Everywhen and the Seplaya Village

Updated: Mar 5, 2021

Dustin Maretz travels to the Seplaya coordinates, to survey and build what would become the Everywhen Project’s second playa village in 2020.

Table of Contents

We arrived onto the barren lakebed a bit past noon, greeted with a warm, welcoming breeze and smokey skies from the forest fires raging in neighboring California. The survey crew, numbering somewhere between 10 and 15, cracked open some cold beers, toasting each other, celebrating both our arrival as well as unwinding from the arduous drive, and reviewed the site plan. Tucked into the back of the clipboards were a few laminated sheets of WANTED posters. Recently, a very public debate raged on social media about whether or not people should be allowed to camp on playa. We were clearly in the “we certainly should!” camp, and had WANTED posters ready, in honor of the person of our side of the debate. Whoever brought him into our camp was to be rewarded with a precious bounty: a top-shelf, deluxe Bloody Mary. He was camped near the Coyote Dunes (foreshadowing!), about a 10 minute drive from our site, at highway speeds.

The local police and rangers pulled in, gazing at our ragtag team of desert campers as we sat, drinking beers against an RV, in what little shade separated us from the sun. The Mayor sprung to her feet to greet the officers, most of whom she was on first-name basis with already, while Bureaucracy ran off to gather Everywhen stickers to give to the officers. They nodded in approval at our portable bathrooms, and we exchanged emergency contact information, established a communication strategy, informed the officials of our leadership hierarchy and the latest site plan. They chuckled, smiling at our efforts, maybe because they underestimated our ambitious, over-achieving optimism, or maybe because they found it endearing.

With a beer in one hand, and a long-ass string in another, the Everywhen crew performed mental and physical gymnastics.

They bade us farewell, wished us luck, and the crew set to work on our survey. We used the world’s tiniest hammer to painstakingly tap in the first stake that the art would line up with. After a quick touch of gold paint by Aftermath, our janky golden spike was ready and we began flagging the camp locations along the arc that would form the Seplaya City Promenade, our front street. The sun began to set as we laid down the final flags, with the wildfire smoke creating a stunningly vivid sunset to the west. We all hopped back into our vehicles and began spreading out to our designated homesteads to setup camp.

Cowtown (Children of When), a kid-friendly camp, provided excellent shade and views of the “When” sun-dial and the “trash fence” art piece.

Seplaya Village started filling in as planned; slowly, with some walk-up campers claiming the outer-most walk-in homesteads. We built our art after our camp was up; Water Temple was erected, along with the five light towers from 2018, and the Soirée, our community dining space we built for Juplaya, shining with multicolored lights. The Promenade was brilliant with cafe-style string lights, and much to our delight, other art began to populate the open playa. Rumors began circling of a “Janky Man” or “Stick Man” that sprung up, somewhere 10 minutes “that way” toward the Old City.

Even the most labor-intensive art “cars”, such as this couch, carried across the playa with sweat and rope, created a rich and endearing experience. These art car riders are on their way to get married.

A few mornings into our trip, all hell broke loose. Screaming, shouting, something about a love letter and a bloody coyote head?! Our community leaders rallied together to figure out what the hell happened during night shift. After an unnecessary, but weirdly amusing investigation, it appeared to be nothing more than a bit of desert justice: a spat between two adults, free pizza gone wrong, unyielding ego, and (way) too much drinking at 4 AM. Remembering our community rule to not let the drama between individuals become a camp-wide problem, most of us happily moved on, though some in that enclave remained particularly salty.

BZZZZZZ! A drone roared overhead, soaring gracefully, despite the huge size. A news van was tucked away into one of the camps and a reporter was spotted walking around and interviewing the campers. The story hit the wires that evening, and by the next morning, we were all gleefully reading the article with what-little internet that remained. They described us as the Renegade Burn, despite the so-called Renegade Burn taking place at the Black Rock City site to our South. Despite their confusion, we weren’t ready for what would happen next: 500 new campers showed up that day. Our humble walk-in camper greeter team was overwhelmed.

Frank the Tank and Hayley built the Corona Squid as a nod to modern times and the Everywhen Project's unofficial red-flying cephalopod mascot. The Corona Squid periodically let out plumes of smoke, and the artists invited people to write on a spore and fasten them onto the art piece.

While not planned as an event, we were quickly becoming THE destination for travelers to the playa- again, but this time on a much bigger scale. Our increased presence and tighter grid created a beacon of bright light on the night horizon, causing the campers at the Old City to flock to the Seplaya Village City. Some of them just came to party at night, but a lot of them would turn around, pack their things, and relocate to our not-an-event. By Friday, our camp of 52 original campers numbered at least 3,000- and a lot more if you counted the nighttime draw.

More reporters appeared and word-of-mouth quickly inspired some still sitting at home to hurriedly pack their things and head to Everywhen’s Seplaya Village. Our exasperated Mayor (more often than not) scolded, cussed out, and generally spit vitriol to every new person who might have been attempting to park or camp in the open art area. “Move your shit! This is our front lawn,” she barked. “Move into the city where you can enjoy your neighbors and have a beer.” Much of our team took turns smoothing things over after new visitors were ripped a new asshole, oftentimes stunned into silence. We had a handle of vodka on the ready to make things right.

We had check-ins and friendly chats with the local rangers and county law enforcement several times a day. Adventures of desert encounters long past were shared, and observations and bizarre experiences were exchanged between their team and ours, often filling in missing pieces of larger stories that would have us laughing heartily. Towards the end of our stay, acknowledging the unexpected surge of people to the village, they encouraged us to apply for a permit next year, and many of the new campers echoed their request: “We love what you’re doing. Come back again, next year, with a permit! Let’s keep doing this.”

There are far too many stories to share, but a few truths resonated with the visitors and inhabitants of Seplaya Village:

- “You Need to Do This Again” 
- “Expect 25,000 Next Time.- “Get a permit. We’re coming back.- “This is a place by the makers, for the makers.- “You don’t know what you’ve done. You don’t know how many people here have been considering suicide. You have given them hope and human connection. This is a new beginning. This is something different.- An artist, speaking on their piece:I can’t believe how many people are visiting her. At the burn, this is just part of our camp. Here, people are singing to her, visiting her, taking photos with her. This is amazing.

The group is all smiles celebrating a long, but ridiculously fun week in the desert.

The newspaper articles were glowing; a movement was taking shape to start an event accessible to the backyard artists, inventors and creators. Digesting the requests of the authorities, all our new neighbors and visitors to the village, we formalized the Everywhen Project as a benefits organization, dedicated to helping fund the creation of reusable art. Using the lessons gleaned over years of primitive camping, we set forth to make this experience available to other artists, creators and inventors who would benefit from a structured, primitive, and raw art experience, enriched not with unlimited funds, but with imagination.

Continue to the next story: Chapter 6: Building the Everywhen for Creators

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