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

SDCAP 2019 Collaborative Arts Grant Proposal


Do you have an idea or vision for large interactive art? Do you want to build it in San Diego and take it to Burning Man? If so, we have a grant opportunity just for you!

The SDCAP SD Regional Collaborative Arts Grant for community driven art destined for Burning Man is now open! A grant for matching funds up to $15,000 is available!

Proposals are now being accepted and the deadline for applications is Dec. 31st. We can’t wait to see what you want to create for so many to enjoy – happy arting!

For more information and to submit a proposal please follow this link.

Board Retreat 12/1/18

The SDCAP Board of Directors has a retreat coming up on 12/1/18.  Board Retreats are a standard shindig for non-profits, as they’re a way for Board members to bond while talking about the big picture for the organization. SDCAP has retreats 2-3 times per year for 1-2 full weekend days. No voting takes place at Board Retreats, which means we don’t make decisions about how to spend money. We use the time to hash out future-oriented ideas that don’t fall neatly under the business we conduct at regular Board Meetings.

Agenda topics for this upcoming retreat are related to YOUtopia and BOD governance. Agenda highlights include:

  • Possible changes to YOUtopia production model
  • Streamlining YOUtopia budget process
  • Implementing standardized process for YOUtopia Wrap-Up
  • Strategy to improve communications and collaboration between BOD, YOUtopia Production Team, and community at large

The biggest thing we’re covering is that first bullet point: whether to change the YOUtopia production model. This is something that’s been on our radar for a while and we’ve been reviewing alternate models used in other regions, with a focus on North American Regional Burns of a similar size to YOUtopia. We’re one of few Regional Burns that employs a Co-Producer Model; most comparable Regionals use small teams or committees to lead their events. Sometimes these teams overlap with the managing entity (be it a BOD or LLC), sometimes they don’t.

As part of our decision-making process, we’re asking the 2018 Production Team and anyone we can scrounge up from 2017 or prior to weigh in with their thoughts about whether we should try a different model in 2019. If you’ve volunteered for YOUtopia in the past as a Producer, Hub Lead, or Department Lead, we’d love to hear from you before 12/1/18. Please fill out this super-short survey to let us know what you think!

We’ll have a follow-up blog post in the week after the retreat so we can share outcomes.

Selection Process for the SDCAP Board of Directors

We’re about to begin selecting new members for the Board of Directors (BOD) to begin terms in March 2019. There’s been a lot of chatter about the BOD selection process, so we wanted to share some information about who we are, what we do, how we got here, and what to consider if you want to join us.

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. Current SDCAP projects include YOUtopia, CoLab, and year-round grantmaking.

SDCAP is the legal entity. In the eyes of the law and the IRS, YOUtopia and CoLab don’t exist. They aren’t even DBAs. At the end of the day, SDCAP is the responsible party.

What is the BOD?

The BOD’s function is fiduciary, legal, and operational oversight. The BOD doesn’t initiate much (more on that below), 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.

All Directors:

  • Serve a 3-year term, working year-round.
  • Attend 2 BOD meetings per month, from 7-9pm on the 2nd and 4th Weds at CoLab.
  • Attend 2-3 weekend retreats per year.
  • Serve sober, on-call shifts at YOUtopia.
  • Spend anywhere from 10 to 40+ hours per week working via email/phone/ad hoc meetings to conduct SDCAP business.
  • Are volunteers.
  • Are still eligible to apply for and receive grant funding from SDCAP, but must recuse themselves from voting on these matters and disclose any potential conflicts of interest on an annual and ongoing basis.

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.

What does the BOD make happen for the San Diego Burning Man community?

Not much. Due to the nature of non-profit governance, we’re primarily about protecting the assets of the 501(c)(3), so we can keep having YOUtopia, keep the lights on at CoLab (and hopefully expand it in the coming years), 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. We’re part of a system of checks and balances, and we’re the risk-averse side of the system. We’re more likely to prevent than to instigate or initiate. Again, not everyone’s cup o’ tea.

The BOD does select the YOUtopia Producers each year. And then we work with the Producers in developing, approving, and managing the YOUtopia budget – including oversight of the interdisciplinary Art Grants Committee. We also work with the Producers 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 soundscape, theme camp placement, volunteer SWAG, whether there’s enough grilled cheese in Commissary, 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 Producers 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 Producers and their Leads Team… until/unless something gets escalated to the BOD because of – you guessed it – financial or legal reasons.

