In 2008, thanks to the culmination of years’ worth of organizational and volunteer efforts, Center Camp Café celebrated its 9th year providing nearly an acre of shade for the citizens of Black Rock City to enjoy. Project installation and operations were well-coordinated and enjoyed strong volunteer efforts. Cleanup proved to be more challenging than 2007, with 2/3 fewer people participating.

Despite some setbacks, the Café team spirit was strong. It was another stellar year of building community through collaboration, with much credit going to the hundreds of volunteers who give their time and love to this project. Many volunteers returned as they have again and again, and the Café benefited from their accumulated knowledge and experience.

In 2008 we saw the positive results of leadership adjustments that were made in 2007. Most team leaders were returning veterans, which made pre-playa planning very smooth. The open All-Team meetings and smaller leadership groups (based on the meeting model forged in previous years) made the process more fun for volunteers and team leaders. Most Café projects were completed successfully, and their execution was shepherded by key volunteers who helped prepare them pre-event.

Volunteer resource allocation for tasks was managed well in 2008, and there were seldom instances where we had too many or too few volunteers. The one exception was cleanup, where the community participation was significantly less than the year before, most likely due to sudden cold weather after a balmy set-up week and dusty event week.

In terms of our visual planning efforts, the team chose to keep the thematic décor simple and color-coordinated, and to call for more community art in the Café to increase the variety of expression in interpreting the art theme. Theme-agnostic art benefited from the additional attention.

A scissor-lift is used to fix lighting to the ceiling of Center Camp.

New leadership on the Lighting Team lifted that team to the next phase in their evolution, including planning meetings and more advance coordination with the Décor team. The team added more interest through lighting by maximizing their instruments’ capabilities and trying new ideas suggested by volunteers.

One of our most successful new volunteer opportunities pre-event is the local ‘work weekend’. In 2008, we saved people significant fuel expenses by hosting a multi-team construction and crafting BBQ at the SF offices rather than in Nevada. Projects that required several weekends and significant organizing in past years were completed in record time by a very productive group of volunteers.

In order to expand the ways we involve new volunteers and finding opportunities for participation remote volunteers, the Décor team chose a fabric project to be done by a far-flung group of volunteers who requested more involvement. This was a huge help and turned out quite beautifully. The consensus is that this concept of remote volunteer groups taking on the fabrication of a project is a win for all involved, and will be continued in 2009 and beyond.

Remote and local volunteers who led specific décor projects were recruited early in the year, and were allowed to create their own project timeline within the overall time window, thus giving them more ownership and motivation to follow through on their commitments.

Helen and Marcia from Center Camp pose for a close-up.

The Café teams worked through their challenges well, and ambiguous issues were resolved quickly, with people picking up responsibilities when they came up. The strength of team communication brought about positive results, as non-traditional solutions were embraced alongside tried-and-true methods. The use of tech tools has opened new doors for how we can communicate with and involve more volunteer participation, and we see a groundswell toward even more DIY opportunities with self-selecting tools for matching the creative opportunities with those who wish to be involved at a deeper level.

As the Café has developed more complex and overlapping electrical layouts (fed by the needs of multiple teams), accurate mapping and planning become critical to pulling it off. In 2008, a team lead taught herself a mapping program and created a very functional Café overlay-map tool.

Café ‘greening’ moved into its second year as its own project, and equaled the worthwhile gains achieved in 2007 in recycling and composting: of the Café’s by-products (largely cups and coffee grounds); roughly 70% of total waste is diverted from landfill.

Perhaps the largest challenge faced by the Café team was the unexpected last-minute departure of the leaders of Café Village, the Café’s staff camp. As they left, so did much of the Village’s operational knowledge and equipment they had loaned to the Village. It was a significant challenge to find a replacement leader, and the lack of information carry-over affected the Village’s success. Going forward, the team will review the specific challenges faced in 2007, and put forward some options to resolve the challenges that were seen this past year.

The Doc Posse evolved in 2008 to better meet the inventory and documentation needs of our teams, each of which has some very specific tasks in this realm. In light of this new level of integration, redefining the Doc Posse’s process and timeline is already underway for 2009.

A large mobile-style hanging sculpture stands lit against the dark night sky.

We solicited artwork related to the art theme for the Café through a post in the Jack Rabbit Speaks newsletter, which was met by an enthusiastic response from participants … and luckily, we had a strong leader in place to see this project through. We will repeat this model in subsequent years, because the search for theme art raised awareness of the Café as an exhibition space, generating excitement and resulting in more non-theme art as well.

A goal for 2009 is to make better use of the resources already developed through the Artery to improve the experience of the exhibiting artists and, in turn, the participants. Keeping track of all the technical details of so many artists has outgrown the single-point-of-contact model and more volunteers will be asked to participate in the functions of the Café Art program next year.

During cleanup, the Café becomes a drop-off location for items that are too late for Playa Info’s Lost and Found, including bikes, and we are not set up to process these, but are actively seeking ways to redirect them.

Additionally, we intend to improve coordination with other departments in order to see to it that shared resources are handed off in a timely manner.

In summary, Café operations in 2008 more than fulfilled expectations and the team was undaunted by the challenges it faced. It’s notable that those challenges weren’t surprises, unlike those that were seen earlier this decade. Experience has taught us to make smarter choices and have more fun implementing the projects related to creating the Center Camp Café.

Submitted by,
Marcia Crosby,
Project Manager
Center Camp Café