Pronouncement from the Producer
UnSCruz 2015 was our second year at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds in Watsonville, CA. We expanded the event from a 2-day to a 3-day campout.
For me, UnSCruz 2015 production was much easier than in 2014, primarily due to all the experience we gained in 2014 at the new venue. Having the event in the same location was a huge planning advantage. As in all previous years, we have again exceeded expectations, 2015 was far better than last year. Following UnSCruz, I heard people remarking how amazing it was for them (with only minor complaints). It was by most accounts a great success. This is very important to keep in mind.
I say this because, for me as the Producer, it was simultaneously the hardest year ever. This was due to numerous unexpected problems, as well as in-fighting over policies/personalities/procedures. Perhaps these are all normal growing pains. In any case, Producing became an unpleasant burden, and I didn’t have much fun this year (although I did have fun on Sunday, when I gave my niece and her friends a tour of the entire event). Moreover, I had greater expectations in terms of attendance and revenue from ticket sales. The relatively low numbers were disappointing, and also paradoxical, since we still did better this year than ever before. It’s all about expectations. I’m certain we’ll do better next year.
Some quick statistics
- 903 people attended, approximately 100 more than in 2014
- 286 were on the guest list, that is excessive! The event cannot be sustainable if too many people are not buying tickets
- 52 were between ages 12-20
- Unknown number of kids under 12 (we didn’t wristband kids who got in free, so we had no count), we estimate a couple dozen
- We increased the UnSCruz bank account by $7,636 this year. With this addition, it looks like we are finally solvent enough to prevent Leads from charging expenses on their own Credit Cards. Financially, this was the most successful UnSCruz ever! For comparison, last year we had a net profit of $2,514. Previous years were similar. Each year we have borrowed money from Staff to pay for expenses, until funds from ticket sales were released by Brown Paper Tickets—10 days following the event. This isn’t fun for anyone, and we don’t want this to occur anymore
- Our accounting was tight this year, with very few unknowns. A big thanks to Sara & Nicole and the rest of the Front Gate team!
Did we achieve any of our stated goals?
- Build Community: BIG YES
- Improve relations with the Fairground’s Management and Board: BIG YES
- Improve relations with Fairground’s neighbors: UNKNOWN (a few neighbors did attend and were delighted, and there were no reported complaints before, during or after our event)
- Have an awesome event: BIG YES
- Have a financially sustainable event: YES
- Have fun: BIG YES!
What went right?
- Almost everything, we were so much better organized this year than last, and had few complaints or problems. When problems did occur, we were quick to react and resolve. For example, when a child went missing for a few minutes on Saturday, the lost child protocol kicked in immediately, gates were closed, Rangers were swarming, and the child was found within 10 minutes or less!
- We had a surplus of happy volunteers! Shifts in certain areas were over-staffed, a great indicator of community support
- Theme Camps were a HUGE hit! They were numerous and awesome! And our post event survey indicated that this is what people liked best
- We had more Mutant Vehicles than ever before!
- The Fire Art was marvelous, and was in abundance!
Outdoor Sound Camps (i.e. the Fairground allowed us to have some Sound Camps outdoors this year, and for the most part, volume was kept under control). This is a cautious area for us, since UnSCruz was kicked out of Santa Cruz for excessive volume in 2010 and 2012! We want to remain on good terms with the Fairground’s neighbors and staff, so we will be welcomed back to our new home at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds
- The Shuttle Service provided to bring participants’ and their gear into the event was vastly improved over last year!
