PAYticipation & Paying People

These topics have emerged from an ongoing cultural conversation initiated through Burning Man’s Cultural Direction Setting project. They are likely to evolve and iterate over time, but reflect our current thinking on these important issues.

In the intensely participatory environment of Black Rock City, the issues around paying or receiving payment for services, or “PAYticipation,” are complex and important topics. We invite you to engage with these ideas and consider the larger cultural questions they reflect. These concepts have been embedded in Black Rock City’s Camp Placement Criteria; however, we hope that all of our citizens, whether in placed camps or not, will be inspired to align with the cultural directions expressed here.

“Participation is our state of being, and it comes in all shapes and sizes. It is each individual’s responsibility to make sure they are contributing to the culture and the city,” as stated in the Cultural Vision of Residential Black Rock City. Additionally, “All camp members engage through meaningful and immediate contributions to camp interactivity and operations. Camps do not have camp members who don’t help provide and support the camp’s on-playa interactivity and operations.”

We understand that it takes both financial and human resources to make Burning Man happen, and the definitions below are meant to offer clear guidelines as to what is acceptable for camps in Black Rock City. We also offer important philosophical questions for camps and individuals to deliberate in order to navigate their unique circumstances.

Concepts and Definitions:

  • Participation:Our community is committed to a radically participatory ethic. We believe that transformative change, whether in the individual or in society, can occur only through the medium of deeply personal participation. We achieve being through doing. Everyone is invited to work. Everyone is invited to play. We make the world real through actions that open the heart.” The 10 Principles of Burning Man
  • PAYticipation: Because our event’s ethos is about Participation as described above, substituting financial payment for your personal and direct participation is unacceptable. We expect that all members of camps contribute effort to some part(s) of running a camp from building the camp, to running a camp’s interactivity, to general camp operations, to strike, and to Leaving No Trace.
  • Paying People: There is an important distinction between paying people for work done before or after the event versus for work done on playa. 
    • The latter – paying people or providing proxies for payment to do work on playa likely requires a special recreation permit (SRP) from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Burning Man Project does not place theme camps whose activities would require an SRP, according to BLM. Any camp member engaging in an on-playa activity, on behalf of or within the camp, that requires payment for those services is not permitted, unless it’s via an approved Outside Services vendor.
    • The former – paying people or providing proxies for payment for work before or after the event – requires cultural consideration in each circumstance, for which we’ve provided recommendations below.
  • Good Faith: “Good faith” is about an honest and sincere intention to practice being part of our culture. Working to embody our Principles of Participation and Decommodification is not about moral superiority, but instead about sustaining our culture as more people are introduced to it, and protecting our unique ethos from the corrosive influences of commerce and commercialization. Providing peer-to-peer guidance and a feedback process for problematic behavior is a critical part of our evolution. 

PAYticipation Problems:

  • PAYticipation undermines the core Principles of Participation and Decommodification.
  • PAYticipation is inconsistent with the Principles of Communal Effort and Radical Self-reliance.
  • PAYticipation has the potential to promote a classist structure where individuals can define their worth by levels of monetary contribution.
  • PAYticipation enables a guest vs. staff environment.
  • PAYticipation eliminates the challenge, the “uncomfortability,” the immediacy of the Burning Man experience and reduces it to the level of a consumer experience.

Paying People — Some Basics:

  • Camp dues are a sharing of actual expenses incurred for the purposes of the activities, services, or uses of the camp and do not constitute payment to an individual.
  • Camps should not be profiting from their Black Rock City-related activities. Camp organizers (meaning everyone involved in managing a camp, not just the designated camp lead with Placement) should manage any camp dues for the benefit of the camp, and not for anyone’s personal gain.  
  • Any camp (or camp member acting on behalf of or within the camp) engaging in an activity that BLM determines would require a special recreation permit (SRP) will not be approved for placement (announced in July 2019 Placement Newsletter).

Paying People Problems:

  • Core question to consider: Does paying someone (or accepting) a salary, wage, or proxy for salary for their contributions to a camp (before or after the event) maintain good-faith participation in our gift economy, or participation in our radically self-reliant and immediate culture?
  • Transactional exchanges, not money itself, lie at the heart of many culturally problematic situations. In general, transactional exchanges are not in alignment with the culture and values of our community. 
  • Transactional exchanges are inconsistent with the Principle of Gifting, which states, “Burning Man is devoted to acts of gift giving. The value of a gift is unconditional. Gifting does not contemplate a return or an exchange for something of equal value.”
  • As a guiding question, does your transaction serve and enhance our Gifting culture?

Recommendations

  • We recommend that camp organizers consider the grey area between a gift and a transaction. Does your transaction with someone to perform a task (before or after the event, not during) cloud the act of the gift? Can the camp’s plans go forward without that transaction?
  • We recommend that camp organizers NOT allow camp contributors to engage in PAYticipation, as it subtracts from and cheapens the communal nature of our ethos.
  • We recommend that the Burning Man community approach a potentially problematic camp with an attitude of curiosity and avoid making assumptions about what arrangements a camp has within its boundaries. Engage, inquire, seek to understand.
  • We recommend that if you have a question or need assistance with how to navigate an issue with PAYticipation or paying people, please ask for help. You can email the Placement Team (placement@burningman.org) or the Camp Support Team (campsupport@burningman.org) and we’ll do our best to support you.

The table below is intended to be a helpful tool, and we ask you to use the questions within this document to navigate your unique circumstances and guide your choices in what you believe to be culturally ok.

OK

 Not OK

A camp reducing a member’s camp dues as an honorarium for their participation, as long as it’s an enhancement of our Gifting culture and not a transactional exchange. 

A camp paying someone to work in the camp on playa. 

Paying a bike repair person to fix your group’s bikes BEFORE you arrive on playa, and inviting that person to camp with you and participate by gifting their bike expertise on playa.

Paying a bike repair person to fix your group’s bikes ON playa as their job in camp.

Paying a chef to plan and prepare your food service BEFORE arriving on playa.

Paying a professional food service team to come to Black Rock City and prepare or serve your food.

Paying a food professional to prepare ready-to-eat meals for delivery/pickup OFF playa.

Paying a food professional to prepare ready-to-eat meals for delivery, pickup, or service ON playa.

Burning Man Project paying its staff and contractors for their work on the Burning Man event, as they are responsible for putting in place and maintaining the systems and infrastructure that make a 80,000-person city possible. 

Camps paying people for work on playa and/or generating a profit for individuals within the camp is a business, which requires an SRP, and is therefore not a camp. 

This information was created via the Cultural Direction Setting for Residential Black Rock City project by Group #6 focused on Convenience Camps & the 10 Principles. See here for more information about this project and here for the Cultural Vision. We also recommend you read Commodification, Gifting, Decommodification, and Participation, another key part within this broader topic of the “Culture and Values” in the Camp Placement Criteria.

Please note Group #6 is actively working on updates to the approach and process for how camps that are struggling with issues around the culture are supported as well as held accountable. This information will be shared via the Placement Newsletter once ready.