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Take a look inside this 184-foot superyacht that pays homage to Burning Man with its bold and trippy interior

elon musk yacht burning man

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Boat of the Week: This Sleek 184-Foot Superyacht Is an Otherworldly Homage to Burning Man

"galaxy" has a wild, alternate-universe interior that rewrites the design rules for superyachts. part psychedelic, part disney, all fun., rachel ingram, rachel ingram's most recent stories.

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The 184-foot Benetti Galaxy has one of the wildest interiors ever on any superyacht

The worlds of the desert festival, Burning Man, and superyachting may not seem like a natural fit, but the owners and designers of 184-foot Galaxy successfully made those worlds collide—and, in the process, showed how yacht design can be a lot more creative, and fast.

The five-month refit of Galaxy —a 2005 Benetti —was not only unusually speedy for a superyacht, but signals the emergence of a new kind of yachting, a clean-slate design that gave the owners the fantasyland interior that they wanted. Typically, most interior refits involve only cosmetic changes, and from the exterior, Galaxy looks almost painfully cookie-cutter. But inside, the bold, bespoke look may inspire others to follow their wildest dreams, rather than staying safe with a conventional design.

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Njord by Bergman Design House created the eclectic interior. The refit was done by Monaco Marine and GM Group at the La Ciotat yard in France. “ Galaxy isn’t just another white superyacht on the French Riviera,” says Sarah Colbon, co-founder of the London-based design firm. “The yacht is its own out-of-world destination that touches all your senses and excites and embraces you with its energy.”

The 184-foot Benetti Galaxy has one of the wildest interiors ever on any superyacht

The main salon is a moody fantasyland that can double as a nightclub, art gallery and social hall.  Courtesy Njord by Bergman

Burning Man is an annual gathering that takes place in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. It’s a mix of art, music and free expression that embraces individual creativity, no matter what that looks like. And it can look pretty wild. At the end of the festival is the ritual burning of “The Man,” a tall effigy made of wood. Galaxy ‘s owners, a leading American video-games developer and his partner, are frequent attendees. They were inspired by the festival and a love of entertaining, says Colbon, to create an “alternate universe.”

The expansive main deck has been transformed into a giant “floating private member’s club,” with bespoke décor and alternatively moody and brightly colored artwork. “The Thinker” by contemporary artist Joseph Klibansky reimagines Rodin’s classic sculpture as an astronaut, and there are also paintings by Camille Hannah and wall coverings by digital artist Dylan Cole, known for Disney’s Avatar and Maleficent .

The wallpaper is Cole’s first static project. “He’s never done this before, but he appreciated the concept of Galaxy and loved the sound of the owners,” says Colbon. “So he agreed to create the owners’ own Avatar world onboard.” If you look closely, you’ll spot secret creatures and “ET” aliens hidden in the otherworldly scenes that Cole created.

The 184-foot Benetti Galaxy has one of the wildest interiors ever on any superyacht

The upper deck is all about calmness and serenity. Even the floors are designed to stimulate feel-good endorphins.  Courtesy Njord by Bergman

While the main deck is a nightclub that would look right at home on some alien world, the upper deck is designed for the opposite effect. It features a lounge and dining space for 12 guests which is “super calm,” according to the designer.

“What’s wonderful about Galaxy is you can switch it on and off,” says Colbon. “You can go from the ultimate club space with RGB lighting, party vibes and a DJ stand, to the serene upper deck where you can connect with your senses.”

When they’re done for the day, guests can retire to suites which have been named and styled after other planets. “We’ve designed Venus and Saturn with beautiful light pearls and golds, while Mars has these striking earthy red tones,” says Colbon. “Rather than being gimmicky, we’ve respected the colors and sensibilities of the planets.”

The 184-foot Benetti Galaxy has one of the wildest interiors ever on any superyacht

The digital-art ceiling and mural behind the bed by Dylan Cole (one of the artists on the Disney movie “Avatar”) re-create the owners’ star signs and their favorite constellation.  Courtesy Njord by Bergman

The master suite is even more bespoke: The bed’s headboard is designed with a metal bronze effect with tiny LED lights that create a star-gazing platform. The owners’ star signs also come through as the brighter lights, while their friends’ star signs are dimmer lights. On the ceiling is the owners’ favorite constellation.

The centerpieces of the yacht are the stairwell and elevator areas, hand-painted with an ombre, galaxy-toned effect.

Galaxy is filled with special features, including adjustable RGB lighting and smart materials like a specially engineered flooring. Colbon says that’s a world first for a superyacht. “The tight ripple effect stimulates the nerve endings on your feet when you walk on it and triggers endorphins to make you super relaxed,” she says. “It also looks like the ocean with tiny waves crashing on top of each other.”

The 184-foot Benetti Galaxy has one of the wildest interiors ever on any superyacht

Bespoke lounges, tables and sculptures are part of Galaxy ‘s unique vibe.  Courtesy Njord by Bergman

The crew thought it was crazy to use this surface as flooring, says Colbon. “But they understand now.”

The five-month turnaround also seemed like a stretch, especially since it included a full exterior paint job, new name plates and a spa. And then there was the fantastical interior.

“This yacht shows how design can be done differently in every way,” says Colbon. “It ranges from a new type of owner to the ways that collaborations between the designers and yard can actually change the whole refit process. I think Galaxy is going to really shine.”

The 184-foot Benetti Galaxy has one of the wildest interiors ever on any superyacht

“The Thinker,” a modern homage to Rodin’s classic sculpture, is one of many bespoke pieces aboard Galaxy.   Courtesy Njord by Bergman

Galaxy will be delivered to its owners in mid-March.

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Burning man 2022: inside the outrageous mutant vehicles of the future.

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The Monaco is a 40-foot ship with three-masts with working sails. A mini replica of the USS Raleigh ... [+] captured by the British during the American Revolution. SF Bay Area artist Greg Barron constructed the ship built over a 1983 GM Monaco.

The excitement is growing for an estimated 80,000 people to reunite at Burning Man this month in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada. The "temporary metropolis dedicated to community, art, self-expression, and self-reliance" takes place from August 28 through September 5 and is the first official gathering since the pandemic started.

This year's theme is Waking Dreams , officially described as a chance to explore the transformative power of dreams, both literal and figurative, and celebrate the dreamers who channel this potent energy in eye-opening, often surrealistic, sometimes life-changing ways. According to the organizers of Burning Man, “After a long hazy blur of pandemic insomnia, unanchored in time and adrift between sleeping and waking, it's time to start imagining the future again."

Aerial view of Black Rock City / Burning Man

One of the most outrageous and entertaining displays of futuristic thinking is the spectacular arrival of Mutant Vehicles and Art Cars, created and built by some of the world's most talented designers and artists. Since vehicles are banned in Black Rock City, an approved amount of mutant vehicles are allowed on the playa if they are registered with Burning Man's Department of Mutant Vehicles.

Burning Man has stringent regulations for Mutant Vehicles. According to their website, "A Mutant Vehicle is a unique, motorized creation that either shows little or no resemblance to their original form or to any standard street vehicle or is out of context from its normal setting (a pirate ship or space ship on the desert, for example). Mutant Vehicles can be built from scratch or are radically, stunningly, and safely modified from their base vehicle." This year 829 applications were received, an enormous upswing from previous years.

In celebrating a return to Burning Man glory, I spoke with dozens of vehicle designers and photographers about their inspiration and long experience with the yearly gathering. Here are some of the greatest art cars past and present and why they matter.

The Rhino Redemption built by Petaluma artist Kevin Clark around the chassis a 1974 Chevy pickup. ... [+] The art car made its first appearance at Burning Man in 2014. It has since been outfitted with startling new flame effects that cast big shadows even in broad daylight. From the Burning Man series by photographer Scott London (www.scottlondon.com)

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Best covid travel insurance plans of october 2022, photographer scott london.

Photographer Scott London has been a veteran of Burning Man, having photographed countless vehicles and installations throughout the years; nothing surprises him from a UFO, a rhino, or even a fire-breathing dragon.

Scott tells me, “After sitting out for a couple of years because of the pandemic, there's a lot of pent-up creative energy in the Burning Man community. Many of us are itchy and impatient to return to the desert. This is reflected in a large number of new art projects in the works, including many mutant vehicles that will debut at Burning Man 2022.”

The Shark Car from the Burning Man series by photographer Scott London (www.scottlondon.com)

"Not every car qualifies as a bona fide artwork, but many do," he adds. "The works don't come together overnight, and they tend to be labors of love that require dedicated teams, big warehouses, and sophisticated equipment to build. One art car project I'm especially excited about is the Y Knot Saloon created by Sean Orlando and his team at Engineered Artworks. It's a saloon on wheels meant to evoke the 19th-century wild west. Stepping into it will be like slipping through a wormhole and finding yourself suddenly in 1895. But with a Burning Man twist, of course."

London is currently working on an updated and expanded edition of the book "Burning Man: Art on Fire" (a collaboration with Jennifer Raiser and Sidney Erthal), to be published by Quarto next summer.

Two burners with a colorful art car stop to admire "Totem of Confessions," a sculpture by Bay Area ... [+] installation artist Michael Garlington. From the Burning Man series by photographer Scott London (www.scottlondon.com)

Icarus is an interstellar dance party spaceship built by artist and engineer Evan Kushin. It was ... [+] constructed over a U.S. Air Force Emerson Electric K cargo-loader with a hydraulic lift that can rise 14 feet in the air and carry up to 100 people. From the Burning Man series by photographer Scott London (www.scottlondon.com)

Quickdraw and Jazzy pose in front of their jewel box art car "Epiffany & Co." at Burning Man 2017. ... [+] From the Burning Man series by photographer Scott London (www.scottlondon.com)

Photographer Alexandra Lier

Born in Frankfurt, Alexandra Lier is an award-winning artist working across various media. Over the last decade, she built a substantial reputation in fine art photography. Her dramatic and cinematic photos have been featured in three books she has published: "The World's Fastest Place," and "Mutant Vehicles." Alexandra is working on a second book about Mutant Vehicles. Till then, you can order Mutant Vehicles - Art on Wheels at Burning Man here.

