Hi, you happy, and soon-to-be-dusty-again people! I haven't written anything here in awhile, but there's been some controversy over the Everywhen Project - a group of friends (none of whom I know, to be clear) that started something formal out of their informal gatherings at Juplaya and then Renegade Burn 2020.
It seemed like there was a lot of speculation and possible misinformation out there about the Everywhen, so I asked to interview the head of it - Mathew Gilbuena - and he kindly agreed. Hope you enjoy the interview! This is actually the first time I've done one in real time for Burn.Life (in this case via Zoom). I usually do interviews over email, but decided it'd be fun to mix it up a little. Hope you enjoy!
Dr. Yes: Why don’t we start with how you got started? What was the process that birthed Everywhen?
Mathew: That's a long story. But a condensed form would be that I was at Burning Man as one of the Temple crew builders. And so most years I would be part of the crew to build a temple. And on the 2016 Temple, the David Best one, his final one, a lot of us, you know, we made a lot of very strong friendships that year, and the following year 2017, we thought, let's go to Juplaya, let's see what it's like to be on Playa outside of Burning Man.
That’s quite an experience, right? And it's really Burning Man expert mode. You bring your camp and there's nothing, nothing out there. It's you and the elements, you are truly in the wild west. And some, some bad things happened. You know, you have your friends, and you think that your friends vet the people that are there. And those assumptions are always challenged out there when you're depending on one another for desert survival.
And, some things lead to the notion that, hey, maybe we should vet who's there, make sure that we have food, make sure that we have community safety and that kind of thing. And so what happened was we just started going out there year over year. And so that's really our desert camping group.
The other group I was part of was the chapel chimes build in 2019. It was a friend I built with for several years - we also met through the temple crew. And very last minute, he said, yes, we're gonna bring this project to the desert. And this is like, May June. So all those people that would want to be part of a Burning Man art project were already engaged to, you know, whatever project they were attached to. I was mining all the different Burning Man groups to see what sort of crew I could put together as a project manager for that build on Playa in 2019. We liked each other, actually quite a bit.
And so we thought maybe we should design a city temple for the 2020 Burn. The notion was let's make something that's ADA accessible and let's build it in the city. So that for those that don't want to make the trek all the way out to the deep Playa to THE temple, they can go to the local neighborhood temple.
Burning Man said that no, that's a little too out there. We can't have inner city art of that size. So you know, we then targeted the inner playa. The notion was that our group was going to build a reusable temple. And so that was gonna be brought to the Unscruz (Santa Cruz) regional, and then finally to Burning Man.
Burning Man didn't happen that year, but we had art already produced and so decided to take it to Juplaya. And now the new build crew, we kind of came together to bring the art that we built to the playa. And what changed that year was that instead of just having a rustic Juplaya camp, we had a camp with art.
Then we thought, well, we're gonna have art, we're gonna have our camp. Maybe we should invite some things to do beyond that. So we invited a friend who runs a sound camp, and another friend that had art cars, and therefore we had a mini village develop. Cecause of that people would show up and start to camp alongside us. And probably because we had some porta potties there, too, that made it simple for everybody, as well as a communal kitchen. And we realized that if you mix art, with music, with some infrastructure and porta potties on the Black Rock, things just sort of organically grow.
The guy with the sound kept like saying, you know, there's no Burning Man this year, let's come back out here in September or August. And I said, “You’re crazy.” The level of effort to pull this off exhausted the amount of energy I had for the rest of the year, and that was true was was true back in July. But yeah, you get home, you wash off on the playa, and you're like, you know, everything's still packed.
So I was convinced to do it again. And this time, like, you know, this, this plan worked really well, except for a few things. Don't lock your porta potties because if you lock them, people will just pee on them anyway. We realized that we had to now give a gift to community - have porta potties but leave some unlocked. And we thought, you know, there's been no Burning Man this year, let's go ahead and create a larger village.
We coordinated with seven camps. And to respect the rules of the playa for dispersed camping, we made sure that they were spaced out, that they were distinct camps that had their own infrastructure, their own porta potties, just to make sure we were encouraging dispersed camping. It was also COVID, and so we said 25 people per camp max. You manage your own crap.
We thought, when we went out there in late August, that we were 150 people, max, but that's not what happened. We brought 16 porta potties out and we just put in a nice little arc and said that's enough for the 150 of us. The We informed the Bureau of Land Management ahead of time that we're gonna go out there. They knew our GPS coordinate, they supported us, we informed them about a month before going out there what our plans were.
They met us, within moments of arriving, and they looked at our village plans. They gave us their incident commander’s contact information. And then we set off to have an adventure with 150 of our friends, which lasted about three days until the media showed up with cameras and some very expensive drones in the air. They said, “Oh, you guys are the Not Burning Man”. I was like, "I don't know, Black Rock City is over there." We're at 16 mile - we're far away from where Black Rock City would be on the playa.
