ReCentering the Heart of Black Rock City

The beating heart of Black Rock City is about to get pumpin’! This year marks a monumental moment of evolution — we are reimagining and revitalizing the center of the city. Center Camp Plaza will reincarnate into a street fair of delight and curiosity, a celebratory nexus for the Burning Man global cultural movement like we’ve never seen in Black Rock City. It’s going to knock your playa-stained socks off.

An experiment began in 2022 and 2023, and the community was invited to reimagine the space under Center Camp’s Canopy. Yet, these invitations and intentions weren’t enough. It’s time to get innovative and radical. With a healthy dose of Burner creativity and ingenuity, a revolutionary rebirth is imbuing immediacy and instigating interactivity into the city’s center, radiating the potency of Burning Man culture from its core. 

The original intent of Center Camp was to bring people together and foster community. We are doubling down on that goal. We are no longer simply relying on selling coffee to do it. The center of our dusty metropolis will be a magnificent expression of the whimsical, wild, and creative Burning Man spirit that brings people together in Black Rock City and around the world.

“Our original motive for creating a café was to attract people to the civic plaza at the center of our city… As I often tell people, over the years we’ve tried to create alternative attractants — something other than a cup of coffee — that might lure folks into this enormous public plaza in the heart of our city.” – Larry Harvey

The city’s heart is where we can experience the bleeding edge of Burning Man culture, pumping nourishment and growth to the farthest extremities — an incubator for future iterations and evolutions. While the Temple and the Man invite a release as they burn, the heart asks us what we wish to keep, cherish, nourish, and bring with us on our quest. The city’s center is so much more than a coffee shop. It will ignite, distill, define, and cultivate the very essence of Black Rock City. 

The heart of the city is coming to life. 

“Koro Loko” by Emily Nicolosi, 2019 (Photo by julianelsongal)

The Cultural Core of Black Rock City

Cities around the world utilize their centers as a space to nurture and share their unique cultures expressed through festivals, street fairs, fiestas, and celebrations. Black Rock City is all of these all at once. New Orleans cannot be described without including Mardi Gras, and Carnivale is a mainstay of Rio de Janeiro. What will Black Rock City’s Center Camp Plaza festivities look like? How can the vibrancy of Burning Man be refined into an activated cultural core? How will this reimagined neighborhood become a place to spark, engage, and inspire the city in new ways? 

This transformation is a radical renaissance of our city center. The street layout around the city’s heart has been redesigned to make the Center Camp Plaza more approachable as you explore the city. Rod’s Road, though artfully designed, created a navigational barrier to enter the Plaza — but no longer! With this encircling road removed, streets now lead into the center — and offer 4,000 feet of additional frontage to the Center Camp Neighborhood. Camps with distinctive interactivity will be placed around the plaza ring and throughout the zone, creating a bustling downtown vibe. 

It’s not only the streets and neighborhood being reimagined — the Canopy is pulsing with a smorgasbord of participatory shenanigans! The Canopy is the perfect meeting point for you and your friends to begin your adventures. Take a tumble down a rabbit hole before venturing out on the town — or perhaps the Center Camp Plaza becomes the evening’s destination, quite unexpectedly. Bring the kids in the morning for spirited games and activities. Become enveloped by the phenomenon of immersive play. Don your best mushroom costume and join the Million Mushroom March after a pep talk by mycelial experts. Come in the evening for ludicrous laughs and mischievous pranks. Shake your booty during one of the special guest performances on the stage and become enchanted by a most curious circus. Wear your formal best to the Cacophony Society Cocktail Party, witness a wedding, crash the reception, and then strut your stuff in the People’s Fashion Show. You may be transformed into a character that motivates you to adopt a new persona for the entire evening. You might even learn a thing or two. Or, add your flavor of shenanigans and mayhem to the mix. There will be more whimsy than you can shake a stick at, and absurdity around every curve. 