I spoke with Alexandra about her history with Burning Man and her favorite memories. "I've been to Burning Man for years,” she said. I started thinking about Burning Man, when a friend of mine went in 1999, which was at that time a small Burning Man Festival. He showed me photos. As a gearhead, I was immediately fascinated by what the artists build. I had never seen anything like it, so I decided I wanted to go.

The Pilot Fish by Dr Harry Adelson

"I think this year will be special," she adds. "It hasn't taken place for two years now, and all the artists and mutant vehicle builders are full of energy and want to bring their new or old works. I am really looking forward to it. For me, Burning Man is the biggest outdoor art festival in the world, and I celebrate that. I think the atmosphere will be special after such a long time. I'm also looking forward to seeing my friends again."

And what is her favorite mutant memory? "Every mutant vehicle has a story, and if you know it, every vehicle is wonderful. I think the Monaco is terrific. It's a boat that a lot of people can drive, and the weird thing is that Greg made it so that you can actually sail the boat. Also incredible in the past has been Pulpo Mecanico, a giant octopus that spits fire to the beat of the music. It consists of many individual parts from the junkyard or were collected."

The Prodigal Swan build by Bree Hoffman and team

Valyrian Steel, by Henry Chang and team

The Smoover giant vacuum cleaner art car built by Gary Silverston and team

"Mutant Vehicles: Art on Wheels at Burning Man" book for sale

Creative Director Keith London (Y Knot Saloon)

Y Knot Saloon is owned by JP Conte, Chairman and Managing Director of SF based Genstar Capital and built by Keith London and Sean Orlando.

Keith London tells me “JP had the idea of financing the creation of an Art Car for Burning Man a few years ago and asked me to be the Creative Director for the project. We discussed the possibilities… dragon, paddle wheeler, etc, but none of them resonated. I asked him to think about it, to look for something that was personally meaningful. Two days later he came up with the idea of a turn of the century old west saloon.”

Y Knot Saloon

“They say that the dream proceeds the deed, and in this case, JPs dream was the Y-Knot Saloon, but this dream could not have been realized without Sean Orlando’s and Dave Keene’s immensely talented crew,” he added. “These artists and builders are the very best in the business. They truly love what they do, and clearly it shows in the level of workmanship and complexity of the art cars and art projects that they create.”

JP Conte says “I remember first going to Burning Man when people did everything out of love. Everyone was bringing their heart and soul out there. And when you were there, you connected with people and saw incredible people doing amazing things, it kind of renewed my hope in people.”

Interior Y Knot Saloon

“I'm supporting not only my own project, but several other projects at Burning Man” he adds. “I think art is one of the few things that separates humanity from the animal kingdom. It's incumbent on people with means to help fund things they are passionate about. And art is one of the things I'm truly passionate about.”

JP Conte explained his inspiration and design of his western themed vehicle, “It’s about being optimistic about the future and new beginnings” he said. “For me the west always conjured up images of optimism, adventure and new beginnings. We built during the pandemic and we made it more complex by adding hydraulics so we could reduce the deployment costs. Then we added flamethrowers, and all sorts of features. When you see this up close, it's a really authentic western saloon with tin ceilings, wallpaper and furniture from the 1800s. We've got old photos of my own ancestors and their connection to the west and it's very personal. We are also building the Y Knot Saloon Camp. It's like an 1800’s western city with a water tank that will look over the city.”

Elektra built for Burning Man 2019 in Oakland, CA. by lead artist: Sean Orlando

Designer Sean Orlando (Elektra Dragon)

“The goal with Elektra was to push the envelope of what was possible and use all resources available to produce a massive, spectacularly-illuminated fire-breathing creature poised to pounce or take flight,” says Sean. “We wanted to push the envelope of what was possible in scale and movement, to make something dynamic and lifelike.”

“I am an immersive artist who works in monumental dimensions, so I’m always seeking to use engineering and technology to create rich, vibrant sculptural environments for people to explore,” he adds. “In the case of Elektra, creating this dream involved designing and producing flexible, UV-resistant polycarbonate scales with embedded LEDs as well as a 3D mapping system for lighting design, engineering pneumatics for fully extendable and retractable wings, and integrating a state-of-the-art sound system as well as fire effects. These components are attached to or encased within a skeletal structure, with an airline tow tractor as the base vehicle; the final piece involved the collaboration of hundreds of artists, engineers, and technologists and weighs over 14 tons with the capability to transport 20 people on the playa.”

The Nautilus (2011) is an artistic experiment and collaborative creation of Christopher Bently, Sean ... [+] Orlando and the Five Ton Crane Arts Group. It is an immersive and interactive sculptural interpretation of the Nautilus submarine from Jules Vernes "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea."

“I attended Burning Man for the first time in 2002, and it changed my life,” said Sean. “I know this has become a cliche about Burning Man, but my trajectory as an artist has been shaped by the idea of working intensely with creative communities in the implementation of monumental, immersive, and interactive sculpture.”

“Working with a group of like-minded artists and engineers who would eventually become known as the Five Ton Crane artist collective,” he continued, “I brought my first project to Burning Man in 2007– Steampunk Treehouse . I have produced large-scale works on the playa approximately every other year since 2007, both grant-funded pieces in collaboration with Five Ton Crane and works I made in consultation with private clients. This includes The Nautilus ( 2012), which is currently in the collection of the Bently Foundation.”

Metaphoenix art car will debut 2022 Burning Man

Designers Kevin Bracken & Marie Poliak (Metaphoenix)

Metaverse Arts is a community of builders and makers based in Las Vegas and Toronto. The art car project is led by husband and wife designers Marie Poliak & Kevin Bracken. The collective has built two previous cars: The Prodigal Swan , now permanently installed in downtown Las Vegas, and the Heavy Meta dragon in Toronto. Their newest piece, Metaphoenix , features seven massive torches that become vertical flame jets, in addition to 10-foot constantly-burning flame knives on each wing. Metaverse Arts also produces five annual fundraising events for its art and teaches the skills of metalwork and flame effects to an ever-growing community of builders, makers, and electronic music enthusiasts.

Long-time burners Kevin Bracken and Marie Poliak tell me, "To us, the past two years have been like a smoky nightmare filled with the burning down of many things we hold dear. We were all trapped in the purposelessness that followed pandemic restrictions pausing nightlife, entertainment, and the arts. The Metaphoenix represents a rebirth following the fires that took many of our livelihoods and cultural institutions, and waking up to create a new world of our dreams, where the arts come back stronger than ever."

Heavy Meta Dragon

"Seeking a pathway forward, we decided once again to pick up the welding torches and angle grinders and make something bigger, brighter, badder, and louder than anything we have ever made before," he continues. "To rise from the ashes, we will build the phoenix. As the world opens up and humanity rises from its pandemic slumber, the phoenix will ignite and become aloft in many people's lives."

"The build is just the start of something new: a large community that centers on a workshop, a space for rapid learning and experimentation. The workshop where we built the dragon became the home of two more massive mutant vehicles: Tarna the Jackalope and The Ark Car , and a half dozen projects inspired by the shop's pressure cooker/incubator environment. Our mission is to make lives greater through art, music, and fire."

The mechanical octopus known as “El Pulpo Mecanico” has long been a crowd favorite at Burning Man. ... [+] It was built entirely from reclaimed scrap metal over the chassis of a 1973 Ford 250. Artist Duane Flatmo describes it as an art-installation on wheels. He is also known for his other mutant vehicles, including “Crustacean Wagon,” “Tin Pan Dragon Wagon,” and the “Armored Carp.” From the Burning Man series by photographer Scott London (www.scottlondon.com)

Designer Duane Flatmo (El Pulpo Mecanico)

Eureka-based graphic artist and designer Duane Flatmo created one of the most beloved mutant cars ever at Burning Man, the enormous Octopus called “El Pulpo Mecanico.”

Originally inspired to build things with a lot of movement, Duane made a small octopus prototype while in Mexico. Along with his friend Jerry Kunkel who masterminded the electrical systems and flame effects, the result soon became a two-story kinetic scrap-metal octopus that shoots bolts of fire 25 feet into the air. The eyeballs bulge out, and it waves its flamed tentacles.

This year Duane will unveil a massive new surprise currently under wraps but sure to thrill everyone. Stay tuned for more!

Jim Dobson

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Burning Man 2023: 5 People on Attending (and Escaping) This Year’s Festival Fiasco

By Emma Specter

Attendees walk through a muddy desert plain

Set in the midst of Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, Burning Man has always represented a test of will—not to mention survival—for its intrepid attendees, but 2023’s iteration of the weeklong arts and music festival was on a whole different level. Heavy rain turned much of Black Rock City into a muddy, slippery, obstacle-course-esque nightmare, with nearly all events being canceled on Friday, September 1 and festivalgoers forced to find their way home (or linger in the mud) as routes into and out of the area were shut down.

It’s easy to laugh at the Elon Musk–type tech bros who likely paid thousands for their Burning Man tickets only to be trapped in a veritable mudslide, but many—if not most—of this year’s attendees weren’t famous at all (with the glaring exception of Chris Rock and Diplo , who hitchhiked the hell out of there in what seems destined to become the plot of a big-budget buddy comedy) and still managed to have a great time. This week, Vogue spoke to five Burning Man attendees about the good, the bad, the ugly, and the muddy of this year’s festival.

