1997 was the year that almost wasn’t for Burning Man. The event moved from the Black Rock Desert to Hualapai flat and the Fly Ranch. To find more about this move read the Spring Newsletter article “Back to the Beach.” There were political problems with Washoe County, and a fee for fire and sheriff’s protection was levied at $350,000. Press reports of County Commissioner meetings made it seem as if the event wouldn’t happen, ultimately affecting ticket sales. To make matters worse, 100% of gate ticket sales were impounded at the gate by the sheriff’s office to cover those costs. They never made their take and were onsite until Saturday afternoon. When the dust settled, there were only 10,000 participants and Burning Man was $200,000 in debt.
“The terrain of the site was mostly on grass (see summer newsletter article the Living Land) with playa primarily available for the art, but we did have access to the heavenly Fly Hot Springs.”
The weather was nearly perfect since the wind and dust storms common to the Black Rock playa passed us by. The year’s theme was Mysteria, and you can read about under Art Installations and in the Summer Newsletter. There were over 400 placed Theme Camps that year which was a record number due to the organization’s increased use of the Internet. Larry Harvey’s impassioned speech to participants to donate before leaving the event site brought in over $50,000. That didn’t include the I.O.U. for $10,000 written on a scrap of paper, which was made good two weeks later.
This was also the year that tested the organization. There were several key staff members from 1996 who chose not to continue their roles, and new organizers stepped forward to fill the empty shoes. The first LLC was formed, Burning Man 1997 LLC. The intention was to dissolve and create a new LLC each year; however, this practice was stopped in late 1998. It became clear that although it fit a philosophical intent, it was not viewed favorably by the financial community and was making it difficult to work with credit card merchant bankers and rent office space. Cleanup was problematic, hampered not only by the tall grasses on the event site, but also by the mercurial nature of the landlord who removed our staff at one point. It took several years to overcome the bad public relations we suffered from in 1997, and to repair political ties with the county.