At 38,000 square feet, Black Rock City’s Center Camp Café offers .65 of an acre (or 2/3 of a football field’s worth) of shade in the blistering sun. The structure is held up by two concentric wooden rings and secured to the earth by high-tension cable, capable of withstanding 120-mph winds. Under this fantastic edifice, participants enjoy a fully-functioning coffee shop, performance stages, seating and a wide variety of artwork. It is Black Rock City’s largest and most public community gathering point.

Learning from past experience, the Center Camp Café team worked together in 2007 in a well-organized effort — with better installation, operations, and clean up, and everyone enjoying the process! With our “almost-an-acre-of-shade” completed sooner than ever, much credit goes out to the Cafe volunteers, many of which are returnees, for creating the spirit of community that burned bright in the Café this year.

Adjustments in team leadership were implemented to support the volunteers’ experience, from clearer communications, open All-Team meetings and – definitely- more fun, which improved the volunteer efforts; not surprisingly, more projects were successfully completed.

We achieved this with a combination of returning sub-team leads and the right number of skilled volunteers, without over-estimating our needs or energies. We overcame a number of challenges, including the departure of several key leaders before the event and one departure mid-setup week that required some fast shuffling of roles, and yet we pulled together and made it all happen without missing a beat.

About this photo...Café “Greeners” took on a tough commitment to reduce waste, and their efforts are worth a mention: 30% of waste became compost, including all cups, and 40% was recycled, meaning a 70% reduction in landfill. In addition, a campaign to spread the good word of Bring Your Own Cup was launched with BYOC stickers, DIY t-shirts and recycled patches, and at the coffee counter, the BYOC ‘express’ lane ironically tended to have a long line, proving that more citizens BYOC’d than ever. It was good to see the reusable cup, a simple ‘green’ choice, encouraged all over the playa by theme camps, and green concepts were interpreted by Café artists from the stage tableaux installations to the Fence Gallery, which continues to be an accessible venue for BRC artists.

The Décor Team leadership was also new in 2007, with the result being more successful projects and earlier completion with less stress, and adding to the volunteer experience with more appreciation across all sub-teams. From the annual Thank-You party now featuring the Grab Bag of recycled costumes for ‘newbie’ volunteers, to the team ‘hoodie’, acknowledgement and ‘radical enfunment’ of volunteers was a priority, with the goal of sending that sense of joy through the Café and out into the community of BRC.

A major décor feature in the Café interior was the installation of fabric flags, made by entirely out of reclaimed fabric from discarded clothing. This, the ‘Rags to Flags’ project, was just one of many Craft Party activities where volunteers were invited to participate off-playa, before Burning Man 2007.

About this photo...2007 was the second and very successful year for the Doc Posse: a growing group of volunteers who document the Café process. From historical knowledge of team leaders to seat-of-the-pants solutions, this critical data can get lost over time. The ability to pass on this knowledge and lore is critical to how our Café community adapts to leadership shifts and continues to thrive and make a difference.

The Coffee Shop leadership was improved with the return of a manager from a few years ago, choosing to jump back behind the counter. The many volunteers also deserve credit for proving we could face up to the greening goals and population increase and still provide local, sustainable, organic drinks to Black Rock City.

Improvements in communicating operational policies as well as creative plans with volunteers, in advance of the event, resulted in more organized and reliable turnout.

About this photo...Reclaimed from landfill, the parts of the bike archway in front of the Café made use of all the bikes parked near it to add into a much larger visual sculpture, reminding us to consider our transportation choices. 2007 found more bike racks around the Café and all of Center Camp, thanks to the unsung hero volunteers who built them on a Nevada work weekend this summer.

The two stages in the Café were placed in new locations and the stage schedule embraced a full lineup of spoken word, live music, informative lectures, puppetry, poetry, and song. Keeping sensitive sound gear operating when the dust is blowing thick enough to obscure the stage view is a skill that volunteers got lots of opportunity to practice during the event. Please note: the Sound Team is always looking for used equipment donations!

The return of project leads and skilled volunteers to the Sound, Décor, Art and Lighting teams helped make things run smoothly. These experts were able to take on challenges the teams wouldn’t have weathered as well a few years ago. Adding more project leads, and ‘deputizing’ volunteers to lead processes as needed were priorities in expanding our team’s ability to accomplish more complex tasks simultaneously.

Café Village regained some structure, with two volunteer ‘mayors’ helping to run a community kitchen and host the camp activities, as well as accommodating the needs of staff and volunteers who spend three weeks camped in close quarters.

After the 2007 event, clean up efforts reached a new level of detail. In less than a week, the Café took everything apart, stored it in containers, and ensured that those containers got moved off the playa; all the while making sure to leave nothing behind. The team was more efficient and faster than ever, resulting in more volunteer hours dedicated to Leave No Trace in one of the highest-traffic areas in BRC.

2007 Challenges:

About this photo...The challenges in 2007 were as numerous as in any year, especially with some changes in leadership, yet the cohesive team and supportive network of volunteers made it possible to say goodbye to a few long-time leaders and mentors and encourage newer volunteers to take the reigns.

We also tried out new ideas for volunteer roles and learned a lot in the process. Options for more efficient and sustainable on-playa office and storage space were also reviewed, as the Café takes on the challenge of reducing its footprint and conserving resources.

Another challenge is processing all the data collected on-playa by the Doc Posse, most of whom live scattered around the world.

Café Village solved much of the previous year’s bigger challenges, only to discover it had a ‘too little’ challenge: too little space to accommodate the expanded core team members, and a close-by annex was sought and found. Changes for 2008 include planning better for numbers of campers and size of vehicles.

Encouraging Black Rock City citizens to bring their own coffee cup (and spreading the BYOC message back into default world communities) is an ongoing process, and as such begs the question: can we eliminate the disposable cup in BRC?

Going into 2008, an overall challenge for the Café team is to balance the goals of creative community participation with sustainability, reusability, and becoming a greener operation.

Submitted by,
Marcia Crosby,
Project Manager
Center Camp Café