Houston Burners Mid-2016 – 2017 Annual and a Half Report

Unbroken Spring 2017 effigy burn photo courtesy of Rabbitt

What is Houston Burners and Why Do We Have a Formal Organization?

Collaborative Houston Art and Performance Society (CHAPS) dba Houston Burners is a Texas nonprofit corporation for charitable and educational purposes and a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization.

The creation of this corporate structure was necessary to achieve these benefits to the community:

  • Liability protection for individuals
  • Protection from state sales tax (with some limitations), state franchise tax and federal tax
  • Community ownership of physical assets and intellectual property
  • Eligibility for some local grant programs for arts organizations

Overview

This report recaps Houston Burners (“HB”) efforts from inception in mid 2016 through the end of 2017This report is intended to give the community a full and transparent view of its activities and associated financials. Thank you to all the community members who spent over a hundred volunteer hours preparing this report. Achievements include:

  • Registration of 900+ community members on HB’s website www.houstonburners.org
  • A growing annual Houston-area regional burn with over 300 tickets sold in 2017
  • Continued support for the community warehouse space hosting 75+ meetings, weekly community gatherings, work days and workshops
  • Recurrence of our two annual fundraisers in 2017
  • Creation of a community art car teaching 50+ people skills that has made 2 trips to Burning Man
  • A new Houston-area theme camp that took 30 people to their first Burning Man in 2017
  • The community truck transporting gear for 57 people to Burning Man 2017
  • Burners Without Borders Houston chapter formed in response to Hurricane Harvey
  • Over $60,000 in secure transactions through its tax-advantaged structure, saving the community over $9,000 in sales and income tax in 2016 and 2017

Below you will find:

  • Discussions of each program within Houston Burners, along with photos and financials
  • A combined set of financials for the overall organization
  • Links to Houston Burners’ most recent tax return, bylaws and 501(c)(3) application

Management

Management of Houston Burners is vested in its unpaid, all-volunteer board of directors. Currently, these directors are Andrew Lin, Andy Brown (Secretary), Greg Goodman, Heidi Lehto, Kathleen Keahey (President), and Mike Eros.

Before the incorporation of the non-profit, individual community members took on the responsibility, and the liability, of signing contracts on behalf of the community, sometimes in their own name and sometimes using the dba “Houston CORE” (a legacy project platform from Burning Man’s CORE projects).  The non-profit corporation and 501(c)(3) status application were created specifically to assume these liabilities, and relieve community members of the personal legal and financials risks they represented. For additional information, please see Houston Burners’ 501(c)(3) application (Form 1023 filing). The “Houston Burners” name was adopted to be more inclusive of the community as a whole than the Houston CORE name, which referenced past projects.

The original slate of board members were people who had, or were about to take on, community contracts or liabilities, and were willing to make the legal commitment associated with non-profit directorship required by the state. A rotating board seat was added to invite one of the current leads of the Houston-area regional burn to join the board. Laurette Cañizares held this seat during production of the 2017 event, resigning to make way for one of the 2018 event organizers in Heidi Lehto. Burners Without Borders Houston was offered a seat that will remain open to a local BWB representative when they are ready.

The rules that currently govern the HB Board are the minimum necessary to meet legal requirements for a Texas non-profit. Currently, board decisions are generally made by consensus, and board members serve until resigning. New members are selected by the board based in part on community and event participation. A succession plan for current board members has not been established and is a current discussion topic. Additional information about Houston Burner’s organization and management can be found in its FAQ and its Bylaws.

Program Areas

Houston Burners manages a General Fund (“GF”), a catch-all for miscellaneous donations and expenses of HB, and supports activities that fall into four Program Areas:

  • Community Warehouse – income from the Monthly Dues effort pays for the Community Warehouse, with any shortfall covered by the GF
  • Fundraisers and Ticketed Events – profit goes to GF
  • Financial Sponsorships – provides donations to individual projects from GF
  • Self-Funded Projects – financially self-contained projects with no support from GF


Community Warehouse

Located at 908G Winston St, Houston, TX 77009, our Community Warehouse hosts many of the community’s Weekly church nite gatherings and serves as a workspace for a number of projects in the community. More than that, though, it’s  “home” for many burners in Houston when they’re away from the playa.

