New Paradigm shift is upon us. Out with the old, in with the new.
House of Dust is a community made of burners, artists and like-minded friends who come together to celebrate life through healing arts, dance and music. We receive our inspiration from Burning Man and it’s 10 principles, then propagate the gospel and promote the culture on the playa, online, and locally through various gatherings we pARTicipate in or put together.
In just over a year, we managed to produce a record number of inspirational events, providing a stage to many local and several foreign artists (see artist list at the end of this post) from the BM community and beyond, and from the responses we received so far, we’re encouraged to do even more. Along the successes, some mishap and mistakes were made, mainly in communicating our vision to the rest of the world, so keep on reading to learn more about that.
Now back to our story. When we started in the summer of 2012 or 15 months ago at time of writing, in order to create our (alternative) community and to put our vision into reality, we needed a plan of action, and we debated which model would best support our goals, so, we looked into several options, for example, should we use what we refer to as the American model, in which a significant investment is made into the camp then amortized (or not) over an extended period of time, or perhaps a method more known in Canada, in which each event is a profit centre (not center!)? which is best? Well, the pros of the “US model” are the quick start and ability to get going right away, with the cons of super high start up costs and rare chances of recuperation (in plain English, this model rarely provides a break-even scenario). The pros of the “Canadian model” are zero to very low start up costs, while producing large-scale events or festivals can be very, very lucrative under this model, and some local promoters have done exceptionally well using this approach. Spoiler alert: that’s not us.
We then looked into questions such as, what kind of impact do we want to make on the world, and how do we get there? what is the energetic level that is required for us to do that? how would we achieve our goals? what kind of entity do we want to be known as? are we an arts organization? a charity? a not for profit? a company? what are the tools we will require and how do we get them? what kind of art we focus on and which artists we book? are we using venues? open spaces? what about the weather? what is the best way for us to communicate our vision? who do we want to reach out to?
It was clear that gatherings will be a central part of our new community and instead of automatically assuming other cultures codes of conduct, we reviewed the old paradigms in existence around the BM communities, to see if they would work for us, for example, should we use the Burning Man event model where everyone buys their own ticket and do not get paid, or give free tickets to certain people, have tiered ticketing system or a flat one? When and how do we pay pARTicipants? if we pay a DJ, should we pay the door staff? if we pay the door staff, should we pay the decor team? the set up crew? the take down crew? should we pay the people who bring gifts to the event? how do you decide who gets paid and how much? think about this dilemma: if we did pay one person, for being an artist, door staff, decor, dancer, massage person, audio engineer, or the event producer – shouldn’t we pay them all?
The old paradigm claims that artists must get paid. We do not disagree, the opposite is true, we would love to pay everyone as much as possible, and provide them monetary support beyond the exposure, the ability to send their message across and the sheer fun of being on stage. However, are we doing a complete injustice to the rest of the pARTicipants by saying that certain pARTicipants do get paid and the rest do not? do they not deserve to be mentioned and credited, let alone get paid? are we creating a structure of classes here, where some pARTicipants go on stage therefore they are paid, and the rest do not. So, what about the flyer for the event? in the old way, in a “traditional” event, the artists go on the flyer, with the “bigger” name also referred to as the “headliner” get their name in the largest font, where the rest are scaled down in size and importance, while the rest of the pARTicipants are not at all mentioned.
Wait a second! it takes about fifteen to twenty pARTicipants to get an event going, and in the case of “Love and Lust” we had over forty (40) of them. Here is a partial list of the amazing people who put out their hearts and soul yet are not mentioned on the flyer: greeters, door people, decor, audio team, set up and tear down crews, dancers, some of the performers, the dominatrix, the VJs, neighbours and roommates that lend a hand, the cleaning crew, that someone who lends us a van, another who provides technical advice, the list goes on and on. Not as simple as you think. How do we create a system that *equally* benefits everyone?
The new paradigm establishes a new relationship between community members, and requires open minds and open hearts, and an infusion of energy, to spark a collaborative environment supporting a free flow of new ideas and creativity. The new paradigm empowers the group that in return empowers individuals to live a better, healthier, happier lives. The health of the community rises from the health of the individuals, and vice versa. When we love, the community is filled with love, and when we are angry, the community gets filled with anger, that is sent back to us.