That’s not to say the BOD doesn’t ever get involved in Production matters. One example is that in 2018 we got a lot of feedback from our volunteers that the balance is off when it comes to hours worked vs ticket pricing and perks. Volunteers are working too much and feel under-appreciated and under-supported. This is the sort of issue the BOD can and will be involved in addressing, in collaboration with the 2019 Production Team. It’s a delicate balance, though: while the BOD will be a part of setting the big picture for 2019, the “on the ground,” volunteer experience is still going to be largely dictated by the Leads Team. It’s sort of like how your day-to-day life at your job is primarily determined by your immediate manager, not the CEO.

BOD Selection Process History (aka “real fake elections”)

Per SDCAP’s bylaws and the State of CA, non-profit boards are responsible for selecting their Directors. From 2012 to 2017, in addition to BOD members recruiting community members for service, there were also “Advisory Elections,” in order to take the pulse of the community. These Advisory Elections were never definitive (SDCAP is not a democracy or a co-op – that’s not how non-profit governance works), and the BOD always retained the right to make its own selections. The results of the Advisory Elections did historically align with the BOD’s selections. However, by 2017 participation in the Advisory Elections had dwindled to approx. 85 people total (out of a local community of many thousands of people), which is in no way representative. At the same time, the BOD realized we needed people with very specific non-profit management skills in order to continue to grow up as an organization. So we scrapped the Advisory Elections, while keeping a Community Feedback Form (which had 22 respondents), so community members could still weigh in on the folks running for BOD seats. In 2017, the sitting BOD attempted to fill 3 open seats for 2018, reached consensus about 2 candidates, and left 1 seat vacant.

BOD 2018 Mid-Cycle Appointments

As mentioned previously, SDCAP is required to have between 7-15 members on the BOD. Due to the 1 open seat from the 2017 selection and then 3 mid-cycle resignations, we suddenly found ourselves down to only 5 members. As it is the BOD’s right and responsibility to get back up to 7+ members as quickly as possible, we decided to do some mid-cycle appointments. And as is required and typical every selection cycle, current BOD members recruited from the community, specifically targeting people we know have the skills we want. That’s how we got our 2 Interim Directors. And we are damn lucky to have them. The Interim Directors’ terms end in March 2019, and they are both eligible to run in this upcoming cycle to begin full terms immediately.

Because we’ve gotten some feedback that the process wasn’t transparent enough: In addition to the 2 people we recruited, we also posted the open BOD member position to multiple Facebook pages and sent an email including information about mid-cycle selections to over 8,000 people – everyone who purchased a YOUtopia ticket in 2015, 2016, and 2017. EIGHT THOUSAND PEOPLE. We received one additional application.

2019 Selection Process

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

  • Applications Open (December)
  • Applications will be ranked 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)
  • Community Advisory Election, with option to cast votes either at the Open Candidate Forum or online (January)
  • Community narrative feedback via confidential/anonymous online form (January)
  • Optional Facebook Q&A in the existing Candidate Forum Group (for those who use Facebook – not a requirement for BOD service)
  • BOD finalizes selections (February)
  • New Directors begin their terms 2nd Wednesday in March

Open BOD Seats in 2019

BOD Members serve 3 year terms, with 3 positions turning over at once each March. Because of an unfilled seat and 3 resignations in 2018, things got pretty funky. We’re staggering the terms for the new Directors coming on in 2019 in order to get things back on track.

Our goal is to get back up to 9 members. There are 6 seats available, as follows:

  • 1 seat for term ending in 2020
  • 2 seats for term ending in 2021
  • 3 seats for term ending in 2022

BOD Member Job Description

Applications are not yet live, but the Job Description is. When applications go live in December, we’ll send out an email and there will be posts on Facebook. 

Got Questions?

If you’re considering joining 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.

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

YOUtopia FAQs

You’ve got questions. We’ve got answers. Actually, the vast majority of answers to the most common questions (about everything from Art Grants to Theme Camps to Parking Passes to Volunteering) can be found on the YOUtopia website. If you haven’t read or searched the site yet, we highly recommend you do so – there’s a ton of information there! And if you have a specific-to-you question, you can always email and some very nice people will reply to you within a day or so.

But you’ve still got questions! Maybe they have to do with ticket pricing, macro-level changes to the event, and why it was better next year. That’s the purpose of this FAQ! So without further delay…

Question 1:

What is SDCAP and what the heck does it have to do with YOUtopia?

