Through the Cultural Direction Setting (CDS) project, Burning Man’s Camp Placement Criteria was updated in March 2020 and will be applied in evaluating camps for future iterations of Black Rock City.
Table of Contents
Theme Camp + Village Criteria:
2. Visual Impact
3. Uniqueness of Offering
Criteria for All Placed Camps:
4. Good Neighbors and Citizens of Black Rock City
5. Culture and Values
6. Safety, Protocols and Procedures
8. Self-reliance/Strain on Resources
9. Criteria to Be in Good Standing
Theme camps are groups of participants who, together, contribute a service, engagement, art, or other creative interactive experience available for citizens of Black Rock City (BRC) without an expectation of anything in return. As a community, we create Black Rock City every year because we all believe there is value in having an entirely different kind of experience — one grounded in what you have to contribute, say, make, do, and share. Theme camps think beyond typical exchanges, and apply their creativity, resourcefulness, and their unique expression of our culture, toward creating experiences that encourage participants to share their expression with the Burning Man community.
“Culture is our collective lived experience. It’s not something you are, but rather something you do. When we create, contribute, and participate in Black Rock City, it inspires others to do the same. When one approaches Black Rock City as a consumer or a spectator, it discourages others from contributing and devalues the experience. The success of Burning Man culture and Black Rock City will always rest on our community’s embrace of our shared cultural values.”
– From the Cultural Vision for Residential Black Rock City published in the Burning Man Journal on July 2019
The criteria to receive camp placement connect the 10 Principles of Burning Man to direct action camps can take in Black Rock City. The lived culture of Black Rock City doesn’t come from reading a vision document or thinking of the criteria for placement as a checklist. Culture comes from you, your camp, from our community, and how we all collectively show up in Black Rock City. Burning Man Project and BRC’s Placement Team encourage you to imagine how your camp can manifest these criteria each year in your own way. The reality of each year’s cultural direction is up to all of us.
Camps organize and bring their gifts in many ways in Black Rock City and can find space in open camping to set up independently. The criteria and expectations set forth are guidelines for camps to receive reserved placement in BRC, though we hope that all camps strive to embody these criteria regardless of whether or not they are placed.
The Camp Placement Criteria is upheld by BRC’s Placement Team as stewards of the city and the placement process. Each criterion listed includes a detailed explanation of what we encourage camps to strive for to receive placement, as well as the things we consider when determining camp standing. We also practice shared accountability by providing direct feedback to camps that are not meeting the criteria and shared principles.
While the top level criteria are important, we do not expect camps to implement every bullet point within each criterion. We suggest that camps prioritize and tailor their approach to meet the overall spirit of each criterion. Please note where the words “all,” “must,” “should,” and “never” appear throughout the criteria, they are intended as requirements rather than as suggestions.
To learn more about the placement process and how to submit a questionnaire for an opportunity to receive a reserved camping spot for your camp or village, you can read all about it here. The criteria applies to theme camps and villages. If your camp is an art support camp, mutant vehicle camp, or work support camp, you can learn which criteria below apply to you here.
Criteria #1-3 apply only to theme camps and villages. If your camp is placed as any other type of camp, Criteria #4-8 apply in addition to the criteria for your specific camp type which can be found here.
(Radical Inclusion, Gifting, Communal Effort, Participation)
Interactivity is the primary offering a theme camp uses to express the 10 Principles. It is the basis for why theme camps come together and the focus of how they engage with the larger community. Interactivity connects people, entertains people, provides services and spaces people need, and helps people learn and grow. Interactivity can be scheduled or spontaneous, but generally means providing activities, happenings, or offerings within your camp.
Consider also that camp interactivity is a gift to the people of Black Rock City and is shaped by our Gifting culture. Gifting culture is based on the unconditional act of gift-giving rather than the material gift itself.
Here’s What Interactivity Looks Like:
- Aligning interactivity with the 10 Principles – it is Decommodified, Radically Inclusive, and creates experiences that prioritize connection, Participation and Immediacy.
- Providing experiences that are available to the entire community and clearly open to people who are not part of your camp to participate (including consideration for various levels of accessibility).
- Matching your interactivity and offerings proportionally to your camp size and square footage, especially if a camp grows year to year. There’s no magic formula here, but each member of a camp should spend a meaningful amount of their time contributing to camp interactivity. Large camps should especially aim to bring something (or a combination of things) to playa that only a camp of their population size could accomplish.