- The Parking Team rocked! We had plenty of volunteers and there was little to no congestion getting people parked
|Department and Expenses||Totals|
|Red Cross FAST Team||$1331.00|
|Planning Mtg Food & Supplies||$245.68|
|Debriefing Food & Supplies||$350.79|
|Volunteer “Thank You” BBQ||$500.00|
|SC Regional Project||$400.00|
|Santa Cruz Burners, LLC||$2,794.00|
|Tax Prep (CPA fees)||$370.00|
|State LLC Annual Franchise Fee||$800.00|
|My LLC Annual Fee||$99.00|
|Total Income (903 Attendance)||$39,185.00|
|Net Profit saved for UnSCruz 2016||$7636.11|
- Free Tickets: Our pricing structure and giveaway policy needs rethinking. How should one earn a ticket? This is the usual problem, we aren’t bringing in enough money to run this event, nor to fulfill our goal of giving away art grants
- In short, our policy on how one earns a ticket wasn’t clear, and/or announced far enough in advance for people to plan accordingly. Thus, performers became angry when we did state limitations on ticket giveaways
- Some performers said they could not afford to attend if they didn’t receive a free ticket
- In the end, we simply opened the floodgates to appease this uproar. This in turn angered other folks who understood how cash strapped this event has been, and how unequal the giveaway can be (i.e. a DJ who plays a 1-hour set might get a free ticket, the same as a staff member who put in hundreds of hours of time). Not equal, not fair
- BTW, the issue of ticket prices, free tickets, discounted tickets, etc. is a problem that all Burning Man Regionals go through, and many come to entirely different solutions. Some Regionals require everyone (including, and up to the Producer) to buy a ticket. Others have a minimum amount of volunteer time to earn one. Some allow volunteers to earn one for the following year, by putting in volunteer time this year (for accountability)
Many items need to be reassessed by a committee to determine the best way to spend money. In 2015 our greatest expenses were: insurance, hospitality services for volunteers, security, Silent Disco, the Red Cross first aid tent, Amphitheater & Fine Art building sound equipment, the fire permit, and advertising
- Kitchen Privileges (7.92% percent of overall expenses ): The kitchen (hospitality) has become a cafeteria. The original intent was to prepare sandwiches and snacks for Staff volunteers who were working so much they didn’t have time to eat. Now it’s a 24-hour feeding station for 75-100 people. It is expensive and requires many hours of labor
- Only serve breakfast and lunch
- After hours will have coffee & easy snacks (chips, cookies, etc.)
- Restrict and enfource access
- Make it a Potluck Community area or create a Potluck Area somewhere else for folks to gather over food
- Alcohol/Bar Camps: Alcohol at the Fairgrounds is unfortunately a complex issue. The Fairground’s policy is “No Outside Alcohol,” plain and simple. The purpose of this rule is to require events to purchase it from the Heritage Foundation, one of their only sources of revenue. The Heritage Foundation is a nonprofit organization whose purpose is to ensure the Fairground remains a public institution for the community to use. This is unfortunate for Bar Camps—which are numerous at Burning Man—because it is their way of gifting the community. Burning Man, on the other hand, does not allow the buying or selling of anything at overnight events, so we cannot have the Heritage Foundation running a bar at UnSCruz. Our solution to this problem has been to purchase alcohol from the Heritage Foundation in advance, and have them give it away for free. This is a very marginally satisfying solution. One of the Heritage Foundation guys, speaking with a Staff member, suggested we have them serve booze at the bar camps (i.e. we purchase as before and have them serve it at these camps, so it’s more like Burning Man). Alternately, maybe we can have Bar Camps purchase alcohol from the Heritage Foundation? There remains the complexity of needing an alcohol license
- Nudity: Do we want to encourage this more? People didn’t know if it was OK or not, and/or didn’t feel comfortable with all the police and adjacent events. Again, this is a grey area for the Fairground since they have other happenings going on simultaneously during UnSCruz, (members at an adjacent Quinceañera seem to freak out at the sight of nude or semi-nude burners). One possibility is to have better privacy barriers/fencing. Additionally, we should supply a clearer statement about the situation for our participants
- Personnel Conflicts: There were a lot of conflicts this year. All were regarding how to run the event (ticket giveaways, stage management, placement, kitchen privilege, parking passes, outdoor sound, etc.). Thus it would be good to have a committee to decide policies and make them well publicized. Much of it had to do with tone, which could be resolved by greater emphasis on respect and team building
- Staff Tent: It has been suggested that we might consider setting up a Staff tent/area. This would have a chill space, beverages, and information boards. Staff could hang out, talk, relax, and share UnSCruz information to keep staff & volunteers up-to-date on developments during the weekend. A default hangout spot similar to an employee break room. Presently, the kitchen is fulfilling this role