Answer 1:

SDCAP is the San Diego Collaborative Arts Project. We’re a 501(c)(3) organization, which means we’re a not-for-profit bound to all the corresponding legalities and red tape associated with being this type of organization in California. We’re 100% volunteer run and are the legal entity that encompasses YOUtopia and CoLab, as well as a year-round grant-making organization supporting collaborative art.

With respect to YOUtopia specifically, the SDCAP Board of Directors selects YOUtopia’s team of Co-Producers each year, and works collaboratively with those Producers in facilitating the event. The Producers have a ton of discretion in what the event looks like from year to year, and the SDCAP Board provides legal and fiscal oversight, grantmaking stewardship, insurance, etc. It can often be difficult to tease out who makes which decisions. Which is part of why we invite you to join us! Our Board meetings are open to the public and held at CoLab on the 2nd and 4th Weds of every month from 7-9pm. Oh, and hey! We’re recruiting new Board members right meow!

Question 2:

Why is there only one ticket tier price this year?

Answer 2:

In the past several years, T1 and T2 tickets sold out very quickly. In fact, in 2017, Tier 1 sold out in several hours. Because of this, there has been an outcry in the community to do away with the tiered ticketing system. There are arguments both for and against tiers, but the YOUtopia Producers this year decided to give the one price ticket a shot and eliminate the tiers. SDCAP supported the Producers, as we believe we should listen to all segments of the SDBM community. So the YOUtopia Producers and Board of SDCAP decided on one ticket price, just like Burning Man. A participant won’t get penalized because they were working at noon the day tickets launched and couldn’t purchase. But that also means a participant doesn’t get a cheaper price because they could.

Part of our thought process was that we would like to welcome new people into our community (just as we all were new once), and what if someone goes to their first burn, loves it and says, “Hey, let me check out that awesome San Diego regional Burning Man event someone told me about while we watched the sunrise in deep playa”? With the one-price structure, people don’t get “penalized” by paying more than someone who’s been going for years, while receiving exactly the same experience as someone who paid less. That’s not how our community should work. In effect, the people who bought the later tiers were subsidizing the lower tiers. They get EXACTLY the same festival experience, but pay more. Newbie or vet, we are all equal in our community. There shouldn’t be an extra charge to join our family. We consider this Radical Inclusion and it’s part of our thought process when we agreed to pilot a one-price system.

Question 3:

Why did ticket prices go up?

Answer 3:

Unfortunately, inflation is real. Bummer, huh?! Among other items, the costs of renting the campground, security, medical and fire safety have all increased. We’ve worked hard to keep YOUtopia’s budget in check to maximize the event while being financially responsible and keeping the event and participants safe.

This year, the YOUtopia Producers and the SDCAP Board elected to place pricing in the middle of last year’s tiered pricing structure. In 2017, the three general admission tiers were $120, $155 and $180. The average ticket price for 2017 was $154, which is only $11 less than this year’s price of $165. And, as ticket prices go up most years, a direct comparison to last year’s tier prices isn’t exactly fair. Had we elected to continue using the tiered system, the tiers would have had to gone up as well.

To be specific, the costs of tickets this year compared to last year are:

2018 Single Tier Pricing

$165 Ticket Price

$11.74 (Eventbrite Service Fee)

$12.50 Parking (assuming two people per car)

$189.24 Total

2017 Averages

$154.14 Average Ticket Price

$11.39 (Eventbrite Service Fee)

$7.50 Parking (assuming two people per car)

$173.03 Total


Difference: $16.21, which is an 9.4% increase in the average general admission tickets.

Question 4:

Why were artists tickets removed?

Answer 4:

There was a tremendous amount of discussion around this subject and it got rather contentious at times. In the end, the outcome was that the YOUtopia Producers and the SDCAP Board agreed that what is granted is the art, not the artist. In addition, as only 1 artist ticket was available per granted art piece in 2017, we believed the overall impact would not be that large, as the number of artists tickets were very low in 2017 (approximately 120 tickets).

Question 5:

Why were build tickets removed?

Answer 5:

YOUtopia has not had a “build team” ticket in years. As such, we’re not sure where this misconception comes from.

That said, this year we increased the number of Low Income Program tickets partly to help counterbalance the removal of the artists tickets. The thought process was that if one cannot afford a regular general admission ticket, we still want you to be a part of the magic. So, we really encourage you to pursue the Low Income Ticket Program. The deadline to apply is midnight, September 14, 2018.

