Incoming 2020 Board Members

This is my last blog post, gentle reader, because my term on the SDCAP Board of Directors is coming to an end. In order to celebrate/mourn my survival of 3 years of BOD service, I’ve decided to plagiarize my own blog post from last year and provide a numerical overview of the new BOD member selection process.

  • 3 – minimum number of positions we needed to fill
  • 5 – ideal number of positions we wanted to fill to get back up to 9 members, which is our comfy zone
  • 2 – current BOD members terming out (me and Ken Simmons)
  • 1 – current BOD member who has graciously agreed to serve for another year (Cassy Haynes)
  • 4 – applications received 
  • 4 – applications received from people who were actually qualified for service and therefore invited to interview 
  • 3 – number of BOD meetings it took to interview all of them
  • 50 – average degrees Fahrenheit at those BOD meetings, meaning the candidates all learned quickly to bring blankets and hats
  • 20 – number of people who filled out the Community Feedback Survey online 
  • 4 – shiny new Board members to be sworn in on 3/11/20:
    • Alicia Smith
    • James McDermott
    • Stephanie Zierenberg
    • Rebecca Cloudy

Thanks to everyone who participated and a huge thank you to our 4 new Directors for their willingness to serve! 



‘Tis the Season: Recruitment for SDCAP Board of Directors (BOD) and YOUtopia Production Leadership Team (PLT)

It’s December and that means it’s recruitment season for the SDCAP Board of Directors (BOD) and the Production Leadership Team (PLT) for YOUtopia. Both volunteer roles have specific responsibilities and requirements outlined in their respective job descriptions and applications. The purpose of this post is to provide a little additional context about the positions, the organization, and how it all works together. If you already know the score, scroll to the bottom for links to applications and whatnot. 

What is SDCAP?

The San Diego Collaborative Arts Project is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt not-for-profit organization founded in 2012. SDCAP’s Mission is to support collaborative arts in San Diego, particularly those aligned with the 10 Principles of Burning Man. SDCAP is the legal entity. Current SDCAP projects include YOUtopia, CoLab, and year-round grantmaking. 

What is the BOD?

The BOD’s function is fiduciary, legal, and operational oversight. The BOD doesn’t initiate much, and rather serves an administrative function in terms of protecting the organization and its assets. That’s what’s required by CA and federal law. 

Legal requirements for non-profit governance fall into 3 categories: Duty of Care, Duty of Loyalty, and Duty of Obedience. If you’re thinking about applying for the BOD, we recommend spending some time reading up on these terms and thinking about whether that’s truly the role you want to play in the organization. In practice, we spend a ton of time talking about budgets, accounting, liability, safety, and insurance. It’s not everyone’s cup o’ tea. 

The BOD, per its bylaws and in accordance with the laws of CA, is comprised of anywhere from 7-15 Directors and is required to have a President/Chair, Secretary, and Treasurer. Non-profit Boards are responsible for recruiting their own Directors. 

The SDCAP BOD generally operates using a consensus model, as is considered a best-practice by many a non-profit governance guru. If you’re not familiar with consensus models, this is another thing we recommend reading up on before you throw your hat in the ring. 

Difference between the BOD and PLT

Due to the nature of non-profit governance, the BOD’s role is primarily about protecting the assets of the 501(c)(3), so we can keep having YOUtopia, keep the lights on at CoLab, and keep giving out art grants year-round, as those are the ways we advance our mission. It can often feel (to us and others) like we’re the fun police. The BOD is part of a system of checks and balances, and it’s the risk-averse side of the system. The BOD is more likely to prevent than to instigate or initiate. Again, not everyone’s cup o’ tea. 

The BOD selects the PLT, then work with the PLT in developing, approving, and managing the YOUtopia budget – including oversight of the interdisciplinary Art Grants Committee. The BOD also works with the PLT on anything within event operations that could have financial or safety or legal consequences, pose an existential threat to the event, or fall under one of the 3 Duties of non-profit governance. 

If you’re primarily interested in joining the BOD in order to have a big impact on the look and feel of YOUtopia “on the ground,” you may be disappointed. The BOD doesn’t have anything to do with the art theme, soundscape, theme camp placement, volunteer SWAG, Commissary menu, or how many Kubotas are allocated to each department. The BOD does have oversight of things like Volunteer Ticket pricing, Commissary budget, total budget for Kubotas, and capital investments to Safety equipment; those are all areas the BOD and PLT collaborate on in the early stages of YOUtopia planning, as we hammer out a budget. Execution of the budget and overall operations for the event are entrusted to the PLT… until/unless something gets escalated to the BOD because of – you guessed it – financial or legal reasons.

In short, if you want to have a big, big role in YOUtopia, consider the PLT instead of the BOD. 

BOD Selection Process 

Per SDCAP’s bylaws and the State of CA, non-profit boards are responsible for selecting their directors. BOD members are tasked with actively recruiting qualified candidates for BOD service, and we also have open calls to the community (like this one). Anyone is welcome to apply for BOD service. We review applications and invite the best-qualified candidates to interview. We also administer a Community Advisory Election, so anyone in the San Diego Burning Man community can weigh in on the candidates. Note that while the results of the Community Advisory Elections have historically aligned with the BOD’s selection choices, this is not a democratic process – the current BOD members make the final selection decisions for new BOD members. 