- Doing something well and not simply going bigger or brighter to get more attention. Big visions can be multi-year projects.
Here’s What We’ll Look For:
- Is it obvious that your camp’s interactivity is available for the community and that there is something about it that would draw people in to engage?
- If asked, could you clearly explain how the total population of your camp contributes to the scale of interactivity and experiences you’re planning to bring to Black Rock City?
- Were your camp’s interactivity levels comparable to other camps of your same size?
- Did your camp’s interactivity on playa match what you said you were going to do on your Camp Placement Questionnaire (even if it didn’t go exactly how you wanted)? If something big changed, did you let us know about it?
Black Rock City is a model for active and engaging streets with camps that have welcoming street fronts that invite exploration. Theme camps can be works of art and experiments in city design created with themed environments or visually-stimulating frontages, not just where people park their cars and build infrastructure to survive in the desert.
Here Is What Visual Impact Looks Like:
- An open, inviting, and dynamic frontage that is available to the public and appropriate for the prominence of the street type requested.
- Participation in making your neighborhood an inviting, warm and safe place to explore by including visual elements in your camp, for example camp signage, night lighting, illumination along your borders, ornamentation, art, fire, seating, etc.
- Consideration and experimentation with hiding, beautifying, or otherwise integrating RVs, vehicles, and infrastructure into the streetscape.
- Camps placed on the Esplanade, Portals, Plazas, and Avenues maintaining their primary frontage through Man burn.
Here’s What We’ll Look For:
- Did you make effective use of all the frontage provided to your camp?
- Did you have a balanced amount of public and private space relative to the size of your camp?
- Did you have an obvious way to enter your camp’s public space, and was it available to the community?
- Did you consider the look and feel of your camp’s frontage even when you’re not actively doing your interactivity?
Uniqueness of Offering
(Radical Self-expression, Immediacy, Radical Inclusion)
More than a thousand theme camps request placement every year and the best ones stand out for their unique, inventive, and original offerings. Theme camps are an expression of its members’ creativity, skills, and talents. They offer distinct spins that evoke imagination and curiosity even among commonly found amenities in Black Rock City. Whatever it is — polished or janky, big or small — camps should boldly celebrate their unique gifts and perspectives they bring to the playa.
Here’s What Unique Offerings Look Like:
- Interactivity that is anchored in something that feels organic to your group. It doesn’t have to appeal to everyone, but it should be something that feels authentically yours.
- Interactivity that is playful, whimsical, meaningful, themed, or adds a twist to your core experience (a great playa bar isn’t about the free drinks, it’s about the experience that you create).
- Trying something new or changing up your offerings or theme from time to time. Choices like this are celebrated, even if they fail.
- Camps that welcome, support and create interactivity for under-represented groups or people at Burning Man.
Here’s What We’ll Look For:
- Did your camp have a theme, experience, or unique story that was easy for the reviewing team to discern and would distinguish it from others?
- Did your camp create an experience that a participant would want to tell a story about later?
- Was your camp providing an offering, service, or experience that’s less commonly found on the playa? Greater weight is given to camps providing more uncommon experiences.
Good Neighbors and Citizens of BRC
(Radical Inclusion, Civic Responsibility, Communal Effort)
People from all walks of life are valued and respected in Black Rock City. As citizens of this temporary city and as part of a large whole, camps and individuals contribute to a culture which allows room for Radical Self-expression without coming at the cost of Radical Inclusion. As good neighbors, camps embody Communal Effort in all their interactions, are mindful of the people around them, and are open to learning and compromise in conflict.
Here’s What Being a Good Neighbor and Citizen of Black Rock City Looks Like:
- Keep sound within set limits and check in with your neighbors about volume levels if you are using amplified sound.
- Provide sound abatement for generators and control where they vent exhaust.
- Where possible, work together with your neighbors to coordinate layouts, share resources, organize events, and take ownership of your streets.
- Demonstrate accountability to one another. When there are issues within the neighborhood, work together to solve problems and mediate differences. When you see your peers “doing it right,” celebrate each other and offer positive reinforcement.
- If you encounter a camp with a potential problem, approach them with an attitude of curiosity and not with assumptions about what arrangements a camp has within its borders. Engage, inquire, seek to understand, and be neighborly. Focus on the behavior at hand rather than any preconceptions or identifiers such as class, race, or geographic origin.
