What has over 38,000 square feet of shade, 3,000 pounds of coffee, 100 artists, and never sleeps? That’s the Center Camp Café, with two stages, 24/7 performances, and thousands of participants!

In 2010 the Café entered the second decade under our signature ‘crown flags’, and although we see a few management changes every year, the Café leadership group is able to keep apace of these shifts.   We fill the roles while eyeing more mentorship opportunities within the Café subteams for managing the next generation of the Café. Historical knowledge is being passed along thru leadership and experience of returning volunteers stepping up to lead projects in 2010 that they learned in 2009.

The rain squall on Monday of the event caused some failure with sound equipment exposed in the open center oculus, as well as lighting and carpet damage due to the mud. We had not had rain impact the Café like this for years, and as such we were under-prepared, just a few of the most vulnerable items failed. The most audible problem was the aged sound system becoming unreliable during the event, in particular during the Friday Night Variety Show. But the show must go on – and this small storm was a good reminder to revisit Rain Contingency Plans for the Cafe and update them as necessary.

This first-day-of-Burning-Man rain prevented volunteers from showing up for their coffee shop shift (it’s nearly impossible to move around the playa after a squall of that magnitude), right when cold, wet people were streaming into the Cafe, seeking hot beverages.  In true Burner fashion, a participant leapt upon the nearest table and shouted to the growing lines that there weren’t enough volunteers there to serve them, so those in line had to volunteer !right now!  Many stepped forward and enjoyed some Radical Self-Reliance that day.

Also born that day in 2010 was the Roving Volunteer Wrangler, who solicits theme camps in person for volunteers for the Café, when needed.  A great success all week and a role for 2011!

Leave No Trace

A highlight of 2010 is the success of Café Clean-Up. Successful Leave No Trace is often hard-won, and planning this part of the fun can be overlooked when creative ideas blow through during the set-up brainstorms.  The Café isn’t beautiful unless it ‘disappears’ itself completely when we’re done.  In 2010 we accomplished this on a tight timeframe and most notably Café Clean-Up volunteers did several line-sweeps over the larger Center Camp area, in tandem with DPW Construction crew and management.  Our accomplishment can be sen in the 2010 MOOP Map — with a proud nod back to our 2009 GREEN (clean) rating.

Bring Your Own Cup happens all the time in the Café, and it’s no longer a novelty, or something for which people expect to be given preferred treatment (express line) as was the case in the past.  Likewise, when we started to compost the Café’s coffee grounds and other organic matter three years ago, the idea of composting and recycling on playa to divert 70% of our waste seemed like a double rainbow dream, that has now come true with the combined efforts of several volunteer teams to manage these operations appropriately.

Notable highlights in the Café in 2010 included the several Art Galleries:  our wooden movable wall-units designed two years ago are working just as we’d hoped – and they group together well to define space in an otherwise wall-less open structure.  The Fence Gallery is well-established and hosted community interactivity in 2010. We exhibited almost twice as many artists, which sometimes requires unique solutions including the suspension of two-sided oversized paintings in the central oculus of the Café structure. Also new in 2010, the Café Sound and Performance Team relocated the (reinvented) Café Sound Booth fifteen feet away from the center posts, opening up the oculus for performances to now be seen by 400+ people, which was handy for the hugely popular Marching Band March Off.

The Café Décor Team reached new levels of thematic décor with the Metropolis-themed efforts exemplified by the Faux Fire Barrels.  One challenge in 2010 was estimating the number of volunteer work-hours needed for any given Décor project, both pre-event at Décor Team Craft Parties and on-playa for Set-Up Crew completion and installation.  We ran optional volunteer shifts into the night to fully realize the vision of all the projects, and we do not plan to repeat that challenge.  Projects will be limited to keep the setup process on time as it has been for the past several years.

Carpet is the hardest job. It needs a crew of strong rollers and lifters.  During the event in 2010 we identified the need to have a short-term ‘Brawn Crew’ on either end of Café operations to make the carpet process workable, and we’ll be looking at other teams to share resources.

Playagrounds – the year-round Café Volunteer Newsletter, proved in its second year to be another way for our community to stay connected off the playa and find volunteer roles on playa.

Engaging the intellectual side of our community via programming on the Café stages continues to flourish: We are investigating how to expand beyond our 2010 Speaker Series and do more exchange of ideas and learning in the Café.

Café Village, the participant-run camp for Café volunteers, welcomed a new 40-foot shade pyramid for tents housing night-shift workers, a gift from a Café volunteer who also brought an art-car and a structure for common camp use in 2010.  Unlike 2009 and previous years when we had a camp “annex” for overflow camping, we made a hard decision not to do that in 2010 due to repeated feedback regarding the lack of connection to the main camp. The strong community identity created within Café Village in 2010 was much improved over past years, in spite of the downside of turning away many volunteers who wanted to camp with us.

On a final but not inconsequential note, the Café found a new espresso machine vendor in 2010 whose expertise at fine tuning the ‘caffeination gizmo’ made our organic free-trade coffee taste as good as it truly is.

Submitted by,
Marcia Crosby