In 2009, the Center Camp Café celebrated its 10th year of providing over 38,000 square feet of shade, art, stage performances, and coffee to the citizens of Black Rock City. Overall, this was a stellar year for the Café with all projects completed on or ahead of schedule, and with many returning volunteers to help ensure operations went smoothly. In a city that never sleeps, neither do we: the Café is up and running 24/7 throughout the event week, and despite the daunting numbers of volunteers it takes to achieve this, we saw many new and eager volunteers filling roles when we needed them.
One of the largest challenges of past years was resolved in 2009: Cleanup volunteer turnout was strong in number and all were diligent in line-sweeps and long hours of MOOPing ‘ with the desired result of a “green” (very clean) label for the Café on the annual Playa Restoration Moop Map. The Café is second only to the Man Base as the most-visited location in BRC, which historically has meant a “red” label due to the high traffic. It is a credit to the can-do spirit of Café volunteers that we achieved this Leave No Trace goal.
Hundreds of volunteers gave their time, energy and talents to the Café process, helping to build community through collaborative team-work both pre-playa and on-playa, with the added benefit of the accumulated knowledge and experience of returning volunteers.
Despite a few role changes from 2008, the overall leadership team was solid, communicated well, and found new ways to achieve desired results. We are maintaining a strong core of skilled project leads year-to-year, and have successfully managed information hand-offs when a new person steps into a role.
One of the most visually-impactful projects in the Café this past year were the “Art Kiosks”: a series of 12 free-standing wooden structures with 3 surfaces each for displaying smaller-scale artwork than what is typically seen on playa. These kiosks provided an ad-hoc “Art Gallery” complete with lighting for each artwork, and with both advance curation and walk-up placement, many 2-D artists were able to show fine art that is not often seen in our vast desert environment. The creation of the kiosks was a collaboration between the volunteer carpenters of Café Décor, members of the Café Lighting Team, and the Café Artist Liaison team; these are designed to be reused and reconfigured into new kiosk shapes in future years.
We saw great turn-out at all of our pre-playa décor-creation days, especially the now-annual San Francisco-based Craft Daddy “work-weekend” & BBQ where volunteers took on the task of designing and building a better-functioning Sound Booth that would be modular and could easily be un-assembled and stored in a small space to be used year-to-year. The result is an “onion-dome” booth that stands on its own as a visually interesting structure, going far beyond the mere utilitarian, with interchangeable fabric options that allow for easy visual changes year-to year.
The Sound and Performance Team kept the two stages full of a variety of music, slam-poetry, lectures, and even a “conscious hip-hop” group, rounding out the talent line-up with the return of the increasingly-popular Marching Band March-Off. Five (need to check this figure?) marching bands from across the country all competed for the crowds’ applause (on the applause-o-meter) as participants joined in as majorettes, clowns and BRC-styled cheerleaders.
Another winfor the Café Team was our transition to a new power layout that brought us more lighting options, and thus better serves the needs of the Café as it has evolved over the past 10 years. A new trenching process finally succeeded in preventing any damage to major power cables from subsequent rebar staking of furniture, carpet and artwork ? a hidden success but one with significant financial consequences.
One of the most commented-on projects ? the Lantern Trees – was a “hybrid” of Décor and Lighting first invented in 2003 as a way to add more light in areas of the Café where there is no existing structure to support lighting instruments. Volunteers transformed ubiquitous pop-up mesh laundry hampers (99 cents each!) into individually-decorated fabric lanterns that glowed with internal lights and swayed in the wind from wooden tree-like spires. These lanterns are easily collapsed flat for storage: storage space being one of the many challenges the team faces, though limited storage results in inventive re-use and pre-purposing of past years’ projects.
The Doc Posse documentation team took another step forward in 2009 with more integrated doc volunteers assisting with creation and installation of the projects they were documenting, leading to more accurate info capture and less wasted effort on unneeded content, as well as providing more collaborative energy toward faster completion of projects.
The Café’s coffee shop message to Bring Your Own Cup is so successful that an “express line” for those who do BYOC becomes the longest line at the counter but thankfully participants are not daunted by the occasional wait, and more focus was placed on creating a fun environment for the coffee-line experience its a great place to make new friends!
Compostable cups and other “greening” efforts of the Café continued successfully with about 70% of waste (coffee grounds and cups) being diverted from landfill, and these results seem easier to achieve each year as more BRC participants and Café volunteers understand the “big picture” and find new ways to recycle and compost successfully.
A very significant turn-around in 2009 was in Café Village leadership: where the Café staff camp was somewhat adrift in 2008 due to last-minute leadership snafus, 2009 brought back a once-retired Café leader who chose to return to the team by taking on this multi-faceted role, where her knowledge-base and on-playa leadership skills were sorely needed. What had seemed like a downward trend in Village enthusiasm was completely transformed in 2009, with other contributors stepping forward as it became clear that their gifts to the camp would be welcome in the overall infrastructure of the Village.
The successes of 2009 are so numerous that this report merely reflects the high points in our 10th year the Café Team continues to exceed goals set in previous years and our ongoing methods have stood the test of time and continue to be refined for even greater enjoyment for all of Black Rock City.