PLT Selection Process

The SDCAP BOD selects the PLT for the coming year’s YOUtopia. Anyone is welcome to apply for the PLT. We review applications and invite the best-qualified candidates to interview. The current BOD members make the final selection decisions for the PLT. 

2020 Selection Process and Timeline

We’re still working on the details, so please don’t hold us to this 100% just yet. The process is likely to include:

BOD Selection PLT Selection
  • Applications Open until 12/31/19
  • Applications Open open until 1/15/19
  • Applications will be reviewed to determine the Best Qualified candidates per the Job Description
  • Applications will be reviewed to determine the Best Qualified candidates per the Job Description
  • Best Qualified candidates will be invited to interview at an Open Candidate Forum held at CoLab (January)
  • Best Qualified candidates will be invited to interview privately with the BOD (January)
  • Community Advisory Election, with option to cast votes either at the Open Candidate Forum or online (January)
  • BOD finalizes selections (February)
  • Community narrative feedback via confidential/anonymous online form (January)
  • PLT starts work on YOUtopia 2020 (February)
  • BOD finalizes selections (February) 
  • New Directors begin their terms 2nd Wednesday in March

Open BOD Seats in 2020

BOD Members serve 3 year terms. We currently have 7 directors with 3 terms ending in March. That means we need to fill at least 3 spots, and could conceivably fill 4 or 5 (we like to have 7-9 people on the BOD). 

Open PLT Roles in 2020

The PLT is designed to have 5-ish members. In 2019, it was a 4-person team and that worked well. All 4 of the 2019 PLT members are eligible to reprise their roles in 2020, if they want ‘em, but word on the street is that not all of them will be returning. This means there are likely some openings for the 2020 PLT. 

Next Steps

If you’re considering applying for the BOD, the first thing to do is start attending BOD meetings. Attendance at at least 2 meetings is required prior to being considered for an interview. Attending all BOD meetings between now and March is strongly encouraged. 

If you’re considering applying for the PLT, we strongly recommend attending some BOD meetings, too, so you can get a sense of how the BOD and PLT work together. 

Beyond that, feel free to reach out to current BOD members if you have questions, concerns, or just want to chat. We’re all willing (individual schedules permitting) to talk with you about our personal experience serving on the BOD, if you want a 1:1 conversation in-person or by phone. You can reach out to any of us individually and all of us via


SDCAP 2020 Director Job Posting

YOUtopia 2020 Production Leadership Team Job Posting

YOUtopia 2019: The Little Regional That Could

SDCAP and the YOUtopia Production Leadership Team are thrilled to announce YOUtopia 2019 is Wednesday, October 23 to Sunday, October 27, 2019! The charming, gracious, unrelentingly stylish, dare-we-say-sexy proprietors of Wasteland Weekend are welcoming us to their property near California City, CA, a smidge north of Los Angeles.

We know you have oodles of questions about this new-to-us venue, and we pinky-swear promise you answers will be forthcoming. Stay tuned to your email and social media in the coming days for announcements about ticket sales and event details. In the meantime, sleep easy knowing:

  • General Admission ticket prices are staying the same.
  • The Leadership Team has revamped a number of policies to make things more enjoyable for volunteers, artists, and theme camps.
  • You’ll never again have to camp on a pile of rocks surrounded by poison oak, with your besties on the other side of a stream.
  • No. More. Hills.

We are immensely grateful for the outpouring of support, ideas, and encouragement we received from all corners of the San Diego Burning Man community. It’s been stressful being in limbo for so long, and we were able to power through fueled by the knowledge that YOUtopia is deeply important to so many people. We’re obviously behind schedule, but we have an amazing team and many years of event leadership expertise on our side. And still, we need YOU to keep YOUtopia alive! Now that we have a venue, the real work begins, and as a 100% volunteer-run organization, we always need people who embrace the 10 Principles of Burning Man to step up and participate in our do-ocracy. If you want to get involved and have the bandwidth to take on a big ol’ chunk of responsibility, email to inquire about department management roles. If regular Burner-style volunteerism is your jam, sit tight and wait for volunteer applications to open in a couple weeks and then submit your application.

Start working on your art, your outfits, your theme camp, and your LNT plan. We’ll see you in the dust!

YOUtopia Venue Updates: Renting and Buying and Realistic Expectations, Oh My!

Spoiler alert: we don’t have any earth-shattering news to share. The purpose of this blog post is to keep YOUtopians in the loop about our progress with respect to renting and/or buying land for YOUtopia. Skip to the end for the TL;DR.


After we sent out the survey requesting public commentary about land purchase, we heard from some very impassioned folks who made a great case for why we should rent again in 2019. More specifically, a great case for why we should rent our previous venue, even at their asking price. We revisited the numbers and came up with a way we could make it work. However, despite our efforts to revisit this option, it appears the tribe does not want us back. We hope we’re wrong about that, but right now it seems we’re getting ghosted like a bad Tinder date. 

We have also attempted to rent the campground down the road – the one some of you rave about (pun intended) and others of you malign because of its lack of water. It appears they are also not interested in hosting us.