Then what happened was, the next few days, people kept showing up to the playa. Some camped where Center Camp would have been, some where the rest of Black Rock City would have been, etc. It was very spread out for the number of people out there, and during the day people camping over by where Burning Man would have happened couldn’t really see us due to some kind of natural mirage effect.
But, people would see these lights in the distance at night. “Oh, there's something out there!” And so people would start driving out to our encampment and not leaving. The village grew to 200, 400, 1000. There's some debate over what the total peak number was actually. We can guess anywhere between six to eight thousand. I remember one night in particular, I think it was Friday night where it was starting to get really busy. Our entire camp was now basically acting as rangers because things were a little out of control, despite having a grid and all that, things were just a little crazy. In a fun way. It was fun, at that point in time. We were all having dinner.
I remember looking up towards Gerlach as the sun was setting, and we saw a wall of headlights coming towards us and not just like a single file line. It was a wall of headlights coming our way. And we were like oh fuck oh fuck! The word is out and they are coming.
Dr. Yes: You were the flame the moths came to!
We did not intend to start an event, we were just a couple of friends who grabbed our other friends. And we went out to the desert, installed some art and sort of brought the ethos of the original Burning Man project with us. A social experiment where we're trying some new things.
So the BLM said, you know, you all should get a permit. Apply for a permit for 25k for the next year. All right, okay, we'll do that.
Well, that didn't happen and 25k was in retrospect too ambitious. And 2020 was just insane. We went home after that renegade burn and we assembled a board of directors, and it was basically like, you, you, you, you, and you because, we're just a group of friends and what do we know, we're just going to keep trying keep trying to do this.
We formed a nonprofit. I think was incorporated in September 2020, might be October, somewhere around there. And we started operations, and people began to apply. And they're like, “Yay, this is not Burning Man.” But, some people who have been involved with the Org started to come in and then they were like, “Oh, this is not Burning Man.”
People were getting frustrated and there was a lot of internal strife, because our way of thinking was a bit different, because why replicate what already exists?
So we thought, “Let's erase the Burning Man principles from our culture, because maybe they're restricting us from exploring new ideas.” What does that mean? I don't know yet, but it's an experiment. We're going back to that radical social experiment that birthed the huge event we know and love today.
We talked a bunch and decided we’re going to focus on reusability, we're going to focus on upcycling, we're going to focus on making sure that the art that's displayed here is also available elsewhere, whether they do or do not burn it at the time there. We had no burning in our event, as 1) we couldn’t manage it and 2) we sort of as burners at large have always been saying this structure would be great for you know, the homeless issue, this other one would be great for installing it somewhere else. We burn it all down though, which of course allows art of great magnitude to exist, but temporarily right? All that material just goes up in flames.
In any case, that permit for 2021 at Block Rock was not granted by the BLM. We didn't have a lawyer at that point and we’re dealing with the BLM and larger Department of the Interior. There’s also a changeover in the federal administration in 2021 and of course Covid was still around. They basically said to us, “You’re too new to handle this. You have no track record. Talk to us again when you have one.”
It was a traumatizing experience for everybody, both for those that wanted to come and then even more so for those trying to create this event. We had ticket sales online then had to take them offline, and then back online and offline, because the word that we were getting from the BLM was changing day by day, but I think we learned a lesson there, which is that transparency is good, but too much blow-by-blow transparency can be confusing. We tried to be an honest and authentic organization, but we also realized that some people just don't understand the forces at play.
So we ultimately pivoted after looking at 41 different alternative sites. We split up this list across the entire team, we all checked out the sites. And the location that we went to in the Mojave was… it really spoke to me so I'm like, “Okay, let's go here. Let's check it out. Make sure the vibe is right.”
It was and so we pivoted over to the Mojave, moved the date to October, and we had our first official event in October 2021.
That being said, we just continued to plan our Juplaya outing as an unofficial event using the model that we created back in JuPlaya 2020 and Renegade 2020. So that just kept going. And I remember Mark Hall, the Black Rock BLM manager, saying “Matt, you guys just can't stay away from the playa can you?” I’m like, “No, we love it here.” It’s my passion and the rest of our team's passion. So here we are, in 2022, the permit has been issued, sort of – we have an MOU. [Memorandum of Understanding].
Dr. Yes: MOU for Black Rock or for Mojave?
Mathew: For Black Rock for 2022.
Dr. Yes: Did you need a permit for Mojave? Or is that BLM land?
Mathew: The Mojave site is private land, though we needed permission from the Kern County Fire Department. And it's actually a lot easier to do it on private land. A lot easier. Public Land is more difficult. You would think it wouldn’t be, but it is. More expensive too.
