Photo credit: Leslie the Pony Lion and Amy. Photo © Sara Muskulus
Community Announcement re. Art, Healing, and Next Steps
Posted – March 14, 2019
The FirePony Creative Society board of directors has been discussing how to respond to the reports submitted after Constellation 2018 about a particular piece of art displayed at the event, as well as the participant behind the piece. Participants reported that they found the art cruel and offensive, and believed that the participant was intentionally seeking to harm others by displaying it.
In mid-February, 2019, we released our Statement of Intent regarding the FPCS Art Policy, which builds on the FPCS Code of Conduct. This Statement of Intent was not a final decision regarding the art piece or participant in question from Constellation 2018. Rather, it was an attempt to develop a policy which enables us to respond to future art on a case-by-case basis, working together as a community to provide an opportunity for participants to engage in whatever dialogue they’re striving to have, without violating the Code of Conduct or putting the safety of other participants at risk.
On February 25, 2019, after a number of discussions, the FirePony Creative Society board of directors met to vote on a series of proposals to address a course of action for the participant in question, and the FPCS community as a whole.
While decisions made in response to complaints submitted to the FPCS Conduct Team are historically not made public, we have made an exception in this case given the widespread community awareness of this particular incident. We ask you to please read the following in full.
Decision #1: The participant in question has been banned from all FirePony Creative Society events for a minimum of one year, and until further notice, but will be offered a path to appeal by participating in a FPCS-organized restorative justice session (described in Decision #2 below).
The reasons for this ban are as follows:
- Despite knowing of the psychological harm caused by his art and behavior, the participant continued return to events, working to display his art in an increasingly central and visible locations; this led to the feeling of the participant intentionally perpetuating harm and ultimately crossing the line into harassment and reflecting an intent to intimidate.
- Failure of the participant to respect the principle of “Decommodification” by actively using Burning Man and Regional events to market his art for sale.
- Creating an imbalance/breakage for the 10 Principles – The FPCS Board feels it is important to weigh the ten principles, including that of Radical Self-expression” with that of “Civic Responsibility” and “Communal Effort.” When weighing these we ask at what point is community weakened rather than strengthened? We agree with Caveat (member of Burning Man Project’s Philosophical Center) that “Civic Responsibility and Communal Effort can bend a great deal for acts of Radical Self-Expression, but they cannot break, they cannot be eliminated.”
- Direct or indirect involvement with the display of white nationalistic symbols and rhetoric at FPCS events.
Decision #2: FPCS will offer to host a restorative justice session, welcoming the participant in question and members of the community whom he has personally hurt through his words, actions, or art in order to create a space for expression, healing, and dialogue for all involved. This session would be required for the artist to attend should he want to return to any FPCS events in the future. Members of the FPCS board have been working with trained restorative justice facilitators to establish guidelines for this effort.
If you or someone you know have been personally hurt through the the artist’s works, actions, or art, please contact us at email@example.com and we will be in touch about next steps.
Decision #3: FirePony Creative Society will host a series of conversations around race relations as they pertain to the regional FPCS and Burning Man community. Among the goals of these sessions is to move the difficult topic of race relations off of Facebook and into a face-to-face series of facilitated conversations within the Community.
This series of community conversations will be distinct from the restorative justice mentioned above.
FPCS Board will invite members of the community to join a planning team to bring this series of community conversations to life. If you would like to be considered to join this planning team, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In stating the above, we want to also remind everyone that we are seeking to create an art policy that involves the community in a more grassroots, sustainable solution. We do not believe a policy of top-down censorship is the answer, as we know that artists will always push the envelope, testing the boundaries of each new rule. As such, we are not banning any particular piece as a stand-alone piece. Rather, by stating our intention behind this art policy, we are asking the community to step in as a more active participant by helping to review submissions and actively manage art at FPCS events. We are asking members of the community to become art team members for each event, and take on the difficult challenge of reviewing and managing art on site, working alongside rangers, event leads, and perhaps even sanctuary volunteers to address and respond to instances where art may potentially offend or harm participants, whether physically, emotionally, or psychologically.
We are asking for members of the community to review complaints on a case-by-case basis, engage with artists, and help determine whether an artist’s behavior (when combined with their art) ultimately violates the Code of Conduct.
Based on communications we have received, we understand that some individuals continue to misinterpret the policy. To clarify, we have no intention to create a “specific section of the event” to cater specifically to controversial art. As reiterated above, responses to individual pieces and artists will be made on a case-by-case basis, and may include, among other solutions, concealing art and giving it context, much like the community conceals adult-themed camp activities, in order to ensure that those who choose to engage are doing so intentionally. Responses to those instances where an artist’s behavior (when combined with their art) ultimately violates the Code of Conduct, may include ejection from the event or a suspension from participation in one or more future FirePony Creative Society-sponsored events (such as Playa del Fuego and Constellation). Other actions, such as a warning or a removal from volunteering in a safety-sensitive volunteer position, are also possible.
Finally we would like to shout out to those in the community who have understood the complexity of this conversation, and who have reached out to offer their support. Thanks to all who have shown their patience and understanding as we have taken the time to reflect and be thoughtful about our decision. We understand that the wait was hard, and we are sorry that it was an emotional roller coaster for so many. Please know that through it all… we were listening to you all. We heard you. We thought it was important to not be reactive. We wanted to develop a longer term solution and a clear path for the community to help us all address difficult situations and subjects such as these by promoting community involvement, inclusive and healthy dialogue, and education for long-term growth and healing for the community. Through our actions, we hope that we have responded not with a simple short-term solution, but rather a course of action that can help steer our community toward deeper connection and more positive impact.
We would also like to use this opportunity to apologize for the unintentional deletion of participants’ posts on Facebook during earlier heated exchanges. The board is ultimately made up of humans who share the same very raw emotions as everyone else. It was not an official board decision to censor posts during the heated exchange, and we will work to ensure that any future instances in which a post is removed is done so under clear and transparent guidelines.
We’d especially like to acknowledge Caveat from Burning Man for recently sharing a series of posts on the Burning Man Journal which we feel captures many of the nuances of this difficult conversation. We invite you to read that series here: https://journal.burningman.org/tag/too-offensive-series/
FPCS Board of Directors