Terrence Russell, three-time Burning Man attendee

I’m regularly camping and driving through the Mojave Desert, so most of my gear was adequately prepped for both heat and flooding. My tent was made to repel dust and water, my shoes were warm and waterproof, I packed plenty of food and water, and even though I honored the road closures, I happen to drive a beast of an off-roading Jeep (named BamBam). Aside from limiting the ability to explore the city—and creating a muddy mess outside my tent—the weather didn’t impact my quality of life too much.

The process of leaving the city—known as the exodus in the Burner community—wasn’t that complicated either. By Sunday afternoon, all the members of my camp had broken the driving ban and fled. Some got stuck mere blocks away in their RVs, others got lucky and wrote breathless accounts of their escape . Since I’d decided to honor the driving ban, this made me a playa orphan, which meant I needed to find a new camp to wait out the last bit of rain. A neighboring camp called The Bandlands took me in and let me store my gear until the roads opened Monday afternoon. It only takes a few hours of sunshine for the playa to become drivable, so there were virtually no driving hazards once I hit the road Monday evening. The initial lines to exit the city were long—but also very orderly. I was lucky enough to exit from a section of the city that wasn’t too bogged down by stranded RVs, so once I made it to the main exit line, everything was pretty straightforward. In total, my exodus took roughly six hours. There were plenty of highlights along the way; folks in line were relaxed, chatty, and sharing both stories and food. A lot of the city’s anxieties had already fled with the panicked RVs the day before. We even got to see the Man burn in all his pyrotechnic glory from our place in line. All in all: 10/10, would happily burn again.

Jordan Hellman, two-time Burning Man attendee

We realized that things were going in a different direction after we sought refuge from the rain in a bar across the city from where we were staying. At first, it was fun and an adventure. After about five hours of rain, my partner and I had to make a plan because it was getting dark and the temperature was dropping. The original plan of getting drunk and waiting it out was not going to work. We decided to ditch our bikes and make the long trek to the other side of the city, across the playa, with me in socks and my boyfriend barefoot. Shoes were an absolutely no-go, as they collect the mud and make it impossible to move. It was pretty intimidating at first, but once we got out there, it was less daunting and we made the best of the experience. It took about an hour and a half.

The level of distress that people outside of Burning Man seem to think we were in was just not accurate. We would wake up and walk around in the mud with socks or plastic bags and find pancakes and bacon or a Bloody Mary and meet new friends who were willing to help if we had any needs. My partner is a mailman at Black Rock City, and we even delivered a little bit of mail through the storm. To attend an event like this in the first place, you have to have a certain level of self-reliance, and this only showed us what we were capable of dealing with. We weren’t stranded, more just stuck at Burning Man for longer than we wanted or expected to be. It could have been so much worse.

Shahzad Ahsan, four-time Burning Man attendee

We build this incredibly special city on Mother Earth’s terms. This [year had] the most pleasant weather until the playa became sticky modeling clay. My camp, Las Brujas (the Witches), immediately began a smart rationing system and rallied the camp to clearly lay out the situation and keep spirits up. We ensured the hundred of us would have enough food, water, and fuel to last until Thursday, even though we expected to leave by Tuesday. Anyone who had space in a dry tent gave space to those whose tents flooded. Everyone then pitched in to break down camp early and keep us able to leave as soon as we could.

Typically Saturday night is when we burn the Man. It’s a 70,000-person party. Instead, we all stayed in our camps and had 7,000 small parties. And honestly? I preferred it! We have a giant axolotl-shaped art car that breathes fire and a giant healing dome we filled with music. My friend Jake played Motown and R&B, my friends Amy and Andy played an acoustic set, and my friend Lydia did a dance on a stripper pole shaped like a toothbrush. I had made 30 silk caftans for my camp, and people danced in them joyfully. Our community got stronger. Burning Man is about individual and communal resilience and joy. I’ll be back again.

Alina Greenberg, three-time Burning Man attendee

When the campers started spreading news of possible rain and thunder, I immediately knew things were about to get somewhat messy and turn into a muddy apocalyptic experience. The rain eliminated the possibility of returning home two days early to see my four kids. It also eliminated the option of using my e-bike, cruising around the playa of Black Rock Desert, and exploring different camps and art cars, which are mutant vehicles that are often turned into a DJ stage.

I quickly devised a plan to save my Burning Man experience by converting my combat boots into Balenciaga-esque garbage-bag booties held together with neon duct tape; they were not only practical but fashionable. My new booties allowed me to venture out, explore the neighboring camps, and support my DJ friend Julya Karma at a record nine-hour set at the Tierra Bomba camp. The moment we all surrendered to the mud burn, we reminded ourselves to keep our heads up, avoiding the mess surrounding our feet. We continued to connect, dance, laugh, and fist pump the night away with what turned out to be an epic and unforgettable burn. Our camp had visitors stranded from neighboring camps for more than 12 hours; we offered them a warm meal and a comfortable couch to nap on as they refueled. I bonded with my fellow campers more, deepened my trust in myself and my community, and leaned into the magical unknowns that exist each year at Burning Man.

Jordan Huelskamp, six-time Burning Man attendee

I want to take a second to try to accurately describe the mud. The playa dust is silt from the bottom of an ancient lake bed, so when it gets wet, it basically turns into a sticky, mucky, cement paste. As soon as your foot (or bike wheel) touches wet playa, it sticks and stays there. So take a few steps, and all of a sudden you’re teetering on three-inch platform mud heels. I arrived with an early-access pass on Saturday to help put the final touches on our camp, and looking back I’m grateful for that extra day in the sunshine. At Burning Man, I try to surrender to the experience and embrace unpredictability and serendipity, and the muck didn’t stop that. I witnessed some of the most hilarious and compassionate acts happening while we were doused in rainfall: mud wrestling, all-night muck dance parties, X-rated mud sculptures, treacherous muddy walkabouts to check in on neighbors and pour each other drinks. I had planned on roasting s’mores over the embers of the Man Burn and brought a ton of supplies, but when the Man Burn was postponed, I ended up passing out s’mores to neighbors on Saturday night over a pit we set up in our camp.

I unplug completely while I’m on the playa, so I didn’t have cell service or Wi-Fi during the rain—I inhaled the media coverage when I got back. There was so much schadenfreude from the outside world, but a lot of that was misplaced. Many of us were having the time of our lives at Burning Mud. The exodus always takes a few hours (at least), so we were mentally prepared to sit in line as tens of thousands of RVs waited their turn to pull out onto the two-lane highway that leads out of the playa. With the right attitude, this year was no different.

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Elon Musk calls Burning Man ‘best art on Earth’ amid chaos that saw thousands stranded and one dead

  • Oops! Something went wrong. Please try again later. More content below

Elon Musk offered lofty praise to the Burning Man festival - after this year's event descended into disaster with one person dead and thousands left stranded in the Nevada desert after intense floods.

“Burning Man is unique in the world,” Mr Musk wrote on his platform X on Sunday. “Hard to describe how incredible it is for those who have never been. Best art on Earth.”

The post drew scrutiny for two reasons. First off, it came as the desert festival is suffering from utter chaos on all sides — torrential floods caused by Tropical Storm Hilary , false claims of an Ebola outbreak, tens of thousands of stranded attendees , and even a death caused by reasons “ unrelated to the weather .”

On top of this mess, Mr Musk seemed to be commenting on a video from Paris Fashion Week in 2022 — not Burning Man.

He was replying to a post of someone who claims to be stuck at the festival: “I’m currently stranded at Burning Man, along with thousands of others. Despite the unexpected challenges, some artists managed to put together an impromptu catwalk show. The ‘I’m in the mud’ show is a metaphor for trying stuff and always learning,” the user wrote. “I’m deeply inspired by the ingenuity and resourcefulness of this community.”

Burning Man is unique in the world. Hard to describe how incredible it is for those who have never been. Best art on Earth. — Elon Musk (@elonmusk) September 3, 2023

The post was accompanied by a video of someone in a long black dress, black gloves and boots trudging through mud.

A note from the social media platform explained: “This is not burning man. It is from Balengiaga fashion show in Paris.” The note even included a link to the video clip of the luxury brand’s “mud bath” show.

In fairness to the Tesla founder, festivalgoers were in fact schlepping through mud — and some were even building mud sculptures .

After some postponement, Burning Man said that the site is expected to open on Monday morning, though that will depend on weather cooperation.

According to its website , the festival is a “temporary metropolis dedicated to community, art, self-expression, and self-reliance.” The six-day event in the Black Rock Desert was set to run from 27 August through 4 September.

As of Monday morning, the Burning Man officials suggested that festivalgoers might be able to finally leave the premises, writing on X: “Gate Road remains too wet & muddy for most vehicles to safely navigate out of BRC this morning, but is drying. Exodus likely to begin around noon today.”

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5 tidbits about Tesla's Elon Musk and Burning Man

Elon Musk has long-standing connections to Nevada, likely shaped by Burning Man.

The Tesla CEO has attended and supported the annual arts-tech-and-counterculture event for years.

Because what happens at Burning Man often stays at Burning Man, the details are hard to pin down. A Tesla spokesperson declined to comment, but Musk hasn't been quiet about the annual arts-and-counterculture event.

Here's a roundup from around the Internet:

- Musk digs the Burning Man mindset. At a party this year, he said he would take Mike Judge, director of HBO's "Silicon Valley," to Burning Man this year. "If you haven't been, you just don't get it," according to recode.net . Brian Doherty of Reason magazine, who is celebrating the 10th anniversary of his book, "This is Burning Man," was at that party. "I thanked him, as a Burning Man guy, for being so supportive of the Burning Man brand, as it were" Doherty said Thursday in an email.

- Musk may have begun his dream of electric cars while traveling to Burning Man in 2004, according to techcrunch.com . The site has posted a 2007 photo showing a very Tesla-like prototype out on the playa.