Picture this: the heart of the city redesigned with streets flowing like arteries into Center Camp Plaza — the ring around it brimming with compelling camps creating a lively interactive downtown. Belly laughs echo from late-night revelries, variety shows, and raucous vaudevillian circus acts under the Canopy. Characters are brought to life through immersive theater, fire performers play with the elements, and aerialists dangle from the beams. Kiddos of all ages are enthralled and engaged in crafternoons, scavenger hunts, and a wide array of curious experiences that satisfy the craving for deeply immersive play. A magical painting of curiouser and curiouser proportions emerges before your eyes. You wander through the Canopy crannies and micro-environments, pop-up experiences, trading posts, and casino games, and find a cozy chill zone to take a load off and meet new friends, all while an orchestra serenades the space. Shticks and heckling, mind-bending art, psychedelic tea parties, and shindigs make up a curious elixir of playa adventures with a distinct flavor of surprise. 

Do YOU wish to bring something fantastical to the festivities and be part of this revival? Performers, shtick curators, aerialists, and circus characters wanted! Seeking makers and creators to teach your creative skills at the crafternoons, tea sommeliers for a grand tea party, collectors and hoarders to bring your oddities to the extravaganza, and eccentric decorators to add your flourish to an alcove environment. Do you have a smashing concept and the necessary humans to take over the entire center Canopy for a few hours? Let us know your creative ideas by May 24th, and your abilities to implement them. Share your interest in playing a part!

Center Camp, 1990 (Photo courtesy of Nick Lynch and Julia Wharton)

The Journey

Let’s rewind for a moment and pay homage to the history of Center Camp. Back in 1995, Cacophonist and Burning Man instigator Ms P brought a commercial catering coffee urn and placed it on a folding table next to a couple of hay bales under a parachute. Dubbed, Café Temps Perdu, this early Center Camp Café served as a destination for connecting, and grew into a beloved institution. 

Center Camp, 1997 (Photo by George Post)

Lauded as the “Gateway to Volunteering,” the Center Camp Coffee Shop evolved into a complex operation with more than 1,200 volunteers and a distinct and beloved team culture all its own. As the city grew, so did the café’s environmental impact and operational complexity. Eventually, with hundreds of theme camps offering coffee, the community’s radical self-caffeination began to challenge the cafe’s relevance.

As we emerged from the pandemic we needed a lighter lift to bring back Black Rock City. In some places, the old ways were no longer justifiable, prompting a reevaluation of the space’s role in the city. Is selling coffee the best expression of the Black Rock City culture? Can the essence of Black Rock City percolate from its center in new ways?

(Photo by Gilles Bonugli Kali)

Here We Go!

Together, we are creating a new chapter in the story of Black Rock City, one invoking creativity, connection, and collective expression — a concentrated curation of the special moments that can only be found in the Burnerverse. Let’s celebrate the small and the strange, the fun and the freaky, the brilliant and the boisterous — a distinct nucleus of community and culture. This year the community will focus on the city’s core — and our hearts are truly in the game. 

Do you feel compelled to contribute? Come play! Bring your thing, and get involved in this newness from its inception. Here’s a form to propose your participation.

Cover image of Center Camp in BRC, 2023 (Photo by Jonathan LaLiberty)

About the author: Burning Man Project

Burning Man Project

The official voice of the Burning Man organization, managed by Burning Man Project's Communications Team.

61 Comments on “ReCentering the Heart of Black Rock City

  • Gizmo says:

    “As the city grew, so did the café’s environmental impact and operational complexity. Eventually, with hundreds of theme camps offering coffee, the community’s radical self-caffeination began to challenge the cafe’s relevance.”

    Seriously??
    Is it just impossible to admit that eliminating the café was a mistake??

    Report comment

    • Chris Manfredi says:

      Exactly !!!

      Report comment

    • NobodyinParticular says:

      Here are a few little factoids you might find interesting – did you know that the average drink consumption at the cafe had dropped to one-sixth of what it once was? This could possibly be a result of the huge increase in camps gifting coffee as part of their interactivity – one in four camps now gift coffee! The numbers indicate that selling coffee in Center Camp was becoming less and less popular. For such a very labor intensive and complex operation with a huge environmental footprint, it simply didn’t make sense to continue. However, what’s happening there this year is new, exciting, and unique. The community has never done anything like this. The amazing culture and creations that happen in the city are celebrated, with many of the most interactive camps coming together in the Plaza and under the Canopy to create something greater than the sum of their parts, alongside many of the organizers of the event. It’s a touchpoint that has until now never existed, creating a bridge to collaborate and make magic together that doesn’t exist elsewhere. And there will be plenty of coffee, tea and other beverages available in and around the Canopy. It’s going to be epic and we certainly hope to see you there, grinning with delight, delicious beverage in hand.

