Historically, First Camp was the first settlement in Black Rock City each year. The name could have been First and Last Camp, because it was also the last camp in the temporary city. The survey crew now occupies the city first, and the clean-up crew stays longer. The name First Camp has stuck nonetheless, despite our efforts to change it in the last few years. For example, in 2004 First Camp was called Event Horizon in keeping with the Vault of Heaven theme.
Each year the Board members put considerable thought into the design and planning for the camp in an effort to maximize space, create positive relations between the residents, and allow the camp to perform its many functions. First Camp is the home of the senior organizers and their selected guests, the management center for the operation of Black Rock City, a theme camp on the Esplanade, a place where the media can conduct interviews, an informal social center, and an information center.
Along with senior event organizers and some event support staff, a limited number of family and friends also stay in First Camp to help provide support and community and to share in the tasks of operating a large camp in Black Rock City. Each year brings some resident changeover. This year, a child less than one year old camped there along with every generation up to grandparents and people from Ireland and Costa Rica. In the past, a rumor has circulated that some of the staff who work long hours during the event stay in a special, quiet, secluded spot somewhere near First Camp called “Sneaky Camp”. This year, Sneaky Camp came out into the open as part of the First Camp design.
First Camp is the nexus of decision making for the services and agencies required to have Black Rock City function. It is the city’s business center and administration theme camp, if you will. To support this administration function, First Camp has always included a shaded meeting area that serves as an outdoor conference room. In fact, this year’s design incorporated two large meeting areas, making the camp more accessible and available to the extended staff. Each day, several meetings were held including Senior Staff, Pyro Safety, Community Services, Placement Team, and XRT (External Relations Team, responsible for tours and outside guests), to name just a few. Many more unscheduled but necessary meetings took place there. The extra meeting space proved its worth. It had the desirable outcome of making the camp less foreboding and more welcoming and accessible to the extended staff, guests, and other visitors than it had been in the past. First Camp also contained a staff office trailer in a prominent spot to provide office space, complete with computer, printer, and copier, for staff members to use in executing their on-playa duties. The office trailer saw quite extensive use!
As part of the design changes for 2004, the First Camp welcome desk was moved closer to the public entrance and was staffed every day. If someone wanted to say thanks to Larry Harvey or anyone else then the welcome desk was the place to go. The desk functioned just like a receptionist desk in a large business. Appointments were made, information was disseminated, and guests were screened. It was great fun to staff the desk, meet participants, and solve the occasional problem.
The basic design of the camp layout has not changed much in the last few years. However, it was tweaked to better accommodate parking or tent camping and to improve service access. The lookout deck and the shade placement remained the same. A new DPW crew leader oversaw the construction, which naturally caused some field design changes. But everything worked out very well in the end. The new shade crew rocked!
For 2004, the camp design reflected a concerted effort to make it more inviting and artful by designing and installing lighting, primarily using rope lights. White, blue, and purple lights along the shade and deck structures proved a distinctive, attractive accent that lent a lighthearted feeling to the camp at night. In keeping with the Vault of Heaven theme, one of the first First Camp residents, an artist from Costa Rica, painted stylized symbols of the constellations on the undersides of the shade structures and lit them with blacklights. This contribution added significantly to the drama and ambiance of the camp. A new fire cauldron, artfully designed and built by a member of the Fire Conclave, was placed at the very front of the camp near the esplanade and became the camp’s centerpiece and social magnet at night. The fire cauldron was a gift, funded by a grant from the Seattle community using proceeds from their regional event.
The inviting and artful design improved the camp’s ability to serve its “embassy” function, which is so crucial to Black Rock City’s survival and success. The camp’s design and function will continue to evolve positively in the years to come.