- Musk's first son, who died when he was 10 weeks old, was named Nevada Alexander , according to Esquire magazine . Of his reaction to the tragedy, his ex-wife Justine said, "He doesn't do well in the dark places. He's forward moving, and I think it's a survival thing with him."

- Unless he went incognito, Musk probably wasn't at Burning Man 2014 at all. Doherty wrote that two Burning Man insiders told him there was no sign of Musk on the playa this year. Techcrunch also reported that he didn't go. (... Maybe because he had a big gigafactory deal to finalize?)

- In 2011, Musk stayed in an "elaborate" RV compound on the playa, according to the Wall Street Journal . Several recent reports have questioned whether billionaire style meshes with Burning Man, although the event's founder, Larry Harvey, told Techcrunch , "You can make a lot of money and do good with it. Elon Musk has made a lot of money."

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Elon Musk Says It's 'Hard To Describe How Incredible' Burning Man Festival Is, But He Tries

The Burning Man festival was partially extinguished due to heavy rainfall over the weekend, but that didn't stop festival fans from praising the weeklong music and arts celebration, including Tesla Inc TSLA CEO Elon Musk . 

What To Know: Severe weather conditions turned the desert into a swampland at Burning Man this year. Thousands of festivalgoers were trapped amid the hazardous conditions given its remote location in northern Nevada, but sentiment remained high.

Several attendees acknowledged the rainstorms on X (formerly Twitter), but expressed admiration for the event as a whole. Among those giving Burning Man high praise was Musk, who has attended the festival in the past . 

"Burning Man is unique in the world. Hard to describe how incredible it is for those who have never been. Best art on Earth," Musk said in an X post on Sunday. 

Although Musk didn't attend this year's festival, his brother Kimbal and Google co-founder Sergey Brin  were  spotted in attendance . Burning Man is known for having attracted several other prominent tech executives to the desert in past years. 

Exodus from the festival began Monday afternoon, per a banner on the festival website . Details of the event are often kept private, but the project aims to "produce positive spiritual change in the world."

"Our intention is to generate society that connects each individual to his or her creative powers, to participation in community, to the larger realm of civic life, and to the even greater world of nature that exists beyond society," the site states. 

Read Next:  Burning Man Festival Attendees Can Finally Leave Following Torrential Rainfall

This illustration was generated using artificial intelligence via MidJourney.

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elon musk yacht burning man

Sergey Brin and Elon Musk's brother, Kimbal, spotted at Burning Man as attendees struggled to deal with swampy, chaotic conditions

  • Elon Musk's brother, Kimbal Musk, and Google cofounder Sergey Brin have been spotted at Burning Man.
  • Two of the biggest tech camps have been severely flooded, attendees told WSJ.
  • Another tech founder said they abandoned their luggage and waded through ankle-deep mud.

Elon Musk's brother, Kimbal Musk, and Google cofounder Sergey Brin have been spotted at Burning Man as attendees continue to battle chaotic conditions.

A private airspace often used by tech execs and entrepreneurs to fly in and out of Burning Man was also shut down over the weekend because of the poor weather, attendees told The Wall Street Journal . Two of the biggest tech camps, Mirage Garage and Robot Heart, have been severely flooded, sources on the ground told the news outlet.

Tens of thousands of festivalgoers have been stranded in the desert after a heavy rainfall turned the Black Rock Desert into a swampy mud pit. Attendees were advised to shelter in place and conserve resources after heavy rainstorms closed roads in and out of Black Rock City, the popup town where Burning Man is held.

Attendees also told the Journal they had seen other tech figures, including bitcoin entrepreneur Brock Pierce, at the disastrous festival. Another tech founder said she had to ditch her luggage and wade through ankle-deep mud.

The Nevada event has been a favorite of business elites and was previously attended by major tech players, including Elon Musk, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, and disgraced Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes.

The festival encourages anonymity and privacy. Nicknames and costumes often make it difficult to identify high-profile festivalgoers. Google cofounders Brin and Larry Page have reportedly attended the event repeatedly over the years . The pair even took former CEO Eric Schmidt to the arts festival more than two decades ago to see if he had what it took to become CEO.

Representatives for Musk and Brin did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment, made outside normal working hours.

Sergey Brin and Elon Musk's brother, Kimbal, spotted at Burning Man as attendees struggled to deal with swampy, chaotic conditions

The World’s Richest Man Has A Surprisingly Modest Taste In Superyachts

The same can't be said for his taste in private jets, however...

The World’s Richest Man Has A Surprisingly Modest Taste In Superyachts

Many rich people seem to be compensating for something when they buy f*ck off Ferraris and stonking superyachts. Elon Musk, however, was recently spotted off the coast of Greece in a relatively small charter yacht called Zeus.

In recent years, Elon Musk has kicked Jeff Bezos off this throne as ‘world’s richest man.’ Musk’s current net worth is $234.4 billion. Jeff Bezos’ net worth, for comparison, is $143.9 billion. Elon Musk’s companies include SpaceX, Tesla, The Boring Company, Neuralink and OpenAI. He can be a bit awkward, as seen on Joe Rogan’s podcast , and some people hate his Promethean attitude , but he is a fan of dry humour, a genius and is apparently (sometimes) able to manipulate crypto and stock markets at whim (make of that what you will).

Elon Musk also owns a $70 million (AUD $101 million) private jet, but – surprisingly, when you consider the spending habits of many of his contemporaries – does not own a superyacht. To this end, on a recent vacation to Greece, Musk was spotted on a boat called Zeus, which can be charted for some $7,000 (AUD $10,109) a day.

elon musk yacht burning man

This isn’t cheap by most people’s standards. But when you compare it to Jeff Bezos’ US$500 million, 127 metre long superyacht – which is going to be the biggest in the world – or any one of these Russian oligarchs’ outlandishly luxurious oceanic steeds , Musk’s rented 24-metre yacht starts to look positively ‘Marie Kondo.’

WATCH: Jeff Bezos’ Superyacht Powers Through Rotterdam

Musk reportedly rented Zeus from SamBoat, which is a European online boat-rental company. According to Insider , the Zeus yacht that Musk was spotted on takes 20 people and is made for full-day excursions (when DMARGE checked SamBoat’s website , we could only find a boat called Zeus which takes 11 and is 12.3m long, however).

elon musk yacht burning man

Insider isn’t alone though. Yahoo News has also reported that the Zeus vessel Musk was spotted on is 24 metres long. So presumably there is another, bigger Zeus out there than the one we could find. In any case, Musk appeared to enjoy his day of leisure, being hosed off on the back deck and joking about it on Twitter (he wrote: “I should take my shirt off more often”).

Features and activities of Zeus include swimming off the back, chilling on the deck, sitting down for a meal (or sipping a cocktail) inside, sleeping in one of the four indoor berths and exploring the marvellous waters of the Aegean Sea with a snorkel and flippers.

C’est la vie .

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Here's what the inside of Burning Man's luxury camps for billionaires and celebrities looks like

There are many different ways to do Burning Man.

While wealthy tech titans like Elon Musk, Sergey Brin, and Mark Zuckerberg erect fancy luxury camps in advance, many others arrive to the playa with no plan and pitch their tents where they find space.

But "fancy camps," as they're called, have become more prevalent in recent years.

One camp back in 2015 was especially buzzed about because of its celebrity clientele that included many models and actress Susan Sarandon.

But despite perks like a private chef, the glamorous campers still had to use an outhouse.

Business Insider reporter Aly Weisman was able to see inside one fancy camp — here's what she saw.

While most camps at Burning Man are a random mix of tents, yurts, and RVs ...

elon musk yacht burning man

... with living-room-like gathering tents like this, ...

elon musk yacht burning man

... there's also the occasional "fancy camps" that offer incredible communal areas.

elon musk yacht burning man

This camp had a check-in desk for any visitors and a working ceramic fountain.

elon musk yacht burning man

Chandeliers hung from the ceiling and gorgeous rugs littered the ground. It was the least-dusty environment I saw all weekend.

elon musk yacht burning man

You even entered through a foyer area. Campers ate food prepared by a chef in a truck devoted to cooking. The food was presented buffet-style and one black-tie dinner included whole pigs and lobsters.

elon musk yacht burning man

Susan Sarandon also stayed in the camp back in 2015.

A photo posted by @susanlovesjack Sep 6, 2015 at 10:30pm PDT

Celebrities and commoners alike stayed in rows of tents.

elon musk yacht burning man

Sarandon posted a crazy photo during her visit showing the tents in different weather conditions.

Before & After #BurningMan A photo posted by Susan Sarandon (@susansarandon) on Aug 30, 2015 at 12:25pm PDT Aug 30, 2015 at 12:25pm PDT

It was a solid setup.

elon musk yacht burning man

This photo is from inside the tent. They were pretty bare, with just cots for sleeping and full-length mirrors.

Getting ready for the big night. The procession to the Totem of Confessions with Timothy Learys ashes A photo posted by @susanlovesjack on Sep 4, 2015 at 7:17am PDT Sep 4, 2015 at 7:17am PDT

Toilets and showers were communal and outside.

elon musk yacht burning man

But instead of your average porta-potty, these toilets were made of solid silver.

elon musk yacht burning man

Outside the camp, there was a giant chess board ...

elon musk yacht burning man

... and a nearby "Pussycat Lounge" for partying.

elon musk yacht burning man

Sarandon posted from inside the lounge: "Friend dancing with the gypsy musicians in Pussycat Lounge at Burningman."

Toledo and friend dancing with the gypsy musicians in Pussycat Lounge at Burningman . Cirque Gitane A photo posted by @susanlovesjack on Sep 4, 2015 at 7:08am PDT Sep 4, 2015 at 7:08am PDT

She also posted this photo of the bar.

