Burning Man organizers hope the auction – the first of its kind for San Francisco-based nonprofit 501 (c) (3) – will help them raise enough money to move the organization through January, if they’re up with plans to start selling tickets for its event in 2022. (A January offer is typical for Burning Man.)
Burning Man boss Marian Goodell told poster In early September that the event was in dire straits. “We have to start selling tickets or we won’t have enough money,” she said. “We hardly have any money to get through to the end of the year. Literally. We don’t have December. The auction will be important. “
Like other live event organizers of all sizes, Burning Man suffered severe financial blows during the pandemic that forced the cancellation of the 2020 and 2021 Burning Man gatherings in the Black Rock Desert of northern Nevada. (The event, held the week before Labor Day, is widely known as “Black Rock City.”) These gatherings typically draw around 70,000 people, with tickets between $ 400 and $ 1,400.
Burning Man grossed nearly $ 43 million in 2019 Tax documents, but the 2020 cancellation resulted in Burning Man losing 90% of its annual sales, organizers said reported. This prompted the organization to send out a call to donors in September 2020 stating that if they did not raise funds, future events would be at risk.
During the pandemic the organization is Reports Raise $ 12 million in donations and important gifts, receive a federal PPP loan of $ 27 million, spend $ 10 million of their operating reserve, reclaim $ 3 million through donated 2020 tickets (with potential attendees donating the money they spent on their tickets rather than a refund) and cutting their budget by $ 24 million. However, such budget cuts did not include the layoff of Burning Man employees.
“We raised money to survive, and not just to do it with the minimal headcount,” says Goodell. “We believe our mission is to continue making Black Rock City a reality. You can’t fire people who’ve been doing Black Rock City for 10, 15, or 20 years. This is stupid. They’ll get other lives and Black Rock City won’t come back … So it was really important that we raise the money and then we were busy. We don’t just go on vacation. “
Goodell says the money raised during the pandemic was mainly used for employee retention, with employees who normally focused on Black Rock City being moved to other projects. That included revising, according to Goodell, “standard operating procedures, things that you hadn’t done in 20 years and that were super old. Revision of some emergency logs, Bureau of Land Management logs, documents we have requested internally, just support our systems and help with succession planning. We just didn’t have much of that. “
In October 2020, the organization’s focus was then on the possibility of producing Black Rock City in 2021. Six months were spent on pre-planning before it became clear that the ongoing pandemic would force the cancellation of Burning Man in 2021. (Goodell announced the cancellation in late April.) “I thought 2021 would be a long way,” she says of Burning Man 2021. “I thought people weren’t ready emotionally, mostly. When we canceled, there was one Sigh of relief. Sadness, but plenty of relief, that confirmed that. “
But despite this official cancellation, around 20,000 people moved to the Black Rock Desert last September for a Burning Man-style event widely known as “Free Burn” or “Rogue Burn”. While Burning Man’s staff were not present in any official capacity, members of the organization were present at the event itself and also in the nearby town of Gerlach, Nevada, where Burning Man has an office and owns a significant portion of the town’s commercial real estate. Burning Man is building a 360 acre artist workspace on the outskirts of Gerlach and also owns the nearby 3,800 acre Fly Ranch, which is being developed into a space for the organization to host related programs to Burning Man.
With major events returning around the world, the possibility of Black Rock City 2022 looks good. By January, Goodell says, the money raised through the Sotheby’s auction – along with several donor pledges – will help get the organization through the rest of the year. In the meantime, she remains optimistic that all of this could be in the best interests of the beloved event.
“I think that’s perfect,” says Goodell. “A two year break to rest mentally and see how the world changes and actually realize how important we are. Sometimes you do something so often and you’re passionate about it, but after a while it’s not fun, then something comes along that just brings you back to why you love it and your passion for it.
“That’s how we feel,” she continues. “It’s like, ‘Okay, we’re ready.’ We fixed all the things that we had to fix, we fixed some things, we made some personnel changes, we improved the infrastructure, now we’re getting back to it. ‘”