Burning Man Project wants to end convenience camping (formerly known as turnkey camping or plug-and-play camping) in Black Rock City. The impression persists that we turn a blind eye to it. Let this be clear: we do not. While we often give camps the benefit of the doubt and a chance to remediate, we have also disinvited camps and groups from returning to BRC to demonstrate clear violations of Burning Man’s principles.
We want the community to have faith in Burning Man Project’s strategies to address these issues as they arise. With greater transparency about our process and greater clarity about what’s acceptable or not acceptable, we want convenience camping to become a thing of the past. We have faith in our community’s ability to uphold the 10 Principles, and we believe in new Burners’ and camps’ willingness to learn how to Do It Right.
The issue of convenience camping has been a discussion for Black Rock citizens for more than a decade and continues to be an impassioned conversation within the Burning Man community. Reports continue to come in each year about camps that offer pre-packaged experiences such as housing, meal plans and bicycles for a set price. While all-inclusive packages may make Burning Man easy, they are not in line with the Burning Man community’s cultural values and they are not allowed in BRC.
We’ve done our best to understand the dynamics of the problem. We acknowledge the conversation is nuanced and gray areas continue to exist. The nuances include: what is perceived vs. what’s actually happening, the challenges international Burners face to acquire and maintain infrastructure, pooling of resources vs. provision of amenities, and varying definitions of participation within a camp/project and the greater Black Rock City community.
We wish to make gray areas more clear over time. We offer examples of what’s okay and what’s not okay on our Decommodification, Gifting, Participation and PAYticipation page, and are bringing more examples over time to make things more clear.
Reporting, Remediation, and Response
We all are stewards of Burning Man culture. This can be done through teaching new Burners how to Do It Right and helping people who wish to have a convenience camping experience learn how to be self-reliant. We believe people can learn, act in good faith, and want to do it right.
Burning Man Project also relies on community members to be our eyes and ears to help enforce our policies against convenience camping. Please email email@example.com for general concerns around commodification, including selling tickets over face value, convenience/turnkey camping, and individuals or groups not demonstrating the 10 Principles.
When a camp or group is reported, we always approach them in the spirit of believing that remediation is possible. Reported issues go through the following steps:
- Investigation – to gather as much information as we can about what has been reported, including direct contact with the camp/group to hear them out
- Evaluation – to determine the severity of the issue and the best course of action
- Remediation – allow a camp/group to correct their actions, including removing their convenience offerings
- Reconsideration – assessing how receptive the camp/group is to corrective instructions and determining if participation in BRC will still be allowed with or without conditions
Burning Man Project has held a Doing It Wrong Summit after each event. We bring key Event Operations teams together and discuss the most problematic participants and groups on playa concerning Burning Man’s 10 Principles (particularly Decommodification) and other issues such as excessive MOOP, unneighborliness, or being a strain on Burning Man Project’s resources. Some departments in attendance include: Outside Services, Ticketing, Government Relations, Legal, PETROL, Black Rock Rangers, Environmental Compliance and Playa Restoration.
The summit informs the Good Standing Process, which determines whether a group should be invited back and offered Stewards Sale tickets the following year. The summit also allows us to discuss broader cultural questions, to implement carefully considered long term strategies, and to prepare clear communications for the wider community to move closer towards our Cultural Vision of Residential Black Rock City.
Progressive steps and consequences taken against bad actors:
- Warning: if remediation seems possible
- Recommending or requiring coaching/training/acculturation with the Camp Support team’s Camp Advisory and Mentorship Program
- Limiting/denying eligibility to Stewards Sale, reserved placement, PETROL Fuel Program, Outside Services Program and their authorized vendors (like trucking and power), or other support services
- Disinviting from future Placement, Art Honoraria, DMV License Invitation for 1-3 years or permanently
- Publicizing names of bad actors to the community
What’s Okay and Not Okay
- We took a stand against packaged tours and concierge experiences in 2014.
- Delivered housing was disallowed through the Outside Services Program beginning in 2022. Every RV/trailer must be driven in by campers themselves rather than through vendors or paid staff.
- All monetary transactions must take place off playa. Camps that offered bike rental or delivery on playa were disallowed beginning in 2022 because of this. Campers must bring in their own bikes or have them pooled together through a camp for group transport.
- Our Decommodification, Gifting, Participation and PAYticipation page describes how camps should pool resources vs. provide amenities. While camps may pool their campers’ funds to share costs, packaging the amenities for anyone to purchase without deeper participation is not allowed.
Cultural Direction Setting
From 2017-2020, the Cultural Direction Setting process took a deeper look into understanding how camps and individuals were participating in and inhabiting Black Rock City. We did this through community-wide engagement that included review of 4,804 surveys, interviews, community conversations, and thousands of online comments from the community to understand the biggest challenges Placement and camps were facing. Following this process, we developed a clear Cultural Vision for Residential Black Rock City.
The Cultural Vision states, “As participants, we evaluate a camp’s alignment with our culture based on their behaviors and our interaction with them, rather than relying on generalizations, labels, and assumptions. We have clear language defining how and why camps are not acting in alignment with the 10 Principles. We utilize a clear set of standards for what behaviors are in alignment with our culture. We educate each other on these standards and support each other to live up to them.” This story and the new section of the website is the beginning of our effort to meet this vision.