A photo posted by @susanlovesjack Sep 4, 2015 at 7:10am PDT

Sarandon pretty much won Burning Man that year.

These boots were made for BurninG Man. @officinecreative_official @madisonshoes madisonstyle.com A photo posted by Susan Sarandon (@susansarandon) on Aug 31, 2015 at 8:24am PDT Aug 31, 2015 at 8:24am PDT

This article was originally written by Aly Weisman.

elon musk yacht burning man

  • Main content

Elon Musk Is Right, Burning Man Is Silicon Valley

elon musk yacht burning man

Burning man is both an intrinsic part of Silicon Valley and a DJ party in the desert. It’s a place where folks are free to run around in sparkles and spandex and leather and nothing, covered in dust. A place for rich people to party and nude hippies to dance around the fire. But most of all it’s an experimental prototype for human technological possibility in the middle of nowhere that stands on the principle of radical acceptance of everyone.

It’s not easy to explain an entire city full of nearly 70,000 different people. But for the curious, allow me to try.

Baby’s First Burn

It’s nighttime when my driving buddy Ben Parr and I arrive in Black Rock City. It’s been a long 8-hour journey from San Francisco to Gerlach, with another 5 hours on top of that waiting in the long line to get in the gates. Someone in line ahead of us tells us this line is actually short. Greeters in long white robes welcome us “home” at the Burning Man gates and direct us to yet another long line of cars. We were the lucky few who escaped the storm that left thousands on the side of the road for 18 hours.

Already camp mates have been working hard to erect a giant shade structure, kitchen, water and power supplies when Ben drops me off at my camp around 10 pm. My camp, Ideate, is made up of carefully selected innovators, startup founders, VC’s and the tech reporters who cover them (Reporters from VentureBeat, Re/code, Fast Company and TechCrunch are all in this camp). As my tent mate, Shauna Causey , put it, “Ideate is full of founder do-gooder types.” Causey sold her last company Decide.com to eBay and has served as VP at Startup Weekend . Another camper, Doc North has his own tech show “ In the Making ” on the YouTube Discovery Channel network. Tim West, part of the camp leadership crew, is a former Facebook chef and co-created the Future of Food Hackathon .

“Is there room for me?” I ask, pointing to a spot at a table in camp next to an older gentleman. He welcomes me in and tells me his name is Raj Sandhu , a VC from San Francisco. He’s not in our camp but bought into the Hare Krishna vegan meal plan offered here.

Sandhu and I exchange the regular chit chat about our daily experiences around Black Rock City — the very tall man in the big combat boots dancing in front of a giant purple penis structure, our favorite art cars – mine is the golden dragon Viking ship, the monkey chanting workshop, whether we’ve gone inside the Orgy Dome or not (there’s an orgy dome and it is what you think it is). It’s both of our first time here. Neither of us can help but notice how intrinsically intertwined tech is to the art and experience of this event.

“Go out into deep playa,” Sandhu tells me, “you’ll see this structure that can be manipulated with an iPhone.” Deep playa sits way out in the distance of Black Rock City, about a couple miles from where everyone’s set up camp. Large art structures, several with LED lights, digital displays and other technical work pop up out of this dusty wasteland in every direction.

The desert festival has a rep as something for dirty hippies on drugs. It’s a surprise to hear of the Silicon Valley element in the last few years. Now mentions of technorati on the playa seems so commonplace it’s hardly worth talking about.

Google’s Larry Page and Sergey Brin have been coming to Burning Man consistently for well over a decade. The first Google doodle was an homage to The Man. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg have made the trek. Drew Houston , co-founder of Dropbox camped out this year and Alexis Ohanian from Reddit was there as well.

Fire Dancer performs out on the playa at Black Rock City.

Fire Dancer performs out on the playa at Black Rock City.

Still, other tech leaders chose to stay away this time around. We were told by Elon Musk ‘s people that the tech titan didn’t go this year, though they declined to comment as to why. Musk, notably, came up with the idea for SolarCity while at Burning Man a few years back, then gave the concept to his cousins.

Box co-founder Aaron Levie joked on Twitter that he was ahead of the curve for not going.

At some point, *not* going to Burning Man will be perceived as more hardcore than going, and I'll be way ahead of the curve. — Aaron Levie (@levie) August 24, 2014

Attendance was down overall this year by a few thousand people, according to the latest 2014 Burning Man Census Report. Those numbers are from a census insider and not officially published yet.

Friday’s official peak attendance was at 65,922, below the Bureau of Land Management cap of 68,000 and the projected 70,000 attendance for this year. It should also be noted that BMIR, the official radio station of Black Rock City, reported that 10,000 people had already left the city before the man burned.

Part of this non-attendance could have been because of the earlier rain fiasco or the rumors that Burning Man had been canceled. And perhaps part of the early exodus had to do with Jack U’s (aka Diplo and Skrillex) poor choices during a set at Robot Heart.

While a lot of people ask which famous people came, that’s not the focus for everyone. I’m chatting about who’s who with my tent mates when a guy comes in and sits down in our tent and then screams that he doesn’t care who anybody is and can I please put down my phone and turn off my walkie talkie.

It’s funny to me because I get where he is coming from. As a counselor at Camp Grounded , a summer camp where adults go to purposely unplug, it makes sense that my use of tech while camping would annoy him. But I kind of need these tools. Or I think I do. I’m here on assignment as a reporter. I need a way to communicate with the outside world in some way. Does this change my “burn”? Is unplugging part of it?

Others just accept tech as part of the overall experience. “Burning Man is tech,” a woman named Wolf tells me as we wait in line for the Dr. Bronner’s foam party – a much-lauded naked group shower experience at Burning Man for the past several years.

Wolf, a tech entrepreneur-turned-fire-dancer, has been coming to Black Rock City since 2005. “But don’t the tech elites ruin the burn for others?” I ask her. Wolf pauses, pulls out a pasty zinc sunscreen and plasters her lips in white before thoughtfully replying.

“Look, the spirit of Burning Man is innovation. We wouldn’t have any of this without tech. It started with people in San Francisco and that’s what brings all this out here. And besides,” she says, rolling her eyes, “Larry Harvey’s camp is the original plug n’ play.”

Plug n’ play refers to camps that have everything set up for you before you arrive, right down to chefs making your food and your living space already arranged.

I talk about startups a lot, but usually not naked. Yet here I am discussing Facebook, Google and the latest startpus while waiting to get blasted by Dr. Bronners soap foam in a giant box with 50 other dusty weirdos. It’s the perfect collision of Silicon Valley and Burning Man. It’s all part of that spirit of challenging the status quo, innovation and self-reliance that embodies startup culture.

Larry Harver, Original Burnster

Burning Man started with a bad breakup. Founder Larry Harvey built a small structure resembling a man and burned it on Baker Beach in San Francisco 28 years ago. It was a symbolic gesture to help him get over the heartache and symbolically burn away his old self. The festival has since moved to the Nevada desert and has grown to an attendance of nearly 70,000 people annually.

Life on K Street

It doesn’t seem like the tech elites are ruining it for burners as much as the so-called “rich people camps.” Talk of their existence irks many burners this year. Still others share in the Burning Man principle of radical inclusion for all, rich or not. I put up a simple question on the Burning Man Facebook Group about whether the rich people camps affect the burn experience or not. It had 168 strongly worded opinions at last count.

Screen Shot 2014-09-03 at 9.16.26 AM

A bald man dripping with silver body paint who came to visit Ideate mentions one such camp to me, way out on the edge of town. He was a late addition to the camp he claims costs $25,000 or more for each member to join, though he was “gifted” his spot, “We get fresh sushi flown in every day and our own Segways,” he brags.

Curious, I wander over with my aforementioned tall, blond tent mate to see what this camp is all about. The camp is hard to find at first. A bartender/fruit smoothie maker at the camp in front of it pours a ginger carrot mixture into my cup. Her camp, Lost and Found Hotel, looks swanky enough. Each camp mate has individual canvas pods to sleep in and there’s a front desk check-in. She tells me it’s mostly made up of builders and artists in her camp. It’s nice, sure, but not a $25,000 glamp camp. Not anything like the camp we are about to see. She points the two of us to an ornate Middle Eastern looking structure hidden behind a bunch of semi trucks in the back. “Seriously, go take a look, you have to go see it,” she tells us.

unnamed

Plush couches and giant bean bags are placed about for anyone to lounge in. I ask a gal at the bar how much everyone paid to stay here. “Oh easily $25k,” she tells me. She is a member of the camp and not paid to bartend. Some of the camp members are entrepreneurs or in tech, she confirms. The vast majority of them are from the LA entertainment scene, though. She lets me know everyone here pitches in and takes shifts…but yes, they do have a kitchen staff hidden behind the camp, making meals for them every day.

The camp also comes complete with hotel-style walled-off glamp tents with coolers in them for each of the members. Causey and I peak inside to find fluffy pillows and white comforters await each guest. Segways are available to each member for easy use and many camp mates flew in on private jets – all part of the package. The main bar is lined with top shelf vodka. An ornate DJ stage hangs above. Causey asks for a drink at the bar from a petite woman wearing false eyelashes and a corset. She’s told that the “good stuff” is for camp members only.

Okay, so not everything is available to just anyone here. We are once again directed to the fresh fruit and beer. There was also free water, electrolytes and coffee in back.

“You know, it’s funny, these camps want to experience Burning Man but by coming in and having everything planned for them, they deny themselves the actual experience,” says an older gentleman who goes by David Magic Hands. He’s been coming to Burning Man with the HeeBeeGeeBee Camp for the last 16 years and runs a retreat devoted to female orgasm in Costa Rica. His orgasmic wisdom is his gift to the playa.

“What are these kinds of camps giving back?” David Magic Hands asks me.