The way that permitting works at Black Rock is they really just issue a permit weeks before the event. This is true for Burning Man as well. What we have in place with them right now is an MOU that says, we're going to issue you this permit as long as you follow this payment structure.
This is the cost recovery agreement between our entity and the BLM, so that they’re not incurring debt to the taxpayers on our behalf, that we're covering any of the use of resources that they will be deploying, which means everyone from archaeologists, to biologists, to, of course, law enforcement officers, to their commanders, to the folks within the office are doing all their the NEPA [National Environmental Policy Act] reviews to make sure that they can conduct an environmental impact study.
There's a lot that goes into making sure that the land is preserved. I honestly don't know too much about what they all have to do to sign off on the permit, but there's a lot of cost there. So, we are good to go if we continue to make our payments to them.
When we first applied for this year we wanted to extend our gift to the Juplaya audience. What I mean by that is no fence, no gate. Bring the porta potties as we always have done, add medical, and allow heavy equipment to be there to help the artists install and de-install.
All was well until the BLM said, so you're good to go but you need to add a fence, you need to add a gate, you need to relocate within the playa.
That seemed to begin this narrative of us trying creating a walled garden at Juplaya and that we're a well-funded org and that we are just trying to grab everyone's money, which is a narrative that I can understand. Juplaya is free, and people can create their own event. But what some people don't remember is that we're a nonprofit and our primary mission is to give that money that's used for tickets to the artists. We give about 60% of revenue that comes in from tickets to the artists.
Dr. Yes: You’re giving 60% of ticket revenue to artists? How? That's a giant percentage.
Mathew: Yeah, our operating costs are high, but currently everyone is a volunteer so nobody is getting paid to do this on our end. That’s what lets us direct ticket money to artists.
Dr. Yes: And you’re talking direct grants here?
Mathew: Yeah. We’re a 501(c)(3) and can give direct grants. This is important to us because I went through the journey of being an artist myself, I've seen the sort of the hoops you had to go through back in 2020, so I'm familiar with the journey of the artists through either artists I've worked under or myself as a prospective honoraria grant recipient.
Dr. Yes: I wanted to clarify one thing about 2020 Renegade. You were the “shitty city” as I heard it referred to later? I don't mean that any kind of insulting way. That's just the term that was thrown around.
Mathew: That’s what they called us, yeah. Okay, we're the shitty city. We had our shitty city mayors. When you have to deputize people that never signed up to become the mayor, to sort of keep the chaos in check a little, you don't necessarily have the luxury of choosing the best person suited for that role. It's sort of like ok, you like staying up at night, and you'd like to be up in the daytime, so you’re the co-mayors of this village in the city now.
Dr. Yes: I really like the idea that it all evolved kind of spontaneously from the 150 people your group brought.
I’m sure you have seen the comments, but there are definitely some dispersed campers who go to Juplaya who are pretty salty about you guys. Do they have any real reason to be concerned that you will impact their experience to any great degree? Can you give me some numbers like how many acres you’ll occupy, how many people you’ll have?
Mathew: Sure. We have a class III permit. There's only one class IV permit right now. We all know who holds it. And so, class III is the maximum you can have at Black Rock desert. We’re capped at 1000 people and 100 acres.
Dr. Yes: That's it? 100 acres? That's pretty tiny. The playa is something like 640,000 acres in size I think.
Mathew: Yeah, so we are microscopic. If you zoom out, and you had a little city point on a map, you wouldn’t even see it. There is a closure order that’s going to be put into place that will be larger than 100 acres, but we have no control over it - the BLM forces it on us. And the reason why it exists is so that people don't go driving through our city at 100 miles per hour and run people over. It is for the safety of those that are camping there.
The fence was also something that we were told we have no choice over. We tried to do a virtual fence, we tried to do a light-based fence, but they're like no, no, it’s got to be a physical fence.
Some other things are going to be a little different from Burning Man. For instance, we’ll have trash dumpsters on site. These are things that we experimented with in Mojave, and I'll tell you I've heard people be like, “How DARE there be a trash dump? How dare you do that?” And then 12 hours later, they’ve switched to, ”This the best thing ever.” It's so nice to not have to manage the trash for people and for us not to worry so much that attendees are tying trash bags to the roof of their car and losing it all it over 447, or abusing peoples’ private dumpsters in Reno.
At first, people hated it, and then later they were like thank you, thank you. It was a neat experiment and we’re going to continue that.
Dr. Yes: Burning Man already pays USS to collect and haul out peoples' human waste. I don't see paying a company to collect and haul out another kind of waste as being any fundamentally different, personally, but clearly it's a pretty controversial thing to do in the burner community.
