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Burning Man Basics: Theme Camps and the Camp of the Space Wanderer

June 4, 2014

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WHAT IS A THEME CAMP?

As important to the Burning Man experience as the Man, the Temple, and the artwork funded (and unfunded and partially funded) that I wrote about yesterday are theme camps. Theme camps can but don’t always connect to the theme of Burning Man which this year is Caravansary.

WHAT IS BURNING MAN?

(Just in case you are one of those people who hasn’t gone to or heard about Burning Man, it’s an arts and music festival held ever year for over 20 years out in the Black Rock Desert northeast of Reno NV. When I first started attending Burning Man back in 1992, there were about 600 people camping there over Labor Day weekend. This year there will be about 60,000 people. Some people come for the art, some for the music, some for the friendships, some for the naked people, some for the drugs,  but usually it is a combination of some of the above with a lot of freedom and creativity thrown in.)

HOW DO I MAKE A THEME CAMP?orbgirlBIG

At Burning Man, many people join “theme camps”  and in many ways, theme camps are the heart and soul of Burning Man because this is where, more than any other place at Burning Man, that people band together to gift and share experiences in their neighborhood. This is where the most interactivity on the playa happens, those wacky places where people offer an Elvis Wedding Chapel and people can get married or play on a giant swingset or skate at the roller disco or or or or! And well yes, there are a lot of bars, but a theme camp is more than a bar and a place to party.

People can just turn up on the playa, grab some land, and set up a theme camp. It’s not hard. And you can list your camp’s activities in the Where What When Guide.

But the more major theme camps, like the one I am working on, the Camp of the Space Wanderer, go through an official placement process, requiring a demanding application that was due May 1. In order to be considered, camps must be visually stimulating and interactive with activities, events or service; offering a dome with music and relaxation is not enough. That’s why our camp application has a dome with hand made chess pieces, two mutant vehicles, and a mural by Rosel and more which you can learn about here.

BigTVMany theme camps, including ours, will also have a mutant vehicle. Ours is called the Big TV or TMSL 2014 which has just received approval from the Department of Mutant Vehicles. Read about the Big TV and see pictures here from LA Decom; more details about the TMSL from our DMV app here.

After getting our application in, it gets reviewed and we won’t know where or if we are placed until July! Not all applications are accepted which means they aren’t placed in advance. Some placements come with perks like electrical supply which can make creating and maintaining a theme camp much easier. We have requested to be placed on the Esplanade which is the main drag at Burning Man; we’d like to be next to the Artery so that we can use the Big TV to host artists and interview them. We think we have a lot of cool art to offer that will be of interest to the people who will be going to the Artery to learn more about the art on the playa.

Many people camp with a particular theme camp, and they help with the camp’s activities. Some are looking for people to join and contribute while others are more for people who already are working together. Usually, camps ask for dues to cover communal camp expenses; these dues can run hundreds of dollars. Some of these camps are known as “plug and play” and they are very controversial: essentially people just pay and come play without really doing much to give back after they’ve given their cash. Really big theme camps become Villages, sometimes with many camps within the village.

For example, “Kidsville is THE place for children of all ages, with a group of diverse families creating a unique space for play and other activities. Families with children 0-17 years of age are welcome to camp with us if they are pre-registered. Registration begins in March and ends when full. Note: Kidsville is NOT a babysitting service. Parents must attend their children at all times.” URL: http://www.kidsville.org

The largest village on the playa, Kidsville generally has about 600 people in it. This is where we’ve camped in 2007, 2009, 2011, and again 2013. Within Kidsville, there are a number of different camps, including mine, “Art Predator’s Playground” where we’ve done wine tasting and other activities and given away stickers and necklaces. This year, we’re planning on camping with the Space Wanderers.

Another theme camp that has been around for years and years like Kidsville is Kostume Kult from NYC which in 2013  featured a large, multi-story cityscape playspace with music, interactive art, and costume giveaway experience. Participants could dance,  walk the runway, and and in the crafting dome make booty shorts, tutus and other projects. URL: http://www.kostumekult.com/

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