The Center Camp Café team worked harder than ever to improve installation, operations, and clean up, and once again opened its’ “nearly-an-acre-of-shade,” on time. Returning sub-team leaders kept projects on track and mentored newer volunteers and team leads. Experienced volunteers were familiar with the Café layout, understood the tasks, and knew which materials to use. Demonstrating ‘radical self-reliance’, many returning volunteers brought their own tools, allowing new volunteers access to the more limited supply of tools in the Café.
Improvements in communicating creative plans as well as operational policies with volunteers, in advance of the event, resulted in more consistent and timely turnout. 2006 was the first year there were more set-up volunteers than tasks; after asking for people to volunteer to be reassigned, they were sent to other departments who had unexpected needs and happily put them onto other Burning Man projects. This year’s on-playa setup was surprisingly unwieldy in terms of volunteer management, possibly due to such a high turnout. More structure with such a large number of new volunteers, and ways to select the best people for the roles, is needed. A stomach bug that went around affected many team leads, managers, and volunteers. Luckily, there was a strong turnout in volunteers, and everyone pitched in and stepped up to cover for those who were ailing.
New for 2006 was a Documentation Team, the Doc Posse, who did an excellent job, especially considering this was invented and staffed just before the event. They went beyond photography, to include step by step processes, inventory sheets, and everything in between (even when it meant unloading a loaded container to correctly count reusable items). Taking the next step in 2007 will be organizing the Doc Posse into task-based teams.
The Café front portal art installation drew large crowds in 2006; the extraordinary scale and fire effects raised the bar for future Café art. The artists’ non-literal interpretation of ‘portal’ (ie: not a gate or arch) expanded the vision for Café art to include large, playa-scale artworks. The ARTery and Heavy Machinery crews were invaluable in getting the three figures installed in time. One as-yet unsolved problem is people locking their bikes to the front portal art (as well as to the Café cable structure), and both continue to pose a safety hazard. In 2005, the Café built a large number of bike racks for the Café, which seems to always have more bikes than available racks. In 2006, the Café built even more, for several other locations around Center Camp circle as well as repairing the inevitable bike rack breakage.
The Café’s other large art project is the Fence Gallery, located on the 6 o’clock wall facing Playa Info, ARTery and Arctica. A volunteer team that co-created the same space in 2005 coordinated participating artists, so installation was easy and less stressful for all.
2006 saw a small decline in the number of artists who submitted proposals or asked for placement inside the Café, but perhaps this was due to past years’ themes having specific calls-for-art such as the Altars for Beyond Belief in 2004. Support for artists takes an advisor-based approach, fresh each year, that inspires artists to re-interpret features like the front portal.
The Café two stage layout returned in 2006 (only one stage in 2005) with artist-created stage sets and decor for both, executed by returning artists who understand playa-proofing. The eclectic stage schedule included a full lineup of spoken word, live music, informative lectures, puppetry, poetry, and song. One change for 2007 is to move the standard locations for both stages within the circular tented Café.
The Café received a substantial donation of audio speakers in 2006, which proved to be a great addition to the sound team’s arsenal. Other support equipment was loaned by a past member of the team who not only brokered the donation, but continues to search for more donated equipment for ’07.
The 2006 Café team included a professional electrician and a well-qualified lighting team manager, who successfully handled the complex electrical, lighting and sound plans that the Café has developed over the course of seven years. In addition, the lighting and electrical team went above and beyond to install a solar power system that proved challenging, given the late arrival time of materials and lack of any advance plan. The lighting manager helped the team make the best use of available power, utilizing low-energy options whenever possible to make the total power allocation go further.
The harsh playa conditions will always wreak havoc on sensitive machinery like sound equipment, and cash registers are no exception, with a high turnover of registers needing replacement each year. In 2006 the Café found a way to reuse old parts to rebuild every ailing register, such that only two new machines were purchased. The Café intends to continue with the repair/recycle program in coming years.
Pre-event Café Craft Parties continued to have great volunteer turnout; these work days further advance the team’s goal, as well as provide recognition of volunteers’ skills. The team continues to exceed each previous years’ achievements for project completion before arriving on the playa, and a solid, albeit small crew of intrepid sew-ers take on whatever flag design the decor team has dreamed up. In 2006 the most elaborate and challenging design was devised which, when scaled back mid-sew, taught once again that simpler can be better.
Two pre-event trips to the Nevada ranch “work ranch weekends” to build infrastructure for stages and coffee shop flooring were very successful. Good volunteer turnout — with experienced builders bringing tools — meant that the crew built in one day what had been planned to take two. The dedicated and radically self-reliant volunteer crew left the site cleaner and the kitchen better-stocked than when they arrived.
Post-event, the Café team has a week to take everything apart, store it in containers, get the containers off the playa, while making sure to leave nothing behind. Take down and clean up of the Café in 2006 finished earlier than predicted, and had a larger turnout than any previous year. The Cafe still had a large drop-off in pre-arranged clean up volunteers, yet compensated for that with walk-ups.
Volunteer appreciation came in the form of the annual on-playa Volunteer Thank You Party, with logo-ed can coozies (designed by a long-time volunteer) for all, and a t-shirt for some. The result of the t-shirt experiment is a decision to not restrict who gets the shirt in the future. The current idea is that anyone who wants one pays the cost, as long as they are volunteering for the Café.
There were challenges in 2006, as well:
Difficulties between volunteers sometimes arise when ‘original’ team members, or ‘old-timers’ find themselves in a personality conflict with a team lead who happens to be a much newer volunteer. Ironically, in 2006 these conflicts and other stressors put more responsibilities on the shoulders of those same experienced volunteers, sometimes to excess. Yet, with the Doc Posse’s emphasis on capturing historical knowledge, the Café is well on its way to having a fully-documented process in all levels of operations, and that’s not simple with 848 total hours of activity from start to finish, underneath nearly an acre of shade.
Another challenge was a management transition within the Coffee Shop team, with a key manager in Copenhagen all summer. Technology-enhanced meetings were held face-to-screen via a nifty ‘video-phone’ remote connection created by the Tech department. Radical inclusion included keeping in touch with three more key team leaders in far-flung cities. Within the next year the Café is shifting toward local management handling both planning and implementation of specific operations.
The Café was challenged to define and forge a separation between volunteer management and project leading, as projects grew increasingly complex and new volunteers were being added into the process daily. Observations for future planning: key leaders can prevent information bottlenecks from occurring, can make crews more autonomous from single-point management, retain and find additional, experienced team leads.
Encouraging Black Rock City citizens to bring their own coffee cup continues to be a challenge, as many people still don’t know they can do this (the Nevada Health Department has allowed this since 2004). Ideas for 2007 include an interactive art installation that only serves coffee to those with their own reusable cup.
Café Village had many challenges, some related to a population less familiar with Café Village, signs up for Café shifts, and thus camps in the Village; some related to difficulties in managing such a large village. One change for 2007 will be reducing the physical space and the head count, in an effort to regain a workable cooperative volunteer encampment.
Going forward from 2006 into 2007, an overall challenge for the Café team is to balance the tendencies toward bigger and more elaborate with efficiency and simplification, and going into 2007 with the goal of sustainability, reusability, and promoting a green operation.