“Burning Man’s Backers Take Nonprofit Route”
By JOHN LETZING
The group behind Burning Man, the giant annual arts festival in the Nevada desert, is poised to turn itself into a nonprofit, which the famously quirky operation thinks suits its ethos. Nonprofit status also could help the group better raise and spend funds than the limited-liability corporate setup it now uses.
But creating a nonprofit amid a weak economy may be no picnic. So Burning Man’s organizers say they are taking cues from the lessons learned at the Black Rock Arts Foundation, a San Francisco-based nonprofit adjunct to the festival that was formed in 2001.
For the past 14 years, the Burning Man festival has been managed by a San Francisco legal entity known as Black Rock City LLC. In August—the same month this year’s festival took place with about 50,000 participants in northwestern Nevada—the group announced it would form a nonprofit called Burning Man Project that may become the parent organization of both the annual event and some of its related offshoots.
A nonprofit organization would better gel with Burning Man’s stated principles such as “gifting” and “decommodification,” said Freddy Hahne, an artist who journeys to the festival every year under the pseudonym Dr. Really? and is board president of the Black Rock Arts Foundation.
The Burning Man Project also would be better able to raise money since it could qualify for grants awarded only to nonprofits, and donations to the group would be tax-deductible to the givers, organizers say. Moreover, it would more readily be able to form partnerships, they add.
Having nonprofit status also would shield a group from federal income tax and could be “a reputational enhancement,” said Darryll Jones, an associate dean at Florida A&M University College of Law and an expert on nonprofits and taxes.
The Black Rock Arts Foundation funds the placement of art from the Burning Man festival on city streets and provides grants for new art projects around the world. Funded works include a 40-foot-tall rocket ship on San Francisco’s Embarcadero and an art gallery installed in the rear of a motorized pedicab in Beijing.
The foundation also was formed during an economic downturn, the dot-com bust last decade, and struggled through some uneven fund raising and difficult years. As a result, Burning Man’s organizers say they absorbed real-world schooling on how to build a board of directors, raise money and implement fiscal discipline.
Harley Dubois, a co-founder of the arts foundation who now serves on the boards of the foundation and the Burning Man Project, said the foundation’s experience will be instructive for the Burning Man Project as it forms partnerships and works with public officials. In addition to her board memberships, Ms. Dubois serves as “City Manager” of Black Rock City, the temporary locale that Burning Man attendees conjure on a Nevada playa every year.
The art foundation’s “largest lessons were on running a business entity,” said Ms. Dubois. “We had a hard time getting started, essentially because we didn’t know what we were doing.”
Larry Harvey, who launched Burning Man on San Francisco’s Baker Beach in 1986, helped get the Black Rock Arts Foundation off the ground in 2001 with a $30,000 loan. The group at first lacked expertise in attracting talent and managing its finances, Mr. Hahne recalls.
More trouble arrived with the recession. In 2009, donations to the foundation from “Burners” who purchase tickets to the week-long Burning Man event fell sharply. That year, the foundation reported about $406,000 in revenue, a decline from $439,000 in 2008. Expenses totaled $278,000.
Black Rock Arts Foundation Executive Director Tomas McCabe said the organization responded by cutting over a fifth of its administration costs and holding back on certain projects. Last year, it reported over $478,000 in revenue and nearly $462,000 in expenses as it resumed projects, tax filings show.
The foundation has had many supporters, including Christopher Bently, who operates real estate investment firm Bently Holdings Corp.; Mark Pincus, chief executive of social gaming company Zynga Inc.; and Bob Pittman, a former AOL executive who is CEO of Clear Channel Communications Inc.
Mr. Bently also backs the new Burning Man Project nonprofit. He said the Burning Man Project will help establish more community support for local artists based on the Burning Man ethos, which includes principles such as “communal effort” and “radical self-expression.”
Here’s a recent article about the Rocketship in the SF Chronicle by honorary Space Cadet John King. Thanks John… we just heard back today that the Port Commission agreed to extend the Rocketship installation at Pier 14 in SF for another year… until October 2012!
“There is no social message in this artwork of oversize whimsy. It says nothing about local history or culture. The aluminum skin is a surprise amid the Embarcadero’s masonry buildings. It is what it is: a curvilicious gleam that captures the gee-whiz air of futurism past, on loan from the Black Rock Arts Foundation. The Port Commission will vote Tuesday on whether to let Raygun Gothic stay until October 2012, and how can anyone say no? This is art that sparks imagination and joy, the stuff of which vibrant cities are made.
Raygun Gothic Rocketship Pier 14 | Artists: Sean Orlando, Nathaniel Taylor and David Shulman (and members of the Five Ton Crane Arts Group)
Style: Buck Rogers Baroque | Size: 40 feet | Date built: 2010″
Hyperbolic projection of a spherical panorama
photo by Steven DosRemedios
Painting by artist Alan Street
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Laura Morton / Special to The Chronicle
The “Raygun Gothic Rocketship,” a retro-themed sculpture, was installed at Pier 14 in San Francisco in August.
Mercury News photojournalists make images every day of the year. The images don’t always come from a breaking news or sporting event – they may be portraits of interesting people, “moments” that connect with the reader, or simply something out of the ordinary. In 2010, our photojournalists captured thousands of images: These are among their favorites.
We create these large-scale immersion based installations in part because we hope, in some small way, to inspire people to create, dream and invent… to help generate a little spark of the imagination and to grease the wheels of ingenuity. The Raygun Gothic Rocketship is a symbol of a future that never happened, and idea that we had hoped would resonate with both the young and old.
On August 20th, we received the following request for any plans or sketches of the rocketship that we would be willing to share.
I am thinking of trying to build a small wooden (six foot tall) version with
my 11 year old to teach him about construction.
Are there any plans or dimensional specs that could give us a start on
planning. We could scale accordingly.
We were intrigued… so we sent Phil and his son the following plans:
Well… Phil and his son Andrew have been busy and it is now my turn to be impressed and inspired.
We received an email from Phil today with a photo of their little RGR inspired “project”. This father and son team studied our blueprints and re-created our 40′ tall steel and aluminum retro- futuristic rocketship… out of wood… in only ten days!
Nice work Phil and Andrew! Cool lookin rocketship ya got there…
Thank you… I am truly humbled…