Giving back to the community. It is clear that part of the Burning Man ethos is about giving back to the community. The “old view” usually looks at giving back in a system of dollars and cents: paying for artists, art grants, etc. Our take on this is slightly different. The essence of what we do is the giving itself, the creation of an environment fertile to seed new ideas and possibilities created via new connections and creative collaboration is the gift itself. In order to achieve that we take time away from our families and friends, take unpaid time off work, and focus our efforts on love, health and friendship. That is our gift to you, that is our love, that is our giving. All this is only possible with everyones help, and we’ve been extremely blessed to have amazing gifted people freely giving their love, time and skills to the community, and it is working. We are creating a healthier, happier community, which makes us healthier and happier individuals. Thank you all.
Next, lets discuss the principle of Decommodification. Many tend to confuse the principle at the event – i.e. no selling or marketing during the event – with the fact that Burning Man itself is a money-making entity. On the Playa, we do not buy and sell to and from each other, with the exclusion of Center Camp, Arctica, RV services, bought meals, pre ordered services, plug and play camps, flight services, rides, hey… the list is longer than you imagine. In the default world, and at Decompression events, such as the one in San Francisco, you can buy food, booze, and perhaps other items. Off-Playa Burning Man related events are commodified for services for the event, yet they are decommodified as no selling occurs between the pARTicipants of the event itself. So what we are saying is that it doesn’t matter if you are on the playa or at a local burner event, you will not see trading between pARTicipants, but the use of money as exchange of energy for the purpose of making the event is true to both. At Burning Man, you pay for your beers and bring them with you, at a licensed bar, you have to buy them at the venue. At Burning Man, you buy your food and gas outside the event, in the default world, you may buy that on-site. That’s all. It’s not that different. More than anything, the Decommodification principle is a symbol.
How come? simply because it is not possible to do anything without the exchange of energy in the form of money. So next time you think about Decommodification, remember that it is an interpreted principle, like the rest of them, and the interpretation of this principle will vary based on the environment you are in because “Pure Decommodification” is an idea only. You are paying for that beer either way, and you’re not trading, either way. I see it now.
According to burners.me, almost all of the art at BM is community funded (artists pay their own costs, not BMORG). BMORG pays an average of $13,000 per install to a sum of $681,000, that is about 52 art pieces. So who pays for the hundreds of the rest of them, the mutant vehicles/art cars and the sound camps? you got it, the artists and the community, through fund raising events, crowd funding or from own pocket. Other interesting facts mentioned are that Burning Man pays about USD $8 million in payroll to its people (!), that it took about $24 million on the 2012 event (estimates for the 2013 event are in the $30 million range). In 2012, Ice and coffee sales alone netted Burning Man about $630,000, in one week. Whoa! The financial report goes on and if you care to know more, visit the site. What you need to remember here, is that Burning Man is a medium size company with a considerable budget that pays its *own staff* nearly 13 times the amount it pays for art on the Playa. It does not pay artists, decor people, greeters, door staff, temple crew, rangers, or DJs. If you DJ at Burning Man, you buy your own ticket, and you do not get paid. You volunteer like the rest of them, there is no bill for you to go on (well, we’ve seen a few recently), your name is not announced in the PA system, there is no VIP booth, no drink tickets, or cab fare. You simply pARTicipate.
So how does it make you feel, now that you know that big money is spent on BMORG payroll? are you upset about what they take home, or do you support it? do you see this payroll as an energetic exchange? would you agree to take one of these jobs at BM headquarters and make what they make? are you still willing to contribute your heart and soul into this project knowing these facts? we’ll leave it with you.
Now back to here and now. What should House of Dust do? are there any hard rules for the Default World? How can we bring the 10 Principles as close as we can into an urban, commodified concrete jungle? that is very tricky and surely to generate some backfire – it always does, and that’s cool, it allows us to open a larger discussion about the principles in the Default World and what Burning Man translates to off the playa.
