This post is part of “The Future of Black Rock City,” a series from the BRC Operations team about what our desert city can become and how we are preparing for the future. Read all the posts here.
Laura Day, Associate Director of Operations at your service, here to spill the beans around our plans to reimagine Center Camp — sans coffee.
As we wake from the dream between years without Black Rock City and prepare to return Home in 2022, we are coming to the realization that we are no longer the same people we were when we were last there. And, it won’t be the same place we remember. It’s always a different story, a new landscape, with adaptations, experiments, and mysteries to discover. Among other changes for this year, we are reinventing Center Camp as a space for the community to design and utilize to increase interactivity — and spontaneous shenanigans.
We’ve done a lot of thinking — and even more listening — about what the community wants the future of BRC to be. Many of us found profound inspiration from the gathering in the Black Rock Desert over Labor Day in 2021. The ‘Renegade Burn’, ‘Plan B’, the ‘Free Burn’ — whatever you choose to call it — this very much was Burning Man, in its raw, feral essence. It was a tangible demonstration that the culture and the Principles are successful in practice, without oversight, and are as strong as ever.
We’ve considered how we gather as global citizens, what’s truly important for humanity and our planet, and how we can show up more sustainably. Center Camp can serve as a microcosm of the city, and we can use it as a space to create interactions that help us better understand each other, and the direction of our collective culture. Thus, we are excited to share a relatively blank canvas under the Center Camp tent in 2022 — one where we get to paint a new landscape, together.
We aim for this to be an open source, collaborative space. We are confident that it will become something far greater than what we could ever imagine on our own. We are opening it up to the citizens of Black Rock City to curate, co-create, and choose its direction. As Larry said, “We make the hive, they bring the honey.”
So… we’ll build the structure, and YOU bring the ‘brew-haha’ — or whatever other ideas you have to fill the space with vitality and interactivity! Do you envision bringing your coffee cart and cabaret to Center Camp? Perhaps you’d like to teach synchronized (land-based) swimming! Want to serve ice cream? How about an im-PROM-tu prom night? (See what I did there?) Is there an event or workshop you’d like to host? Do you have a song to perform at open mic? A sermon from the Church of Nicholas Cage perhaps? We are eager to see what you all dream up!
As Larry wrote in this Journal article from 2013, “our original motive for creating a café was to attract people to the civic plaza at the center of our city. Although I am aware that some old-timers say that they avoid this public space, I am equally struck by how many first-time participants seem to flock to it… Consuming food or beverages with others can be bonding… [it] really wasn’t about consumption; it was a mode of communion… Eventually, I came to feel that every great city should provide these kinds of spaces where communal and civic life blend… And yet, even this explanation inevitably provokes a second question: Why not simply give this coffee away? Why not make it a gift?”
The foundational intent of this space remains constant — to attract people to convene in the central plaza of the city. Every great city should provide these spaces — and this IS that space — yet do cities provide the coffee itself? No, that’s offered by members of the community. And in our decommodified city, coffee could be an element of the prevailing gift economy. Perhaps the city’s population has grown enough to take on the caffeination of the [Burner] nation. We aim to test this theory.
Community & Culture
Center Camp has always been a touchpoint for creating community. That is still the case — now more than ever. The world has changed considerably since coffee shops were the headquarters of counterculture activity. And Black Rock City has metamorphosed substantially from when there was a desperate need for a decent cup of coffee on playa. These days, around 10 percent of camps gift coffee all over the city (that’s more than 115 camps cranking out your cuppa, with even more planned for 2022!). Many participants brew coffee for themselves and their campmates. This is a fantastic opportunity to find your favorite neighborhood coffee shop and get to know your neighbors!
Part of the culture of Center Camp is the beautiful family of volunteers that created the Coffee Shop team. You might recognize many of these beloved humans cast as new characters sharing their espresso-scented sweat and jittery love in fresh ways.
Familiar, Yet Different
What is staying the same in Center Camp? First, you will enjoy the same beautiful structure offering nearly three-quarters of an acre of shade during the day, and a sweet sanctuary at night. You can still look to the crown flags as your north star to find your bearings on the playa. The two stages, one for performance art and another for spoken word, will be there as always, as will the wooden floor the cafe once occupied, ready for your interpretive dances. The lounge areas will remain, and we will respond to how the community would like to see the space evolve.
What will change this year (besides no coffee shop, of course)? You will be able to enter the space from every direction! There will be more areas for art, including mural wall space under the shade of the tent as well as the exterior murals you know and love. You can watch artists’ pieces evolve over the course of the week. You’ll find plenty of open space for your pop-ups, activities, and mischief. We encourage you to bring your particular brand of weird to Center Camp, highlighting the special magic that happens in the nooks and crannies of the city that are sometimes overlooked.
Consider this your invitation to co-create this new canvas and Participate! How will YOU contribute? Now is the time to begin brainstorming with your campmates to come up with YOUR stamp on Center Camp.
Please reach out with your questions and ideas! What do you think the new landscape might look like? Email your ideas (and post-event feedback) to email@example.com, or simply bring your surprise spark of whimsy at your whim! And, you can learn more ways to participate here.
As an iterative city, we have the unique opportunity to dream up and invent all sorts of different ways to design our community and culture within the trash fence. Testing out a novel new model is a potent way to stimulate interactivity and Immediacy within the Zócalo of Black Rock City, which could mirror itself into the maze. What a thrill it will be to watch Center Camp transform, and witness how it inspires new ways to engage, create, and play.
With that, this is Laura Day signing off. Thanks for letting me espresso myself. (Sorry.)
Cover image of “The Playa Pops Symphony” at Center Camp, 2018 (Photo by Susan Becker)