This actually leads me to kind of something I wanted to talk about: what are some other ways you guys are distinguishing yourself from Burning Man. You talked about how in your impetus to create Everywhen one of the things you didn't want to do was just create a mirror event because other than the fact that everyone can't get tickets to the Burn, what's the point? What's the on-the-ground experience going to be like that’s different from Burning Man?
Mathew: That's a good question. I think the first thing that I personally have always thought as a burner that started in 2012 was: Did I miss something good by waiting until 2012 to go? And I think a lot of new burners share that feeling… or maybe I'm not new Burner any more and am now middle-aged...
Dr. Yes: Yeah, now you’re middle-aged, man. Me too.
Mathew: I sometimes think back like, “Oh, how cool would it have been to be on Baker Beach and been there in the very beginning when it then moved to the Black Rock.” And I was fortunate enough to have worked with some of the founders through all the temple projects, including the inventor of the Man Jerry James in 2018, in Temple Galaxia and so I got to hear some of the intimate stories.
You know, 30 years ago, it was kind of a cool moment when BM got started. Your question was how is it different from Burning Man, and one thing I would say is before answering that, when I looked at the old videos, from like ’95, ‘96, I'm like, this is a good target for a maximum. Because at that point, you have a mix of janky art with some organization and more freedoms are still in place. When you get too large, you have to put more and more restrictions in place.
But how we’re different is something we’re still answering ourselves, because it’s not a binary yes or no thing. And that's something that we've been trying to answer ourselves. The first thing we thought about was: What don't we like, or if we had the power to make changes, what would we want to see?. First, obviously, was the use and reuse of material so that the art can always be rebuilt or reused rather than burned.
Number two, is that there's a very verticalized network of vendors and organization within Burning Man. That makes sense -they're 30 plus years old. But we wanted to allow people to have a more direct impact on the experience. So, what we did at Mojave, and what we did at Juplaya, and what we're going to continue to do is use what we call like a partner network, or just internal partners.
What I mean by that is, the gate is run by a camp that’s not the Everywhen org. LNT is run by a camp that’s not Everywhen. The ranger equivalent - they're called the Loco Ocos - are another separate camp. And so what that allows us to do is, you know, switch in different parts of the org that maybe are not performing well, but also allows other moves.
For instance, let's say that our Everywhen Org does a bad job of managing the artists. We could theoretically be swapped out for a different organizing Org, and they would still have these partner camps in place. And so this is a distributed power system or, or maybe more of a representative system of the playa community at large. By distributing governance, we can make ourselves less reliant on a single organization.
The other thing that we're sort of thinking towards is, as an art incubator, we'd like to make more resources available to the artists. So for instance, a future goal is to rent out a bay at the Generator in Reno, so that artists working on art for Everywhen can share a space.
And then we'd like to create friendly competitions between camps and artists. In the future, we're going to say, you know, this art project has this award or recognition for most upcycled components, fastest build cleanest LNT, something like that. Wee're still working on what that would look like. But the goal is to have some friendly competition, get, perhaps, a little prestige, which maybe helps the artist build a resume for themselves in some small way. “Judged best of show at Everywhen” or something like that. It's about helping artists however we can. That's where we're going as an organization.
Dr. Yes: I'm curious if your perception of the Burning Man Org has changed at all since you've been running Everywhen and now that you're on the inside of running an event? Because obviously the Org gets a lot of shit from different angles. Some complaints have a basis in reality, some are just people being unreasonable dicks, but certainly almost nobody complaining about the Org has never tried to put on an event like this in the Black Rock or somewhere similarly remote.
Mathew: I think I learned some of the rules that are in place are mandates from the government rather than internally decided by Burning Man. What I don't have clarity on is whether Burning Man helped shape that government mandate over the last 30 years. There might just be sort of cultural norms that were established because of the way some of the original Cacophony Society folks developed into Burning Man out there.
Dr. Yes: So I was looking at your principles: Do No Harm, and LNT seem pretty reasonable and the latter is required by BLM, regardless. Your third and final principle is Tell Tall Tales. Where did that come from? It’s kind of fun, and I like the lack of pretension.
Mathew: Oh, boy, I think, you know, we're social creatures, and people like stories. I think one of the things I like most about Burning Man is the ability to suspend belief and just accept the reality that's given to you. So that can be like, you know, method acting, it could be like, improv, right? Where you just want to riff off each other's distorted reality bubble that's created around you. I think that's a really important concept to bring forward as an art-centric event: to nurture and curate wonder, the celebration of the surreal and the artistic expression that each camp or each art piece is delivering.
And so we really wanted to make sure that that was still intact, as a goal of the organization that yes, we're focusing on upcycling, yes, we're gonna have some friendly competitions, or judging in the future for, you know, best of shows, so on so forth. But most importantly, I think it's really important to build community to develop stories, to come home thinking, “Wow, what the fuck was that, and to tell others about what they experienced."