In our request for public commentary, many of you extolled the virtues of hosting YOUtopia on tribal land so we don’t have to deal with issues of permitting and LEO. We could not be more aware of the benefits of holding the event on tribal land, but that is contingent upon a tribe being willing to host us. Many of you also extolled the virtues of the LALA/Bequinox property; we’ve explored that thoroughly and for a variety of reasons it’s not logistically or fiscally viable.

We’ve been exploring other rental venues in Southern CA that are capable of handling a population of 3,000+ people (100 acres) as well as smaller venues that would entail contracting our population size. We haven’t exhausted every possible option, but pickins are slim.

Our wish list is long and glorious, but the reality is that right now we’ll settle for a venue that will allow us to obtain a Conditional Use Permit, gift alcohol, and allow sound (even if it’s not super loud or 24/7). There are a great many other features we want but something, something, beggars, choosers.


Hoooboy! At time of this writing, we’ve gotten 252 responses to our Request for Public Commentary about buying land. That is far and away the most responses we’ve ever gotten to anything ever. We’re going to leave the form open indefinitely, so if you haven’t weighed in yet, you still can. Here are the results to date, with a little editorial following.


After these multiple choice questions, there was an open-ended “tell us what you think,” section. The most frequent (paraphrased) comments were:

  1. LALA/Bequinox did this and OMG BEST THING EVER!!!
  2. I love trees and water and power. You must only buy land with trees and water and power.
  3. I have concerns that if we’re on private land, we have to deal with permitting and LEO and that will radically change the nature of the event. 
  4. I love LJIC and am willing to pay more to stay there.


In reviewing all the responses, we were surprised by a few things:

Overwhelming Support for Purchase – we suspected the idea would be well-received, but we didn’t anticipate it’d be 78% well-received.

Resistance to Radical Self-Reliance – while 77% of you said you were on board with Radical Self-Reliance, the number of comments demanding water, trees, and (to a lesser extent) power was surprising. We get it, LJIC is really nice. Trees and water and power are great and they make things easy, unlike BRC. The reality is, though, that trees and water and power are really, really expensive in Southern California, and unless you’d like to gift SDCAP with several million dollars, it ain’t happenin’. If we buy land, it’s going to be raw land without amenities. And we’ll all have to be radically self-reliant.

Willingness to Pay More – we were blown away that 85% of respondents said they were willing to pay more to help with start-up costs associated with land purchase. Again, we have no (zero, zilch, nada) plans to increase ticket costs; it was truly a hypothetical question. A huge part of our motivation for considering purchase is that (if we find the right property) it should pay for itself in a year or three – meaning we could possibly, maybe, eventually even lower ticket prices. Which should please the 15% of you who were angry we even dared ask such a question.


Beyond those surprises, we were really touched by all the words of encouragement and thoughtful advice people had for us. We absolutely share all your concerns and are taking our time exploring the purchasing option. We’ve gotten the ball rolling with permitting, but that process is a marathon, not a sprint. And it’s likely going to involve an EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) just like Burning Man, which is also a big deal. We have our work cut out for us, and even if purchasing makes sense, it’s not going to happen in time for YOUtopia 2019.

Realistic Expectations

We’ve had a sweet deal at LJIC for the past 9 years, but it appears that era is coming to an end. We would love to be able to rent tribal land for 2019 and more or less maintain the status quo that people have come to expect, but that does not currently seem to be a viable option. This means we’re going to have to compromise and make concessions. We don’t know what those concessions will be, but first and foremost, YOUtopia will continue to adhere to the 10 Principles in order to maintain its status as a Regional Burn.

We appreciate all the feedback and support we’ve gotten from the 2019 YOUtopia Leadership Team, survey respondents, folks who showed up at our last board meeting, and folks who’ve reached out us with offers to help. We absolutely need your help, so please keep it coming!

We’ll be discussing YOUtopia venue at our board meeting this week (June 12 @ CoLab, 7-9pm) and at every future board meeting (2nd and 4th Weds of the month) until it’s resolved. Please join us!

TL;DR: we still don’t have a venue for YOUtopia 2019. Buying land is an option but we’re not going to rush it, so it’ll be 2020 at the earliest. Despite our best efforts, we have not been able to secure a rental venue. If you can help with a rental venue for 2019, please reach out to us!

Request for Public Commentary: SDCAP Land Purchase

The San Diego Collaborative Arts Project (SDCAP) is exploring purchasing land to use as a venue for YOUtopia and other events aligned with our mission. As part of our exploratory process, we are soliciting community feedback and want to hear from you! Please tell us what you think of this idea – the good, the bad, the creative, the concerned. If you want to go straight to the feedback form, it’s here.

For additional context about this issue, read onward!

Land Ownership in General

Purchasing land is something SDCAP has been talking about for years. Our collective motivation to pursue it has been bolstered by past board members who were hot and heavy for the idea and then tempered by the sweet setup we had renting the La Jolla Indian Campground (yes, the hills are rough, but it has water and trees, and being on tribal land allowed us to avoid permitting issues).

