Center Camp: Reimagined

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. 

The Monkey Chant, 2017 (Photo by Susan Becker)

Immediacy

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! 

“Hand of the Man, Robotic Gift Exchange” by Jeff Vetterick, 2018 (Photo by Susan Becker)

History

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. 

Sydney Duarte (Traveling Gypsy), 2019 (Photo by Jan Philip Safarik)

An Invitation

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 centercamp@burningman.org, 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)

About the author: Laura Day

Laura Day

Laura Day is the Associate Director of Operations at Burning Man Project. She is obsessed with sustainable organizational design and intentional event production. Her professional past lives include operating the first recreationally licensed cannabis company in Oregon, which was ranked as the 6th Greenest Workplace in the state and listed among the best companies to work for, setting standards for national best practices in the cannabis industry. Beyond weed, Laura is also the founder/director of Firefly Gathering, a sustainability-focused music, art, yoga, healing, and educational transformational festival in beautiful Flagstaff, Arizona. Laura has designed and implemented various business models around environmental stewardship, exemplary labor practices, diversity, empowerment, and operational efficiency. She graduated Summa Cum Laude from NAU with a degree in Environmental Science, focused on Sustainable Communities & Biodiversity. Her first Burn was in 2009, where she became inspired by the astounding human ingenuity and creativity on playa and made a revelatory commitment to bring her highest potential to everything she does in order to influence the greatest positive change possible.

24 Comments on “Center Camp: Reimagined

  • Burning Man Project Communications says:

    Reminder: Burning Man Project has a responsibility to maintain this space for the benefit of all participants, to ensure that comments serve to enhance the experience of our visitors, rather than cause harm. While spirited conversation is welcome, unruly and rude behavior is not. Posts that are harmful to others or run counter to the spirit of civil discourse may be removed.

    Please review our COMMENT POLICY here, then comment with care: https://journal.burningman.org/comment-policy/

    Report comment

  • Will Chase says:

    Nicely done, all around.

    Report comment

  • phidias says:

    Hey, I really wish that we’d have coffee at Center Camp. I will honestly try to be open-minded about this, but… I honestly don’t understand the decision

    Report comment

  • Jim Foster says:

    Center camp is a prime place at the Burn to connect with people. It’s one of the places where people from all over the community gather not from just one segment.

    Report comment

  • Scott Williams says:

    I think it would be very helpful if this year’s events guide could list the camps and their locations that are gifting coffee and the hours they are open to the public. That way I can navigate where to find coffee while I’m stumbling around suffering from caffeine withdrawal.

    Report comment

  • BurnerDoc says:

    During my tenure coming to Burning Man (2005 – 2017), Center Camp basically died – slowly and progressively. During my early years, it was a blast! – really cool sights, sounds, people, events, way into the late-night hours. I always used to wonder, with each year’s passing: “why is Center Camp dying?”, but admit I don’t have the full picture. I think part of it was that – due to the Founders pandering to the huge, high-dollar, turn-key camps, with their discos and massive installations, there evolved many alternative destinations – places to be entertained, away from C.C. In my last handful of years, I would go to C.C., at various hours of the day, and early morning, and – essentially – there was nothing going on. It was boring, and dead, with perhaps 10% of the people who would have congregated there 10 years prior. Eventually, I had to give up on C.C., a place that I used to love. I think the author’s concern about C.C. is totally warranted, but, it seems like a lot of fantasizing and wishful thinking… Where’s the beef? How, in fact, would you attract burners back to C.C., when it’s reputation is now more of a dump, with very little of interest going on..?

    Report comment

    • Scott Williams says:

      “the huge, high-dollar, turn-key camps, with their discos and massive installations, there evolved many alternative destinations – places to be entertained, away from C.C…”

      You nailed it Burner Doc! The mega-camps have been allowed to devour too much of the city. The once many fun and scrappy smaller camps and Center Camp have been out competed by the turn key camps, the one percenters, and the major donors. I think that only the art and infrastructure/operations support camps should be allowed to have the largest populations.

      Report comment

  • Bill Wheeler says:

    Center Camp. You get tired of that after a couple years. There’s only so much you can take of yoga fanatics and naked hipsters camping there all week. Oh, but the coffee… Yeah, it’s called a coffee maker and you should have one in camp.

    Report comment

  • Buddy Totten says:

    Great piece! I’m looking forward to seeing what center camp becomes this year. I love the decommodification of our space. Let’s see what we can come up with!

