Each year, the Burning Man admin team relishes the chaotic birth process for a new event. Challenges that had come to seem familiar over the years suddenly changed shape and pattern this year, forcing decision makers to adapt quickly and develop creative responses.
Those skills have great value, of course, even driving the roads that take us to the event site. Animals from jack rabbits to cattle present unnerving obstacles to one’s progress, and a driver must vigilantly scan the road ahead and stay ready to confront the unexpected. Similar skills are needed to navigate the political landscape in Black Rock country, as our Government Relations report explains. In 2003, we seemed to be enjoying good progress moving our operations from rented land to a neighboring parcel we had purchased the previous year. As we rounded a bend along the way, the Washoe County planning and health departments appeared in our path, attaching an unprecedented number of special conditions before they would approve our applications for required Special Use permits. We managed to reach our goal of permit approval after weeks of consultation with nearly every type of expert on the county’s payroll — or so we thought, until county commissioners upheld an appeal by some area land-owners of our permit approval. The vital permits were revoked. Working with commissioners friendly to our cause, we met with the appellants and eventually resolved differences. These critics became supporters of a revised plan that allows us to use our land in a way that addresses our neighbors’ concerns. Through this arduous process, we’ve learned quite a lot about the remarkable complexities of land use regulations, and we’ve added new friends in Washoe County. We have also discovered that Burning Man has become an indigenous part of Nevada’s social and cultural landscape.
Our Legal Team played an active role in our political adventures, including filing a lawsuit to assert our rights. Fortunately, the situation was resolved without the need for a courtroom battle. The legal team also worked hard to protect Burning Man’s trademarked name and images from commodification and exploitation and to enforce restrictions on use of video and film images of our event, including prevailing over Voyeur Video in an out-of-court settlement. The increasing number of films of the event has kept us busy creating contracts and licensing agreements. At the same time, we have finalized the Regional Letter of Agreement, which spells out the relationship between Burning Man and its Regional Contacts.
First Camp acted as an embassy of sorts, hosting distinguished visitors and groups from the local community and throughout the world. It was also Media Central interviews of LLC board members, a convenient business headquarters for Burning Man’s senior organizers, and a home for them and a few close friends and family members. The camp environment integrated art related to the event theme, as this space was transformed into the likeness of an ornate painted temple.
Back home at our San Francisco office, we have settled in nicely to our new space, with continued improvements to facilitate the important work of staff and volunteers. More art has arrived to adorn the office walls, and our kitchen has proved to be a vital gathering place. Modifications have been needed to accommodate growing numbers of staff members for the Black Rock Arts Foundation as well as the new Executive Project Manager. The Volunteer Room serves more and more actively as a place for meetings, both day and night, involving just about every department, as well as a temporary bulk mail center.
Chores of the Accounting team expanded with our increased staff and activity levels, and in response we hired one full-time bean counter and contracted with another part-timer. Learning from experience, the Accounting team has reinvented Box Office operations after struggling with technical problems such as unreliability in a credit card processing system that had served us well in the past. We have put together a comprehensive plan using alternative communication methods and technologies to ensure the quickest possible entry into Black Rock City.
Members of the Ticket crew always relish the beautiful insanity of the initial rush of mail when tickets first go on sale. Volunteer help for “The SF Office Squad” tripled in number this year, and these hard-working volunteers reappeared regularly and put in countless hours until the orders slowed to a manageable pace. A dedicated participant helped us improve our process for managing bulk mailings, so we can now bypass a lot of Post Office hassle by handling that work ourselves. Our vendor, In-House Ticketing, made several improvements in their customer support system in 2003 to help smooth the process of online ticket purchases.
David Talley aka Booker