Speaking of permitting, that’s one of the biggest driving factors in our decision making process about where to purchase, if at all. We know from other comparable events that permitting issues vary wildly from county to county in Southern California, and we want to be sure that if we do buy land it’s in a county where we will be able to get the permits we need. The other mission-critical qualities we’ve identified are:

  • Within 2-3 hours of central San Diego
  • South of Los Angeles (because it’s the San Diego Regional Burn)
  • Terrain that will allow us to burn art
  • Lacking neighbors who would be upset about sound

If you’re familiar with the rural and unincorporated areas outside San Diego, you’re probably thinking to yourself, “hey, that sounds like Imperial County!” That’s what we’re thinking, too. We’re certainly open to other ideas, but we have more concerns about permitting (and cost) in Orange, Riverside, and San Bernardino.

Why Now: YOUtopia 2019

For the past 9 years, YOUtopia’s home has been the La Jolla Indian Campground. We’ve enjoyed a good relationship with the tribe and have taken pride in our additional donations as well as our extensive Leave No Trace (LNT) efforts, always leaving the campground in better condition than we found it. As one would expect, the cost to rent the campground has gone up significantly over the years, but it’s always been a relatively predictable increase (review our financials here). This year, when we contacted the tribe to begin our annual contract negotiation, they informed us they wanted more than double the amount we paid them last year. We attempted to negotiate and they then informed us they are considering no longer hosting any festivals at all due to complaints from residents about sound, but if we were willing to pay their asking price, they would still have us back in 2019. We reviewed our financials, and determined there is no way we can pay that amount without dramatically raising ticket prices, so we exited the negotiation.

Since then, we’ve been exploring all manner of other options for rental venues. Yes, of course we’ve reached out to the campground down the road from La Jolla. Yes, of course we’ve reached out to our regional neighbors to the north. Yes, we’ve been exploring other venues in San Diego County. A variety of options are on the table in terms of renting a venue for 2019, but none have come to fruition yet.

At the same time, we have begun talking about a land purchase. If we’re being honest, part of what spurred us on is that for the amount of money we would have to pay to rent La Jolla for 1 year, we could buy similar acreage outside San Diego and own it permanently. Pretty appealing.

We’ve done a couple scouting missions of properties in the desert, and there are some cool spots out there. They would be tremendous shifts in the look and feel of YOUtopia. It’s highly likely that any property that could truly sustain our event and allow us to burn the way we want to burn is going to be a lot more like Black Rock City than a cushy campground with amenities. We’ll be trading creature comforts for a blank canvas. In some ways it’ll be harder and in some ways it’ll be easier. We’d be lying if we told you we’ve haven’t fallen a little bit in love with the idea and believe the timing is right.

While we’re not going to rush into anything, we are quietly keeping our fingers crossed for some serendipity so we can do this in time for YOUtopia 2019. We know that’s super soon, and that there’s only so much planning the YOUtopia Team can do until we have a venue locked down.

We also know lots of folks have been wondering about the details for YOUtopia 2019. Once we have a venue and a date finalized, tickets will go on sale. We promise. In the worst case scenario, if we have to take a year off to make sure we buy the right property at the right time, we’ll make a public announcement by early August.

How Can YOU Help YOUtopia?

Most importantly, tell us what you think about land purchasing by filling out the survey.

You can also come chat with us about it in person at an upcoming Board Meeting. We meet the 2nd and 4th Weds of every month from 7-9pm at CoLab and we’ll be carving out a big ol’ chunk of agenda time for public commentary about this, at least for the next few meetings.

Beyond that, if you know of any properties for rent or purchase that meet the criteria outlined above, please let us know! We need about 100 usable acres for the whole enchilada.

And finally (shameless plug), there are ongoing opportunities to get involved with SDCAP and YOUtopia. The SDCAP board is a little light right now (we have 7 members, but prefer 9), so if you are interested in a “Mid-Cycle Appointment,” please get in touch by messaging The YOUtopia Team also still has some Department Manager positions open. Management positions are usually filled by people who have volunteered with YOUtopia in the past and have direct experience with event operations, but folks with special and specific skill-sets are always welcome and encouraged to apply. For more information, get in touch with the Production Leadership Team (

SDCAP Community Code of Conduct

Hey there, community! You spoke up, and we listened! Better yet, we followed through. After doing a ton of research on practices within other regionals and local Burning Man communities, we have drafted a comprehensive Community Code of Conduct.

Beyond our basic expectations around upholding the 10 Principles within the burner community, a Code of Conduct empowers us to facilitate healthy, constructive community behavior. Being proactive reduces the likelihood that you, or others, will become bogged down in destructive behavior and enables the community and, when under its purview, SDCAP to take action when someone does something that isn’t cool.

Outlining expectations for behavior, providing instructions for reporting incidents, and following up with enforcement allows us all to be accountable to keeping the community a strong, productive, and positive place where we can all explore, play, and create.

Incoming 2019 Board Members

We recently wrapped our annual New Board Member Selection Cycle. Here’s an overview, by the numbers:

  • 6 open positions
  • Promoted  to our mailing list of 8k+ subscribers and posted on 5+ Facebook pages and groups
  • 4 applications received
  • 1 resurrected Community Advisory Vote in response to community complaints because did away with the Advisory Vote in 2018 due to low participation (back then ~25 people voted)
  • 2 ways to vote: online and in-person at a Town Hall
  • 1 Town Hall to conduct the interviews:
    • 3 out of 4 applicants attended
    • Approx. 12 community members attended
    • 6 people voted in person
  • 13 people registered and voted online
  • 19 total people voted
  • 6 current Board members reached consensus matching the Advisory Voting results
  • 3 shiny new Board members to be sworn in on 3/13/19:
    • Dan Reeves (who has been serving as an Interim Director since August 2018
    • Bob Syfrett
    • Ken Klausen

Thanks to everyone who participated and a huge thank you to our 3 new Directors for their willingness to serve!

