11/06/2013

Larry Harvey's PR Push

Attendees gather for the evening talk.

NEW YORK - Larry Harvey heads to New York to court academics and the much needed youth demographic in a Columbia University event that touts the Burning Man art and music festival, which he helped found, as a religious and philosophical movement. A source close to Black Rock City LLC, which operates the event, stressed the importance of getting their message out to the "under 30s," saying:
We are more popular now than ever but we need to motivate a younger demographic if we are to see continued growth of the business. To that end we have pushed into the domain of social media, including twitter, facebook, instagram and blogging. We even have an app. Our efforts here in New York seek to bridge the gap between us and the youth with a fresh take on our goals and aspirations.
In the late afternoon event, which has been dubbed "The Founders Speak", Larry Harvey, guided by a moderator from the Columbia University Department of Religion, will speak with others about Burning Man as a potential global movement for change. Burning Man organizers have been facing stiff opposition, growing in the past year, from increasingly vocal factions within the community who see the event as reneging on its founding principles and core ethos as it has tried to expand the brand and appeal to a wider more suburban demographic. Some within the community feel this current PR push is a response to the growing criticism of the profit making venture that, as they see it, more and more puts the community on the back burner. The community, which has its origins in the festival that has espoused the virtues of free expression and shunned the entanglements of commodification, is vital to the brand and the event which sees roughly 17% of festival attendees doing volunteer work at each years event. Long time community organizer Matthew Chambers had this to say:
Those in the community who have been around for 10 or 15 years are vocal because we want the LLC to do what we feel is right for us while we see them do what is right for the business. A lot of people see us as whiners, but I personally do not agree with that. We want to see an event whose organizers foster a culture of free expression unbound by the chains of profit and we will do whatever we can to force the LLC to do that. This community will not survive if the business comes before the people. This event tonight is nothing but an attempt to white-wash the fact that they seek profit over substance.
While it remains to be seen how much of an impact Burning Man can have as a global movement there is no denying the power of the brand and the growth of the business under its current leadership. Growing from an illegal show of free expression on a public beach into a business that oversees a yearly budget surpassing twenty million dollars is bound to result in a bumpy road for organizers and participants alike.

Larry Harvey is to head home to San Francisco after the New York engagement to take part in a fundraiser attended by loyalists and insiders which is being dubbed as a 'gala event.' As with most of the items on the calender for those in the LLC there are bound to be critics who use this upcoming fundraiser as a platform to speak out for change.