Some say steeper prices due to state tax and other fees have created yet another obstacle for people who have long been excluded from the week-long festival
Burning Man tickets will be even more expensive this year thanks to a new Nevada entertainment tax that the state is requiring the festival to impose.
The price for the majority of tickets to the massive summer event in the Black Rock Desert, three hours north of Reno, has climbed from $390 to $424 for an individual ticket due to a 9% state tax that organizers have unsuccessfully tried to fight over the past month.
The festival, which attracts 70,000 people to the week-long event at the end of August, has faced growing criticism in recent years that despite its guiding principle of “ radical inclusion ”, the event is inaccessible to low-income people and is overwhelmingly white .
The price increase, which organizers confirmed this month, is likely to further deter those who are hesitant to spend hundreds of dollars on a ticket, which does not include additional expenses related to supplies, travel and preparation.
Nevada lawmakers passed legislation last year that expanded its live entertainment tax to include nonprofit organizations that sell more than 15,000 tickets for certain kinds of events. Burning Man, a 501(c)3 tax-exempt entity , was previously exempt from the tax and has claimed that it still should not have to pay.
In December, Burning Man’s attorney wrote a letter arguing that the festival does not offer live entertainment and that the organization “simply provides the campground space in which participants can come together, interchange ideas, and engage in creative expression”.
The state’s tax officials disagreed. In a recent letter responding to the organization, Deonne Contine, executive director of the Nevada department of taxation, said the festival’s activities do constitute live entertainment and since participants have to pay for tickets to access the grounds, the event is taxable under the revised law.
Burning Man has also noted that it already contributes an estimated $50m to the northern Nevada economy each year.
Pre-sale registration begins this week for the 2016 festival, and the main sale starts 23 March. The festival also offers $1,200 tickets and roughly 4,000 tickets at $190 each as part of its so-called Low Income Ticket Program . All the tickets will be subject to the new 9% tax.
“Any longtime Burner has grown to expect the ticket prices to go up each year,” said Steve Outtrim, a 42-year-old Marin County, California, resident who has been attending Burning Man since 1998.
Outtrim runs a site called burners.me and has lamented that the festival now requires Burners to pay an additional $80 “vehicle fee” – which he argued organizers should remove in the wake of the additional entertainment tax.
With increasingly high prices, he added, “the general concern is that a lot of rich spectators will pay this money to come to Burning Man, but they’ll be more interested in the tourist experience, which means they’re not bringing something to contribute”.
Ashara Ekundayo, an Oakland gallery director who attended Burning Man last year and is speaking at an upcoming panel on diversity and inclusion at the festival, said the steeper prices created yet another obstacle for people who have long been excluded.
“It’s another barrier,” she said. “They’re going to have to really want to go”.
Ekundayo said she would like to see Burning Man set aside some “fellowship” tickets for those who cannot afford to attend and take other steps to increase the percentage of black participants, which in 2014 was 1.3% . “I think Burning Man should make some real offerings into communities … to invite folks to join.”
A Burning Man spokesman said in an email on Tuesday: “We disagree with the opinion [of the Nevada tax department] and we’re looking at all of our options.” A state spokeswoman declined to comment.
While he said he wanted the festival to find a way to cut costs and curb ticket price increases, Outtrim said he did not buy the organization’s claim that it should not pay an entertainment tax. Referring to the final event when the large burning man statue is lit on fire, he said: “When the man burns, every single person there is there to watch it. It’s very much live entertainment.”
Outtrim added: “If the 9% [tax] … is actually helping the people of Nevada and goes into schools and roads and things like that, then that’s wonderful. We support it.”
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2016