The Best Laid Plans

If you’ve been keeping track, gentle reader, you know we had a plan. A lovely, well-paced plan to transition the YOUtopia production structure over the course of 2 years. We planned to keep things mostly the same for 2019, and use it as a transition year to prepare for the new structure in 2020. In order to keep things mostly the same, we needed to maintain the Co-Producer positions. But no one applied for the job. For some historical context, 2018 was the first year we had an open application process for the Co-Producer role and there were 3 applicants for 2 positions. In 2017 and earlier, outgoing Co-Producers more or less selected their successors. For a variety of reasons, that method was no longer sustainable, and we switched to open applications for 2018 and 2019.

When we realized we had no applicants for the Co-Producer roles, we decided to hold an open meeting to talk about the path forward. We invited everyone who’d previously reached out to us to express interest in YOUtopia 2019 leadership as well as prior Hub & Department Leads. The open meeting was held at CoLab on 1/17/19 and was comprised of the SDCAP BOD plus 10 people who’ve been in various YOUtopia  leadership roles. In the course of that meeting, we decided to forge ahead with the team model for 2019, a full year ahead of schedule.

We are jumping off the cliff and sewing the parachute on the way down.

Which bring us to the shiny new Production Leads Team Role Description and Application. We outlined the overall idea of the Production LeadsTeam in a prior post and the Role Description should offer some additional insight. We expect interested candidates to have a lot of questions about how it’s all going to work, and the best thing we can tell you is: start thinking about how you want to make it work. It’s a collaborative endeavor and it’s largely going to be up to the Production Leads Team to design itself: its culture, its policies & procedures, and its methods for accountability. Yes, the BOD is going to provide oversight (it’s literally our job), but the BOD is not the Production Team.

We’re excited about the implementation of a team model and look forward to seeing your applications. If you have any questions prior to applying, please email


Retreat Recap & Re-Envisioning YOUtopia Production

Buckle up – this is going to be a long one! It has to be in order to cover the 7hr BOD Retreat held Sat, Dec 1. 2018. As we mentioned in a previous post, Board Retreats are standard practice for non-profits, they’re about the big picture, SDCAP has retreats 2-3 times per year, and no voting takes place (which primarily means we don’t make decisions about how money gets spent). For this retreat, we had a few big things we wanted to discuss:

  • Change to the YOUtopia Production Model
  • Streamlining the BOD’s YOUtopia processes for oversight obligations including budget, wrap-up, incident resolution, etc.
  • Improving BOD communications & collaboration with the community, YOUtopia Production Team, and CoLab Team.

We did manage to cover all of the above (woo!), and came to consensus about a great deal of it. As it goes in consensus building models, we don’t all agree 100% on everything, but everyone’s voice gets heard and we work hard to make decisions each person finds acceptable.

First up, here’s the scoop on why we looked at changing the YOUtopia Production Model, our methods, the decision, and implications for 2019 & 2020.

YOUtopia Production Model – to Change or Not to Change?

Setting the Stage for Organizational Change

For some context, YOUtopia is one of the few Regional Burns that uses a 2-person, Co-Producer model; most Regionals using Planning Teams of approx. 6-9 people. Sometimes these teams are the BOD of the non-profit or LLC, sometimes they overlap, and sometimes they are discretely different. We don’t necessarily think a team is better or worse than a Co-Producer model, but it sure is different, and we thought it was worthwhile to explore.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”

We’ve gotten feedback (more on that below) that the Co-Producer model is working well and shouldn’t be altered. We think that’s a valid perspective and by all rights, the San Diego Burning Man community has gotten pretty good at putting on a Regional Burn. At the same time, from the perspective of some of the BOD and Production Team, for a number of years now there have been persistent challenges in YOUtopia production which seem to be getting worse not better. Many of these challenges exist within the Production Team, as well as between the BOD and Production Team. Challenges we’ve observed and/or fielded ongoing complaints about for years include:

  • Miscommunication/lack of communication
  • Lack of shared vision
  • Lack of clarity about roles and responsibilities – particularly who gets a say in what decisions
  • Reinventing the wheel – often doing the same things which have failed in the past or been improved upon
  • Lack of adherence to budget/budget overruns
  • Fighting, back-biting, blaming, gossip
  • Nepotism and favoritism in assignment of leadership roles and event perks
  • Too many people demanding a say in how things are done – constant revisiting of decisions based on input from people unhappy with this or that decision
  • Excessive volume of work not tied to outcome (e.g. numerous in-person meetings at which little is accomplished or business conducted is not meaningful to attendees, excessive emails / poorly handled “reply all” emails, many hundreds of hours of conversations to help team members process emotions or to mediate interpersonal disputes.)
  • Lack of camaraderie

When looking at these issues in conjunction with our organizational structure, one interpretation is that much of what ails YOUtopia is a result of too many cooks in the kitchen and too much turnover among this giant group of cooks. The event is the equivalent of approximately a half-million dollar business, yet the management team currently includes 2 producers (Co-CEOs) 12 Hub Co-Leads (Executive Team), 50 Department Co-Leads (Management Team), all overseen by a 7-9 person Board of Directors. There are billion dollar organizations with much smaller management teams which – not surprisingly – run way more smoothly!  

