Why I Helped Burning Man Purchase Fly RanchArticle by: Chip Conley|@ChipConley
Thu July 21, 2016 | 00:00 AM
Serendipity has always had her way with me at Burning Man. In 2009, I was invited to a dinner for cultural collaborators at Fly Ranch during the Burning Man festivities. Upon arriving along with a few dozen others, I ventured on my own to the left while the others marveled straight ahead at the vision of an iconic geyser spewing primordial agua. Within a few minutes, I discovered a serene, natural hot springs pool with wild horses feeding from it. It was just me and the horses. Serendipity’s sister, Immediacy, took hold of me in that sunset moment as I lowered myself into the water and caked nutrient-rich mud all over my chest and wind- and sun-parched face. I never made it to the dinner that night.
Soon, I learned that this privately-owned property and the adjoining Hualapai Flats had been the site for Black Rock City (BRC) in 1997, three years before my first burn. That’s when I fell in love with Burning Man co-founder Will Roger’s vision for this 3,800-acre parcel of land located just ten miles from the Black Rock desert. Imagine having a year-round space where artists can create iconic, larger-than-life sculptures. Imagine a utopian laboratory for experimenting with energy, environmentalism, and new models of shelter and community. Imagine a place where groups can gather for smaller burns or for brainstorming heartwarming opportunities to solve big problems and imagine even bigger solutions.
Fly Ranch’s landscape (and what it represents) is an incredible juxtaposition to Black Rock City. You move from the arid, spare, depleting, lunar landscape of the high desert to robust, teeming-with-life, nourishing wetlands that feel full of possibility. Yin to Yang. Different place, same spirit. William James wrote, “The great use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it.” That’s the definition of legacy. While we have no current threat of being dislodged from the federal land Burning Man Project (BMP) leases from the Bureau of Land Management at Black Rock desert, I felt committed down to my toes to help Will and the BMP founders find a way to buy Fly Ranch so that we could have a permanent place in rural Nevada to live the 10 Principles.
My point of view of the legacy of philanthropy can best be summed up in Lao Tse’s wisdom: “To know when you have enough is to be rich beyond measure.” With that perspective, I began talking to potential donors in 2012 when we first started trying to buy Fly Ranch. Our process of both raising more than $7 million and negotiating with the family that owned the property took both passion and patience. It was essential for the donors to know they were not traditional investors nor would they necessarily have any over-sized voice in how Fly Ranch would evolve. We needed to know we were doing this for the community and for the legacy of the Principles that make Burning Man a social and cultural role model globally. Life is most generous to you when you step forward and start the catalytic effect of offering something with no expectation in return.
Black Rock City is mind-boggling. It's the expression of human imagination at its most free and uninhibited. It's a dazzling expression of what the human spirit is capable of when given the space to run free. But Black Rock City is limited by its eight-day scope. BRC is what it is in its current format. It's beautiful, chaotic, unpredictable, and fundamentally impermanent. What happens if we give all of that creativity, innovation, and imagination a place to play all year long? What happens when Burners are invited to co-create a space beyond the playa? I, for one, would love to witness that.
While Fly Ranch won’t be accessible this year at Burning Man, you can learn more about it and how you can get involved at Fly Ranch's website . We look forward to the day when a school teacher who can’t go to Burning Man due to classes or a Burner from Pakistan or Peru who visits the U.S. far from Labor Day can make the pilgrimage to Fly Ranch to experience year-round the magic that Burning Man offers us during one week each year in late summer.