      Report comment

  • Dan says:

    Just bring back the coffee already.

    Report comment

  • JD says:

    Sorry but much of this post reads as Burner Word Salad. Hate it or not, Center Camp was better with the café and without that draw it’s sad and empty. Facts is facts. Bring back the drinks!

    Report comment

  • Feenix aka Charlie says:

    So honored, excited and overjoyed to be performing interactive Shakespeare on stage in Central Plaza this year and activating The Shakespearean Insult Battle Royale!

    Report comment

  • Alexander m Stiem says:

    GENIUS!!!

    All roads should have always lead to Center Camp from all directions; the beating heart of Burning Man itself; the caldron of life, love and creativity….everything beyond the canopy just feeds life to Center Camp. Well done BORG.

    Report comment

  • MissingLateNightCoffee says:

    Please, in the name of Larry, bring back the cafe.

    Report comment

  • MansoonB says:

    Who’s taking bets on the how long it takes for petulant calls to “bring back coffee!” as if this were a place incapable of change? I say, “don’t get stuck on the past!” BRING ON THE INNOVATION!

    Report comment

  • Rio says:

    While there was coffee that really wasn’t the point. It was about the community that formed while drinking coffee or whatever. It was about the tradition of one last cupa with friends before exodus. It was about something warm at 3am on a cold night while enjoying some odd entertainment and talking deep stuff with folks you just met in the line. It was about washing the dishes on a hot Playa day. It was about hoping to become a batista after a few years as a runner. It was about taking a mandatory dance break on the counter. It was about the satisfying sound of impaling your empty cup on a piece of rebar. It was about parched throats and watching acrobatics. It was about a matching band parading through at 4am. All while drinking some caffeine so you could go back out and dance until dawn. I get the reasons they stopped but they will never recreate what they had. Good luck but I think it’s still going to be the desert island it’s been the last few burns.
    Miss coffee.

    Report comment

  • Stinger says:

    I miss the back wall that spanned 6’oclock of The “Cafe”. Not only did it provide a much needed windbreak to make the space a haven, it provided so many canvases for artists of so many styles! I really hope they consider bringing it back.

    Report comment

    • NobodyinParticular says:

      The wall hasn’t gone away, it’s been there the past two years and will be again this year. There will also be an art labyrinth and live mural painting throughout the week to watch unfold! So. Much. Art.

      Report comment

  • Dr. Snippet says:

    Doing it right. Coffee sales were an abomination.

    Report comment

  • burn THIS! says:

    A map or illustration of the new design would’ve been helpful here.

    Report comment

  • Cresswell Walker says:

    I am glad that Centre Camp is being re-imagined. I am glad that it is seeking to re-establish itself as the heart of Burning Man – no small quest!
    And what indeed is the Heart of Burning Man and how can we bring the heart of Burning Man to ROTW (Rest of The World)? Perhaps we can include in a re-visioned Centre Camp a role for Centre Camp as an explicit world wide incubator of social, civil and creative alternatives. ‘As a message of hope for our future, how can we spread the Burning Man ethic to the ROTW?’ This is the question that I will bring joyfully to Centre Camp . My ask is this: That Centre Camp define perpetual meeting spaces where I can find and engage fellow Burners philosophically over this, my quest, with or without coffee!

    Report comment

    • NobodyinParticular says:

      There will be many opportunities to engage in this exact conversation. The Future Friday event includes facilitated workshops to envision the future of the culture and how to bring it into the world in a deeper way. Please join the conversation!