Here’s What We’ll Look For:
- What did your neighbors have to say about you in their end of year self-evaluation report?
- Did noise from your camp cause significant problems with your neighbors that could have been avoided?
- Was it clear that you made a sincere good faith effort to successfully resolve any disputes that arose, whether self-mediated or by contacting Placement or the Black Rock Rangers?
Culture and Values
(Decommodification, Radical Self-reliance, Radical Inclusion)
Camps should reflect the culture and values of our community as outlined in the 10 Principles. As citizens of Black Rock City, we embody Radical Self-reliance and Civic Responsibility — we don’t expect things to be done for us (this is convenience culture) or dictated for us (at Burning Man, we take responsibility for our culture).
Radical Self-reliance and Participation cannot be outsourced, especially not through financial or transactional means. While it is normal in the default world to pay for ideas to be created, Burning Man is based on a Gifting economy. All camp members are expected to engage in Gifting through meaningful and immediate contributions to both camp interactivity and operations according to their skills and abilities.
Please also read our positions on “Payticipation and Paying People” and “Commodification, Gifting, Decommodification, and Participation.” These topics have emerged from an ongoing cultural conversation initiated through Burning Man Project’s Cultural Direction Setting project. They are likely to evolve and iterate over time, but reflect our current thinking on these important issues.
Here’s What Strong Culture and Values Look Like:
- Serving and enhancing gifting culture, and avoiding the types of transactional exchanges most of us experience in the default world. Transactional exchanges with an expectation of return are the problem.
- Allocating your camp’s collective focus, time, and resources primarily toward your public contributions rather than the personal comfort and convenience of your campers. Any conveniences should be used in service of your camp’s contribution, which adds to the vibrancy of Black Rock City.
- Providing clear ways for participants to opt in to engage with your interactivity. No one should feel coerced into participating, and informed consent should be given freely. Meaningful consent is also revocable at any time, and boundaries expressed by participants should be honored.
- Offering thoughtful and/or researched interactivity that benefit your visitors and adding to their experience, regardless of their background, race, income level, gender, physical ability, etc.
Here’s What We’ll Look For:
- Was your camp offering inclusive and welcoming to diverse audiences? Camp activities may be controversial or even uncomfortable, but should never make any person feel unsafe.
- Did you incorporate clear ways to ask for and receive enthusiastic consent from participants in your interactivity? Did your camp have predetermined ways for participants to easily opt in (or out) of any activity you offered?
- Did your actions serve and enhance our Gifting culture? Some people have considered financial contribution a way to gift; we explore the problems that simply offering payment as the only form of one’s contribution to the community causes here.
- Did you or your camp pay someone to do something for you while on playa? All camps must read the guidance and follow the policies regarding PAYticipation and paying people here.
- Did your camp act as or work with a concierge company that sells packages to attend the Burning Man event and/or make a profit? This is never permitted.
- Did anyone in your camp sell or advertise goods and/or services during the Burning Man event? Did someone in your camp tag a brand or product on social media? This is never permitted.
- If you weren’t sure about something, did you contact email@example.com to ask your question up front? Note that we may also reach out to you to ask questions as this landscape is constantly changing.
Safety, Protocols and Procedures
Civic responsibility – doing the right thing for the greater community – is one of Burning Man’s Principles and safety is at its core. Camps are expected to abide by all policies and regulations applied by government entities and Burning Man departments in the interest of caring for one another. Safety regulations create a safer event for everyone, and enable each citizen in Black Rock City to get the most out of the Burn.
Here’s What Following Safety, Protocols and Procedures Looks Like:
- Showing up on time to claim your reserved spot before Gates open.
- Using only the space allotted to your camp.
- Providing enough space to support bike parking and crowd management to keep streets clear for emergency vehicles.
- Following the proper regulations stated and posted by Burning Man operational departments such as Placement, Fuel, OSS, HEaT, BLM, Black Rock Rangers.
- Using Stewards Sale tickets and Work Access Pass allocations in a responsible manner and as outlined in the rules and conditions for these programs.
- Being responsible during build week and not getting the party started early.
Here’s What We’ll Look For:
- Did we receive a negative report about your camp from any of the operational entities at the Burning Man event?
- Did you claim your reserved spot before the start of the event? If you couldn’t, did you reach out to us ahead of time to let us know why? All camps must claim their reserved spot before Gates open.
