In 2002, Burning Man’s expenditures nearly equaled its income. Last year and during the initial months of this year, our organization spent $5,624,200. We concluded our budgetary cycle with $9,000 left over from our operations in 2002. We’ve frequently talked about securing a nest egg, a reserve fund to be held against emergencies. This would be a prudent goal, and we still hope to achieve it. However, we do not work like ordinary businesses. We have learned to manage our money very carefully, as the accompanying financial chart attests. But our bottom line has never been dictated by profit. Our goals are prompted, much more typically, by passions that are married to ideals.
Last year we began to invest more money in developing new technology that will allow the members of our widespread community to communicate among themselves. This project contributed significantly to the extra $193,000 spent on Outside Services in 2002. Our office payroll also increased significantly, going from $607,000 in 2001 to $860,000 for 2002. This change registers an increase in salaries for some long-time (and long underpaid) employees. Whenever people excel at what they do, acquire new skills, and prove their ability to take on increased responsibilities, they should receive more compensation. But this increase in our payroll costs also reflects a growing number of paid staff members. In 2002 and in early 2003, we added five new employees to our office payroll and hired three new independent contractors for Outside Services.
We did achieve new economies in 2002. Expenditures for dust abatement in the desert decreased, as did taxes and licensing fees, building materials and supplies, fuel, land purchases, and the cost of building Burning Man. These savings on principally event-related costs were offset by increases for such expenses as insurance, workers’ compensation, accounting and bookkeeping, postage and printing. Mainly administrative expenses these costs are not evidence of pointless process or bureaucracy. Instead, rising costs incurred at the core of our organization reflect the need to better organize our work in order to achieve a greater goal.
Our spending in 2002 sketches a portrait of an organization that is striving to do more. Expenses directly related to our event have begun to stabilize. But the needs of a growing community are steadily increasing our workload. More people worked longer hours in 2002, and they will continue to do so in 2003. This escalation reflects our expanded vision to include a much larger population active year-round and living in many different places.
Hundreds of thousands of dollars stream into Burning Man each year. Today, as in many past years, this money immediately flows out again. Yet we are not unique in this respect. Our situation, in fact, resembles that of every citizen of Black Rock City. We struggle to survive while giving everything we have for self-expression. In our case, however, what we call a “self” encompasses much more than a temporary city that needs portable toilets, emergency services, and public artworks. The section of the AfterBurn Report entitled Future Vision describes the greater mission to which we’ve committed ourselves.
Larry Harvey and Thorny