People do as people do with their opinions about the “other.” Especially on social media. Bill Bo posted his experience with the so-called “rich people” on the same Burning Man Facebook group:

A fancy schmancy high end bus camper was headed down Darjeeling on Thursday morning as we were having our morning coffee on the crackly fresh playa lawn out front. The driver waved. I asked the universe for beer. He stopped, walked around to the supply bay, reached in there and got us a 30 pack of Miller High Life beer. We gave him one of our Burner shirts from the free box we had in front of our camp. I think we can all get along.

The Buck Starts Here

Rich camps seem relative in a place that, at minimum, costs the average attendee at least $1000 to go. The ticket just to get in is about $393.50 with tax, then there’s camp dues, food, water, camping supplies, costumes, travel. Over $56 million Burning Man dollars were pumped into Nevada last year, up nearly $11 million from the year before, according to event organizers.

projected-spending-base

Of course $4.5 million of that goes to the Bureau of Land Management and another $10 million is estimated to be spent on airport travel. The average burner reported spending at least $250 in last minute camping supplies, food and water in Nevada, according to the 2012 Census .

Looking out from the middle of the playa one night near a ginormous LED-lined structure of the word “LOVE,” Ryan Parks, co-founder of Sacred Media, relays how important it is to him that tech leaders, rich people and others get this experience anyway, “This is the height of human luxury and I think most people would twist that to make that a bad thing, but this is a great experiment in self-actualization. You can see it when you look around at the amazing works of art that people are driving around. This is where we see human ingenuity and creativity at it’s finest,” says Parks.

“Silicon Valley is a lot like this,” he adds. “It’s the epicenter of the makers of the world. And the makers will remake the world in the digital age.”

Credit: Jim Urquhart, Reuters

Credit: Jim Urquhart, Reuters

Whether it’s a sign of the times or the influx of more tech workers at Burning Man, this human ingenuity has brought with it some modernizations this year. There’s cell service now, BRC organizers have placed four cell towers for texting within the city. There are apps like “Time to Burn” and “iBurn” to help you schedule your favorite events. Facebook friends can find each other using the Facebook Burner Map app. Some camps offer wifi and one even has a solar powered steam room.

My own camp organized a speaker series. Giant Buddha statues greeted burners as they wandered into camp to hear about building cities of the future, robots and government.

unnamed

Uhuru is another Burning Man camp made up of mainly San Francisco founders that broke off from Camp Ideate to create their own tech innovators group on the playa.

Dennis Kucinich showed up for his talk in a blue dress shirt and khakis – surely setting him apart amongst a crowd of spandex and sparkly things. Going by his playa name, “Charge,” Kucinich discussed privacy, government surveillance and marijuana legalization.

Libertarian-leaning Republican Grover Norquist, who came to Burning Man for the first time this year, was also scheduled to speak at Ideate, but rumor was he had to cancel his appearance because of threats.

While it seems there’s still some work to do on the radical inclusion front, just the fact that a man who once ran for president, a major political representatives and even a speaker series now at Burning Man is a bit of a jolt to me. This is not the Burning Man I had pictured, full of bad DJ’s and acid tripping hippies.

TEDx held its own series in the “spirit of ideas worth spreading.” There were Reddit meetups, bitcoin meetups, the FauxMirage camp, home of the Dr. Bronner’s foam party, held its own lecture series on cannabis and psychedelics as medicine. Did it bother people that Dr. Bronner’s was commercially mentioned?

Any type of branding is frowned upon here. Someone even asked me to cover the logo on my own drinking cup earlier. Dr. Bronner’s seems to get a pass, though. The camp doesn’t advertise itself as the name brand, but everyone knows it as such.

The half-naked guy in a pony tail at the front of the line corrects me when I ask about the Dr. Bronner’s camp. “I have no idea what you are talking about,” he says, then nods to the camp’s signage. “This is FauxMirage.” But everyone outside knows what it is.

Sacred Spaces

unnamed-19

The beautiful, brain stimulating art, LED lights, costumes (or lack thereof), the mind-numbing throb of constant music and drum beats pulsing through your entire body, the openness, the love, the incessant hugging and the lack of a true night’s sleep all combine to bring about this wildish mental state observable in even the most curmudgeonly soul.

You breathe all of that in and carry it to the temple structure way out past The Man, then, when you get there start reading messages scrawled about the intricate wood work structure about regrets, sanity, suicide attempts or loved ones who’ve died. You might just lose it right there. Many do. You can hear the sobs among the quiet reverence within the wood cut walls.

I almost lost it here, too but didn’t. That would come later.

I did take some time to reflect on my younger brother, killed in a hiking accident 11 years ago . I thought about his soul and mine and I felt a reverence in that moment. One single tear ran down my dusty cheek and then I was done.

Crying at Weddings, the Burner Way

Screen Shot 2014-09-03 at 3.07.29 PM

There’s a lot of weddings, engagements and commitment ceremonies to crash at Burning Man. So many folks get married at dawn or sunset at the Temple they have to choose different areas on the outside for their individual events. Photographers and onlookers line up to see the bride and groom or groom and groom or bride and bride…or just the bride. The famous-for-being-tech-famous Julia Allison married herself this year.

I crashed an engagement ceremony of one of the Ideate founders. About a hundred of us sat on the dirt carpet, dressed in our finest feathers and leather and lace and whatever else we felt like while the groom and his bride-to-be relayed their engagement story. Both his parents and a new age priest stood by their side to support them.

They were standing in a rushing river, buck naked, wild horses running in the background, as he knelt down on one knee and asked her to be his forever. This was so Burning Man.

It made me pause. People actually live this way in a weird, wonderful hippie fairy tale, surrounded by a loving community of family and friends. Perhaps it was the lack of sleep or that my mind had been overstimulated for the last 5 days straight, but it was there that I broke down and actually, embarrassingly, bawled my eyes out in front of a hundred or so people. This universe existed and it was wonderful and I wanted to be a part of it.

Burning Man changes you.

Black Rock City, USA

jim Urquhart Reuters

Black Rock City is neatly laid out neatly in a half disc with roads marked in time like 2:00, 2:30, 3:00 and so on until you get to 10:00. It criss-crosses alphabetical intersections from Antioch to K. You say “Meet up at Darjeeling and 9:00” as the address.

The pop-up city boasts two public libraries (yes, you can actually check out books during your time on the playa), a media center, police station, bars, clubs, pop-up restaurants serving poutine and grilled cheese sandwiches and even a makeshift medical unit complete with high-tech X-ray machines to check for broken bones and other maladies. It’s a truly free form of healthcare, paid for by your Burning Man ticket.

“Making things is critical to innovation,” says Debra Costa, CIO for the city of San Leandro. She’s referring to the creation and innovation created in the temporary city that is Burning Man. Costa came to Black Rock City for the first time this year to study the kinds of innovation and rapid prototyping that happens on the playa. She told me she hopes to bring that same bit of magical thinking back to her own town.

“San Leandro is a lab city,” she says. “If we are going to innovate we have to learn to do it on the fly, just like at Burning Man.”

Costa and her colleague Michael Caplan, Berekley’s economic development manager and a burner since 1998, agree with Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk when he said “Burning Man is Silicon Valley.” As Caplan put it to me, “[Elon’s] idea for the Hyperloop from San Francisco to L.A. is a paradigm shift.”

“What Elon was referring to is every region has a different genomic footprint.” says Greg Horowitt, a first time burner and a Silicon Valley VC. “There is a religion, a social contract in play here. You come into Burning Man knowing that your values align with the values of the people here and it’s all about creation and experimentation,” he says.

Credit: Jim Urquhart, Reuters

Musk derided Mike Judge’s HBO show Silicon Valley for not getting the real Silicon Valley because, according to him, Judge had never been to Burning Man.

“If you haven’t been, you just don’t get it.” said Musk. “You could take the craziest L.A. party and multiply it by a thousand, and it doesn’t even get fucking close to what’s in Silicon Valley.”

Silicon Valley certainly has a strong connection to the Burning Man culture. The event started in SF. Its headquarters are in the downtown area of the city and burner parties (also known as decompression parties) are held throughout the year in San Francisco. But there’s an understanding of this culture before and after Burning Man.

For those who haven’t been before, the word “burner” has a certain connotation. To those who have, “burner” encapsulates a greater hope for the human race. It’s much easier to see how the Burning Man principles of radical self-expression, radical self-reliance and civic responsibility are woven into the fabric and even influence startup culture in the Valley. But I only got that after I experienced it for myself.

Both Black Rock City and Silicon Valley embody a similar cultural ethos — the encouragement of rapid prototyping, a disregard for the status quo and how things have been done before, and the self-reliance to change the world around you for the better.

On the less positive side, startups and camps are both pushing to make a name for themselves. In just the last few years, camps have started to identify with laser or wood cut necklaces to signify membership. One of the art cars, the Christina, a yacht-looking vehicle, reportedly denied several people access to board because they weren’t wearing the proper wristband. Burning Man says it’s not about brands, but in a sense it is. Well-known musicians Skrillex and Major Lazer perform at certain sound camps and everyone knows FauxMirage as the Dr. Bronner’s camp. While that’s not the official name, it’s great branding.

Still, Silicon Valley could learn more about altruism and building for the sake of improving the world for others. We’re already starting to see that with more non-profit or for-good startups like Yerdle or Immunity Project . Attending Burning Man could help Silicon Valley avoid building jerktech and use the potential of human creation for the advancement of all, not just a few.

Musk is right in a sense, Burning Man is Silicon Valley, or at least a microcosm of it, with the potential to influence much more of it. And if you haven’t been you just don’t get it.

A South Carolina Woman Was Accused of Burning Crosses to Intimidate Her Black Neighbors. Now She Has Been Arrested for Extremely Bizarre Behavior

The 27-year-old South Carolina woman accused of intimidating her Black neighbors by cross-burning last year was arrested again earlier this month.