- Laminates: There should be separate Staff badges & Volunteer badges for next year. Laminates are not just desirable schwag, they indicate to the public who might be able to assist them. It is also helpful to distinguish between a Staff member who has intimate knowledge of the event’s production from someone who may be volunteering a few hours and does not necessarily have background information
STAGES & SOUND (6.53% percent of overall expenses )
- Community Stages: Should the policy of the community stage (where DJs, dancers, bands, etc. can perform) change? We have hosted a community stage allowing participants to sign up, we then give them time slots to express themselves. Is it worthwhile? In 2009, 2010 & 2012, we had a mixture of both community stages and private ones (i.e. sound camps). At the Fairground in 2014, we weren’t able to approach it the same way due to strict sound policies at the venue, and our understandably cautious approach to outside sound. We had 3 sound areas/stages and we controlled the time slots on each stage. Because we lacked funds to rent equipment, we had the cooperation of some generous sound camps that provided it to us. The compromise permitted us to schedule many or most of the hours use of the stage and allowed the camps to retain some control. While this worked out for the most part there was some resentment. The sound camps voiced that they should be able to run their stage. In 2015, we had more money available so we were able to rent equipment for 2 of the stages. Going forward, the question is, shall we now rent all the sound equipment and keep all 3 of these stages as “community” stages? Particularly in light of the fact that the Fairground now trusts us more with outside sound, and we were able to have a number of sound camps set up outside, and run their own shows
- Heritage Hall: Should we turn this over to a Bar/Theme Camp, and have the Heritage Foundation (aka Fairground) serve all the alcohol we are required to purchase? Make it more of a lounge, with background music? Both the Heritage Hall and Fine Arts buildings are not drawing the crowds like they did in 2014, since we now have so many Theme Camps
- Bands: Are they worth it? Do they add enough to the event to make their logistics worthwhile? Live music requires a lot of set up and managing throughout the event, and they can be loud. How many people are listening? According to the post event survey, about 30% responded that live music was important
- Silent Disco: Do enough people use Silent Disco to make it a worthwhile rental? Now that music runs around the clock, it may not be as necessary as it was. However, people do seem to enjoy it. The expense needs to be weighed against its popularity
- Sound Policy: The survey revealed complaints from participants about music running too long, which interfered with their sleep. Now that we seem to have the ability to have indoor sound around the clock, and much more outdoor sound for longer hours, perhaps we should settle on strict quiet times and/or areas.
- Designate a no sound period from 4 am to 11 am
- Outdoor sound levels restricted after 9 pm, off by 2 am
- Indoor sound off by 4 am
- Placing camps away from the Fine Art building
- Sound Control: I thought this went pretty well. Some concerns were voiced about fire art volume, and outside Sound Camp volume. Campers in the Paddy Smith park area didn’t like the Sound Camp back there. With clearer quiet times, as well as better defined quiet zones, this may improve
DECORATION & FENCING
- Outdoor Amphitheater: This space needs to be redesigned by a theatrical set designer (or something to that effect). The stage is too big and makes performers look teeny. Additionally, the fencing used to keep people off the stage was both unsightly (it needs to be beautified with lights and décor) and removed from the event by the great distance between performers and spectators
- Fire Pits & Burn Barrels: These need to be a focal point and centralized. The fire pit was barely used. We need WAY more barrels! We had only a single burn barrel, sitting no where special all by itself
- Race Track & Crocetti building barriers: We need visual barriers (i.e. blocking the view between events) separating our event from other affairs for protection of our privacy, i.e. clothing optional people are less inclined to express themselves if individuals from the Race Track and Crocetti Building areas are watching. Also, the movable fencing along the race track should be cleared away, modified or beautified after the race is over, it’s hideous
- Perimeter: Our perimeter wasn’t defined with fences and/or boundary markers. For example, the rose garden was nice, but a bit beyond our security area, ditto for the shower building. We also need a better plan to prevent people from sneaking into UnSCruz. Possibly a Perimeter team in addition to Security and Rangers
- Front Gate: Only 73 tickets were bought at the gate this year, the remainder purchased pre-event. This is a good trend; it eliminates or reduces the burden of having cash at the gate. Hopefully we will sell out pre-event in 2016, and do away with gate purchases altogether.
Other Front Gate issues:
- Sara (Gate Lead) suggested creating more shade for those waiting in line
- Brown Paper Ticket scanners were not working at all times
- We need to ensure that everyone who is under 18 has their legal guardian sign a Waiver, this practice must be clear to all volunteers working the gate
- We should have wristbands for everyone (12 & under, 13 to 17, 18 to 20, and 21 & over) in order to keep a better total population count (how many under 21, how many minors, how many paying, etc.)