      Report comment

  • deon a abruzzo says:

    The cafe is not irrrelevant. It was my absolute favorite thing to do. Get away from the dust storm. Come together with people in a Dusty storm and just grab a cup of warm chai.. So what if other people are giving it away? Ever since the cafe went out of business, the heart of burning Man has been dead at center camp. Please bring back some sort of drink stand so people have some refuge.. I’ve been going for 17 years and it was one of the saddest things he took away. On another note, I’d love to see the playa net come back… Ha

    Report comment

  • matador says:

    so wait, still no coffee? what if instead of fixed price it was donate what you like? this was a fundraiser…and even if people didn’t purchase coffee there, having the crowd associated with it drew others in. can has coffee again please?

    Report comment

  • Tex Allen says:

    Lots of adjectives here…
    Wen coffee?

    Report comment

  • Bee says:

    So…. will there be coffee?

    Report comment

  • nightmilk says:

    It’s ironic how caffeinated this post feels. Truly a cup that runneth over with it’s-too-early-for-this adverbs, adjectives, and alliterations and I’m not sure how much more this dusty, crusty, and thirsty old burner can swallow. A desperate attempt to get us to drink the kool aid when there’s truly only one beverage we crave…

    You’re not fooling anyone; bring back the real, muddy brown life blood of the city! Long live Center Camp!

    Report comment

  • Mortisha says:

    Just bring back the coffee already

    Report comment

  • Eric says:

    If you have phone charging stations… people will gravitate to center camp… sorry to be so boring

    Report comment

  • Miranda says:

    Inspiring and magical

    Report comment

  • Joker says:

    I love your dreams, and the removal of rods road is a much welcome improvement, but seriously, just bring back the coffee and you will restore the community and whimsy to centre camp.

    It is an imperfect operation, but that imperfection is what makes it so beautiful and it provides a much needed excuse for interaction.

    Nothing else will do it.

    Report comment

  • The Dead Meshugganah says:

    Layout Map?
    Infrastructure Changes?
    FAQ?
    Re-Caffeination Planz?

    This ‘Re-Centering’ concept sounds intriguing, but the engineering side of my brain is screaming for more details. Help me shut it up!

    Report comment

  • Alex says:

    Don’t forget to bring back the coffee shop!!

    Report comment

  • Matthew Flinders says:

    Input: Move lamplighters and other camps like that to the back street or somewhere nice. Have a big costume camp that people stumble across. Keep the ice camp there (brings people to our beloved downtown). Post office, a cheese sandwich place, a jazz camp, a beer camp, a live music camp, a soup camp, the farmers market. In real world downtowns, if there are little shops and the right number of restaurants, downtowns come alive. Having things where people are drawn in. Parking and then a stroll around downtown will work. Events, or 100 person dining room tables – how do you join in on that. What about 5 min ted talks, a library, a tall thing – the tallest thing in the city that people can go up and look out over the city. A place everyone feels like they need to stop by at least once during the week!

    Report comment

  • Jana Hofeditz says:

    No coffee? Greatly missed

    Report comment

  • Kyle thomas says:

    Ok. Picture this: everything above AND a coffee shop. That would be nice. Or just a coffee shop and a f*ck yer burn flag

    Report comment

  • Electra says:

    Hope it still will be a great place to listen to speakers present radical ideas and artists perform. Being able to chill at center camp and meet people from all over is appreciated by many.

    Report comment

  • Vergennes Ami says:

    Love the village with shops and attractions concept. to decrease waste, how about a cafe but not serve bevvies in disposable cups? Revelers bring their own cups.

    Report comment

  • Some Seeing Eye says:

    Some things to consider:

    Are we coming to Center camp to spectate performances?

    Have the theme camps been polled on their capacity to send interaction to Center Camp?

    Should theme camps be recruiting new campers with performance/interaction to bring to Center Camp?

    Is Center Camp going to be in the What, Where, When? Is there capacity?

    What things happening in Center Camp offer an opportunity for conversation between burners?

    What are the parallels/discontinuities between BRC’s mostly open-source non-curation of art and the new Center Camp?

    How do you measure success, progress, or do course correction?

    Report comment

    • NobodyinParticular says:

      Thank you for asking these important questions! All of these have been discussed deeply. You will be pleased that interactivity is at the center of the intentions for the activations – immersiveness and engagement. A conversation is part of working with camps placed nearby and those who bring a high level of interactivity under the Canopy need not have any at their camp, and in some cases get proximity placement to bring their activities. What Where When – check. So many opportunities for conversations, including a deeply facilitated workshop on the Future of the Culture at Future Friday. There will be much more detail to come. Please come and share in the experience!