So the telling of tall tales is just a way of encouraging people to be be part of creating a story, to invoke that that sense of wonder we all used to have as children, and also as a goal. That's why one question that we had to answer in the very beginning was, “Are we allowing in kids?”
And the answer is yes, after some debate, with the reason being is that we need to be thinking about our future generations, and creating the space for them to develop and mature, learn new things, but do so while surrounded by wonder. Maybe someday they’ll be inspired to create their own things that bring wonder to others…whatever the future brings. So telling tall tales is about the positivity that we have when people can create wonder for each other.
Dr. Yes: What are your plans for the future? Where do you see yourselves? Do you do have ambitions to grow past 1000 people? Can you can grow past 1000 people? Is there a path to grow into a class IV permit for example, with the BLM? Do you intend to keep having multiple events per year?
Mathew: Good question. You know, because we're born out of Black Rock, that's definitely where we feel most at home as frequent playa campers at Juplaya and Burning Man. I enjoy that canvas because it is a big blank, empty expanse, Mojave is a little different. At night, especially under a full moon they both speak to me differently. Black Rock is sort of like being on a smooth moon, whereas Mojave is like you're inside of a moon crater. They're both lunar-feeling experiences, but with very different environmental considerations.
Mojave is definitely a lot more difficult than Black Rock. You have actual sandstorms and there's mechanical wear and tear from them that far exceeds the dust we’re used to, so your locks break faster, your zippers break faster, etc. Sandstorms are harsh. You need face shields, and full body protection just to survive outside during their sandstorms. And those sandstorms sometimes last the entire day with no forewarning, so the challenge is how are you going to celebrate and enjoy yourself and be protected against it instead of just hanging out in your tent or RV all day? So these are our new problems that we're going to solve over time.
On your question about our future, I think the goal is to have three events. Right now we have two, and we want to have the events grow sustainably, but we would never want to grow beyond 25,000 attendees. We feel like that’s a good balance between size and the scale of art that brings, and maintaining a little more intimacy than Black Rock City offers these days.
The way we're going to try to build that intimacy as we grow our Constellation City is based off of a petroglyph that researchers assume is based off of the Seven Sisters meaning the Pleiades constellation. We’ll use that pattern to create little rings of camps that are themselves connected to each other by roads serving as spokes. By having each ring be capped at 2500, or 3000, or whatever the number is, each ring would have its own identity over time, and build its own culture. And you'd be able to go from township (each ring) to township while maintaining more of a close intimate feel amongst a larger population. That’s how I think we can responsibly grow to 25k and stop it there while maintaining a neighborhood feel.
Dr. Yes: You talked about how originally you had wanted to put a temple in Black Rock City? Are you allowing art in the city camping areas at Everywhen? Or is that not up to you? Is that up to the BLM?
Mathew: Well, we have art parks within the neighborhoods. The question about if art can be installed in a city within a camp? Yes. This is not really a place that we've developed or put in rules yet. Maybe we never will have a rule about that. But we do, as a general statement have centralized art parks, in which all the art could be located, though doesn’t have to be.
Dr. Yes: That’s another way that it is distinctly different as a participant, I think from Black Rock City, because just navigating around your city is going to feel dramatically different.
I'm assuming based on the fact that tickets still available, it hasn't sold out for this year yet? Is that right?
Mathew: That’s right, tickets are still available. There's been a lot of pushback to Everywhen and unfortunately we’ve had a hard time getting in front of our target audience at all, because our posts get removed immediately.
And there's unfortunately a narrative that we are commercializing Juplaya. Remember, as I said, our original intent was just to create an area where art is legally authorized to be installed, where we have the authorization to give funds to the artists, to have heavy equipment support, and of course, porta potties. But, the Bureau of Land Management said, no, you need a fence and a gate and tickets. So our original goal of gifting to the rest of Juplaya has been restricted by the BLM.
I think our target audience is those people that don't want to go to a non-event like Juplaya or those people that don't have the infrastructure or the camp support that they would need to effectively go to Juplaya.
So again, we're bringing out medical as there's a lot of emergencies out there. The woman I'm dating, she broke her leg out there July 2020, and there were no medical services there. She had to go all the way out to Reno. Not that, you know, an injury of that severity wouldn't bring it to Reno anyway, but we would have ambulances on site and we’ll have first aid on site, which is different from Juplaya.
Yes, we are definitely struggling as Burning Man did their first few years… cash flow, what cash flow? What investors? This is totally grassroots, none of us are millionaires. We're all just trying to make this happen out of passion, because I don't know, we like gifting. And because 2022 is here, and a lot of events are going on again, we're just not really in people's awareness right now. We have $50k that we need to raise for this month. And we have no idea where that's going to come from. Every day is like, “Are we going to survive today?”
