Is First Camp a Burning Man urban myth? What DOES go on within that circle of RVs and trailers at the top of Center Camp?
Never intended to be a mystery or enigma, First Camp is so-named because it has historically been the first camp established in Black Rock City. It has served as the on-site headquarters for pre-event construction operations. Situated along the central axis that divides our city into halves, it affords an unobstructed view of the Burning Man.
First Camp has three purposes. First, it is a kind of embassy that hosts distinguished visitors and groups. These groups include Paiute emissaries from nearby Pyramid Lake, state and local politicians, and representatives of the Bureau of Land Management. An annual party for Burning Man’s regional contacts is also held here. Secondly, First Camp serves as a convenient business headquarters for Burning Man’s senior organizers. Meetings are held here. Information is exchanged. While others play, the staff of First Camp works. Lastly, this unique space is a home for senior organizers and a few close friends and family members. It is a haven and a center of communal life for three and four generations of parents, aunts, siblings, and grandchildren. These different purposes are balanced to create a welcoming environment for visitors, a productive space for working staff (complete with a trailer for office supplies and battery charging), and a distinctly personal and private place of refuge.
This year, First Camp was the welcoming point-of-entry for Nevada county commissioners, staff from the offices of state and national legislators, senior citizens from Gerlach, members of the Bureau of Land Management’s Resource Advisory Committee, Reno City Council members and their staff, Planning Commissioners, and others who have a vested interest and say in how the Burning Man event develops. First Campers coordinated with mutant vehicle owners to ensure that these decision-makers were able to view the incredible art and activities of Burning Man in a limited period of time. In 2003, First Camp even housed two visiting dignitaries who couldn’t find their way back to their car one night.
First Camp was also Media Central for LLC Board interviews, with international representatives from such varied media outlets as NPR and the New York Times to a Danish documentary filmmaker and an Israeli photojournalist. This kind of access allowed for accurate and in-depth reporting on the event. As a functioning communal space, First Camp helped to represent the essence and ethos of the Burning Man event for its many visitors.
Much effort is invested in decorating First Camp according to each year’s art theme. In 2002, First Camp sported two very large rotating metal sharks in its forecourt. These interactive artworks functioned as enormous weather vanes, turning to align themselves with every shift of the prevailing winds. In 2003, the interior of this space was transformed into the likeness of an ornate painted temple. These decorations represent the fruit of a communal effort by the camp’s residents. Plans for this year’s First Camp are now commencing, and everyone concerned intends to do an even better job of integrating art and work and life.
Rae Richman and Larry Harvey