The year 2003 brought great expansion and unprecedented challenges for the Burning Man Lamplighters in administration, logistics, and execution. Our operations increased significantly in scale, so for the first time a council of nine veteran Lamplighters took the helm, bringing renewed energy and focus. On the whole, the council model worked well, although experience has taught us that the number on the council could be reduced. Next year the Project may trim back the council in size, with each member overseeing and steering a subset of large operating teams.
This year, we faced the need for lamps along two new corridors from the Man to the 3 and 9 o’clock plazas, along with a desire to light the four roads to the Man at once. To meet these challenges, the Lamplighters acquired our first large work vehicle and 500 new galvanized silver lanterns. All told, over 125 volunteers cleaned, fueled, lit, carried, and hung nearly 1,000 lanterns every night! Volunteers from all over Black Rock City supplement Lamplighter villagers, many of them directed our way by Playa Info and Burning Man Information Radio.
For the first time, the Lamplighter Village (LLV) occupied a full block bounded by the roads Karmic Circle, Certain, Creed, and Dogma. Our huge carpeted lounge returned with dozens of couches, a misting system, a full bar, and an expanded observation deck. Nearly a thousand people attended our parties listed in the What, Where, When calendar on Monday night and mid-day Wednesday.
Our piazza sculpture garden grew and divided in two! Anchored by spires and burn barrels, a small collection of installations, including an illuminated gazebo, created a welcoming public space.
The Lamplighter community kitchen was once again a real treat for villagers. That 2,000-square-foot structure offered all cooking and cleaning essentials for villagers to make their own breakfast or lunch. Dinners were an altogether different matter: Signups through our discussion list produced an enormous spread of food each night, prepared by and for Lamplighters, including such dishes as tri-tip steak, pasta with a choice of delicious sauces, curried chicken and veggies, hominy stew, all sorts of side dishes, and deserts galore. We received the generous donation of a larger refrigerator at the end of the 2003 event. Problem areas to address in the 2004 kitchen are gray water removal and keeping the floor dry in the dishwashing station.
This year Lamplighters were provided five radios, used mostly to achieve synchronicity while lighting approaches to the Man. These radios enabled easy communication with our vehicle and among the seven lighting routes. Ironically, with so many radios in camp, frequently all of them were switched off during Lamplighter down time. Radio shifts will be assigned in 2004 to be sure we’re monitoring and participating more actively in the Project’s communications.
After the dismal failure of our Center Camp work structure in 2002, a new workspace of tensile steel cable arose this year. The roomy, simple, and elegant A-frame design provided ample shade and was topped by illuminated spires that dramatically pierced the night skies over Black Rock City. At night, this Lamplighter Chapel housed an illuminated shrine of sacred objects that traced the ten-year history of the group, with honorary mention of significant Lamplighters past and present. Next year, we need a dedicated chapel workspace manager (or two) to orient volunteers every night. A quick “Lamplighting 101” presentation may be offered. In 2004, we will be sure to requisition the crucial half dozen or so staging sawhorses and 2×4 rails we overlooked this year.
Old lighting procedures had to be replaced to address the two new processionals and the challenge of simultaneously lighting all four routes. Our vehicle, Lucifer the truck (aka “Lucy”) was lynchpin to the operation, reliably ferrying lamps and volunteers to all four corners of the playa. Her gas supply was the only major concern.
The bigger issue was the need to restructure workspace tasks (cleaning/filling/lighting) so that Lucy could depart early while volunteers were still busy in the workspace. Our efforts weren’t entirely successful, as volunteers waited for up to an hour while Lucy completed her rounds. Options for improvement this next year include (and aren’t limited to) relaxing the requirement for simultaneous lighting, tighter workspace coordination, and lamp prep stations at the plazas. We are not advocating dropping the 3 and 9 o’clock processionals from our rounds; Lamplighters are absolutely up to the challenge of lighting more of BRC!
Our most important consideration in all of this: Keep it fun. Walk-in volunteers and villagers alike deserve a positive experience. Completing our extra work while achieving that goal means streamlining the workspace. That will mean more and greater participation from LL veterans as luminaries and in other dedicated positions within the workspace and on Lucy. Earlier sign-ups (maybe a day ahead of time) would secure commitments and highlight shortfalls, while preserving free time for overworked stalwarts. We see lots of room for fine-tuning volunteer instruction, table positions, truck loading, volunteer training, and other aspects of workspace activities. Making these improvements while preserving everyone’s energy and camaraderie will take some work. Good thing we’re Lamplighters.
For the second year, our lighting processions were joined by giant puppets, and again they were an enormous addition. Unlike the first year, most puppets came from outside the Lamplighter community. Next year, we’ll spread the word even further to encourage more participation from BRC puppeteers, and we will encourage villagers to make and bring their own.
The new processionals also expanded our work for morning lamp retrieval. Here again, what worked in years past wasn’t enough for the new workload; and some mornings worked better than others. With retrieval almost as much work as evening lighting was a few years ago, the time may have come to consider sign-ups for early work teams, as well.
To encourage labor contributions to tear-down from villagers who were anxious to join Exodus, we moved up our schedule to remove the kitchen on Sunday and the chapel workspace on Monday. Debate has ensued whether early tear-down of the chapel shade accelerated departure of our volunteer force, but a dedicated few worked from morning past dusk, cleaning and packing our huge lamp inventory.
Our single biggest failure in 2003 was leaving behind too large of a refuse pile for DPW to remove. Although we had been given leave to do so, our expansion and the overdue need to reduce our stored inventory forced us, despite our regret, to pass on that burden. All apologies! We have the highest regard for the DPW, who install all of the BRC lantern spires and support us faithfully throughout the event. We pledge to resolve this dilemma in 2004 and beyond, with Leave No Trace planning and facilities equal to the expansion of our operations. This is our biggest priority in 2004.
The Lamplighters began in 1993 as two people handling about 24 lamps. In our tenth anniversary year, the Lamplighters continue to offer the Burning Man community an expanded and still unique tradition of volunteer participation. With our internal food services, public art and event hosting, the operations, spectacle, and ceremony of the Lamplighters truly are a microcosm of the event. Moving beyond a simple public utility, the Lamplighters are infusing the event with new art and architecture. To complement the chapel with its illuminated spires, we plan for some distinctive architectural features that will transform our lounge into the Lamplighter’s Palace.
Our new facilities, including our large staff vehicle and our new workspace, have secured our infrastructure for years to come. Next year, we will hone our operations for increased efficiency. Many hands make light work, and we welcome any and all who are up to the challenge. But don’t be surprised when a creative burst explodes from the Lamplighters. Our greatest assets are our volunteers, and in 2003 a number of new recruits have joined the fold with new ideas and enthusiasm. Plans and projects for 2004 are underway. The only limits are those of our imagination!
Kim Bassett, aka Kimbro
Terry Schoop, aka Retro
Doug Wolens, aka Dougo
for the 2003 Lamplighter Council