We've got the permit, we secured the playa, this is a new canvas in which we are going to invent a new Burning Man or something totally different. It's here, we did it. We just need other people to say, ”Let's do it! Let’s go to Everywhen!”
Dr. Yes: The reason I asked about selling out was if you look down the road, you want to go to 25,000 people. Let's say you get to the point where you have the problem, which is good to have, and which is Burning Man's problem. They could double the ticket price and still sell out. How do you think you would handle the decisions around how to distribute tickets? Or is that so far in the future that you really haven't given it serious thought?
Mathew: I have thought about that, and I've not been able to get a ticket to Burning Man in the main sale for years. The way I got in was by contributing directly, like through an art project. I've learned to celebrate two different events. You have Building Man, and then you have Burning Man. And to be honest, Building Man is so much more fun than Burning Man, for me.
As an art-centric nonprofit, our mission is not just to throw a party, our mission and duty is to fund art. When we get to that point, we're going to look at our mission statement and say, “What is the most important thing to do?” And I'm going to assume that the answer is going to be we will prioritize tickets to the artists, camps, and musicians. Any form of art and its form of expression will be prioritized. Because ultimately, this is a party by artists, for artists and the patrons of the arts. Unfortunately, we don't have that problem of selling out just yet, but I suspect that will guide the answer.
Dr. Yes: I want to back up a bit to when you were talking about how you'd originally started as wanting to really give back to Juplaya. It sounds like what you were hoping to do is to gift everything you would bring to everyone. It sounds like the intention would be, and correct me if I'm wrong, to allow people who aren't part of Everywhen to come and appreciate the art. If they get injured, they could use medical services. Now that the BLM has required a fence, I'm assuming people who aren't ticketed to come in can't, or won't, be allowed to come into the fenced area and experience the art or access medical?
Mathew: Yes and no. We are forced to manage a 1000 person max population within the event, right. Because we have not sold out, this is not an issue just yet re: who’s allowed in or out because we wouldn’t have to deal with a situation where, say, 10 ticketed attendees temporarily left Everywhen to go explore the playa, and we let in 10 unticketed attendees to check out our art. The ticketed attendees would then be stranded since at max population someone can only enter after someone leaves.
That's not a problem we have at the moment. If we didn't sell out, then yes, unticketed people could go in and out as long as we managed the actual population count at 1000 or under within our bounds. The original intention was free entry in fact. The goal was that anyone that was a patron, anyone that donated would get a wristband, and that was really it. That's the only way we would distinguish people that donated or not. The idea was an experiment in a small area with the presence of facilities and medical and art, and encourage people to donate.
We wanted to not have any restrictions and continue to do how we did Juplaya before, but just enhance it. That was not allowed, unfortunately. So, we're navigating what we can do within the confines of the law and BLM. Before, we were a renegade, and these were not issues that mattered as much. Now that we're a responsible 501(c)(3) we have a duty to, as our legal team said, follow the rules.
Dr. Yes: Oh, I get it. I didn’t mean my question as any sort of indictment. I understand it’s BLM land and you have to follow their rules. It's kind of too bad, though. I can see them not caring about the art on an institutional level, but a medical team and ambulances are net goods for everyone to be able to use, assuming the capacity is there. It’s too bad that there's no compromise to be found. But I guess, you know, government…
Mathew: We tried! If there's someone that's reading this and can help us in some way, we would love to speak to them!
Dr. Yes: How do you view yourselves? As cousins to Burning Man? Or is it more like a dog and an elephant uncomfortably sharing the same space? I don't mean to keep coming back to Burning Man so much, but I run a Burning Man site and I'm talking to you mostly because you grew out of the Burning Man community [and Juplaya, which has significant overlap with the BM community]. So how do you view your relationship to that event?
Mathew: Well, let’s look at the ticket sales. And the ticket sales sort of tells a story about our standing within the world of Burning Man. And what I mean by that is, if you look at the regional network, they tend to serve the local region, aside from some of the big ones like Afrikaburn, but if you look at our ticket sales. 50% would be from nearby states where the event occurs, but 25% will be out of state and 25% out of the country. So, it’s a destination event for some people. That's a little bit different than most regionals.
We have had this conversation ad nauseam internally, and we're definitely burner-adjacent. I think that's sort of in line with what Larry's original vision was, which was this is a culture that's curated and developed and will spread as kind of a lifestyle or a movement. We have taken the principles out because I feel they’re logic traps at this point and that people argue their way out of or through most of Burning Man’s principles to justify whatever it is they want to do.
So, we removed that sort of handicap and we're resuming the experiment in the Black Rock Desert.