The BOD went into the retreat thinking about substantially shrinking, revisioning, and flattening the organization. The new vision on the table:

  • Production Leadership Team of 5-9 members who would:
    • Work with each other and the BOD through the early-middle (December through April/May) phase of the production cycle
    • Collaboratively establish the event vision, priorities, ticketing structure and budget, as well as event rules and clear accountabilities for department leads and key volunteers
    • Establish its own internal accountabilities (who is handling what areas of production) but would be co-accountable for the event
    • Establish its own decision making process (e.g. majority vote)
    • Be responsible for adherence to the event budget in consultation with the BOD
  • Department Leads who would:
    • Join the team during the mid-production cycle once the Production Leadership Team had hammered out all of the above
    • Be responsible for execution of vision and priorities as established by the Production Leadership Team
    • Recruit and manage their volunteers within clearly established lines of responsibility

Due Diligence

We’ve been talking about this for a while – many months, if not well over a year. Some of the feedback we received (we promise, more on that to follow) was from folks concerned that we were considering this change as a reaction to specific problems in 2018 Production. Not so. It’s tough to carve out time and space for extensive research and methodical planning when YOUtopia Production takes up the entire calendar year (we’re still wrapping the current year while we beginning planning the following year) and when we also have CoLab, year-round grantmaking, and various other projects and endeavors. So big picture things like this come up for conversation along the way, we chat about them at retreats, and then eventually we get around to tackling them.

We’ve been talking about how to improve YOUtopia Production for a while and we finally carved out the time and space to do a deeper dive. Was our motivation increased due to problems during the 2018 Production cycle? Probably. Would we have addressed this possible change regardless? Yes. Given the time necessary for realizing any responsible vision for change, we suspected 2019 would be a deep inquiry year, with any major changes arriving for 2020 after input from a transitional team.

Prior to the BOD retreat, we did the following preparation:

Researching Other Models

We’ve reviewed models other Regionals Use, including organizational charts and reports, and had conversations with folks inside and outside YOUtopia. We also drew on our own internal bench-strength, as our BOD members have experience/education/training in management, process improvement, and organizational development.

Production Survey

Prior to the BOD retreat, we sent out a short survey to the 2018 Production Team as well as some past Producers/Leads. It went to approx 70 people via email and was posted to several Facebook groups. Did it comprehensively include everyone who’s ever been a Producer or worked on the Lead’s Team? Unfortunately, no. Do we still think it gives us a reasonable representation of people with YOUtopia Production experience? More or less.

There were a total of 19 survey respondents, including current and past Producers, Hub Leads, and Department Leads, a good proportion of whom have been involved with the event since before it was YOUtopia and before the 501(c)(3) existed. This 27% response rate is better than we usually see with YOUtopia surveys.

Survey respondents represented YOUtopia Production as follows:

In addition to gathering some information about each respondent, we asked 3 questions about the Production Model. The first 2 were multiple choice and the 3rd was open-ended.

For questions 1 & 2, there were 3 multiple-choice options as well as the ability to write in “Other.” For analysis purposes, “Other,” responses were recoded into Positive or Negative Sentiment, as they all fell in one camp or the other (i.e. none of the write-ins were neutral).

Question 1: What do you think of the Co-Producer model?

Question 2: What do you think of replacing the Co-Producers with a small leadership team of 5-9 people? It would be *kinda* like the current Hub Leads system, but with each person having more direct accountability, responsibility, and autonomy.

Question 3: What other suggestions do you have for improving YOUtopia Production?

As you can imagine, we received a wide range of responses to this question. Again, we recoded responses that clustered around certain themes and found the following:

  • 32% of respondents were in favor of more autonomy, decision-making power, and accountability for Hub Leads.
  • 26% of respondents said what’s problematic about YOUtopia Production is ineffective/problematic/toxic leadership, not the model itself.
  • 21% of respondents said some variation on, “in 20XX when I did ____, everything was great. Your mistake was changing what I put in place.”
  • 10% of respondents attributed some problems in Production to the fact that under the current design, people are intended to stay in their roles for 2+ years for training/planning/succession purposes, but in practice it’s not working out that way.
  • 10% of respondents said some variation on, “the BOD is what’s wrong with YOUtopia.”
  • Finally, 63% of respondents made a substantive comment or suggestion about changes that could be made to the Production Model (many of them mutually exclusive) or the way the work gets done. With respect to the way work gets done, people want things like:
    • More training/development/mentorship
    • Fewer non-productive meetings
    • Use of apps over emails
    • Clearer roles and responsibilities

(Percentages total over 100% because some people’s responses contained multiple suggestions.)

In summary:

  • The most common response to either model was neutral/ambivalent
  • The more polarizing positions were all over the map
  • The only thing that was really clear is that people have lots of different ideas about how to make YOUtopia better

While we were hoping to gain a little more clarity from the Production Survey, we’re not terribly surprised we didn’t see a strong trend emerge. There’s a lot that works really well with YOUtopia Production, and with respect to things that aren’t working well, there are numerous viable ways to problem-solve.

