It’s no secret that the Burning Man organizers have made a brand out of their festival. The branding, however, somehow defeats the purpose, as well as those illustrious principles it is based on. Its popularity and turnout have been increasing beyond expectation each year.
This past weekend, the organizers released the first batch of 3000 tickets, selling them at a premium price, at $650 per ticket. They announced that, for good measure, 3% from each sale is donated to an NGO that will help spread and “support the long term survival of the event and the culture”.
Long-time and dedicated Burners will say that these high-cost tickets help subsidize the low-price tickets that are offered to low-income participants, which you can equate with higher taxing and social support, if it helps you understand the approach.
The discussions online are turning the blame to the organizers, trying to prevent scalpers from re-selling the tickets, decided to take the profits directly, realizing that people are prepared to pay more.
The raffle system in 2012 certainly angered, frustrated and discouraged many, but there were also those who were not able to get a ticket at all – at any price – and, desperate to go, are ready to cash out the double fare for 2013.
The regular ticket prices have not been announced yet but, as we have noticed them incrementally increasing each year, they will definitely be higher than in 2011 and 2012.
Reminder: the event is based on sharing, participation and contribution, which means that everyone who comes provides something – the content, the entertainment, the infrastructure, the cleanup (entirely volunteer-based).
So, the question on everyone’s mind is: what are we paying for?
Although the ticket sales help pay for the permit, state fees, and portable toilets, they are still higher than other comparable festivals which have organized programs, infrastructure, and all the facilities. No matter how you break it down, the costs are still hard to justify. For example, the bathing water and the garbage must all be collected and disposed of by attendees themselves, outside the grounds (the nearby communities offer garbage collection and recycling at a fee).
Nothing is sold on the grounds except ice. All participants must ensure that they have sufficient water, food and adequate shelter to survive in the desert for the duration of their stay. Trading and sharing the resources is not only encouraged, but essential, in a way – an essential part of the overall experience.
And that is just the first step. Additional costs per person for a 5-day attendance is generally $500-1000, often more. This includes water, food, camping gear, transportation, outfits, post-cleaning, etc.
Also, the higher ticket price will generally mean that the rest of the budget will have to adapt as well, such as less money for arts and the costumes. The basics will still get covered, but the extras – the actual things that make the whole experience more fun – will be flushed out. And so, in the end, it may just seem like a tourist gathering.
Should we just be looking at it as an expensive experience because it is unique?
Eventually, then, it will become an artificial community which is capable of looking both objectively and subjectively at the outside society trying to improve something in it. But does it? Or does it just show the civilization eventually turns very greedy.
Having said all that, I still bought a ticket, even though I agree that it is incredibly expensive.
That’s another topic, but I believe, based on the past experience in the infamous desert, that the Burning Man culture is worth it. I felt inspired the last time, I wanted to contribute much more, and be a part of it again. I thought the experience was invaluable.