Question 6:

How much money does SDCAP make from YOUtopia?

Answer 6:

Last year YOUtopia had $466,182 in ticket sales and expenses in the amount of $336,621. So, in 2017 YOUtopia netted income of $129,561.

For YOUtopia 2018, a 100% sell-out would mean $554,385 in revenue. However, if past history is any indication, it is extremely unlikely YOUtopia 2018 will sell out. YOUtopia 2017 came close, but did not sell out. Nor did YOUtopia sell out in 2016. As such, SDCAP is using projections of a 90% sell out of general admission tickets to base the budget numbers on, which would net $498,947 in revenue. Currently, the revised budget expenses for 2018 are projected to be $392,160, which will provide a net income of $106,787. This is a 17.6% decrease in income from YOUtopia 2017. For reference, please see the YOUtopia 2018 budget here.

Question 7:

How does SDCAP use the proceeds from YOUtopia?

Answer 7:

YOUtopia proceeds fund the year-round use of COLAB, art grants, new and replacement tools at COLAB, producing next year’s YOUtopia, and general overhead (accounting, legal, utilities, training, insurance, office supplies, stamps, blah, blah, blah).

The complete FY 2018 SDCAP budget can be found at: FY 18 Budget

The FY 2019 budget will be on the website soon. We are in the process of revising it due to a recent YOUtopia budget update.

Also to note, SDCAP is a 501(c)(3) ‘not for profit’ entity, so we are not trying to make a profit and are legally prohibited from being a profit-based entity. We are committed to supporting local community art through year round grants, CoLab and YOUtopia. In addition to supporting CoLab and YOUtopia, we granted over $27,000 for art in fiscal year 2018.

Question 8:

What is the fire suppression unit that was purchased for YOUtopia this year?

Answer 8:

Under the Principle of Civic Responsibility, the Board and Production Team (as an “event organizer”) is specifically charged with assuming responsibility for public welfare. Ensuring reasonable standards of public safety at YOUtopia may be the single greatest responsibility we have and we take it seriously. We asses major public safety risks and create and implement risk mitigation plans accordingly.

Fire is the number one public safety risk at YOUtopia and it represents a real and present danger to the lives of all 3500 participants. YOUtopia is held in a very high wildfire-risk area during the peak of wildfire season. Our dense population, equipment (generators, RVs, heaters, cook stoves etc.) and activities (smoking, fire spinning, fire art, cooking etc.) dramatically increase the already high risk of fire. Additionally, considering the narrow roads and the fact that most of our population is camped at quite some distance from their vehicles, rapid evacuation from the area is a serious challenge.

This is not new information and we have worked hard for years to reduce our fire risk through mitigation (e.g. brush clearing and implementation and enforcement of safe use policies for all heat sources and generators) but the bottom line is there is nothing we can do to eliminate this risk and the average response time for the fire department to the campground is 12 minutes. We need to be prepared to immediately contain and control a fire on the mountain.

Last year a senior member of the Burning Man Emergency Services department (who was mentoring one of our Safety Hub Leads) performed an event safety audit at YOUtopia. In general we received good marks in most areas, but it was their strong recommendation that we hire or acquire a type 6 fire engine (Brush truck) to stage on site throughout the event. In their words “RV’s and generators have proven to be the source of a number of fires, being able to knock them down in the first few minutes rather than hitting them with water cans and waiting for a 12 minute FD response could be the difference between a burned out RV and a burned out valley. It only takes one.”

After extensive research we determined that it was materially less expensive for us to acquire the resource and form the team with the skills to use it than it would be to hire one and a team even this year. Moreover, now the unit is available to us year after year and we’ll be able to share it with other local events facing the same risk.

Note: per the published YOUtopia Budget, we allocated $20k for this expense but it is currently tracking closer to $15k, and the final expense will be reflected in the actuals once the event is over.

Get in Touch!

If you have additional questions pertaining to CoLab, YOUtopia (or anything else) we want to hear from you! Please come to SDCAP Board meetings which are held on the 2nd and 4th Wednesday of every month at 7pm @ CoLab. Note, however, due to Burning Man, the August 22, 2018 meeting is cancelled so the next meeting will be on September 12, 2018. You are also welcome to email your questions anytime to We’ll answer as soon as we can, and please be patient. We are all busy working on art, preparing for Burning Man, and pouring our souls into YOUtopia.