Phoenix: Walter Productions
with Kirk Strawn

If you’ve been to Burning Man, Electric Daisy Carnival, Bonnaroo or Life is Beautiful festival, you have likely heard of the infamous Kalliope soundstage and art car, part of the fleet of art cars created and toured by Walter Productions. Walter Productions is an incredible example of a Burning Man camp that has successfully transitioned beyond Black Rock City to extend their mission and impact to their home city of Phoenix, Arizona and beyond. In 2009, Camp Walter introduced their first creation, Walter, the world’s largest VW Bus, built at a 2:1 scale. Contrary to popular misconception, Walter is not named after a specific person – rather, his name comes from the fact that he was renovated from an old Walter Firetruck.

Since the birth of Walter in 2009, this community-led organization has expanded their fleet of art cars to include Big Red, the giant VW Beetle, Heathen the flame-throwing fire truck, Kalliope the muse and sound stage, the Peace Train, Pug Bug and Mona Lisa, which was based on Da Vinci’s drawings for a war machine, now brought to life as a symbol for facing our fears.

Along with the expansion of art cars, Walter extended their reach across America for several years by touring Kalliope and others to major festivals such as Bonnaroo and Electric Daisy Carnival. Now, they are taking root in their home community of Phoenix and extending into various projects such as The Where?House art gallery and venue, Walter Brewing Station, The Walter Gallery and Walter Dome, which hosts third Friday potlucks seasonally, and recently added a 501c3 project called The Walter Hive, which is a maker space that focuses on teaching skills to people from all walks of life, particularly at-risk youth and burn survivors.

It’s a lot to cover, but there is SO much good information in this conversation with Kirk Strawn, founder of the Walter Project and all of its affiliates. We talk about the process of building community, organizational structures, the importance of ethos for establishing a culture, finances, team dynamics and more. We’ll fill you in on the first ten years of Walter as we move into the second ten years of the 100 year plan for this community that is intended to build a legacy for years to come.

Toolkit Highlights:

  • Learning through experience
  • Bringing people together around a project (and beer)
  • Work put into a project leads to a sense of ownership
  • The transition from a Burning Man Camp into a local and national tour
  • Preparing for the legacy of a project-based community
  • Building partnerships and giving back to the greater community
  • Formation of corporate and nonprofit entities for different projects
  • The development of community guidelines
  • The importance of inclusion and being nice
  • Camp Walter’s mission on the playa and upcoming projects
  • Moving from a volunteer-based project into a business
  • The challenges of growth
  • “It’s really all about people and teams”
  • The time in between events
  • The responsibility of the production team to the guests
  • Looking forward to the next ten years for the Walter Project

• • • • 

Produced as a graduate applied project by Malena Grosz, MFA, Arizona State University 

Intro music: “Moonlight Bounce” by Daniel T (with permission for use)

Podcasts edited by Corbin Garcia

Special thanks to Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts at Arizona State University for grant-funded support of this project. Immense gratitude to my applied project committee for their guidance: Dr. Daniel Bernard Roumain, Dr. Rachel Bowditch, and Dr. Steven Tepper.