Unbroken Spring 2017 theme reveal courtesy of Laurette Cañizares

Warehouse History and Use

Kathleen Keahey and Justin H. rented the space in 2015 on behalf of Houston CORE as a community work space and gathering place. Houston CORE paid the rent, and Justin paid the electricity in exchange for work space. Renegotiating the warehouse lease and putting it in the name of Houston Burners remains a key goal for the non-profit. To that end, Houston Burners signed a sublease and started paying the monthly rent in February of 2017, and then took over paying the utilities for the warehouse in November 2017.


Unless otherwise noted or marked, all photos courtesy of members of the board

Heavy users of the warehouse during 2016 and 2017 included:

  • The Mask Factory project
  • Various theme camp projects and storage
  • Burn event load-ins and load-outs
  • Houston Burners Art Car
  • Unbroken Spring temple construction
  • Volunteer, critical staff and ICS training
  • Margarita Appalachia project
  • Playa Pity Party event
  • Weekly church nite community gatherings

One of the warehouse’s finest moments occurred shortly after Hurricane Harvey. southmorehouse presents’ (a local arts promotion organization) Playa Pity Party event, cancelled due to the hurricane, repositioned itself as a hurricane relief effort at the warehouse with volunteers active 24/7 for six days, handling donations and dispatching aid. 64 volunteers gifted 1,000 hours of their time to assist 19 surrounding neighborhoods, distributing 73 boxes of cleaning supplies, home goods, food goods, 40 trash bags of clothes, sheets and blankets, 64 pallets of water, 142 gallons of gas, 3 solar panels, 3 generators, and helped demo/clean 8 houses. This effort spawned Burners Without Borders Houston (see below).

Warehouse Committee

A Warehouse Committee formed in 2017 with the goal of keeping the warehouse activated with projects, clean and organized, and with projects using the warehouse encouraged to help fund the space through monthly donations. The current Warehouse Committee leads are Dave Tymo and Greg Goodman, with a Facebook group for those interested in this effort.

Monthly Dues Memberships and One-Time Donations

Monthly Dues through the Houston Burner’s website are recurring, tax-deductible donations that are vital to pay the monthly expenses associated with the Community Warehouse. At present, 13 people have committed to Monthly Dues (including every board member) which in total generates about $300 in income each month. Approximately 40 people paying dues every month would cover the $900 in Community Warehouse expenses (see below). If you’d like to help out and sign up for Monthly Dues, or a one-time donation, please visit here.

Community Warehouse: Financials

On an ongoing basis, the warehouse costs approximately $900 per month. This breaks down as:

  • $675 in rent
  • Approximately $100 in utilities
  • Approximately $100 in insurance
  • Approximately $25 in supplies

Currently, with about $300 per month promised in Monthly Dues, our monthly shortfall is about $600 (or $7,200 annually). This is covered by cash donations at church nites and money from the General Fund. This shortfall is difficult to see in historical financials as Houston Burners transitioned to paying for various warehouse costs at different times. To make it easier to understand the shortfall, a projection for 2018 is included. If you have the means and inclination, participating in the Monthly Dues program would greatly benefit our community’s security and ability to grow.


Fundraisers and Ticketed Events

Houston Burners’ current annual events include:

These events charge for tickets for admission to the events. All profits not reinvested in the events go to the Houston Burner’s General Fund. Ticket purchases are not considered tax deductible donations due to the value received in exchange, and no tax-deductible receipts may be provided for these purchases. However, Houston Burners’ status as a Texas non-profit corporation generally allows it to avoid collecting sales tax on tickets sold, a direct savings for ticket buyers.

Unbroken Spring 2017 effigy burn courtesy of Rabbitt

Unbroken Spring

Unbroken Spring (“UBS”) is the community’s annual Houston-area regional burn which takes place during the last half of Spring Break.

UBS was held for the first time in March of 2016 by HTFRKS, LLC, an organization created specifically to produce the event. HTFRKS, southmorehouse presents, and Houston CORE managed the event, with Dave Tymo and Laurette Cañizares serving as event leads.  For 2016, the partners agreed that any profits from the event would be divided evenly between the three organizations, and that future burns produced by the partnership would allocate 10% of profits to southmorehouse presents and 10% to Houston Core for community activation.