Some key findings noted in, “Cultural Direction Setting: What We Heard,” include:
- 82% of survey respondents said it’s not okay for people to provide a package experience for their campers
- 88% said it’s not okay for camp organizers to personally profit financially by running a camp .
- A frequent perspective was that camps are independent and “should be free to structure themselves and utilize outside resources in whatever way they want to.” And yet, others wanted Burning Man Project to create and enforce clearer rules.
- There was a sense of realism from many camp leaders that it takes money to operate a camp (many joked about and/or lamented their own personal “investments” into their camp’s infrastructure).
- Respondents expressed concern about convenience / turnkey / plug-and-play camps. “Burning Man is a community of makers and doers. You need to make and do it to get it. Participation is a core value. If you want an all-inclusive experience, go to a resort.” They felt these types of camps make it too easy to attend the Burning Man event in Black Rock City, contribute to a spectator culture, and can be exclusive and unwelcoming. “Look, the bottom line is that convenience is the antithesis to creativity and self-reliance. There is no way around it. This is a FACT. The more we cater to convenience, the more we kill everything that is good about Burning Man.”
Evolution of Our Approach to Decommodification
- We aligned Camp Placement Criteria with the 10 Principles. Camps are now evaluated against these standards. This includes the addition of a new criterion, Culture and Values; we drafted descriptions of how the Placement team assesses each of the criterion.
- The Outside Services (OSS) program officially began in 2012 as a way to support camps and facilitate specialized vendors to provide essential services, such as transport, power, heavy equipment and sanitation, to approved camps within Black Rock City. The allowable services grew freely, and many began to support individual comforts and conveniences, until 2022 when Burning Man Project determined that housing, such as recreational vehicles and trailers, could no longer be delivered. Bike rental on playa was also eliminated to encourage Radical Self-reliance around bringing personal-use bikes to playa.
- Additionally, through Cultural Direction Setting, OSS established the Allowable Categories of Equipment and Services (ACES) criteria to only allow vending that supports health and safety, communal effort/gifting, and sustainability goals.
- We created a web page titled “Decommodification, Gifting, Participation and PAYticipation” to create clear definitions for the community, particularly with the increase of new camps applying for Placement and new Burners joining Black Rock City. This page explains acceptable and unacceptable scenarios for camps in Black Rock City. Rest assured, we will continue to build on these definitions as our culture continues to evolve.
- Our CEO Marian Goodell wrote “Cultural Course Correction” in the Burning Man Journal, bringing attention to increased challenges to Decommodification. We continued to make changes to our policies, including modifying Placement and the Outside Services (OSS) Program.
- We established the email firstname.lastname@example.org, and invited the community to use it to report problematic camps, companies, individuals or groups who may be commodifying Burning Man.
- We stated in the Placement Newsletter, “Outside Services, Vending & Theme Camps,” that camps who hold Special Recreation Permits (SRPs) from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) are considered vendors and will not be allowed placement as theme camps in BRC.
- We announced that packaged tours are not allowed in Black Rock City. In a Burning Man Journal piece titled, “Kicking Concierge Caboose in Black Rock City,” we stated: “We believe strongly that paying upfront for a prescribed, curated experience that doesn’t require individual effort misses the mark and erodes Burning Man culture, and it’s absolutely not okay to sell people ‘the Burning Man experience’ as a vacation package.”
- The Placement team established Criteria for Good Standing to clearly hold all camps to the same standards including new standards against concierge camping.
- We first addressed turnkey camping with curiosity in attempts to gather as much information as possible before determining policies. Over the following years, we heard from turnkey camps and impressed the importance of inclusion as interest about Burning Man expanded to more places and more diverse communities.
Appendix of Readings
We have learned many things over time and developed new ways to deal with the issues related to convenience camping. Below is a list of insightful readings from over the years:
- Cultural Direction Setting: What’s Happened – March 18, 2019 by BRC Cultural Direction Setting Group
- Cultural Course Correcting: Black Rock City 2019 – February 9, 2019 by Marian Goodell
- Setting a Cultural Direction for Residential Black Rock City – October 19, 2018 by BRC Cultural Direction Setting Group
- Here’s What Burning Man Is Doing to End Turnkey Culture – July 30, 2015 by Burning Man Project
- Kicking Concierge Caboose in Black Rock City May 21, 2015 by Burning Man Project
- Turnkey / Plug and Play Camping in BRC December 3, 2014 by Burning Man Project
- Equality, Inequity, Iniquity: Concierge Culture – December 3, 2014 by Larry Harvey
- Why am I making fun of Burners (including you, yes you, personally) and an issue you’re really passionate about? – November 17, 2014 by Caveat Magister
- 12 Shocking Revelations about ultra-rich Burning Man plug-and-play camps! November 17, 2014 by Caveat Magister
- How Turnkey Camps Get Placed October 29, 2014 by Answergirl
- A Rich Man Dreams of Paradise – October 3, 2014 by Tony “Coyote” Perez-Banuet
- Radical Self-Reliance and Rich People at Burning Man – October 3, 2014 By Rosie Lila
- Turnkey Camping: A Clarification – April 25, 2012 by Will Chase
- Turnkey Camping in Black Rock City – March 19, 2012 by Burning Man Project