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There’s this place in the desert…
by Mathew Gilbuena

Published on December 19, 2020

An Introduction

Every crazy adventure has an origin story: a culmination of oddballs and creators finding each other over the years, slowly adding their essential pieces of a spectacular mural that would create a vision so big it would have been unfathomable to those who were at ground zero when it all began. Our tales here are but a summary of the shenanigans our crew have shared together, and sometimes endured- but each tale taught us the both the value and the cost of friendships.

This is the Our Story...

There once was a time where we shot explosives from the playa without fear of harassment from the authorities. However, those times were gone the following year: we saw our porto-potty funds drained and redirected to pay off the citation for launching unauthorized fireworks.

Temple Camp

The Everywhen Project began as a small group of friends who camped at the Black Rock Desert over the 4th of July holiday. Without the aid of outside resources, they learned how to become a self-sustaining community, to respect the power of nature, and how to survive and thrive on the unforgiving playa. Hardships were faced, many spats ensued, friends were lost while new bonds forged, and countless lessons were learned - what worked, what failed spectacularly, and what was needed to create a more awesome experience.

Dustin, Frank and Peggy perusing the bullet-riddled “Welcome to the Black Rock Desert!” posts.

The band of campers explored other nomadic camps scattered across the land, and over time their numbers grew, as new neighbors continuously popped up overnight to join our site, eager to make new friends. Despite any differences, their common love for the playa stitched together a culture of sharing meals, an appreciation for protecting (and protection from!) the local environment, lots of shade-building, leaving no trace, bringing awesome toys, and building inspirational art.

The 2018 “4th of Juplaya” Camp, where the crew met Frank the Tank by happenstance

The years of camping in Black Rock Desert brought many memorable and ridiculous experiences. One year there was a hair-singeing game of flaming Skee-Ball where brave souls would glide a green, fiery ball of metal— with welding gloves of course— into a series of rings to compete for the high score. Another incident of excessive arguing over who was or wasn’t well-rested enough to cook scrambled eggs resulted in a frypan’s worth of spilt egg and some empty stomachs. One of the highlights, though, include escorting planes off the front yard, because that’s our damn front yard, damn it.

Frank and his friends brought “Fire Skee-Ball” to the playa. This resulted in several years of confusion and debate among our group on whether or not Frank is a firefighter. Frank is not a firefighter.
Dustin and Tornado enjoy their fireworks bounty on the 4th of July holiday. T-Minus 10 minutes before the authorities roll up to issue a citation.

From these zany and numerous experiences, some patterns emerged and some camp etiquette began forming.

You’re going full-on Rain Man with this list, aren’t you?” - Aftermath

Backyard Art Projects

Back home and away from the desert, our camper heroes began building backyard art projects, with a shared affinity for creating sacred spaces. As a group, they banded together, created a build site and thus embarked on a new chapter and, for the very first time: leading their own temple project.

Lake and Dustin select the perfect length bamboo to create an incense trough for the fifth Bamboo Lantern tower. This tower was placed on a hill top and it provided lighting, patchouli aromas, and a Temple sanctuary experience during its installation at UnSCruz 2019.

With reusability in mind, and inspiration from a recent trip across the Pacific, the Bamboo Temple was sketched, then later prototyped in the backyard build site. After a few long days of grueling lashing, no shade, and a visit from an angelic neighbor bearing gifts of coffee and breakfast, our first temple was successfully installed at a nearby event hosted at a mountainous suburban fairground.

Aftermath binding together disks of bamboo to create a large, globe-shaped chandelier for one of the temple structures for Bamboo Temple.

Hard-learned lessons from the first temple paved the way for Water Temple the following year, and this year’s crew turned the build site/house into a 40 days-long affair. Several builders were strewn throughout the place, one on each couch, one in the office, an RV parked outside for a month, even one sleeping in the backyard every night. The house became a haven of daily building, nightly parties, and all-day delinquent hilarity. The build/summer camp came to a close when we packed up a few vehicles and headed to the event for an unforgettable weekend of hijinks. Soon after, some of the crew was pushing to install a light tower at another event, but this one on the beach. There was ample sweating watching the tide closing in on the tower, soon engulfing the feet. Thanks to those who fished it out- you know who you are!

Lake observes Tower 5 from Water Temple, installed in the Pacific Ocean at Monterey Bay.

By August, the light towers were finally brought to the playa, to spruce up the corner of that year’s build camp. By the end of 2019, a third temple was conceived: the Temple of Everywhen. At this point, the crew adopted the name “Everywhen Project” for creating multi-use and re-configurable art.