Before UBS 2017, HTFRKS decided they would be unable to produce UBS going forward. After some negotiation, HTFRKS turned the event over to the newly incorporated Houston Burners nonprofit, with the new understanding that:

  • $1,079 from UBS 2016, intended for Houston CORE, would become a cash donation to the HB General Fund
  • $1,921 remaining from the 2016 Playa Pity Party (hosted by HTFRKS and southmorehouse presents) would become a cash donation to the HB General Fund
  • Any and all profits from future UBS events produced by HB would go to HB, to be used for organizational goals, particularly future UBS event production

UBS 2017: School of Equinox

Dave and Laurette were recruited to reprise their roles as event leads for UBS 2017, the second iteration of the burn and the first produced by Houston Burners. The theme was School of Equinox, and UBS took big steps forward in terms of organization, volunteerism, art quantity and quality, and total attendees. UBS 2017 also took advantage of HB’s infrastructure, using its website for ticket sales and registrations and using its tax exempt status to avoid tax on ticket sales and profits.

Houston Burners would like to thank all the Unbroken Spring volunteers, including leads Dave and Laurette, for their time and effort in putting on a very successful event. Thank you to all the theme camps, artists, and participants that helped make Unbroken Spring 2017 such a memorable experience. Thank you, as well, to the founding organizations and people who made the first event possible and shepherded it into the nonprofit umbrella for continuing growth.

UBS 2017: Financials

Unbroken Spring 2017 made $9,317.90 in cash flow.  This money went into the General Fund and $9,000 was set aside inside the GF as a reserve for Unbroken Spring 2018. Detailed financials for the event are below:    

The Speakeasy

Managed by the HB organization for the first time in 2017, The Speakeasy is an annual party held in late summer featuring Prohibition-style costume, drinks and decor in the basement of a downtown Houston building. The fundraiser was founded for Burning Man camps and transportation by Houston CORE.

A special thanks goes out to the donors of this uniquely themed space. Houston Burners would also like to thank Christa E, Kathleen, and Steven B for leading the event as well as Houphoria theme camp and all the volunteers and participants that made the evening a success!

Speakeasy 2017: Financials

As with other ticketed events and fundraisers, the $3,481.63 in profits from The Speakeasy went to the General Fund. Additionally, The Houphoria theme camp, formerly a Houston CORE camp and founders of The Speakeasy, was given a special $1,687.58 financial sponsorship by HB from the GF, representing approximately half of the profits from the event. (See the Financial Sponsorships section at the end of this report.)

The Crawfish Boil

Each year towards the end of crawfish season, we hold a Crawfish Boil prepared by expert chefs in our community, which was under the umbrella of Houston Burners for the first time in 2017.

This year, rain was a critical challenge, with a downpour happening in the middle of the event held outdoors at West Alabama Ice House. Given that walkup sales are the bulk of proceeds for this event, sales were much less than in past years. Nonetheless, the crawfish were excellent as always, and Houston Burners would like to thank chefs CJ G., Kevin W. and Lillie A. and all the volunteers and participants that came out.

Crawfish Boil 2017: Financials

Due to torrential rains on the day of the event, The Crawfish Boil 2017 unfortunately lost $225.20, with this loss covered by the General Fund.


Financial Sponsorships

Houston Burners uses money from the General Fund to provide Financial Sponsorships to community projects. These sponsorships are effectively gifts to these projects to help them cover their costs as they provide gifts and services back to the community.

Houphoria 2016 Burning Man theme camp at sunset courtesy of Deicy de la Ossa

Financial Sponsorships: Financials

So far, Houston Burners has given $2,687.58 in financial sponsorships to community projects.

  • In 2016, HB gave $500 to the Houphoria theme camp and $500 to the HB Art Car project
  • In 2017, HB gave $1,687.58 to the Houphoria theme camp (see Speakeasy above)

HB announced a gift of $500 to the Birmaid welding project through its Quarterly Art Grant program. However, the project was cancelled, along with the $500 grant. In addition to Financial Sponsorships, $1,852.38 went to art in 2017 through Unbroken Spring.


General Fund

The Houston Burners’ General Fund contains all the general and administrative expenses for Houston Burners, along with miscellaneous donations and expenses that aren’t attributed to major project areas. The GF is primarily funded by the profits from Fundraisers and Ticketed Events, with funds then used to provide Financial Sponsorships and help support the Community Warehouse.

Houston Burners maintains a business account at Chase Bank where the funds for HB reside. Signatory authority over this account is held by HB’s two current officers, Kathleen and Andy. To better serve Houston Burners projects such as UBS, sub-accounts for specific projects are sometimes set up, so project leads also have immediate access to dedicated funds.