I do know that some of the founders of Burning Man have been in our orbit. For instance, Danger Ranger has gone to our Juplaya events. He's sat down with us, we all had dinner together at our dinner table. He brought some of the folks from LAGI (Land Art Generator Initiative). And, you know, we're all flirting with each other. But there is no official relationship between ourselves and Burning Man. It would help us a lot in terms of ticket sales if at least we had a blessing from one of the founders. A “yes, this is something that we like.” And I do know that yesterday. Will Roger liked the Everywhen project page. It's like yay, we are on at least one of the BM founders’ radar, which is cool. And then of course, Danger Ranger shared our Juplaya videos in the past. So that's cool, too.
But in terms of any official statement like, “Yes, this is good. We like what they're doing” … That hasn't happened. So again, no relationship between us and Burning Man, though we do see ourselves as burner adjacent.
Dr. Yes: Did you ever consider trying to package Everywhen as a Burning Man regional? I think you'd have to adopt their principles at that point though.
Mathew: One of the Board of Directors members who is no longer with us is an RC (regional contact) for the Unscruz regional and so Raspa, who I think is the head of the regional network, did contact her and asked if we wanted to become a Burning Man regional. We declined because you're right, they are effectively quasi-franchises with franchise fees to use their logo and to use their principles. And while that obviously would be a great jumpstart - the burners that only want to go to Burning Man-authorized or Burning Man-branded event would surely come to it - we felt that it was time to do an experiment to try to do it on our own, for better or worse.
Dr. Yes: I understand that, and really, it’s very much within the original Burning Man ethos as a social experiment.
Is there anything else you wanted to you want people to know, before we wrap this up? Is there anything you want to make sure you communicate? This is your chance.
Mathew: There's a couple of things. People ask why don't we just replicate what Plan B did in 2021, and there's some facts I think are important to realize about Plan B and the playa, which are really the impact on public money and on trash.
So, for instance, the payments that we're making for cost recovery to the Bureau of Land Management, while they’re expensive, it's even more expensive for the Bureau of Land Management in terms of tax dollars to manage the playa for just the non event that’s called Juplaya. That’s just shy of 100k for them to deal with Juplaya. Plan B? I don't have a hard number, but the rumor mill says the costs incurred by the state of Nevada were over a million for medical alone, and there’s nobody reimbursing the tax payers for that.
And then also in the after-action report for Plan B. Burning Man’s metric for having a permit year over year is that they're going to have no more than one square foot of trash per acre. Plan B's trash was 160 square feet of debris per acre, so 160 times more than what the limit is for Burning Man.
I'd say in terms of why are you paying for this, you're also paying for a non-dispersed camping experience that’s responsible to the land and the public that owns that land. The porta potties are there, the medical crew is there, the Leave No Trace program is there, and our LNT partner, which is another camp, they're actually doing landfill diversion: before the trash goes into the dumpster, they're actually separating things that could be recycled or upcycled.
Another point is there's freedom to enter and exit easily. We’ll all have wristbands and so you can do everything you would expect at Juplaya. You can go out to the hot springs, you can visit all the other camps. There's no intention of exclusivity, it was just sort of forced upon us by the BLM.
I think the final thing I want to say is that we're very close to not happening at all. We really need these ticket sales or a big donation. I think to make it again through this month, we need $50k like I said before. And that's our medical bill. So that's why I say every day, like, are we going to survive? We don’t know at this point.
Dr. Yes: That’s rough. I hope you and your team can pull it off. It certainly seems like there is latent demand out there for a burner-adjacent event on Black Rock just based on the massive supply-demand imbalance with Burning Man tickets.
Although, someone was asking if we’re going to have to start seeing online bloodsport feuds between Burners and Everywheners over what’s the better event? I hope not. It sounds so tiresome and lame.
Mathew: There’s no competition here. This is really a good way for artists to get more than one grant. Let’s say you got an honoraria from Burning Man – you could get an extra grant from us too if you have a funding gap. You don’t need to look at it like a competition, but more like a pressure relief valve for people who can’t get BM tickets or who just want to go to two organized events in the Black Rock in the summer.
The only other thing I would say is you can go to Everywhenproject.org/donate if you want to be a fiscal donor. It’s tax deductible obviously. We really only need seven camps, seven modestly-sized camps maybe like 25 people per camp. Seven camps like that buy their tickets and we’ll be ok. We’re that close. We also have our Mojave event that’s definitely happening.
Dr. Yes: Alright, one last question, but it’s a big one. I hope you're sitting down.
How do you feel about mustard? And what kind of mustard do you like the best?
Mathew: I'm sorry, I didn't understand the question...what?
Dr. Yes: How do you feel about mustard? And what kind of mustard do you think is best suited for Everywhen?
Mathew: Oh! Well, being a California native, there’s a bunch on the hill right behind my house. Grind that up and serve it!
I do enjoy a…boy, what's the name of it? A German mustard that’s kind of spicy. It's very good. It's got like peppercorns in it.