Alexis Hartnett was charged with one count of obscene exposure after a neighbor claimed that she was openly doing “jumping jacks while topless” in the front yard of her home on March 2, WMBF reported. The man, who has kids, was able to capture it on video and showed it to Horry County police.

According to the report, Hartnett was taken into custody but was later released on bond. A judge placed her on house arrest and ruled she is prohibited from coming in contact with the neighbor who reported her.

Alexis Hartnett Charged For Doing Jumping Jacks Naked In Front Yard

The new charge comes in the midst of other legal troubles involving Hartnett and her boyfriend, Worden Butler. The couple is accused of placing a burning cross facing Shawn and Monica Williams’ property last November. The retirees said that the hate symbol was an escalation of the racism they experienced from both Hartnett and Butler, who are white. 

“The N-word over and over, we need to get out of here, the whole bit,” Monica  told  WCNC. “It’s been traumatic for my whole family because they had to witness this.”

The couple was charged with second-degree harassment, while Hartnett was also hit with third-degree assault and battery. Their home was  raided  by the FBI just a few days before Christmas amid a civil rights investigation.

Two months later, in February, officials  labeled  them a “public nuisance” and filed a petition to force them to vacate the property for a year due to their alleged actions. Fifteenth Circuit Solicitor Jimmy Richardson wrote in part that their “conduct… [is] offensive to public decency, morals, peace and health.”

Butler’s mother, who owns the home, requested to dismiss the temporary injunction, arguing that it’s “an overreach of government,” according to WMBF.

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A bartender pouring drinks behind a crowded bar. A neon image of a person in a spacesuit holding a beer is on the wall.

Elon Musk Has a Giant Charity. Its Money Stays Close to Home.

After making billions in tax-deductible donations to his philanthropy, the owner of Tesla and SpaceX gave away far less than required in some years — and what he did give often supported his own interests.

The Rocket Bar is one of several new nightlife establishments that received funds from the Musk Foundation’s initiative to revitalize downtown Brownsville, Texas. Credit... Meridith Kohut for The New York Times

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By David A. Fahrenthold and Ryan Mac

Reporting from Boca Chica, Texas

  • Published March 10, 2024 Updated March 11, 2024

Before March 2021, Elon Musk’s charitable foundation had never announced any donations to Cameron County, an impoverished region at the southern tip of Texas that is home to his SpaceX launch site and local officials who help regulate it.

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Then, at 8:05 one morning that month, a SpaceX rocket blew up, showering the area with a rain of twisted metal.

The Musk Foundation began giving at 9:27 a.m. local time.

Am donating $20M to Cameron County schools & $10M to City of Brownsville for downtown revitalization. Details to follow next week. — Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 30, 2021

“Am donating $20M to Cameron County schools & $10M to City of Brownsville for downtown revitalization,” Mr. Musk said on Twitter.

Mr. Musk, the world’s second-richest person according to Forbes , presides over SpaceX, Tesla and other companies that are pushing the boundaries of technology, while also controlling a social media platform, now known as X, through which he promotes his often-polarizing political and social views.

At the same time, he runs a charity with billions of dollars, the kind of resources that could make a global impact. But unlike Bill Gates, who has deployed his fortune in an effort to improve health care across Africa, or Walmart’s Walton family, which has spurred change in the American education system , Mr. Musk’s philanthropy has been haphazard and largely self-serving — making him eligible for enormous tax breaks and helping his businesses.

Since 2020, he has seeded his charity with tax-deductible donations of stock worth more than $7 billion at the time, making it one of the largest in the country.

The foundation that houses the money has failed in recent years to give away the bare minimum required by law to justify the tax break, exposing it to the risk of having to pay the government a substantial financial penalty.

Mr. Musk has not hired any staff for his foundation, tax filings show. Its billions are handled by a board that consists of himself and two volunteers, one of whom reports putting in so little time that it averages out to six minutes per week.

In 2022, the last year for which records are available, they gave away $160 million, which was $234 million less than the law required — the fourth-largest shortfall of any foundation in the country.

Mr. Musk is under no obligation to have a charity, and he has made clear that he believes his for-profit enterprises will change the world for the better far more than any philanthropic venture could. But once he set up a nonprofit and filled it with tax-deductible gifts, he was required by law to ensure that his foundation served the public, and that it did not operate for the “private benefit” of its leader.

A New York Times analysis found that, of the Musk Foundation’s giving in 2021 and 2022 — the latest years for which full data is available — about half of the donations had some link to Mr. Musk, one of his employees or one of his businesses.

Among the donations the Musk Foundation has made, there was $55 million to help a major SpaceX customer meet a charitable pledge. There were the millions that went to Cameron County, Texas, after the rocket blew up. And there were donations to two schools closely tied to his businesses: one walled off inside a SpaceX compound, the other located next to a new subdivision for Musk’s employees.

“The really striking thing about Musk is the disjuncture between his outsized public persona, and his very, very minimal philanthropic presence,” said Benjamin Soskis , who studies philanthropy at the Urban Institute. Where other billionaires have aimed for a broad impact on society, Mr. Soskis said Mr. Musk’s foundation lacks “any direction or any real focus, outside his business ventures.”

Mr. Musk did not respond to requests for comment.

A school for his children

Mr. Musk and his younger brother, Kimbal, started the Musk Foundation in 2001, a year before the sale of PayPal, the online payments company he co-founded, to eBay for $1.5 billion. He made more than $175 million in the sale, and would seed his namesake foundation with about $2 million worth of eBay shares.

The Musk Foundation’s website initially included slick animations, featuring pictures of satellite dishes and children in classrooms, while encouraging people to apply for grants. By 2005, however, it was wiped clean, replaced by plain black text stating that the foundation was interested in “science education, pediatric health and clean energy.”

It listed no contact information. It still does not .

By September 2014, Forbes estimated that Mr. Musk’s net worth was more than $10 billion, driven up by the value of his holdings of Tesla stock. But he gave little to his own charity. That year, tax filings show, his foundation had $40,121 in the bank.

That fit with Mr. Musk’s public stance on philanthropy. His for-profit companies, he said, were his way of changing the world.

“Tesla has done more to help the environment than all other companies combined,” he said last year at The New York Times’s DealBook conference. “As a leader of the company, I’ve done more for the environment than any single human on earth.”

Mr. Musk, instead, used his small foundation to help groups tied to him personally, including a food charity run by his brother and a “ Temple of Whollyness ” that was set on fire at the 2013 Burning Man festival, an annual event that he often attends .

He also founded his own nonprofit school called Ad Astra — Latin for “to the stars” — to explore new ways to teach math and science.

But that school, too, would serve a personal purpose for Mr. Musk. In its first year of operation out of his home in the Bel-Air neighborhood of Los Angeles, five of Ad Astra’s 14 students were his own children.

“Kindness and eagerness to learn (and parents that worked at SpaceX) were the only criteria for admission,” wrote Joshua Dahn, the initial head of the school.

A building sits behind a fence with a gate and a sign that says “Private Property.”

Ad Astra later moved to SpaceX’s Hawthorne, Calif., headquarters and grew to more than 50 students. About half were related to SpaceX employees, Mr. Dahn said in an email. Mr. Dahn’s contract even said that the intellectual property he developed at the school would be half owned by Mr. Musk personally, according to a copy obtained by The Times.

Two former SpaceX executives, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, recalled that Ad Astra was sometimes discussed as a perk for the children of executives, though it was understood to be near impossible for the offspring of rank-and-file employees to gain admission.

Mr. Musk made a $254 million gift of Tesla stock to his foundation in 2016, and its grants got bigger, but they still seemed to follow no coherent theme.

The Musk Foundation donated $10 million to OpenAI — the groundbreaking artificial intelligence developer, where he sat on the board of directors. (OpenAI was a nonprofit at the time of the gift, though it has now spun out several for-profit companies.) Mr. Musk said in a recent lawsuit against the organization and its founders that he personally gave an additional $34 million before stopping his gifts in 2020. Mr. Musk previously said he had given about $100 million to OpenAI.

But Mr. Musk’s giving often seemed guided by Twitter, where he made splashy promises in response to challenges from internet celebrities: He gave $1 million to plant trees after prompting from the YouTuber Mr. Beast and $1 million to help small businesses during the Covid-19 pandemic after a push from Dave Portnoy , the founder of Barstool Sports.

On July 5, 2018, he began interacting with Amariyanna “Mari” Copeny, a youth activist in Flint, Mich., who asked him for bicycles for local kids and clean water for her city, which was experiencing a crisis with its water supply . Less than a week later, Mr. Musk tweeted “a commitment” that he would “fund fixing the water in any house in Flint that has water contamination above FDA levels.”

“Will organize a weekend in Flint to add filters to those houses with issues,” he said in another tweet.

Karen Williams Weaver, a Democrat who was mayor of Flint at the time, said the city asked Mr. Musk to focus initially on helping schools. The Musk Foundation donated about $1 million to schools, paying to install water filters and buy laptops for students. It also gave $125,000 to a charity associated with Ms. Copeny that aimed to help Flint children.

Flint asked for much more.

It sent Mr. Musk a four-page letter, asking him to fund new water infrastructure and wide-scale pipe replacements in homes. It also asked Mr. Musk to open a research office or manufacturing facility in the city.

Few of those wishes came true. Tesla sent a corporate development executive, who offered rides around the city hall parking lot in a company vehicle, and Mr. Musk briefly considered placing a self-driving artificial intelligence facility in the city, according to communications obtained by The Times. He also visited Flint and Ms. Copeny’s school.

But Tesla never opened an office there. And since mid-2019, the Musk Foundation has not listed any more gifts to Flint for home water filters or other causes.