General Fund 2016-2017: Financials

The numbers below show the contributions from the previous entity Houston CORE when Houston Burners began in 2016. This includes monies from art projects, community trucks, theme camps and fiscal sponsorships from several outside nonprofit entities from 2011-2016. It also reflects significant project loans from community members who refused reimbursement, and gifted donations to Houston CORE to support the warehouse. This income was replaced in 2017 by cash flow from the Fundraisers and Ticketed Events.

Houston Burners took over pieces of the cost structure of the warehouse at different times in 2017, leading to a loss covered by the General Fund. The General Fund also paid HB’s general and administrative costs. Despite these expenditures, the General Fund was cash flow positive in both 2016 and 2017.

The bottom of the chart below shows the resulting amounts the General Fund holds in the bank. Houston Burners set aside a $9,000 reserve for Unbroken Spring 2018 and $6,000 for the Community Warehouse, leaving over $4,279.90 available for supporting new Financial Sponsorships and other projects.


Self-Funded Projects

Houston Burners’ self-funded projects consist of:

Self-funded projects are housed within Houston Burners, and utilize HB liability and tax advantages, but raise their own funds for all expenses with no support from the HB General Fund. In short, dues and proceeds from fundraisers and ticketed events do not go to these projects.

The exception is that these projects may apply for, and be granted financial sponsorships through various HB grant programs. However, these grants are not guaranteed, and these projects do not rely on them to break even.

Art Car 2017 at Burning Man courtesy of Wanda Z.

Houston Burners Art Car

The Houston Burners Art Car is a community arts education effort where 50+ members of the community have learned and practiced small tool, welding, woodworking, sewing, painting, lighting, sound and mechanical skills. The car has attended Burning Man twice now, serving approximately 500 riders across both events.

The car was conceived to be redesigned annually to reflect the current year’s Burning Man art theme. The second year’s winning design was selected from community submissions by the first year’s art car team.

In 2018, the team plans to expand the number of events the car attends, including UBS and the Houston Art Car Parade.

2016: Up 2 – Electric Boogaloo

  • Burning Man Art Theme – Da Vinci’s Workshop: design featured a rendition of Da Vinci’s Aerial Screw
  • Focused on stripping the base vehicle and “mutating” it to remove visual clues from the original SUV
  • Performed basic mechanical repairs
  • Added base, and a deck and seating for passengers
  • Added 10 foot mast topped by a disco ball and removable screw-shaped sail
  • Project lead: Andy Brown
  • Host theme camp: Houphoria
  • More on the 2016 Art Car here

2017: Tree of Life

  • Theme – Radical Ritual: design featured a multi-colored tree rising over foliage
  • Converted mast to trunk, added PVC branches and multi-color strips of fabric as leaves
  • A loosely upholstered, well-lit,chicken-wire frame formed the bushy foliage at the base of the car frame
  • Thousands of LED lights were added
  • Designer: Tran Tran
  • Project lead: Andy Brown
  • Host theme camp: Houpla  
  • More on the 2017 version of the vehicle can be found here.

A significant day at the burn had the Tree of Life car hosting a very special radical ritual indeed: the remarriage of Maggie L. and Andrew K. Thank you again to Tran Tran for proposing this wonderful design!

Art Car 2016-2017: Financials

The HB Art Car project has been financed almost entirely by private donations. A little over $9,000 has been spent on the project thus far, with transportation costs almost half of this amount. But for a $500 Financial Sponsorship in 2016, no money from any other projects nor the General Fund has been used for this project. However, Houpla did lend its generator each evening to power the car’s LED lights at 2017’s Burning Man.

Houpla Theme Camp

The Houpla Theme Camp was created in 2017 with the goal of making it easier for Houston-area community members to attend their first Burning Man in Nevada, providing general infrastructure, planning assistance, and acculturation with Burning Man’s 10 Principles. The camp took 30 “virgins” to their first Burning Man in 2017. Led by Andy Brown, the camp also hosted the Houston Burners Art Car and the Houston Burning Man Community Truck (see below).

Houpla 2017 at Burning Man courtesy of Wanda Z.

Houpla’s gift to the burn was 100 handmade stick horses and an equestrian course on which to ride them. The camp activated the community warehouse on Wednesday church nites to build the gift horses, and the course was a big hit with Houpla’s neighbors. The camp recently received notice from Burning Man that it is in good standing and is invited back for 2018.

