mikel, a.k.a. Danger Ranger.

But their focus right now is on the new nonprofit, The Burning Man Project, that is being launched this week to manage the event and its culture well into the future. "We're planning for 100 years," Harvey said. Or as DuBois put it, "It's really not about Black Rock City at all, but how we look out to the world."

Since taking over five of the top floors in the David Hewes Building at the corner of Market and Sixth streets — with The Burning Man Project office placed on the very top floor, over the many burner offices now busily dealing with more immediate tasks — their outlook on the world is downright panoramic.

They envision a high-profile Burning Man Urban Center in San Francisco and other year-round facilities for furthering the burner culture, made possible by new funding streams they want to develop beyond the revenue from ticket sales, such as grants and perhaps even corporate sponsorships.

Oh yeah, and as Harvey made clear in his April speech announcing the conversion to the new nonprofit (see "Man on the move," 4/5/11), the six board members also want to cash out with significant financial payouts as they begin to relinquish control of the event in phases over the next six years or so.

Who will run the new nonprofit, or even how the leaders will be selected and the governance structures under which they will operate, is still a work in progress. Initially, the LLC has selected 11 new board members (to be announced on Aug. 5) to serve with the current six on the new nonprofit board, but the newbies will serve a term of just one year.

Goodell said they selected "people who have a unique or visionary way of looking at things," while DuBois said they sought a board that was "geographically and culturally diverse, and people who have skill sets we need," such as legal, fundraising, and organizational expertise.

The initial board will create the infrastructure and plan for what comes next, and the board insists that the larger Burning Man community will also have input into the process, starting this year on the playa. The Burning Man Project will have a high-profile presence on Everylane Lane near Center Camp, and they say board members will be available for discussions everyday between 1-2:30 p.m.

"We're going to have a conversation with the community," Goodell said.

BRC took some heat from its community for prescribing what's next without much public process or input, but Dubois said, "There's still time for all of that. We are in the nascent stage...There's so much time for community input."

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