- Did your camp (or someone associated with your camp) participate in land grabbing? Examples include moving blue flags marking your camp’s borders, or taking additional space from the open camping area without pre-approval from Placement. This is never allowed.
- At any point during the event did you not have adequate bike parking or crowd management plans and it became an issue that you did not help to solve?
(Matter Out of Place, Leave No Trace)
Camps must be good stewards of the land and respect the privilege we have to build our temporary city in the Black Rock Desert. Camps should understand best practices to Leave No Trace (LNT), consider their impact on playa and in surrounding communities, and implement viable MOOP sweeps and a LNT plan. Camps aim for Green on the MOOP Map and are willing to take responsibility if they aren’t.
Here’s What a Good MOOP-Managed Camp Looks Like:
- Designating a member of your camp as the LNT lead. Consider making it someone other than your camp lead to improve accountability.
- Writing a thorough LNT plan that covers not just MOOPing during strike, but also during build and the operation of your camp.
- Teaching your campers — especially those new to Burning Man — about your specific LNT plan, as well as general techniques for MOOPing and restoring the playa.
- Stocking your camp with the proper tools to execute your LNT plan, such as rakes, shovels, and magnet sweepers.
- Taking a little extra time to pick up MOOP in the common areas near your camp such as streets and plazas. MOOPing doesn’t end at your doorstep!
Here’s What We’ll Look For:
- Was your camp location green or mostly green on the MOOP Map? If not, did your camp leadership and LNT lead engage with Placement and Playa Restoration to evaluate where you can improve, and collaborate on a plan for future LNT success?
- Were all your campers and infrastructure off playa in a timely fashion? For most camps this means completing your final LNT effort and leaving Black Rock City post event by Tuesday at 12pm. If you need more time to strike, do you have a thorough strike plan that was approved by Placement?
- Did you have adequate participation from your campers compared to the size of your camp? For example, a 100-person camp should have far more than 1-2 people doing final MOOP line sweeps.
Self-reliance / Strain on Resources
Planning and building a camp at Burning Man can be difficult, but resources abound to help camps figure out how to be successful. Radical self-reliance and personal resourcefulness by camps can lead to interesting and inspiring results, and some of the best solutions to problems camps face in the desert. Burning Man Project’s Departments are here to assist, but cannot substitute for a camp’s own ability to execute on a viable vision.
Here’s What Self-reliance and Not Being a Strain on Resources Looks Like:
- Being realistic with your goals and not biting off more than you can chew. You know what it will actually take to bring your vision to life on playa and prepare the proper resources in advance to make it happen.
- Asking for what you need through the right channels, honor the answers you receive, and always have a contingency plan in place.
- Doing your best to find an answer from online resources such as the Camp Resource Guide and Camp Support Team before contacting other departments.
- Submitting an on time Camp Placement Questionnaire before the deadline, which is the last Thursday in April at 12:00pm Pacific Time.
Here’s What We’ll Look For:
- Were you courteous, patient, and concise with Burning Man Project departments if/when you interacted with them?
- Did departments like Placement, Fuel, Container, or DPW have to spend an inordinate amount of time supporting your camp pre or on playa?
- Were you overly reliant on using Outside Services or Heavy Equipment rather than your own resources?
Criteria to Be in Good Standing
After Black Rock City has become dust once again, the Placement Team collects feedback about all camps (including mutant vehicle camps and art support camps) and determines their standing. Camps are either in good standing, limited standing, or not in good standing each year.
This is a guide for how to be and stay in good standing. When camps are in good standing, it makes Black Rock City the place we know and love. We support your efforts to be in good standing, and we also honor the community by giving feedback to camps that are not in good standing.
We have a great community — the vast, vast, vast majority of Burning Man camps are in good standing after the event!
For placed Theme Camps and Villages to receive access to Stewards tickets the following year, their camp must be in good standing. If a camp is not in good standing, they will not be invited to the Stewards ticket sale and may not receive future placement. If a camp is in limited standing, they may receive between 25-75% of their otherwise allotted Stewards tickets. If a Mutant Vehicle Camp or Art Support Camp is in limited or not in good standing with the Placement Team based on the below criteria, Placement will share the camp’s standing and their Stewards recommendation (if eligible) to the DMV or Art Department.
We use the below criteria to evaluate camp standing. This is not black or white. Self-evaluate and think about how your camp can be in good standing this year!