The beginning of 2020 was off to a running head start: letters of intent dispatched for acquiring grants, a mini-installation (the Everywhen Shrine) for an art preview show, two planned Temple iterations for two separate events, a crew of 30 builders and volunteers assembled, fundraising videos produced and distributed, and production on the shrine kept the schedule quite busy. As our work on the shrine neared completion, however, word was spreading of a novel virus that was making its way around the world. The art show was cancelled. The May event cancelled, then the other event. The crew, without a project and under a government-issued stay-at-home mandate, suspended the Everywhen project.

Creative People Need to Create

Aftermath conducts a toast to the Everywhen team during the 2020 4th of July banquet at the Soirée.

After a few months of justifying day-after-day of inebriated home life, a scheme was hatched: the Everywhen Shrine was pretty much complete… why not bring it to the desert? And while we’re there, let’s build a grand dining room, a la Dalí! Let’s do it at the yearly July camp-out! Unbeknownst to the Everywhen crew, this set into motion a series of unpredictable and escalating events.

Walter Alter, a self-described Heretic and an early evangelist of the Electric Universe Theory, puts away freshly-stained Lantern fins. (Not pictured: Walter smoking a cigar while staining)

With the inclusion of a few art installations, additional infrastructure, and a bigger camp footprint, there was something missing to round out what we all assumed was going to be the only trek to the playa for the year. If there was a place to eat, and a space to reflect, was there a place to cut loose and dance? To round out the camp accouterments, the crew called our angelic friend, who had expressed interest in creating a psychedelic acoustic experience: the Sound Garden.

So, the map was drawn, and the stage set. Crew drove in. Some flew in! We all convened at the usual GPS coordinates to rendezvous for our annual July vacation to the desert.

Landing on playa in the middle of a windy dust storm makes for an interesting survey! Bureaucracy and Walter try to keep from flying away as they orient the camp towards sunrise, as per tradition.
Everywhen Village, July 2020. The second night before Sound Garden and walk-in campers began to arrive. Days later, the crew would be helping pull the RV to the right from a patch of wet playa.

Art, when installed in an open desert, surrounded by lights and campers, attracts people. A lot of people. Our camp grew. And grew. Like moths to the flame. Soon there were so many cars parking on the front yard, Aftermath usurped the camp message board to begin issuing gag parking citations, which became just another camp attraction. Walkups generously donated cash for the portos. Food was shared, along with songs and stories by the fire pits at night. Art cars began arriving, and along with them impromptu dance stages. Some goats even showed up in an ambulance. Satellite camps began to form on the outskirts. Our art and small camp became the go-to destination. We brought “extra” toilets for our camp. Turned out it wasn’t enough… but do not ask why!

Towards the end of our trip, Mark drove up in his giant pickup, and stopped in front of the Everywhen camp’s shade. “I’m thinking about coming out again,” smirks Mark, speaking above the gurgling drone of the diesel engine. “I have a few tweaks to make to Sound Garden.”

“Again?” Bureaucracy asks, walking up to the truck, putting a hand over his eyes, shielding them from the noon sun.

Mark’s eyes beam. “How do you feel about coming back in September?” Bureaucracy shook his head in disbelief, looking at the large truck with his camp trappings strapped all over it, trailer in tow hauling the generators, speakers, shade and other equipment that was the Sound Garden. “That’s not even 2 months out! You’re crazy.”

“Just… think about it,” said Mark. “Let’s talk more when we get home.”

Instant Photographs of some of the campers, before they were gifted to them during the 4th of July potluck dinner. This time, Frank (top right) brought his flamethrower!

On breakdown day, as the playa is wont to do when a campmate states aloud that they’ve never experienced a good dust storm yet, a savage whiteout laid siege to the camp as Everywhen packed up for an early morning departure the next day. When the sun rose, the group loaded the last of our infrastructure, made one final sweep for garbage and spills, then headed to Bruno’s for a farewell breakfast before hitting the road and parting ways, for now.

Another Playa Adventure?

The Everywhen Project team, after returning home and dusting off their things, were faced with a cumbersome question: do we go back to the playa in six weeks? If we did, what would we need to do differently? What problems did we have? With the seed planted, Bureaucracy organized a call with the Juplaya campmates, along with some of our newly made friends, to ask one simple question: “Do we do it again?” The answer was an exhausted, but emphatic hell yes.

Spreadsheet and Frank the Tank retrofit the Bamboo Temple. This would be the Temple's 4th installation, and its first on the playa. The joints, previously held together with rope lashings, were upgraded to use bolts and threaded rods.

