Last week’s Slow Living Summit in Brattleboro, Vermont could be the best conference I’ve ever attended. It’s not that it had the best speakers (though the plenaries on body health, economics and productivity, redefining wealth, food education, and the anatomy of art were fantastic). What made the summit a game-changer was the bold and brave intent to weave music and visual art into the plenary talks. Not between. Into.
I’ve never seen a summit design like this before. Each speaker was impressive, practiced and compelling in his or her own right but accompanied by artists, their words took on multiple dimensions, and floated out over us (as opposed to being fired off a PowerPoint slide straight into our neocortexes).
“For a lot of us, this is out of our comfort zone,” said Samantha Eagle, who opened the Summit with local yogi Lindel Hart executing a whole-body drawing in response to Samantha’s points about cellular health while local renowned guitarist John Sheldon strummed along.
The Summit was most certainly “out there” and that was a risk for the organizers. Strolling of the Heifers founder Orly Munzing said: “My husband’s an engineer. I figured he’d duck out when the dancing started. But he stayed. He said ‘this is pretty good, Orly’ and he danced when he was told to.”
Each speaker was committed to influencing and inspiring real behavior change. To spark that, you’ve got to get people beyond their rational brains. You've got to give them an experience.
With art on the plate, powerful questions and suggestions seeped down past our brains into our hearts and guts. It was new, vulnerable, and required a leap of faith. Luckily and gratifyingly, it worked.
Charles Einsenstein of the beautiful video Sacred Economics and books about important things kicked off our Thursday morning, spreading heavy, thick questions over us while world-class musician Eugene Freisen riffed on the cello. Eugene's hypnotic compositions nudged us to be still and reflect rather than hastily converting thoughts to tweets – as we might at another sort of conference.
In fact, technology was scarce at the Slow Living Summit. Spottiness in cellular coverage helped matters, as did Creative Director Linda McInernery’s one-of-a-kind way of reminding us to turn off our devices and just be.
Throughout the two and half days, we were reminded again and again that it is a practice and a skill to do nothing.
Marvelous Martin Ping opened Friday with his story at Hawthorne Valley, a working farm in Ghent, New York that combines education, art and agriculture for experiential, place-based learning, and reinforced that “there’s more to life than going like this,” moving his thumbs over an imaginary mobile phone – including one child’s words after witnessing a calf being born. “It just came out!” the child exclaimed to a parent over the phone. “The extension cord was still attached!”
Summit themes included Slow Food, Slow Money, storytelling, art, gratitude, nature, and community. Again, it was out there – we unrolled a ball of red yarn across an audience of a hundred plus to illustrate our connectedness – but for someone weary of business-as-usually designed conferences, I was willing to take the plunge.
The experience was unforgettable.
Next year’s Summit is be in early June, followed by the annual Strolling of the Heifers Parade.
Wanna talk about it? Tweet me at @businessforfood.