      Report comment

  • Chris Manfredi says:

    All the article commentary about the wonderful things that will happen to the area once the rods road is gone is kinda silly.
    All those things already exist on every street in black rock, EVERY one !!
    The coffeeshop was out daily get together to talk about the things we did, the things we were gonna do and a way to get together with our camp mates before we all split off for the day.
    It was also communal with little sprinkles of magic mixed in.
    Sipping a mocha, relaxing then all of a sudden the pink wedding shows up.
    Amazing.
    So many great memories surrounding that little cup of coffee.

    Burning man is not the same without center camp Cafe.

    Maybe the powers that be would see it the way we do it they didn’t have first camps resources and the commissary ?

    Report comment

  • Adriana Roberts says:

    This makes me almost want to come back to Burning Man again, just to see how well getting rid of Rod’s Road works (especially after lobbying for its removal for years in the pages of the BRC Weekly) and how epic of a fail the so-called Canopy is going to be — still — without a cafe.

    Report comment

  • Awkward says:

    Well said about Rod’s Road (bless his soul), it looked cool in plan but a practical mini disaster. As for refreshments at center camp I do have a theory that they have probably prevented a large number of med tent visits. Not so much the coffee for me but the hibiscus or other flavored iced teas were off the hook and welcome relief.

    Report comment

  • playagia says:

    I’ll be there giving away slices of watermelon.
    More love!

    Report comment

  • Gabriel says:

    There will be ample coffee and tea in the central plaza… lots of it. just not served by the org. you will be pleasantly surprised!

    Report comment

  • Pooh Bear says:

    Ya know…getting lost on Rod’s Road has been the beginning of many amazing adventures. Getting lost at Burning Man rarely turns out bad.

    Report comment

  • QTip says:

    Crowds draw CROWDS.
    Center Camp during the Coffee; Hot Chocolate era drew the most interesting Burners in Costumes, Displaying their artistic, musical, creations. It was totally alive with an energy that has vanished.
    Checking out Center Camp several times was always a must, and you were always rewarded with a positive experience, no matter how odd it might be.
    The couches and chairs have been taken over as a personal camp for those who claimed their spot.
    Bring back the refreshments and watch the energy come back.

    Report comment

  • Baby Angel says:

    I’m excited to see how this new layout will be and the fun things around it. With the new roads it will probably increase the flow of the city through it instead of around it. :) I wish everyone finds the coffee they are looking for still though

    Report comment

  • tony says:

    Or bring back coffee and call it a day……

    Report comment

  • Satyr Wells says:

    i’ve previously submitted my ideas for center camp to the borg. basically, turn it into a bizarre like maze to be discovered. there would be probably a 100-150, 8×8 or 12×22 mini kiosks to discover that could include coffee if one chooses. my suggestion is that these mini discoveries would be manned initially by volunteers from theme camp, since they already have the expertise of bringing an experience. there would be no additional tickets required. the end result needs to be a maze; one that should change every year to keep it fresh. there can still be a center area at the heart but you have to navigate the experience to get there.

    cheers

    Report comment

  • Rick Auletta says:

    Coffee was the catalyst for all the magic it created! Running into friends you didn’t or did know you were looking for meeting new friends on line and a place to go when you just needed warmth and a lift or just needed to regroup…..Please bring back the coffee

    Report comment

  • Golgotha-a-go-go says:

    26 year Burner here, for whatever it’s worth. Center Camp has been the center of Burning Man because of the Cafe. Your dubious experiment to eliminate it has doomed Center Camp to a dead zone. How many old time Burners need to chime in to remind you of that. No amount of florid and verbose blathering will bring people to Center Camp. What you are proposing is already happening on every street at BM. I have proposed simplifying the Cafe to just brewed coffee in large urns, hot water for teas and some chai, maybe. Forget the cumbersome espresso machines. There is no substitute for gathering around a cup of something and sharing stories. It’s a tried and true formula that has brought people together for centuries. Any questions?

    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.