In a critical retrospective, the Everywhen crew discussed the transition from scaling a small art camp to a larger community, and the growing pains were becoming apparent: bio-waste, community harmony, and planning for growth. Our bathrooms were sufficient for capturing the wastes of all the visitors and walk-in campers, but taking them on the road fully loaded was… another story. The several dogs present didn’t always get along. Conflict arose between campers and visitors. Where to place the walk-up campers became a recurring topic of debate. It became clear that some central planning and minimal coordination was needed.

Over just three planning calls between the campers, an intention was set to have a distributed, organized camping trip. Everywhen, as the central camp who would bring the bigger art installations, invited five additional camps to create a vibrant community: Echma, which ended up becoming the basis for a full-blown Russian sector later; Time Bandit Camp, with our favorite time traveler and his steampunk copper/purple art car; Shady Groove, an entourage of talented, odd-ball musicians in a big school bus; Cowtown, representing the Children of When, a kid-friendly camp; and Sound Garden, a supreme ambisonic experience.

Each camp agreed to be fully self sufficient, independently responsible for their area, and open to all visitors. They would manage their own meals, provide their own protection from the elements, have their own power strategy, maintain a 200’ minimum distance between each camp’s placement, and have a population cap of 25 per camp. However, the five camps agreed on a common set of shared resources and ideas:

- Bathrooms: bring 3 sets of four toilets and locate them behind the main arc of camps. Keep 50% locked for those who donated funds toward the bathrooms; leave 50% open to visitors and non-donors. The drivers who volunteer to transport them will split the net amount (donations - rental cost).
- Create pre-determined walk-in camping lots, to quickly direct strangers into a position that is socially distanced within the community.
- Select a standard radio technology, handset and channels for cross-camp communication.
- Community safety patrols, operating on shifts, intended for conflict resolution and village safety.
- Appoint a community mayor, serving as a central escalation point and greeter to walk-ups. (Oops.)
- Maintain an open space, devoid of campers, to place art.
- Bring your drama to the Drama Bar. Don’t let your personal problem become a community problem.

With a few weeks left until the Seplaya (September Playa) camping trip, the camps began their excited preparation for our next desert trek. The bathrooms were reserved and their pickups arranged. The Time Bandit was tuned up, sound system upgrades in place. Everywhen readied their installations by triple-checking hardware, lumber pieces, and needed bits and tools were all on hand. Others installed solar arrays onto their trailers to power more toys, like their new slushy machine. Cowtown began their cross-country drive from the east coast, with the excited kids in tow.

Our Mayor— being on a first name basis with the local authorities from our prior playa mischief and misdemeanors— informed them of our intent, provided GPS coordinates and our camp map, and the duration of our stay. After receiving their blessing, Act Two was about to begin!

Everywhen and the Seplaya Village

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.

Aftermath diligently paints the Everywhen sign, which was the top ornamental sign on the post in the center of the Promenade, that has now become iconic for the Seplaya village we built!

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

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.

Building the Everywhen for Creators

Everywhen Project was registered as a Nevada-based nonprofit in September, 2020 and paperwork was filed with the IRS for national recognition as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. The original Everywhen artists formed a Board of Directors, comprised mostly by those who attended Seplaya, and began recruiting from the amazing pool of campers, former project associates, and then the broader community at large to build an organized, art-infused camping event in a location where happenstance would lead strangers to form close friendships.

A screen grab from the Fall 2020 Leadership Summit, where the Everywhen Project team formally began building a team to support new artistic endeavors to begin in 2021.

Based on the “do-acracy” vibe of the original desert camping group, expanded to support reusable art, the Everywhen Project’s goals are to provide a framework and infrastructure to support a quirky arts festival, with a walkable city design with extensive stellar views, whether part of a coordinated homestead or not, so that every person is empowered to choose their very best adventure.

Everywhen's Seplaya Village, 2020

With reusability as a key focus, no art will be burned; however, fire art is strongly encouraged. As lovers of Dalí and other surrealist artists, the Mandala City design itself is an art form, within which campers will select their homestead plot to make their own. Five art parks, spread throughout the city, provides convenient access to art spaces, and the fractal nature of the city allows campers to choose from a variety of homestead flavors: the outer ring of the city, where there are wide open vistas of art cars and recreational vehicles enjoying the halo of open playa, there are inner districts of live music surrounding the centrally located Temple Park, the sunset side of the city is where the loudest music and the biggest party scene will reside, and then there’s the chill, quiet zone towards sunrise… The choice, is theirs.

The Everywhen

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