A/D/O by MINI | Likeminds, and the rise of creative getaways

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Likeminds, and the rise of creative getaways

After a weekend at the Likeminds conference-cum-festival in Upstate New York, Lily Saporta Tagiuiri muses on the growing popularity of escapist events for creatives.

I spent this past weekend at Likeminds, a curated set of workshops, speakers, music, and meals – which in the sparse information posted online is described as a “conference”. Hosted at a children’s summer camp in Upstate New York, Likeminds was originally inspired by Oslo-based event An Interesting Day. Co-founders Rachael Yaeger and Zach Pollakoff saw an opportunity to bring together designers, musicians and thinkers in one space.

It is one of a growing genre of creative conferences that break from tradition. More intimate and relaxed than SXSW or TED, this conference is not organized around a profession or an interest but a changing theme, in this case Time. As I met people who traveled from France, San Francisco, and even Australia, I was interested in what brought people there and what larger need it was filling.

The fourth Likeminds event took place at a summer camp in Upstate New York

Like an adult version of camp, we slept in bunk beds or tents. There was volleyball, a lake to swim in, and everyone I met was extremely upbeat and hopeful, even greeting me with hugs and eager to meet or “network”. When we first arrived, people who had been on Slack channels for Web Developers were embracing after finally meeting each other in real life. Acronyms of DTC (direct to consumer) and talk about Q4 earnings could be heard sprinkled into conversations. Unlike the full let loose of a festival, it was wholesome and felt safe, with plenty of scheduled fun.

Lectures and seminars were chosen around this year's theme: Time

The majority of attendees I met came from startups, and as someone living adjacent but not directly connected to these businesses, my interactions were a drawing back of a curtain. It was an insight into the “tech creatives” behind the ads on the subway for a trendy vitamin subscription or a new bedding that will change your life. In contrast to the optimism that lands venture-capital (VC) funding, my skepticism of capitalist-minded solutions to the world’s issues felt cynical (which I will admit, in general, I am).

There wasn’t a social-impact focus to the conference, and it was unclear what linked people to the topic, but it seemed clear that in the current gig economy and startup culture, screen-centric livelihoods leave people craving connection, community, and a break.

During the conference, a rising balloon was used to mark the passing of time
The conference line-up involved speakers and workshops across varied disciplines

While it is tempting to try and see this as a way to optimize productivity in the future, there were many opportunities for introspection, and ideas that resonated on an existential level. United by their connection to Time, an eclectic group of speakers and workshop hosts ranged from artists to train-wreck forensics experts. People were invited to get rid of their phones for the weekend for the chance to win a Lightphone, a pared-down smartphone designed to wean our reliance on our devices.

For the rest of the weekend, time was not marked by clocks but by the raising of a giant balloon, an alternative timekeeping mechanism to signal the start of events designed by Zander Chanin and Conor Davidson. It was disorienting and I missed the beginning of a few activities because of the lack of hard starts, but it definitely exposed how dependent on time we are for maintaining a sense of order.

Hands-on design activities included fabric-dying workshops

Among the events that provoked contemplation, conductor Alan Peirson gave a vibrant performance of timekeeping in music, captivating the room by getting us to participate in the creation of irregular rhythms, and performed a technically improbable Steve Reich piece later in the night with his band. Mark Charles examined the difference between Western linear time and Navajo circular time. Lexie Smith, who uses bread as metaphor and tool to critique systems of capital, relationships and time, led a bread-making workshop where participants not only made crackers but learned about the broader value bread serves.

I participated in a Living Funeral led by Emily Cross, an End of Life Doula, who guided 12 of us to write our final words, and led us through a meditation where we lay down, disassociated from our bodies, and were covered with a blanket with a weight put over our eyes. It was uncanny, and left me feeling acutely aware of my mortality and materiality.

Some activities took place inside a domed tent designed by Michael Yarinsky and Daniel Starr-Tambor

Musical performances capped both nights, with a haunting set by Zsela. A dome designed by Michael Yarinsky and Daniel Starr-Tambor played music based on the orbital rhythm of the planets circling the sun throughout the weekend. Both dinners were memorable, Kreung Cambodia made vegan “sloppy joes” and Pizzaria Laferrera spent days preparing dough for 100 Sicilian-style pizzas. Like the camps of childhood, people return year after year, making friends, and in some cases leading to collaborations. 

Lexie Smith taught a bread-making workshop
Sporting activities were also on offer for participants

On a personal level, the conversations I had and the ideas it inspired are continuing to resonate. The experience was not oriented around a goal or final outcome, there were no rules or directives, rather just the option to participate in activities and to listen to the speakers. A mix between informative sessions and a carefree attitude that allowed participants to continue to feel productive even away from their devices. In the end, attendees wished it lasted longer. Perhaps the people who are creating the products and the systems we interact with are also trying to escape them. 

Musical performances took place in the evenings

From Burning Man, now swarmed by Silicon Valley tech creatives trying to flee the grind of their high-octane work through an otherworldly adult playground, to retreats like Wanderlust where participants distance themselves from technology to invest in mental and physical health, Likeminds is part of a larger impulse to disconnect. Many companies see the value of networking and bonding that happens in these experiential retreats, and while some subsidize tickets, others host their own – such as Google Camp’s exclusive week in Sicily. As technology forces us to get faster, be consistently available and productive, these retreats – unlike vacations – serve as a socially acceptable absence.

Likeminds 4.0 took place September 20-22, 2019, at Camp Tommy, New York. The event organizers waived the cost of our writer's ticket.

Text by Lily Saporta Tagiuri.

Photography by Meredith Jenks.