What does exist is history of how things *used* to be: DJs on front of flyers with rest of pARTicipants ignored (yes, we’ve sinned at that one). Some get paid, some do not. A general agreement on some things, bitter bickering about others. Some groups do it this way, some do it in another. What we have noticed is that whenever we do things *differently* than what was done until now, a burst of outcry rises. Change and new ideas, especially disruptive ones, are often rejected by those who are used to the *old way* of doing things. The automobile did that to the horse carriage, the TV to the radio and the Internet to the TV. Well, we never thought of ourselves as that disruptive, but we’re amazed that our tiny little outfit made the local news, even if it only a Facebook stream. We must be doing something right – or wrong. Either way, we’re getting lots of attention and discussion is always good and we welcome it, and if you ever have a question or concern, simply hit the “contact” link on our site or message us via our fb page, and you will get a friendly response.
Next we looked at scale of the gatherings we plan on holding. Large, medium or small? Big name headliners or local ones? As it turns out, most of our local Toronto events are small and unique, these are one-off creations embedding live music, djs, dancers and artists using small local venues with average legal capacity of 40-80. In order to secure a venue we would pay the venue a rental fee, guarantee a bar minimum or a combination of both, which means that we have to cover the difference if we come short on a bar minimum. For those who are curious to know, when booking a venue expect to provide a bar guarantees of $600 and up to $4000 per night at some instances (we tried the 4000 route once and did not make the goal, btw).
But we digress. So we took all the information into account and created a new paradigm hybrid model that suited our needs best. Since this is a new and somewhat disruptive approach, confusion, anger, pushback and discussion had all surfaced. Although we’d hope responses come in a more, say, collaborative manner then they have, all discussion is good, and there is no bad press, ever, and really, who reads the good news anyways? The more our name is mentioned, the more people know about us and the larger our audience becomes, allows us to tell our story to more and more people. Clearly not all like our approach, some even take it personally. Come over, we’ll give you a big warm hug and a cup of tea and sit with you to listen to everything you would like to tell us, because all feedback is good feedback and we learn from everyone, and from you, too.
So how is this hybrid model works? after our first events on the off the playa, we reached a formula that works for us. This solution is liquid, it always changes, we adapt to the environment we operate in, to feedback we get from our team, friends and critiquers. We realized that for now, we deal with two types of events: small local gatherings and larger ones with Playa friends coming as headliners (Atish, Desyn and Starfire, with several other names on the wait list). We also had some cool artists playing with us that are not burners, but still embody the ethos and were a great fit, to see a list scroll to the bottom of this post.
Next, we looked at venues. Our larger events were held in clubs or onboard the Kajama sail boat. The clubs had a medium quality sound system, and the Kajama had a fantastic rental system, the smaller clubs did not have a system, and we had to rent one out, go out to Long and McQuade, rent a van, get it in, get it out, pure headache. We realized that in order to have more flexibility in our venues the first thing we need is to be sound-independent. So we went ahead and adopted the “US model” and acquired the best possible system we could afford: it’s a six piece, 1500w tops, JBL style speakers with digital amps, providing the best mobile sound we could find for the price, one meaty double bass bin, couple of quality mixers – the Pioneer DJM 800 and the A&H Xone 92, and a pair of Pioneer CDJ 1000 MK3s. We added a large box of XLR cables, audio cables, power cables, connectors, you name it. And yes, that system did not come cheap. We estimate that it will take us about five years to amortize it, but that’s how we decided to go about things. No we have a gorgeous system ready to go any any time.
The second piece of equipment that we went for was a set of LED bars with a DMX controller. Those also come at a pretty price, but now we have them at our disposal, and again, we’ll need to use them for a few years before we even break even on the cost. Add to this a couple of lasers, some of those lasted us for a single use only, LED rope lights, and some other pretty lights. Oh yeah, if you know how to program DMX, let us know, we could use the help.
We have used this system in a couple of events so far and we are very happy with it. The community also benefited from this purchase: we lent, at no cost, some of the equipment to our friends at Art Battle, Harvest Festival, Landscapes Festival and on a farm in a friends burner party this past summer. We don’t rent out the system per se, but we do offer artists who ask us a super low rate for use of this equipment. We think it’s a great way to give back to the community. So if you are an artist and have a project and need sound or light, give us a shout, perhaps we can help!