- In order to minimize staff working late, we should eliminate Will Call tickets, and keep strict, well publicized Gate Hours
- Publicity (3.39% percent of overall expenses ): We can and should use the Brown Paper Tickets’ e-mail list (the people who purchased UnSCruz tickets in the past) to send info about UnSCruz 2016. We shouldn’t waste money on advertising or posters, when our survey indicated that most people were informed via Facebook friends, Facebook invites, Burning Man mailing lists, and word of mouth
- Neighborhood Canvassing: To improve relations with neighbors, we should have a team canvass the local neighborhood before the event to hand out free tickets, explain who we are, and supply a hotline number to call in the event of noise issues
- UnSCruz Department Teams: Each department lead should form a team months prior to the event: train, assign and delegate responsibilities, communicate well, and be proactive about making plans to run your area. While the Producer will retain some veto power regarding all operations, you form the team and control your area. Team leads are encouraged to communicate effectively with the Producer(s), who keep the bigger picture in mind
Voicings from Vince (Shuttle Lead)
Here are a few thoughts we had about improving UnSCruz. These are just our thoughts and not directed at anyone or their department. Everyone did a great job.
- Ticketing: The ticketing page needs to have more information on it. Things like “print this barcode you will need it.” I had paperwork but no barcode. When I tried to log in and get it I couldn’t. A lot of people were in the same situation as me. Can the tickets say “park first, get your wristband then unload,” in big letters?
- Front Gate: The front gate should be decorated with colorful items, lights and maybe balloons or something to help people know where it is. The fence in front of the handicap parking should have signs telling people what to do
- Promotions: Do we get everyone’s e-mail from Brown Paper Tickets? Can we use that list to promote for next year? Maybe do our version of the Jack Rabbit Speaks? In these e-mails let people know, in a nice way, that paying to get in and volunteering is a great thing. We spent a lot of time out and about, but the only posters we saw were the ones we put up. Do we get a report from the people who put up the fliers to see where they put them? Do we reach out to the other groups like South Bay Burners? I am on their Facebook group, however, never saw any mention of UnSCruz
- Alcohol/Bar Camps: I gave you my idea of having the fairgrounds serving alcohol at the various Bar Camps. Would it be out of line to ask the Bar Camps to make a donation back to UnSCruz for the beer? Maybe say if you want to have a Bar Camp we will supply a bartender and the alcohol for a donation of $200. Since many Bar Camps spend money to gift alcohol anyway, it may be a way to recoup some funds. The fairgrounds can also do wine, so maybe a wine bar could be set up for people who like wine
- Art: We heard some chatter that people wished there was more art. Is there a way to reach out to artists throughout the year to get them to bring their art to UnSCruz? When we get commitments we can put them out in the newsletter to get people excited
- Placement: We had talked to someone who does placement at Burning Man. She said they try to place a bar on each block and one of everything, so one block does not end up with six bars while another block has none. With that in mind, we should spread out the bars and related camps. The Dusty Bum and Ali Bar Bar were pretty close to each other. Put them on opposite sides of the grounds, and smaller camps between them. This will promote more traffic to the small camps while people are heading to the bigger ones
- Performers (i.e. free tickets): There has been a lot of talk about this already. Charge all of the performers to enter. If they perform and leave the same day they get their money back. Basically performing would give them a day pass. If they get in for free and drink a lot of beer, it cost us a lot of money for their performance
- Shuttle: We had a few issues of our own. Mostly I underestimated the amount of people that came on Friday versus Saturday. I will adjust for that
- Late Entry: This is tough. Can we put something on the event page and tickets with definite gate hours? Maybe we can put on the tickets the gate hours and then say late entry will cost $10 per person? This would again promote some extra money and give people an incentive to get there on time. A lot of people worked some long days to accommodate these people who show up late
- Wristbands: It would have been nice to know that there were two different wristbands. Over and under 21. Being the shuttle, we live by the wristbands people are wearing. To find a different one confused us for a moment until the kids told us it was for under 21. I may have missed the memo
I hope this is constructive and doesn’t come across harsh towards anyone or their department. These are just thoughts from observing how things worked from our vantage point. It was a great weekend and everyone we talked to absolutely loved it. I think we have the makings of one of the best regional events.