The Lamplighters have been an important part of Burning Man – and an integral part of its tradition – since 1993. This crew lights over 1,000 kerosene lamps each night of the event, distributing them on spires along Black Rock City’s main walkways in a beautiful ceremonial ritual, and removing them the following day. The Lamplighters begin preparing lamps every evening in their Center Camp workspace at around 5pm, and the ceremony begins around 6. All citizens of Black Rock City are welcomed to participate.
2007 was an amazing year for Lamplighters. A great number of 2007 newbies returned to camp with us and help light the city. Combined with first-timers and our dependable veterans, the Lamplighters had over 130 villagers this year.
The Lamplighters’ focus remained on lighting the city with over 800 kerosene lanterns every night. The team also built its best lounge to date, workspace chapel, and kitchen structures, threw the annual recruitment parties, and had a full staff running the village kitchen.
In 2007 the Lamplighter council consisted of three returning and two new members. The 2007 council shared several on-playa areas of responsibility along with the managers (kitchen, workspace and bar) and introduced a new position shared by two people, the Workspace Volunteer Coordinator. Workspace Volunteer Coordinators are responsible for making sure the volunteers who come to be Lamplighters each night from outside of the village are welcomed and properly instructed in the lamp lighting process.
Setup and Teardown
Early planning and preparation paid off in 2007, including a pre-building work weekend where the team constructed uprights for its structures. Setup was fairly smooth and even ahead of schedule, with the four-person early setup crew, three veterans and one new member. Experienced carpenters—first-timers who arrived later on the scene last year—were back and on playa early, and their increased participation showed. The lounge and workspace were complete and functional the Friday before the event with only minimal tasks left for the villagers to support.
This year no additional lanterns were added to Lamplighter routes. Having a surplus of volunteers has been a great achievement the last two years. This has stemmed from having a great core of Lamplighter Villagers and making it well known that anyone from Black Rock City can help and be a Lamplighter for just one night. A strong dust storm hit one night and the team was in need of volunteers. A Playa Info assistant manager got on her bullhorn and rounded up forty people in ten minutes. Again for 2007, Lamplighters rewarded nightly volunteers with charms designed by one of the Lamplighters. (Due to concerns that our charm design contest allows for “ballot stuffing”, we are re-evaluating the voting process.)
Lamplighters congregated at the Chapel and participated in the ceremony around the cauldron before proceeding to light the city. The lighting routes have changed little since 2005, and a volunteer produced a route diagram that helped volunteers see “the big picture”. Even though Luci, the Lamplighter work truck, did not participate in nightly lighting duties, she was still invaluable for morning lantern pickup.
The team constructed new tables for the workspace in 2007. The old tables were repurposed as a dining area off of the kitchen, using the army tents we acquired from the Project’s surplus inventory last year. This year for the first time, the team designated Workspace Volunteer Coordinators to lead the volunteers at each table. This improved team communication overall, and allowed for a departure for lamp lighting at 6:30 PM almost every night. Relief of the Workspace Manager did not happen as scheduled. To avoid burnout of the managers, the team needs to work on ensuring nights off for all.
The Lamplighter Kitchen is extremely successful because of planning and participation. Extranet meal and party template pages have eliminated the need to overhaul the whole site yearly, so transitioning from year to year is a breeze. Villagers sign up for specific ingredient contributions and are encouraged to volunteer for meal preparation or clean up. Meals are served every night during the event with the exception of Burn night. The team had very few organizational issues this year. Scheduling of meal prep and cleanup went smoothly. Ingredient donations and kitchen crew assignments were effectively communicated by the use of pre-event email and daily updated white boards in the kitchen and bar areas. The kitchen was kept clean and well organized throughout the week.
A significant goal was achieved this year, in that dinner was served shortly after lamplighting crews arrived back in camp every night. A dinner bell was used to notify villagers that the meal was ready, which allowed folks to take care of personal camp chores or simply relax. Sounding a bell alleviated the stress that people might miss out or be late for dinner. Portions were appropriate and leftovers were minimal. Very little food was discarded and scraps were composted.
The dinners were fantastic, and many people said that they do not eat as well at home. Having a culinary chef to oversee meal planning helped with food quality, portion control, and addressing campers’ dietary needs. In 2008 the team will scale down the first Sunday dinner, clearly communicate that the kitchen will be closed on Burn night and make sure that cleaning supplies have been re-stocked.
The Lamplighters had over 130 villagers in camp this year—a large increase from the past few years. Lamplighter Village has always had a strong family bond, and all the newbies this year fully embraced this. We made extra efforts to welcome our virgin villagers. We held morning meetings where we introduced new arrivals, made sure they knew who to go to with questions, and shared the plans for that day around the village. The team anticipates a great return of villagers for 2008. The team also celebrated the marriage of two veteran Lamplighters in an amazing ceremony. The Workspace was illuminated with every extra lantern we had that night, with the lamplighter family robed up to witness this special event.
Recruitment Parties & The Lamplighter Lounge
This year Lamplighters continued their tradition of producing two on-playa recruitment parties: the Sangria Soiree and the Bloody Mary Brunch. These events bring huge numbers of potential volunteers from Black Rock City. Villagers served drinks and food while sharing Lamplighter stories and traditions as well as information about how to become a Lamplighter by participating in the nightly processions. There is some concern that we need to draw clearer boundaries between work and play. The Lamplighter Lounge and Bar must be shut down during lighting hours, no exceptions.
Lamplighters have enjoyed years of success. What makes each year special are the bonds formed with each other, bonds that go beyond just friendship. Being a Lamplighter means lighting Black Rock City without fail every night. That ideal and task is what brings the team together, but what keeps the camp successful is renewing efforts to create a happy village, crew, and volunteer base, by working to alleviate burnout. The one thing that 2007 Lamplighters hold to be true, is that Lamplighters rock!
Lamplighter Volunteer Coordinator
Lamplighter Co-Project Manager 2007