Leadership / 07.19.22
Extinguished Since 2019, Burning Man Is Set to Reignite This August
That crackling sound you hear may just be the return of Burning Man, the eight-day mega event that had been held annually in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert until COVID-19 hit. The event, which this year starts on Aug. 28 and ends on Sept. 5, has been located since 1991 at Black Rock City, a temporary city erected approximately 100 miles north-northeast of Reno.
Unique? That opening description doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface. Lulu Lurline, Ticketing Manager for Burning Man Project, says this “is unique from other events in that participants [also referred to as ‘Burners’] provide the content and experiences. Burning Man Project creates the container and provides the space for volunteers and participants to perform, engage, connect, and transform. But we don’t book acts, we don’t build stages, etc. Without the participants — and thousands of volunteers — there really wouldn’t be much more than a trash fence and a city grid laid out in an empty desert.”
And the name? It comes from its culminating ceremony. The symbolic burning of a large wooden effigy, referred to as “The Man,” occurs on the penultimate night (traditionally the Saturday evening before Labor Day).
Burning Man is further noteworthy for its innovative ticketing initiatives. Among them is the Secure Ticket Exchange Program (or STEP), which Lurline and Rebecca Throne, Head of Ticketing emeritus, came up with in 2012. “After that year’s sales, we ended up with some groups who still needed tickets and some groups who had too many tickets, and we wanted to find a way to safely and equitably redistribute the tickets throughout the community,” she says. “We do not allow the resale of Black Rock City tickets for above face value via any secondary market site, and STEP allows Burners who no longer need their tickets to safely and securely sell them back to us. Those tickets are then offered to other Burners waiting in a queue to purchase them. This helps keep tickets within the community and off of secondary market resale sites, as well as making sure that folks aren’t stuck with a non-refundable ticket that they can no longer use.”
The Ticket Aid Program is another popular initiative that the yearly event has become known for. Lurline says, “One of the 10 Principles of Black Rock City is ‘Radical Inclusion.’ One of the ways we strive to ensure that our event is radically inclusive is by offering a program that enables members of the community who cannot afford a full price ticket a way to apply for a lower priced ticket. This, along with the community initiatives programs we’ve introduced this year — to offer tickets to a wide group of amazing people and projects focused on important work in the areas of environmental sustainability, underrepresented types of art, and diversifying our community to nourish its vibrancy and ensure its continued evolution — helps bring Burners to Black Rock City from all walks of life.”
She says, “Black Rock City is just that, a city. Cities always have a broad representation of ages, from the very young to the very old, and it is important to us that Black Rock City does as well. This is another facet of our efforts to be radically inclusive. It’s really about ensuring our community is wholly represented in Black Rock City, and children are able to experience the event along with their families. So, yes, kids’ tickets are still free!”
Burning Man had to be canceled in 2020 and 2021 due to the coronavirus. In the time away, were there any lessons learned? Lurline was quick to respond that the biggest lessons learned for her personally in the past couple of years with regards to producing Black Rock City “are around prioritization, simplification and community. We truly couldn’t do what we do at Burning Man Project if it weren’t for the global Burning Man community, and it is imperative that we continue to support our diverse citizenry as we move toward the future. Prioritizing people might not always be seen as optimal business practice by some organizations. But I believe it’s what we can do to ensure the longevity of the event while continuing to support the growth and health of our community.”
And the time away only solidified Lurline’s passion for the work and reinforced what she loves most about being the event’s Ticketing Manager. “This is sort of silly, but my absolute favorite part of the job is driving from camp to the box office in the desert at night,” she says. “I love getting to see all of the camps, art pieces and other things going on at the event, and then drive out into the nothingness of the desert before arriving at our box office. Black Rock City at night is beautiful, and there is no better feeling than seeing the product of all the work you’ve done come together.”
Those drives make all of her hard work worth it. And make no mistake about it. Lurline’s job is indeed hard work at times. “The most challenging part of my job has always been, and I think perhaps always will be, finding ways to build community through ticketing,” she says. “The tension between the restricted size of our event, and the number of Burners who want to come out to it is a challenge every year. I do think we’ve found new ways to broaden the scope of inclusion through our Ticket Aid Program and Community Initiatives Tickets this year, but there are always Burners who want to come to Black Rock City who aren’t able to.”
The challenge then becomes evolving Burning Man, both from a ticketing perspective and an event one. “From an event perspective, I think we’re going to see more and more local, regional Burning Man Events popping up,” she says. “As I’ve mentioned, community really is everything when it comes to this event, and bringing that into local communities around the world is hugely important. We already have a vast regional network of events and leaders, and I see that only continuing to grow and strengthen. With regard to Black Rock City, specifically, I see there being a further evolution to the ways we offer tickets to Black Rock City to ensure that not only are we including as many different diverse parts of our community as we can without limited resources, but that we also find ways to bring in new faces.”
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Tags: Leadership , Burning Man