Burning Man Fights Tax Man

REUTERS/Jim Urquhart
REUTERS/Jim Urquhart

Burning Man is hoping to keep the “Tax Man” at bay.

The massive (and massively popular) music, art, and “anything-goes” festival in Black Rock City, Nevada, is hoping to fend off a new $3 million tax responsibility that could compel organizers to raise ticket prices this year. The price of admission for the 2015 event was already hovering around $400.

The standoff began when Nevada overhauled its live entertainment tax code last year, reports KQED. As a 501(c)3 organization, Burning Man Project, the nonprofit that puts on the festival each year, was previously exempt from Nevada entertainment taxes.

But a change made late last year in SB 266 stipulates that tax-exempt status disappears once an organization sells more than 7,500 tickets to an event in which attendees participate in the entertainment and to any event where more than 15,000 tickets are offered for sale. The 2014 Burning Man saw more than 65,000 people attend the week-long festivities.

Burning Man general counsel Ray Allen told KQED that the festival should continue to remain exempt from a tax bill because the festival itself does not provide the entertainment.

“Burning Man is not a concert. It’s not an arena event. It’s not a casino show,” Allen told the outlet. “At Burning Man, people come for the experience that they bring themselves.”

Sure enough, Burning Man provides little entertainment of its own, relying on festival-goers to create unique experiences for themselves. Many attendees (especially men) roam “the Playa” completely nude while checking out art installations, various workshops, and all-day parties. Celebrities increasingly attend—even dead ones. And all goods and services, including food, alcohol, drugs, massages, and other gifts, are traded or simply given away in a self-contained, free-wheeling barter economy.

Still, the new tax could cause ticket prices to rise by around $35. Admission to the long-running festival is still not traded or given away for free, apparently.

“Burning Man’s principle of gifting is a wonderful, Utopian experience that I do cherish, but the actual amount of money it takes to go is quite considerable,” Los Gator “burner” Summer Love told KQED.

The prospect of taxes is the latest bummer for the festival; documents released by the FBI in September revealed the agency has conducted intelligence-gathering operations on the playa since at least 2010.


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