Dr. Yes: Like a spicy coarse-ground mustard?
Mathew: Oh, yes! That's what I enjoy. But I think actually the right question would be what sort of drink is the drink of choice at the Everywhen and so far it's been a spicy Bloody Mary. No mustard in that though.
Dr. Yes: Yet.
Mathew: But perhaps we can add a mustard flower.
Dr. Yes: I love it!
Okay, I wish you the best of luck on ticket sales. Thanks for taking the time to talk to me. I hope you pull it off this year and I hope you come back with lessons learned for 2023.
This is Dr. Yes, signing off. Stay dusty, my friends!
I was jonesing for the playa and decided to put together a new video entirely with footage of my camp or campmates. It's set to "Lucky" featuring Vlossom, by PNAU. Enjoy!
You know, there are some people for whom Burning Man today isn't all puppies and sprinkles. For these people, there was always a year when It Was Better. I'm talking, of course, about Jaded Burners.
Maybe you know one of these people. Maybe you are that person. And if so, today is your lucky day, my friend!
I'm proud to announce my latest entrepreneurial venture since the FDA forced me to shut down my Dr. Yes's Playa Foot Party Tonic product because it was "unsafe for human consumption", whatever that means:
Dr. Yes's Forever Home For Jaded Burners. It's located just over the mountains from the Black Rock, and contains everything a Jaded Burner would need, along with nothing that a Jaded Burner wouldn't want.
Want to learn more? Listen to the radio spot I put together below.
Ready to sign up? Then I'm ready to take your money and welcome you to the construction phase of the Forever Home for Jaded Burners! Remember: the faster you build it, the quicker you'll have somewhere to sleep.
Black Rock City and Burning Man won't rise from the dust this year, and while no video can replace the experience of being in the desert together, I hope this one sends your imagination soaring back home while you dream of flame and fire, picklebacks and Pringles, building art and camps, music, day-time adventures, the haunting beauty of deep playa at night, and most of all - always most of all - old and new friends.
From Thunderdome to Orgy Dome, from Ashram Galactica to the Black Hole, from Center Camp to the trash fence, from gate road to the Temple let it be understood: We Are Not Done.
Footage by Dr. Yes (me), Jamen Percy, Mark Day, Roy2Thousand, Stephane Kiss, Ian Norman and Diana Southern, Nick Cahill, Martin Cline, Arbiter Creative, Guy Jackson, Treetop Productions, Hot Coco, Jeff Hook, Aerial Productions, Grant Kaye, Flying Unicorn, Hikitene Kingi, and Rick Parker.
Cover image by Jeff Hook.
In the wake of Burning Man's cancellation and the subsequent DGS ticket refund period, I and others found ourselves with some questions about the community fundraising the Org is doing, how the Org is reacting to the need to cancel, and Maid Marian's thoughts on the future of Burning Man.
Marian kindly agreed to an interview to provide some answers, so let's hear what she has to say. However, a note: I originally wrote most of these questions in mid-May, but due to various reasons including wanting to focus on Burning Man's response to George Floyd's murder, Marian wasn't able to get me the full answers back until June 18th. Unfortunately, the next day Facebook (where I want to be able to share this) put me in 'jail' for a week for something anti-Trump I had written, and I left to go camping soon thereafter, thus the delay in publishing this.
Note: Marian Goodell, the Org's CEO, confirmed for me that my conclusions are essentially correct, and called out this article as worth reading during her address to open the Virtual Theme Camp Symposium the morning of 3/28). She's also replied to a bunch of people in the comments below.
I see a lot of Burners online asking why the Org doesn't simply cancel BM 2020 and roll DGS tickets over to 2021? Cancel the event, and come back in 2021 in full force while making everybody whole who bought tickets this year. Sounds simple and good right?
The general feeling seems to be that they must be greedy a-holes to not promise refunds or rolled-forward tickets if they cancel it, but it really isn't that simple, which is what this post is about. The Org faces a very tough financial situation, which I'm going to lay out for you as best as I can. I think it's helpful to understand where they're coming from as you form an opinion about how they should handle it Burning Man 2020.
Dr. Yes's 11-Point Sacred Spiritual Path to Your Soul's Enlightenment at Burning Man, and Everything Bagel Recipe
A couple years ago around this time, I remember reading an article by Caveat Magister about his reflections on 10 years at Burning Man and thinking to myself, "I know nothing yet, but in two years, I will have so much to share."
Having been to Burning Man ten times now myself, we can all agree that I've achieved transcendental enlightenment and it's time for you to sit down, be quiet, and try to appreciate everything I've learned.
I'm Dr. Yes. I run this site, lead a theme camp called Friendgasm, and make Burning Man videos. Just say yes, folks, and help keep Burning Man weird!