2008 was a crazy year for Lamplighters, particularly because the size of our village nearly doubled from 2007, and an unusually disproportionate number of those were new volunteers. It was all held together by the Lamplighter council, made up of four returning and two new members who oversee the team’s efforts. They worked alongside managers for the Kitchen, Workspace and Lounge, who assisted in keeping the village running smoothly. Because the number of lanterns is so high and the reliance on volunteers to light the city is paramount, the village and its infrastructure are central to helping sustain this very important daily ritual.
Setup and Teardown
Early planning and preparation paid off in 2008. We held two work weekends where the team constructed uprights for its structures and more tables to accommodate the increase in lanterns. That led us towards an amazingly smooth setup, and the 10-person setup crew finished ahead of schedule.
The acquisition of wheeled scaffolding nearly eliminated our dependence on heavy equipment to raise and rig our shade, which made for a significant savings of valuable operator time and fossil fuel use. The lounge (the best to date), kitchen structure and workspace chapel were complete and functional the Friday before the event, leaving only minimal tasks for the villagers to do the weekend before the event.
With this year’s new city design, we had about 1000 kerosene lanterns to light every night, up from 750 in 2007. Although we had a record number of villagers, we were still dependent on having volunteers from outside the village to help us light the city. It’s difficult to get enough outside volunteers during dust storms, and we need to foster a higher level of accountability for those living in the village, since there are enough of them to cover all the routes. Again for 2008, Lamplighters rewarded nightly volunteers with charms designed by one of the Lamplighters.
The lighting routes changed a lot due to the new city design, and a volunteer produced a route diagram that helped volunteers see the big picture. Luci, the Lamplighter work truck, was out of commission, and the DPW loaned us Big Red and Priscilla to aid in lighting the city and morning lantern collection. It is necessary to have 2 trucks for morning collection so the process doesn’t burden one person for four hours.
The Lamplighter Kitchen, which serves meals every night during the event with the exception of Burn night, is largely successful because of extensive planning and active participation. Kitchen volunteers began their shift an hour earlier than usual, since they were preparing meals for double the amount of villagers as 2007.
The team had very few organizational issues this year. Scheduling of meal prep and cleanup went smoothly. Having meal and party planning pages on the Extranet (Burning Man’s team-based information and file sharing system) have made transitioning from year to year much easier. Villagers sign up for specific ingredient contributions and are encouraged to volunteer for meal preparation or clean up. Ingredient donations and kitchen crew assignments were effectively communicated by the use of pre-event email and white boards in the kitchen and bar areas that were updated daily. The kitchen was kept clean and well organized throughout the week. We only saw a 40% participation in meal donation, which is not really a fair percentage, so we need to work on this.
A significant goal was achieved this year, in that dinner was served shortly after lamplighting crews arrived back in camp every night. A dinner bell was used to notify villagers that the meal was ready, allowing folks to take care of personal camp chores or simply relax. Sounding a bell alleviated the stress that people might miss out or be late for dinner. Portions were appropriate and leftovers were minimal. Very little food was discarded and scraps were composted.
The dinners were fantastic, villager feedback re-affirmed this, and many people said that they do not eat as well at home.
Normally, we have many returning veterans and a relatively low number of new volunteers. This year we had a large number of newbies join us, making for a total of around 210 people in our village, nearly doubling its size from 2007.
Lamplighter Village has always had a strong family bond, and all the newbies this year fully embraced this. We made extra efforts to welcome our virgin villagers. We held morning meetings where we introduced new arrivals, made sure they knew who to go to with questions, and shared the plans for that day around the village. The council members all chipped in and bought snacks and had a camp mixer after one morning meeting to encourage intermingling of veterans and newbies. Considering labor shortfalls and unbalanced meal donations, we learned that having an excess of villagers doesn’t ensure everything will be covered. We are considering a village population cap
Recruitment Parties & The Lamplighter Lounge
This year Lamplighters continued their tradition of producing two on-playa recruitment parties: the Sangria Soiree and the Bloody Mary Brunch. These events bring in huge numbers of potential volunteers from Black Rock City. Villagers served drinks and food while sharing Lamplighter stories and traditions as well as information about how to become a Lamplighter by participating in the nightly processions. There is some concern that we need to draw clearer boundaries between work and play. The Lamplighter Lounge and Bar must be shut down during lighting hours, no exceptions.
Lamplighters have enjoyed years of success. What makes each year special are the bonds formed with each other, bonds that go beyond just friendship. Being a Lamplighter means lighting Black Rock City without fail every night. Lamplighters is a working camp and in 2009 we need to focus on how to motivate villagers to play active roles in what Lamplighters do, instead of focusing on finding outside volunteers on which to rely.
Lamplighter Volunteer Coordinator
Lamplighter Co-Project Manager 2008