Of course, no sound system is complete without audio engineering, and to our luck, several of the most talented audio engineers in town have come forward to set up and tweak the system each time we used it, thank you guys, especially for those late nights/early mornings when we need you the most, you are always there to help.
Bear in mind folks, for rooms of over 100 people we still need to rent something out, we have used 40Hz and Alien in Flux in the past and we will use them again, they are fantastic to work with and deliver pure honey (not wax) to your ears.
Now to the larger events. Those come with a price tag of somewhere in the range of five to seven thousand dollars, hard costs, and an investment of about 80-120 hours: think two to three weeks unpaid leave of absence from work, per one night of fun. These productions do not even get near break-even point, so why do it? because we are making a change and these special people have what it takes to help us make that change in our community.
The most common feedback we get on our events, large or small is “the place is filled with love and friendly people, I feel so welcome here, I spent the entire night chatting to people”. Friendships are made, hugs everywhere, smiling faces, and everyone as one. that’s what it is all about. That’s the payback, and that’s our goal. I see it now.
We recently came up with a new concept called “Community Funding” which means funds can flow back to pARTicipants for contribution, expenses, time or material. This may remind some of you the concept of Art Grant but we prefer to think about it as a new way to look at art and funding. With Art Grants come a long and tedious process or writing applications, reviewing and accepting them. Since we are a tiny organization, and we do not bring in enough funds to even cover even own expenditures, we picked an approach that is very flexible and allows us to act more quickly than the traditional process of Art granting. This new concept is still at works, it changes and evolves and we expect to see it activated in other communities because we think it makes a lot of sense. We also expect and have already seen some pushback, again, this is a natural way of any disruptive process and the more noise people make about it, the better.
Another decision we made was on the structure of House of Dust. Since our main goal is to provide a fruitful creative environment for people to celebrate in, and as this is a labour of love, not a job, we decided we need to keep it as simple as possible. We needed a structure that allows us maximum flexibility and independence. The solution was clear, we need to stay away from old paradigm of cumbersome and paperwork heavy structures such as not for profit or a charity, neither become an official (sanctioned) Burning Man outlet. We disform into an undefined amorphous entity that can shape-shift at will, flexible in mind and body, self renewing and ecologically sustainable. Before we expand more on this new paradigm direction, lets review some of the mistakes we recently made, this is the stuff that will last in the collective memory, so we’ll tell it in the best way we can, because it ties to our story beautifully:
We recently unknowingly and accidentally broke a trademark rule, and were notified in a nice and clear email from Jen and Laura, the regional contacts. We’d like to thank Jen and Laura for clarifying what is allowed and not allowed and to say we’re sorry for this, and of course will not repeat that again. What happened was that the term Burning Man and the Man logo )’( are trademarks and cannot be used in an un-sanctioned events. We had little Man cardboard cut outs spray painted in orange, purple and pink around the venue, we thought they are cute, however they are illegal, since the Man image is apparently a registered trademark. We also had some flying saucers cardboard cut outs, as a reminder of the 2013 Man base, however the saucers did not trigger any responses and do not seem to be a trademark therefore not a violation. Jen and Laura forwarded this link: http://www.burningman.com/press/trademarks.html, it’s a fascinating document, read it. At the end of the night, we gave some of the Man cut outs away as gifts, and apparently that is allowed. We have a few of those left and we’ll hand em out at some other opportunity, there is a great story attached to them now.
So here is to those who called us out, we learned something from you, and in return, you made us better. Thank you. You gave us the tools and direction to see farther into the future, to open our eyes to new exciting directions and possibilities, your actions encouraged us to shed the old paradigm and look at what’s next, to try new things without fear of failure, and to continue building a community made of beautiful souls for the embetterment of all of us. The journey has just begun…
By the way, does anyone know if Russel Brand burns?
List of Stage Artists that have pARTicipated in our gatherings to-date, sorted chronologically is below. Some artists have performed more than once. Biggest thank you to all the pARTicipants – they are mentioned in each of the individual event pages.
Marc Paul and Sadeq
Jessica Kaera Cho