The camp was delighted to be a part of hosting the remarriage of Maggie L. and Andrew K., as well as the engagement of Dmitri T. and Lorra G. The camp also enjoyed volunteering en masse for Mike Eros’s Margareta Appalachia honoraria art piece burn. Many of Houpla’s first year crew are planning on returning in 2018 to introduce a new group of virgins to Burning Man.

Houpla 2017: Financials

Budgeting for a new camp, acquiring its infrastructure, and taking a new crew to the desert is always an adventure, and each Houpla camper paid $250 in dues–including $100 both as a deposit for a minimum level of camp work participation and a soak for any cost overruns. Transportation costs unfortunately ended up being higher than expected but left Houpla still able to clear $1,112.58 to return to its campers.

A few Houplans were unable to make it to Nevada at the last minute because of Hurricane Harvey. The camp is working on a discounted dues program for these people in 2018.

Houston Burning Man Community Truck

The Houston Burning Man Community Truck has historically been an important resource for Houston burners transporting gear for Burning Man. Having been operated by a various individuals and groups from Houston to Austin and beyond, and after a hiatus in 2016, Houston Burners sought to restart the Community Truck in 2017. Led by Andy Brown, the project transported 57 participants’ gear for Burning Man.

Transport Team 2017 at Burning Man courtesy of Wanda Z.

For the first time, the project lead made the decision to hire private security to inspect the truck’s cargo with a trained canine in order to protect the truck’s drivers. Several issues were identified and resolved during load-in at the Community Warehouse. The truck was pulled over on the way home from Burning Man by a North Texas county sheriff who elected to perform a canine inspection as well as a physical search. No issues were found, and the drivers were released without charges.

The drivers of the Community Truck must make their own decisions about what approaches they feel are needed for their safety. However, advance notice of the approaches taken should be communicated as early as possible so that people can make other arrangements if necessary. With this year’s truck, more advanced notice would have been preferable, ideally at the time the Community Truck was announced.  

Besides the sheriff, Hurricane Harvey was also a challenge, but delayed the truck by only one day. Houston Burners would like to thank the drivers of the Community Truck, and the Houston Burners Art Car transport team that convoyed with them, for their many volunteer hours and for handling the challenges they faced.

Community Truck 2017: Financials

The truck charged $40 per footlocker, $50 per boxed bike, $5 per folding chair and $10 per cubic foot for all other items. The project paid for hotel rooms for the drivers, but not their food. The Houston Burners Art Car transport team convoyed with the Community Truck, but the Art Car team paid their own way without any use of Community Truck funds.

Burners Without Borders Houston

A Houston chapter of Burners Without Burners (“BWB”) formed in the wake of the efforts of the community in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Led by Emily B. and Colin H., BWB Houston has been very active in helping families affected by the hurricane tear down and rebuild their homes and businesses, and in taking in donations for those affected.

Houston Burners has supported the project with Community Warehouse space and providing the leads with a bank account through HB as a self-funded project.

Burners Without Borders Houston working in a flood-damaged home courtesy of Emily B.

BWB Houston: Financials

The bulk of the donations for this effort was in goods and transportation, and is not reflected in the cash flow breakdown below.


Summary Financials

All of the project financial summaries above are included in the combined set of financials for the overall organization below. Growing Monthly Dues to match the monthly expenditures of the Community Warehouse is a focus for 2018, as is returning the Crawfish Boil to profitability and reviving the Quarterly Art Grant program. That said, Houston Burners overall financial picture is healthy, with over $4,000 available to support new Financial Sponsorships and programs and to manage any unforeseen expenses.

To improve clarity, some financials have had their time period shifted to align with the timing of the associated event. (ex: UBS’s December 2016 ticket sales moved into 2017 to align with the timing of the event.) Also, please note Houston Burners reports financials on a cash instead of an accrual basis. The bank balances below are effectively the balance sheet for Houston Burners as all purchases are expensed instead of capitalized, and non-profit corporations do not have equity accounts.

Houston Burners IRS Filing

As a 501(c)(3) with less than $50,000 in revenues, Houston Burners files form 990-N. The 2016 990-N filing can be seen here, and the 2017 990-N filing can be seen here


Questions and Feedback

Houston Burners is happy to answer any questions the community has about the Annual Report and its contents. Questions can be submitted to admin@houstonburners.org. Houston Burners also plans to hold a dedicated church nite in the near future to present the contents of the Annual Report and discuss it in detail with the community.