Key Successes:

  • Center Camp Cafe served its largest population ever
  • Green on the MOOP Map – Skip the chip tip!
  • Speaker Series a big hit, meme is spreading
  • Flags lost lighting power – participants’ tech-toys popped a circuit
  • Coffee volunteers were ‘wrangled’ from many theme camps
  • Tool Sharing with other dept a win-win
  • Cafe volunteer camp – Self-Reliance and downsizing for 2012?
  • Cafe flag marks passing of Cafe structural designer Rod Garrett

Welcome to your Center Camp Cafe, which is so much more than a place to get coffee: it’s a 38,000 square foot tensile structure (the largest temporary construction of its kind in the world) featuring two stages with a central performing space and aerial rig, art galleries in the interior and exterior, and many seating options amidst interactive art installations by participants. We aim to be a welcoming space open 24/7 for all citizens of Black Rock City, and in 2011 we welcomed – and caffeinated – more participants than ever!

During the summer of 2011, the Cafe’s Coffee Shop volunteer shifts were not filling up quickly enough, and we hit the playa with some real needs for volunteers – combined with a record-setting population with a big appetite for caffeine! Calling on ‘Communal Effort’ and ‘Participation’, we canvassed the city for extra help via our pair of Volunteer Wranglers – and many theme camps stepped up and delivered (were you one of them? Thanks!).

The return of our skilled espresso machine vendor gave the Cafe volunteers the chance to help make our organic free-trade coffee taste “better than last year!” In fact, for the first time we almost sold out of coffee as we went down to our last bag! 2011 also saw the continued support by Burning Man participants of now-commonplace behaviors like Bring Your Own Cup; Burners currently ‘bring it!’ to the point where a BYOC ‘Express’ line would be the longest line in the Cafe. Yes, we know the lines can sometimes be long and chatty, so we’re aiming to redesign the coffee counters in 2012 to improve everyone’s experience.

One of the Cafe’s most iconic elements is the ‘crown flags’ that have flown above the structure since the year 2000. A team of volunteers make these flags at ‘Craft Parties’ in San Francisco, and in 2011 we saw a large increase in participation in these (roughly) monthly crafting and sewing work days – due to our SF-based offices moving to a downtown location with more public transportation options.

The job of lighting those flags (and stages and art and everything else under the shade) is handled by Cafe Lighting volunteers. Partway through the 2011 event some of those flag-lights went out, with participants now missing that reliable navigation point because the flags weren’t brightly lit. When our lighting volunteers tried to fix the problem, we found circuits had tripped beyond our control due to an invasion of charging units for participants’ technological devices!

The Cafe Décor Team celebrated the Rites of Passage theme with several projects that exemplified our dedication to Reuse/Repurpose/Recycle, including 2-D ‘eye-shaped’ leaves from old CDs and wire hangers, and foil flowers featuring Rites of Passage collages mailed in by participants from all over the world with surprising stories to tell.Art display locations in the Cafe continue to be numerous, with a widespread re-configuration of the movable wooden ‘kiosk’ walls where we display participant artwork in groupings that provide context and lighting — work that otherwise might not get seen. Likewise, sculpture that would be hidden in the vastness of the playa often finds a featured spot in the Cafe.

There was greater interest in the 2011 Cafe Speaker Series, as we engaged the intellectual side of our community to inspire more exchange of ideas … and the series was met with overwhelmingly positive audience feedback.

Leave No Trace, green on MOOP map AGAIN!Cafe Village, the participant-run camp for Cafe volunteers, saw some challenging growth in 2011 such that the Cafe is looking at new ways to address the collaborative, yet sometimes opposing, camping needs of our varied groups of volunteers: Set-Up, Coffee Shop, Sound and Performance, Art, Lighting, Clean-Up. It will be a positive move toward more self-reliance for the volunteers: Cafe Village is a volunteer camp, most definitely not an entitlement camp, where we encourage Gifting, support Communal Effort, and mentor leadership in meeting these goals.

This is the third year the Cafe earned its Green on the 2011 MOOP map – most notable for the successful effort to “MOOP the chip out of Center Camp!”

On a parallel path, we started to compost the Cafe’s coffee grounds and other organic matter four years ago, and still successfully divert 70% of our waste by composting and recycling on playa [LINK to environment AB report] with the combined efforts of several volunteer teams managing these operations.Indeed, not only did the Cafe Clean Up crew do an impressive job, it was also the advance planning which kept wood chips from getting mixed into the playa in the first place: The Cafe secured heavy ‘billboard’ tarps to the ground before we ever cut, screwed, or pounded where wood chips, splinters, or sawdust could fall. And wood chips are the worst MOOP problem BRC faces!

Overall, coordination between teams took another step forward in 2011, and the new Cafe “Tool Share” process is an inter-departmental experiment in combining resources while mentoring tool care and stewardship, and will develop further in 2012.

Sadly, the designer of the marvelous Cafe structure – Rod Garrett – passed away in August 2011. Unconnected to this, Cafe volunteers placed a special flag over the Cafe at “half-mast” to honor all who would pass during the time we gather as a community on playa, and to acknowledge that Rite of Passage. Only later did we discover this flag was raised within the hour of his passing.

Submitted by,
Marcia Crosby