• Thu. Jun 23rd, 2022

Center Camp: Redesigned | Burning Man Diary

ByDebra J. Aguilar

Jun 9, 2022

This article is part of “The Future of Black Rock City”, a series from the BRC Operations Team about what our desert city may become and how we are preparing for the future. Read all posts here.

Laura Day, Associate Director of Operations at your service, here to talk about our plans to reinvent Center Camp – without coffee.

As we wake up from the dream between years without Black Rock City and prepare to return home to 2022, we realize that we are no longer the same people we were the last time we were there. And it won’t be the same place we remember. It’s always a different story, a new landscape, with adaptations, experiments and mysteries to be discovered. Among other changes for this year, we’re reimagining Center Camp as a space the community can design and use to increase interactivity – and spontaneous shenanigans.

We thought a lot — and even more listening – about what the community wants the future of BRC to be. Many of us have found deep inspiration in the rally in the black rock desert during Labor Day in 2021. The ‘Renegade Burn’, ‘Plan B’, ‘Free Burn’ – whatever you call it – that’s a lot has been Burning Man, in its raw and savage essence. It was a tangible demonstration that the culture and the Principles succeed in practice, unsupervised, and are stronger than ever.

We thought about how we come together as global citizens, what really matters to humanity and our planet, and how we can show up in more sustainable ways. Center Camp can serve as a microcosm of the city, and we can use it as a space to create interactions that help us better understand ourselves, and the direction of our collective culture. So, we are excited to share a relatively blank canvas under the Center Camp tent in 2022 – a canvas where we can paint a new landscape, together.

The Song of the Monkeys, 2017 (Photo by Susan Becker)


We aim for this be an open source collaborative space. We are confident that it will become something much bigger than we could imagine on our own. We’re opening it up to the citizens of Black Rock City to curate, co-create, and choose its direction. As Larry said, “We make the hive, they bring the honey.”

So… we’ll build the structure, and YOU bring the “brew-haha” — or any other ideas you have to fill the space with vitality and interactivity! Are you planning to bring your coffee cart and cabaret to Center Camp? Maybe you would like to teach synchronized (land) swimming! Want to serve ice cream? How about an im-PROM-tu prom night? (See what I did there?) Is there an event or workshop you would like to organize? Do you have a song to sing at the open mic? A Nicholas Cage church sermon perhaps? We can’t wait to see what you’re all dreaming up!

“Hand of the Man, Robotic Gift Exchange” by Jeff Vetterick, 2018 (Photo by Susan Becker)


As Larry wrote in this Log article as of 2013, “our initial motive for creating a café was to draw people to the civic square in the center of our city. While I’m aware that some old timers say they avoid this public space, I’m also struck by how many new attendees seem to flock there… Consuming food or drink with others can bond… [it] really wasn’t about consumption; it was a mode of communion… Eventually, I came to think that every big city should offer these kinds of spaces where community life and civic life intertwine… And yet, even this explanation inevitably raises a second question: why not just give that coffee? Why not make it a gift?

The fundamental intention of this space remains constant – to attract people to gather in the central square of the city. Every big city should provide these spaces – and it IS this space – but do the cities provide the coffee themselves? No, it is offered by members from the community. And in our decommodified city, cafe could be part of the prevailing gift economy. Maybe the town’s population has grown enough to absorb the caffeine from [Burner] nation. Our goal is to test this theory.

Community & Culture

Center Camp has always been a point of contact for building community. It still is, now more than ever. The world has changed dramatically since coffeehouses were the seat of counterculture activity. And Black Rock City has changed dramatically since the days when there was a desperate need for a good cup of coffee on playa. These days, about 10% of camps offer coffee across the city (that’s over 115 camps brewing your cup, and even more planned for 2022!). Many participants make coffee for themselves and their fellow campers. It’s a fantastic opportunity to find your favorite neighborhood cafe and get to know your neighbors!

Part of the Center Camp culture is the beautiful family of volunteers who created the Coffee Shop team. You might recognize many of these beloved humans cast as new characters sharing their espresso-scented sweat and nervous love in new ways.

Familiar, but different

What stays the same at Center Camp? First, you’ll enjoy the same beautiful structure offering nearly three-quarters of an acre of shade during the day and a sweet sanctuary at night. You can always look to the crown flags as your north star for orientation on the playa. The two stages, one for performance art and the other for spoken word, will be there as always, just like the wood floor the café once occupied, ready for your interpretive dances. The lounges will remain, and we will respond to how the community wants the space to evolve.

What will change this year (apart from no coffee shop, of course)? You will be able to enter the space from all directions! There will be more spaces for art, including the tent shade wall mural space as well as the outdoor murals you know and love. You will be able to see the artists’ pieces evolve over the week. You’ll find plenty of open space for your pop-ups, activities, and mischief. We encourage you to bring your particular brand of quirkiness to Center Camp, highlighting the special magic that happens in nooks and crannies of the city that are sometimes overlooked.

Sydney Duarte (Travelling Gypsy), 2019 (Photo by Jan Philip Safarik)

An invitation

Consider this your invitation to co-create this new canvas and get involved! How will YOU contribute? Now is the time to start brainstorming with your camp mates to find YOUR central camp stamp.

Do not hesitate to send us your questions and ideas! What do you think the new landscape might look like? Send your ideas (and post-event feedback) to centercamp@burningman.org, or just bring your surprise sparkle of fancy as you please! And, you can learn more ways to participate here.

As an iterative city, we have the unique opportunity to imagine and invent all kinds of different ways to design our community and our culture inside the garbage fence. Testing a new model is a powerful way to stimulate interactivity and immediacy within the Zocalo of Black Rock City, which could be reflected in the maze. What a thrill it will be to watch Center Camp transform and see how it inspires new ways to engage, create and play.

With that, it’s Laura Day’s signature. Thank you for leaving me the espresso myself. (Sorry.)

Cover image of “The Playa Pops Symphony” at Center Camp, 2018 (Photo by Susan Becker)