[6/25/12 UPDATE: We've changed the nomenclature for these types of camps from "Plug & Play" to "Turnkey" to better reflect the way they function.]
In the last few years, a new phenomenon emerged – an increase in “Turnkey” camping in Black Rock City. What is “Turnkey” camping? It’s a shorthand that has emerged around those camps where a group of people (it could be individuals, or a commercial outfit, we have learned) set up a camp not just for themselves, but in advance of the arrival for others to arrive in Black Rock City and have things ready to go for them. Depending on the camp, this could simply include camp infrastructure, or it could also include food preparation, or it could go so far as providing an art car, a decorated bike, or a schedule of activities, for instance. It’s most often for a fee, ranging from reasonably close-to-cost setups to high dollar luxury style RV camps.
Whichever way you look at it, it’s hard to precisely define Turnkey camping — because we ALL pool resources to survive on the playa, and we all have to take care of each other … so who is to say what someone should bring or how much they should or shouldn’t spend to experience Black Rock City? Paying someone to do your kitchen at the event isn’t new, for example; other camps collaborate on porta-potty rental or other efficiency services. And sometimes, it turns out, these camps are prearranging the setup of their living conditions so that they can focus other contributions -art projects, for example, or a wedding. Or, just having fun without all the sweat equity.
But what are Turnkey camps doing to our culture of radical self-reliance and Leave No Trace? Are Turnkey campers “participating”? And who and what does this BRC camping genre really impact? Perhaps most importantly, how can Black Rock City learn from this and evolve?
It could be said that if these camps are providing everything — what about radical self-reliance? But on the flip side, it could also be said that these camps are providing opportunities for some would-be Burners who wouldn’t otherwise have the ability to survive and thrive in the Black Rock Desert to experience Burning Man. Doesn’t that broaden radical inclusion? A number of these campers bring or support big projects to add to the fabric of Black Rock City in other ways — if one is bringing some other legitimate form of civic participation and communal effort, could it be justifiable to want to offset some of the other effort one’s camp requires?
In order to explore these questions, we need to do some reflecting and some research. Importantly, we’re encouraging your input and dialogue. We know that such camps (and those who use them) are a varied bunch and they’re here to stay. The challenge, then, is to help these camps integrate into the ways of Burning Man and to positively acculturate their participants. We also want the sponsors of these camps to understand how they are perceived and how they affect the event and the rest of the Burning Man community.
We’ve produced a 10-minute video of a conversation here at BMHQ, to frame the conversation on Turnkey camping to help advance our dialog around the issues it presents. After you view this video, join the conversation and become part of what creates a better future. We know there are other Burners with Turnkey camping experience out there. We hope they will join the conversation, too. Please share your thoughts with us in the comments, or on this ePlaya discussion thread.
(Special thanks to Black Rock City Manager Harley K Dubois, Black Rock City Community Services Manager Terry Schoop, and Theme Camp Coordinators Jon La Grace, Andy Tannehill, and Kimberly Morabito for participating. Thanks also to our volunteer video team Ana Grillo and Ana Arcioni.)