The Decision for Change

In the end, we decided it’s time for change. The BOD is committed to YOUtopia’s continuing evolution, and while our processes and systems become more complex and professional year after year, our management structure has not kept pace. We’ve leveled up our budget, insurance, contracts, safety protocol, and myriad other operational areas over the past 6+ years, and it’s time to do the same for our Production Model.  

We know change is a process and it takes time to be effective. While the BOD is establishing the big picture change of shifting from a Co-Producer Model to a Production Leadership Team Model, it’s largely going to be up to the Production Leadership Team to decide how to bring it to fruition. We expect it’s going to take over a year to do it well. For that reason –

This change will go into effect for YOUtopia 2020. YOUtopia 2019 will be a transition year. We’ll still use the 2-person Co-Producer model for 2019, with an eye on preparing for bigger change in 2020.

Implications for 2019

We expect 2019 Production will look much like it always has, with 2 Co-Producers leading the event. We’ll open applications for those roles in the next couple weeks.

In selecting the 2019 Co-Producers, we will be looking for candidates who are both able to work within the current model and excited to shepherd in the new. The 2019 Co-Producers will be instrumental in bringing together a group of Hub Leads who will in turn help craft the path forward and, ideally, be ready to step up into the Production Leadership Team roles in 2020.

To that end, there are a few substantive changes we’re looking at for 2019:

  1. Eliminating the “Co” for the Hub Leads. We want the Hub Leads to all be individuals who can collaborate directly with each other, the Co-Producers, and the BOD. They should be able to set and execute strategy for their respective hubs and work with each other to do it for the event as a whole. We don’t know yet exactly what that’s going to look like and we won’t know until the Co-Producers and then the Hub Leads themselves are all in place.
  2. Department Leads brought on board a bit later in the Production Cycle. Again, we don’t yet know the specifics, but we don’t believe YOUtopia requires a team of ~70 people to be in place in Q1 of 2019. Some Department Leads can come on board in Q2 and some in Q3, as determined by the Co-Producers and Hub Leads.
  3. Co-producers are essentially working themselves out of a job. We highly encourage the 2019 Co-Producers to push authority down to Hub Leads with the goal to make themselves unneeded in 2020.

How to Get Involved

We’ve gotten feedback from folks who want to be involved early in the planning process but don’t seem to know how. YOUtopia involvement has historically been driven by the Co-Producers, not the BOD, and it still will be. At the same time, we want to make sure we’re keeping open as many channels as possible, so people who have a vested interest in having a seat at the table do indeed have that seat (while we’re building the table).

Please email now if you’re interested in being part of the ongoing conversation about YOUtopia production in 2019 and 2020. We especially want to hear from you if you:

  • Are interested in being Co-Producer or Hub Lead in 2019 (Co-Producer applications will be live soon, too)
  • Want to nominate someone to be Co-Producer or Hub Lead in 2019
  • Have experience working within a similar Team Model at another Regional Burn
  • Have experience working within the YOUtopia model and have process improvement input (that you haven’t already submitted elsewhere)

Retreat Recap: All the Other Things

YOUtopia Budget

Changes to Ticketing for Art Grant Recipients and Volunteers

We didn’t actually talk about this much at the retreat, but wanted to mention (because we don’t know if this is in writing anywhere else) we will absolutely be revisiting the ticketing system for Art Grant Recipients and Volunteers. As it is every year, ticket pricing structure will be determined as part of the Budget process.

Budget Process

The YOUtopia Budget – development, negotiation, approval, and management – is handled by the Co-Producers in collaboration with the BOD. We’re hoping this year the Hub Leads will be part of the collaborative decision-making process for developing the budget early in the year. We believe this is the best way to get broad representation of viewpoints/interests. The budgeting process improves year over year, and we’re confident it will be even smoother in 2019, thanks to some standardization and streamlining being spearheaded by our Treasurer. (This is happening for the SDCAP and CoLab budgets, too – exciting!)

Due to our Treasurer’s efforts, we now have easy-to-use budget templates that reflect what we actually do and that are compatible with our accounting software. We also finally have solid actuals for the last two years; it’s been a lengthy process to clean up our books, as there were no uniform systems in place until 2018 and each budgeting cycle involved a fair amount of guesswork. Now that we have two year’s worth of reconciled, uniform budgets and actuals, we have a pretty good handle on our hard/fixed costs (i.e. land, heavy equipment, etc), the % increases we can reasonably expect year over year for those hard/fixed costs, and our soft cost categories where there is infinitely more wiggle room.

All of this will allow us to give the Co-Producers a template that’s much more usable, includes realistic projections to use as a starting point, and allows them easily hone in on the line items most in need of attention. It also will ideally support them in being creative. We would love to see innovative cost-cutting measures and we would also consider increased expenses for goods/services that mitigate risk, as many of our high-expense line items are also our most high-liability items (and take up the most volunteer time). Basically, we’re willing to spend more on expenses likely to improve the safety and efficiency of the event and operations, especially if it reduces the labor demands on our volunteers.

YOUtopia Wrap-Up Process

We’re continuing to work on our timeline for post-YOUtopia wrap-up. Every year the BOD spends the couple months after YOUtopia wrapping administrative and oversight tasks. We’re working to document it all now to make our lives easier in the future. We heart Gantt charts.