    Report comment

  • Boggles says:

    As a 23 year burner— I really don’t see progress in Burning Man, I see just the opposite—- Center Camp & coffee was always a wonderful way to regroup & rest without going all the way back to camp. Without the coffee it will be just another theme camp. Just one more item the Org doesn’t have to manage. Hey as long it’s easier on the staff……. it must be better. Along those lines— why is it that theme camps are really the ones that choose who comes to the burn and who doesn’t, since they get all the tickets. The real shame is that a very large percentage of those tickets are given to people that really contribute little or nothing to the community— what a disappointment to individuals that truly do participate each year but can’t get tickets without begging a theme camp for them. Remember Radical Self Reliance……..but, if it’s easier on the staff— it must be better

    Report comment

    • Center Camp Fan says:

      As I understand it, all the stages, seating and shade are absolutely being managed by BMP and staff as usual, and so will the daily scheduling of events. It’s just not selling coffee. Excited to see what emerges. There’s always beautiful art to explore and a calming vibe I think will sustain. I’m going to make a project.

      Report comment

  • Giggles says:

    I think this is a great idea to revamp center camp. I completely understand everything that BMI is trying to do here. First of all ya’ll who are complaining, self reliance= Bring your own coffee. But there’s a bigger picture that’s not being seen by some of the above comments. This is clearly a move to try to make more people come to center camp and make it more of an exciting new place. How to get the word out that cc is different than the years before? That can be up to us who have read this article. I am happily a part of a small camp. But I look forward to this opportunity to break away from my camp and bring some of my individual gifts to the community in a central location. Great idea, I’m in. See ya out there!

    Report comment

  • MetaKim says:

    I started my day at CenterCamp each of my 7 burns. I loved the consistency of waking up at dawn (usually as my night-owl partner was just returning), throwing on some random outfit, hopping on my bike, making the trek, standing in line making conversation with random folks and then stretching and sipping, watching the world go by. I think it will be different without the coffee. I suppose I can bring my own. I understand the decision, though, and I will show up with an open mind

    Report comment

  • Sham says:

    While I tend to be a creature of habit, I’m looking forward to a revamped Center Camp. I hope at least the feel of it stays the same to some extent.
    While revamping, I would LOVE, LOVE, LOVE to see bright red and green lights high above the tent for navigation purposes. (think boats) On burn night I tend to get horribly disoriented. A guiding light would make life so much happier for everyone.

    Report comment

  • Joshua Martelli says:

    Not sure I’m understanding the negative energy by some of these responses. You’re building us a beautiful shaded glowing park, gallery, and performance hall and inviting us to come and play within it? Absolutely! That’s wonderful. Thank you! Musicians, magicians, jugglers, smugglers and most importantly Zone Trippers… Get your iced latte’s elsewhere… It’s the return of The Cacophony Society. There will be toasters and sewer tours…

    Report comment

  • Descartes says:

    this just makes me sad.
    did anyone think about asking burners or the people of CCC about their opinion?
    would have been nice….
    although the various groups makes that opinion pretty clear. and the reason why it didn’t happen i guess….

    Report comment

  • yahoo mail login says:

    I’m looking forward to seeing what center camp becomes this year.

    Report comment

  • care dont care says:

    lets be open to byocc, bring your own caffeine/cup, its not a lot to ask.
    I think as burners we should suck it up and appreciate the respect of less unnecessary waste contributions. Carry your own cup as usual and be surprised most likely theres plenty of services on the way for fill ups. and most likely free!
    or better yet carry a thermos and find a new friend
    the daily waste of disposable cups is already horrendous
    cheers mates

    Report comment

  • Feral Hollowell says:

    I’d like to bring do-it-yourself body painting to CC.

    Report comment

  • Mister MOOP says:

    i consider myself a veteran Burner by now, and Center Camp Cafe was my 1st Volunteer gig i stumbled across. It’s grown & changed in different ways over the decades (My favorite advancement will forever be the sculptures created with sharpened rebar to pierce cups & mesh to catch the wooden stir-sticks (& larger ice cubes;) Burner ingenuity at its best.)

    But at its heart Center Camp will remain a gathering place – for art/performance/activity/relaxation/conversation/connection. Newly arrived Burners slowly shed those many layers of unnecessary assumption & acculturate into the Temporary Autonomous Zone they are now immersed within.

    And like a big top, Burners gather & spin off in directions heretofore unknown from the Cafe.
    i even feel inspired to make my own interactive mission-spinning “compass” art installation to assist Burners in finding their own personal angular momentum & tangential vector to spin away upon.

    i hear there’s a lot more curated art in Center Camp this year..!

    But-
    For the gem that the space provides, such a high percentage of real estate was devoted to coffee – service / supply (& long lines & ample fenced-in mostly-unused space besides.)

    i do look forward to seeing the community’s co-created vision of what more the space can become.
    Art on, All..!

    Report comment

  • ChillPhill says:

    I understand where the BMORG is coming from, but Center Camp Cafe was the one place where you could relax, drop the radical self suffiency for a moment, and have a cup of coffee. I don’t think the BMORG realizes how intense Burning Man can be, and Center Camp with coffee was one place where you could just exhale for a moment and not have to perform, contribute or create, but just take it all in with gratitude

    Report comment

  • Pedro says:

    Why’s there no roof?

    Report comment

  • Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.