1. Did your camp show up and use your reserved space?
- If something goes wrong and you need to cancel your camp’s reserved placement, let us know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org as early as possible. If you let us know sufficiently in advance, your camp’s standing will not be affected. If you have unforeseen problems getting to playa before our deadline to claim your reserved space, please email us so we’re aware.
- If you do not show up without informing us, your camp is not in good standing
- If you do show up, but do not use your reserved space, your camp is not in good standing
2. Did your camp do the interactivity you said you were going to do?
- This criteria only applies to Theme Camps and Villages.
- We understand that stuff happens, sometimes stuff that is truly out of our control. If something prevented you from doing what you said you were going to do in your questionnaire, let us know ideally by talking to one of your sector Placers while at Burning Man or afterward emailing email@example.com.
- If you didn’t follow through on the primary interactivity and frontage per your questionnaire, your camp may not be in good standing
3. Did your camp uphold our community’s principles and cultural norms?
Examples of citizenship for theme camps and villages include:
- Are you hosting interactivity in your camp that is open to all citizens of Black Rock City?
- Are you being neighborly (e.g. following the sound policy and considerate of the impact of generator sound and/or exhaust)?
- Are you being respectful of the camp boundaries of your neighbors?
- Are you a healthy balance of public versus private space?
- Are you an obvious theme camp?
- Is your camp’s design welcoming and open?
- Are you being radically inclusive?
If we received community feedback to suggest your camp’s behavior was symptomatic of a lack of citizenship or did not uphold our community’s principles and cultural norms, you may not be in good standing.
4. Did your camp honor our Decommodification Principle?
- If you’re not sure what this means, watch this 10 minute video explanation from legal, fundraising and IP and read this article in the Burning Man Journal about how not to commodify Burning Man. You should also read “Payticipation and Paying People” and “Commodification, Gifting, Decommodification, and Participation.”
- If your camp advertised or engaged in commodification, your camp is not in good standing.
- If your camp collaborates with concierge companies selling Burning Man packages, your camp is not in good standing. If your camp places clients of concierge companies in your camp, your camp is not in good standing. If your camp creates your own Burning Man packages, your camp is not in good standing.
- If we received feedback from other Burning Man departments or the community that anyone in your camp sold or advertised goods or services during Burning Man, your camp is not in good standing.
Note: Starting in 2019 we ask all camps registering for placement to make a Decommodification Commitment that they will acculturate their campmates about the Decommodification principle and that their camp and campmates will keep Black Rock City a decommodified zone.
5. Was your camp a strain on Burning Man’s organizational resources?
- If you are repeatedly asked to address something by Burning Man staff or volunteers and are unresponsive in addressing it, your camp is not in good standing.
- If your camp attracted negative attention from Placement or other Burning Man departments, that may be deemed as a strain on resources and your camp may not be in good standing.
6. How was your camp’s MOOP score?
- If your camp was black, red, or mostly red on the MOOP Map, your camp may not be in good standing
- See the archive of MOOP Maps
- The MOOP Map is released in the fall after the event; watch for it in the Jackrabbit Speaks
7. Did your camp abide by the terms of your Work Access Passes?
- Work Access Passes (WAPs) for theme camps and villages are approved on the basis that the participants are working and staying at the camp they received their WAP from.
- If a participant is found camping outside of reserved Theme Camp space or camping in another camp other than where their WAP came from, the camp has either sold or given away WAPs. WAPs should only be used for the camp they were approved for. Any other use will mean the cancellation of all unused WAPs for the Theme Camp and the camp is no longer in good standing.
- Holding space in open camping for anyone not present or without their own WAP (a.k.a. landgrabbing), selling a WAP, or distributing a WAP outside of your camp is an abuse of our WAP policy. Doing so will result in your camp not being in good standing and all unused WAPs will be cancelled.
As we said in the beginning, this isn’t black and white, so this list is not exhaustive. However, this will give you as a camp leader a good idea of what it takes to remain in good standing. And like we said, the vast, vast, vast majority of Burning Man camps are in good standing after the event each year. Keep showing up and being interactive, culturally aligned, neighbourly, responsive, amazing citizens of Black Rock City who leave no trace! Thank you to everyone who has been and continues to do it oh-so right.
This information was created via the Cultural Direction Setting for Residential Black Rock City project by Group #2 focused on Theme Camp Criteria. The “Culture and Values” criterion was created by Group #6 focused on Convenience Camps & the 10 Principles. See here for more information about this project overall and here for the Cultural Vision.