We also talked about exploring ticketing vendors other than EventBrite. We’ve been happy with EventBrite overall, but with EventBrite our waiver is part of our ticket and the whole thing needs to be physically printed, signed, collected at gate, then scanned/filed away after the event. We have a backlog of many years worth of waivers to be scanned, and the BOD is currently chipping away at them during “scanning parties.” We are going to look at other options to see if there is a different solution that will carry the same legal weight.

Code of Conduct / Incident Resolution

Most managing entities within the burnerverse have a Code of Conduct (CoC) for their Regional Burns as well as their year-round activities. As of this writing, YOUtopia has a Code of Conduct for volunteers, but we don’t have anything for participants at the event, for CoLab, or for SDCAP events in general. This is bad practice because when people in our community engage in problematic behavior, we have no standard against which to hold them and no process for investigation or response. When especially egregious incidents occur and rise to the level of a safety/liability risk, the BOD gets brought in and responds in a reactive manner – also bad practice. We need a standard and a process.

Luckily, because almost every other region has a CoC, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. We’ve gathered up a bunch of them from other areas (Fire Pony – Playa del Fuego, AZ Burners – Saguaro Man, NC – Transformus, Boston – Firefly), and are cobbling one together out of the gold that already exists. We’re hoping to have it up for public consumption within the next couple months.

In the meantime, the BOD is still working with the Producers and independently to resolve incidents that took place at YOUtopia 2018. As a general practice, outcomes are kept confidential for the privacy of those involved (and sometimes legally for the sake of HIPAA compliance). If you reported an incident to the BOD or Producers at/after YOUtopia 2018, we will be in touch soon to close the loop. Feel free to follow up with us if you have any ongoing questions and please understand that we will not be sharing any specific outcomes or personnel decisions.

Board Stuff

Most of what we talked about with respect to the BOD itself focused on 1) upcoming new member selection and 2) how to improve communications & collaboration with the community, YOUtopia Production Team, and CoLab Team.

BOD Candidate Recruitment, Process, etc.

Applications for the BOD are now open! If you haven’t already done so, read this post so you know what we’re looking for and what you’re getting yourself into. Then read the Job Description and apply!

We spent time talking about our recruitment efforts and how we’re trying to attract people from diverse segments of the community, administrative tasks that are part of the process of bringing on new members, and how we’re going to impart institutional knowledge when we’ll have so many new peeps.

One thing we’re considering is in addition to filling all 6 of the open positions, keeping on one or both of our outgoing Directors for an additional 1 year term. This is something the BOD has done at least twice in the past, for the express purpose of training new members so they could fill the roles being vacated. Due to the current BOD composition, we are not exactly sure how we’re going to stay afloat if we don’t have time to train someone for the Secretary role (including risk mitigation/insurance/contracts) and for year-round Art Grants Administration. We concurrently discussed transitioning outgoing Directors into external advisory roles, and that’s something we want to look at for future, but it doesn’t solve our current problem.


We now have a BOD member dedicated to email and social media management, and they’ll be focusing on getting out regular posts and updates across various platforms. We’re also going to explore with interested community members (a couple folks have stepped forward) how we can work together to push our content so it winds up in front of as many people as possible. As we keep saying, the total population of burners in the San Diego region is well into the thousands, but we can tell from analytics that only dozens – or if we’re really lucky, hundreds – of people see the content we generate.

And as you may have noticed over and over again in the above, we’re presently all about moving toward standardized processes. That applies to SDCAP, YOUtopia, and CoLab. Because a move toward standardization in itself involves lots of changes – big and small – we’re expecting (and experiencing) some growing pains. We understand it’s especially difficult for people to do things differently when they’ve been doing them their way for many years. Our hope is that by focusing on improved communications that address “the why” behind what’s happening, the changes will be a little bit more palatable.

Finally, for internal communications, we’re looking at ways to improve our own processes. In the Production Survey, one of the suggestions we received for YOUtopia was to use software like Loomio for decision making. The BOD is considering piloting it for ourselves, once we can get the luddites among us to commit. In a perfect world, the BOD will use it, love it, evangelize it, and then everyone else will want it, too. We also heard a rumor that other production teams have their own Slack channels. Just sayin’.

Quarterly Town Halls

Getting together in person is good. We’re going to aim for quarterly Town Hall Meetings at CoLab. The next one will be for the BOD Candidate Interviews/Advisory Elections, held on Sun, 1/13/19 from 11am – 2pm.

If you have topics/themes you want to cover in Q2 or beyond, send ‘em our way! Or let us know you want to host the Town Hall and we’ll support you in doing that (pro-tip: you don’t need the BOD to put on a Town Hall, but we’ll attend if you host it and help you however we can).

Final Thoughts

We warned you this was gonna be a long post! And you persevered and made it to the end!

We don’t usually report out after retreats or report anything at such length, but given the recent community requests for increased transparency, we thought it was important to do so. We realize you might disagree with decisions we’re making. We didn’t share all this information to convince you our way is right, but rather to pull back the curtain and provide more context and rationale for our decisions. And also to illuminate ways in which you can be part of decision-making moving forward. In much the same way we approach consensus within the BOD, we hope we’re increasing understanding, if not agreement.

Thanks for reading, and as always, feel free to get in touch via