Still, the mayor said she was grateful. “He didn’t have to do anything,” she said.

A big donation and a big tax break

At the end of 2021, Mr. Musk had a problem. He had exercised options from a stock bonus plan from Tesla that gave him about $25 billion worth of shares in the automaker. But that came with a price.

“I will pay over $11 billion in taxes this year,” he later posted .

Tax law gives executives sitting on huge stores of their companies’ stock a way to lower that bill: charity. Mr. Musk could donate shares of Tesla, whose stock price had boomed in recent years, to a nonprofit and take a tax deduction based on the value of the stock. It did not matter that he might have paid little to obtain the shares.

In October of that year, Mr. Musk had publicly flirted with the idea of a charitable mega-gift. On Twitter, he wrote that if the United Nations World Food Program could describe how it would spend the money, he would sell Tesla stock and give the program $6 billion.

The U.N. program replied with a plan , but Mr. Musk gave nothing. Instead, Mr. Musk gave to his own foundation: five million Tesla shares, worth $5.7 billion at the time.

The gift tripled the Musk Foundation’s assets and put it among the 20 largest foundations in the country. Tax experts said it could have saved Mr. Musk more than $2 billion off his tax bill.

More donations from Mr. Musk meant more responsibility for his foundation. Tax law requires all foundations to give away 5 percent of their assets every year, so the Musk Foundation was expected to dole out hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

The foundation did not add paid staff to meet that new benchmark. The only recorded change was a tiny one: Matilda Simon, one of Mr. Musk’s family-office employees, who also serves as one of the foundation’s three volunteer board members, increased her workload from 0 hours to 0.1 hours, or six minutes a week, according to tax filings.

The foundation’s two other volunteers — Mr. Musk and Jared Birchall, who as head of Mr. Musk’s family office helps manage his wealth — reported that they each worked an hour a week. Ms. Simon and Mr. Birchall did not respond to a request for comment.

In 2021, the Musk Foundation fell $41 million short of the minimum required donation, tax filings show. In 2022, it missed the 5 percent mark by even more: $193 million. That year, Musk’s foundation gave away only about 2.25 percent of its $7 billion in assets, far below the 5 percent minimum, tax filings show.

With shortfall piled on shortfall, the Musk Foundation was then left $234 million behind by the end of 2022, the fourth-largest gap of any foundation in the country, according to Cause IQ, a firm that analyzes charity data.

“It tells you it’s not yet ready for prime time,” said Brian Galle, a professor who studies nonprofit law at Georgetown University, referring to the minimal giveaways by the foundation. “It’s not yet a professional organization.”

The Musk Foundation has not released details of what it gave away in 2023, or whether it made up its shortfall from the year before. If it did not, it could owe a penalty tax equal to 30 percent of the remaining shortfall from 2022.

Some of the money that the Musk Foundation did give away during those years went to groups with no obvious connection to Mr. Musk’s businesses.

The foundation, for instance, gave $112 million to the XPRIZE Foundation, to honor researchers who remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and oceans. It gave $10 million to the University of Texas to study human population trends — a matter of concern to Mr. Musk, who has said he fears Earth’s population could collapse. That gift was first reported by Bloomberg.

But other grants landed close to Mr. Musk’s own interests.

The Musk Foundation, for instance, gave $5 million to a United Nations program that helps countries identify rural schools that need internet access. In at least two cases , those countries then became Mr. Musk’s customers, connecting their schools with his Starlink satellite service.

One of the biggest gifts helped one of SpaceX’s customers: Jared Isaacman, a Pennsylvania billionaire, who chartered a trip to orbit on a SpaceX rocket in 2021. Mr. Isaacman said the flight would raise $200 million for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital by raffling off one of the four seats on the flight. (Mr. Isaacman declined to say at the time how much he paid for the seats he reserved except that he planned to raise far more for charity than he spent.)

But when Mr. Isaacman touched down on Earth, the mission’s Twitter account said it was still short of his $200 million goal.

“Count me in for $50M,” Mr. Musk tweeted back. The Musk Foundation eventually paid $55 million, its largest donation that year.

A few months later, Mr. Isaacman announced he would pay SpaceX for three more spaceflights. He declined to answer questions about the flights or Mr. Musk’s donation.

Experts on nonprofit law said there appeared to be nothing illegal about that gift, because it did not involve the Musk Foundation paying Mr. Musk or his customer directly.

But Kathleen Enright, the president of the Council on Foundations, said she would have advised Mr. Musk to recuse himself from this decision — and let the other members of the foundation’s board decide whether to give. She said that would ensure that Mr. Musk was not letting the needs of his business control the actions of his foundation, which is supposed to be an independent entity with its own charitable goals.

“It’s not his checkbook,” Ms. Enright said. “It’s not a private, family-owned company. It’s a charitable organization.”

Money for Texas

Starting in late 2020, Mr. Musk began to shift his business operations from California to Texas, and his charities followed.

The Ad Astra School, which had educated some SpaceX employees’ children, moved to a location near the company’s launch site in South Texas. At first, it seemed to be open to the public, according to an archived version of its website from last year.

But that website disappeared. And the Ad Astra campus was placed behind the security gates of a SpaceX-owned compound. At the campus today, there is no sign of a school, only a security guard in a pickup truck and signs that say “Private Property. No Trespassing.”

Mr. Musk has also given $100 million from his foundation to a startup Texas charity called “The Foundation,” which says it wants to start schools and eventually a university.

The donation moved money out of the Musk Foundation, helping it get closer to reaching that 5 percent minimum donation. But it did not move the money out of Mr. Musk’s orbit: the new charity is run by Mr. Birchall, the head of his family office, and two leaders at Mr. Musk’s accounting firm.

Land records show that the new charity used a shell company to purchase a 40-acre plot of land near Bastrop, Texas. The land is two minutes from a 110-home subdivision that one of Mr. Musk’s companies, a tunneling startup called The Boring Company, is building for its own workers. Online job postings indicate they are planning to open a new Ad Astra School there this summer. The new charity’s leaders declined to answer questions from The Times.

In South Texas, Mr. Musk also used his foundation to rebuild SpaceX’s reputation after the 2021 rocket explosion.

A few days before the blast, Mr. Musk had gone to the office of the top elected official in Cameron County, Eddie Treviño Jr., a Democrat, to complain. Mr. Musk felt the county, home to SpaceX’s Boca Chica launch complex, was taking too long to approve permits and other requests.

Mr. Treviño recounted replying that SpaceX needed to do more to help the impoverished community. “I didn’t specifically say ‘Give us X,’” meaning a specific amount of money, Mr. Treviño said. “But I said, ‘Help me raise this community.’”

But after the explosion, the donations Mr. Treviño had requested began to flow.

But the money didn’t come from SpaceX. Instead, it came from the Musk Foundation.

The foundation paid local schools at least $18 million, which they used to buy everything from classroom laptops to pop-up planetariums to tools for teaching welding to adults. “Some of those adult learners are now working at SpaceX,” said Nereida “Nellie” Cantu, the top official in the Brownsville school district.

The foundation also paid to fix up Brownsville’s dusty downtown. The result was to provide more upscale restaurants — like Le Rêve, Brownsville’s first French bistro — at a time when Mr. Musk was trying to entice employees to move there.

Without any staff to handle the South Texas donations, Mr. Musk deputized Igor Kurganov — a friend and former professional poker player who was never listed as an employee of the foundation — as a liaison. Mr. Kurganov often drilled local officials on the smallest details, like the color of the lights on a Christmas display paid for by the foundation: “‘cool white’ strikes me as suboptimal.”

Mr. Kurganov, who left the Musk Foundation in 2022, did not respond to requests for comment. Brownsville’s mayor said that, so far, Mr. Musk’s foundation has only given about $4.5 million of the $10 million he promised in 2021 for downtown beautification.

But if Mr. Musk’s goal was to improve his company’s public image in Brownsville, the donations appear to have helped.

“He’s given to every organization that exists here in Brownsville, from our homeless shelters to the city of Brownsville to our school children — almost anything I can ever think of,” Jessica Tetreau, a member of the city commission, said in a video filmed outside Mr. Musk’s rocket launch headquarters.

A fresh mural in Brownsville’s downtown depicts the city’s old landmarks — the cathedral, the zoo, the Gulf of Mexico beach — alongside a new one: SpaceX’s rocket complex.

The name of the charity that helped pay for the mural is listed at the bottom left: The Musk Foundation.

Audio produced by Adrienne Hurst .

David A. Fahrenthold is an investigative reporter writing about nonprofit organizations. He has been a reporter for two decades. More about David A. Fahrenthold

Ryan Mac covers corporate accountability across the global technology industry. More about Ryan Mac

The World of Elon Musk

The billionaire’s portfolio includes the world’s most valuable automaker, an innovative rocket company and plenty of drama..

A Testy Interview:  In the wake of a rough interview with Elon Musk that touched upon Donald Trump, his reported drug use and hate speech on X,  the former television anchor Don Lemon said that his deal for a new talk show on X was called off  just days before it was scheduled to air.

Tesla:  Amid slower car sales and growing competition, investors are growing concerned about the future of the Musk-owned company .

The Musk Foundation: After making billions in tax-deductible donations to his charity, Musk has failed recently to donate the minimum required to justify a tax break  — and what he did give often supported his interests.

OpenAI: Musk, who helped found the A.I. start-up in 2015, has filed a lawsuit  accusing the company and its chief executive  of breaching a contract  by putting profits and commercial interests ahead of the public good.

SpaceX: Musk said that the private rocket company, which he founded in 2002, had switched where it was incorporated to Texas from Delaware , a move that could bolster the Lone Star State’s standing with business .

Neuralink: Neuralink, a company working to develop computer interfaces that can be implanted in human brains, placed its first device in a patient , said Musk, who founded the company.

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