Growing & Changing in North America 2019

Hi! Caitlin Pontrella here!

This month we kicked off planning for the FIFTH 2019 Art of Retreat in North America… and with it came a dive back into the hundred+ feedback forms from years past.

For those of you who don’t know me, I take the feedback process very seriously. I believe the best events are those where people feel both excited and invited to help create the atmosphere, content, and overall experience. Each year Adam, Alan, and I try to open up as many avenues for people attending to be involved in the shaping of what happens… and one small way we do that is by responding to and making adjustments based on post-event feedback forms.

That being said, I wanted to highlight some of the changes we are implementing this year, address some common feedback points, and share with you opportunities to create the experience you’re looking for!

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Changes to Look For in 2019

More Time!

The first and most obvious thing to us last year was simply that we needed more time! Sunday felt rushed and frustrating, as people hurried between talks, cabin clean up, governance chats, and good-byes. As such, we have added a full day and night to the event. The Retreat will now run Thursday Evening to Sunday Lunchtime. Our first activity will start Thursday at 7PM (dinner) and the last official talk will end no later than 4 PM on Saturday, leaving plenty of open schedule for conversation, problem solving, and down time Saturday evening and Sunday morning.

New Talk Formats & Speaker Support

As an industry, Parkour is still very young. One of the goals of the Retreat is to provide a semi-professional platform where individuals can present content, receive feedback from their peers, and improve their work so that we can continue to grow together. That being said, it is always the case that some speakers are more experienced than others and bring a varying depth of knowledge. Not every talk has had content enough to fill 90 minutes… and in the attempt to fill that time, some speakers in the past have stretched information to meet time to the detriment of the presentation.

Recognizing this, we now will have two talk length options

  • DEEP DIVES, 90 minutes. These are what you have come to know over the years as Teach & Talks. This type of talk length is for experienced speakers, well researched content, and indepth conversation/workshop presentations.

  • SHORT SPARKS, 30-45 minutes. This new format, is for more novice speakers, smaller, bite-sized concepts, and shorter presentations.

Additionally, first-time speakers will receive additional preparation support from our team, including pre-presentation review. We also are updating and expanding our Speaker guide this year to include the most common critique and feedback we’ve received over the years.

New Schedule Items - Roundtables, Conversations, Workshops, Trainings…?

The last two years we have received increasing interest in having time set aside for facilitated conversation spaces around various topics of interest in the industry such as community building and competition, as well as mini professional trainings in business-related subjects such as small business finance, risk management, operations, management, marketing, and more.

While we haven’t figured out exactly how to implement this yet, it is on our radar. We are looking back at old things we did that were successful, including the problem-solving session we had in year 1 in New Jersey, the in-depth post-talk workshops we held in New York in 2017, and other smaller down-time/passive activities such as table talk starters and panels.

Have an idea? We want to hear it!

Have professional expertise? Reach out!

Transportation, Food, Accommodation

This is the first year the Retreat is returning to the same location and boy are we excited! In the past it was difficult to address the feedback on these because the logistics, venues, and vendors would completely change. Returning to the same location will hopefully help us make some visible changes:

  • Transportation - One of the biggest logistical issues of the Retreat is transportation to and from camp. With over 75% of the attendees coming from out of town, and the venue being 2 hours from the nearest airport, we recognize the difficulty faced. Last year we had one volunteer spend a TON of time trying to coordinate volunteer cars with wildly different travel schedules of almost 100 attendees (big props to Steve Leung!)… and it was chaotic. As such, we have made the following changes:

    • (1) A transit-ticket add on that will go to car-share rentals, guaranteeing you a ride within…

    • (2) A fixed window of time for travel. Car-shares will only be available inside specific windows of time on Thursday and Sunday, which you will select when you buy your ticket. If you opt to arrive or depart outside these travel windows, you will have to make your own way to/from camp, though we will do our best to help you connect with other late-goers/early-leavers if there are any.

    • (3) We will not be accepting late arrivals on site this year except for unexpected circumstances. We request you respect the event and other attendees by planning to arrive on Thursday.

  • Food - We are in communication with our primary venue and vendor, the YMCA at Wenatchee, in regards to the menu. Last year there was a request for more vegetarian options, as well as more food overall. Tim, the YMCA camp coordinator, didn’t quite believe us when we said to cook double…. but after eating them out of house and home last year, he is going to be (1) staffing more cooks, (2)increasing the quantity of food made, and (3)providing the menu ahead of time again (which was available on the app last year a week ahead of time) so that you can make any necessary adjustments.

  • Accommodations - Cabin assignments will again be random, though we always try to put everyone with at least one person they know in their cabin. You will receive your cabin assignments two weeks ahead of time so that you can communicate and connect with your crew before getting out there. After receiving complaints that one of our cabins had a broken stove & roof issues, we also will be doing a thorough venue sweep this year prior to anyone arriving to ensure everyone is placed in facilities that are clean, dry, and safe.

  • Safety - We received feedback last year that the first aid supplies were lacking! We will double check with the camp coordinator before coming out on site and will be bringing along our own first aid equipment. We also will expanding our volunteer orientation to include safety protocols, and are trying to figure out a way to make volunteers more visible to attendees as a resource.

Seeing the Sessions You Want

This is a forever-problem that we don’t have a lot of great solutions to just yet. Each year we have to run several talks at the same time (usually attendees get to choose between 4). We do this to keep the session size small enough to be somewhat conversational and manageable for our speakers, and due to venue size restrictions, but recognize this produces frustration when you cant get into the talk you want or have to choose between several talks you definitely want to see.

Session registration as usual will open up 2 weeks ahead of time. We will do our best to ensure everyone has ample enough time to read whats available and get online when it goes live. However, this year we are considering opening up a vote as well and possibly double-running some of the most popular/most requested to see talks.

What do you think?

Night Missions & Night Lounge

What surely will be a fixture on the schedule until the end of time, we also want to make sure it is clear this year that night missions are optional. We believe strongly in its importance for team building, and encourage everyone to participate, but can’t drive home enough that you don’t have to play unless you 100% want to!

We will set up the night lounge right after dinner, which will stay set up until 1 AM Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night. Help us make that happen by joining one of the volunteer teams for a shift!


Volunteer Teams

The Retreat is a major production only possible with the help of you! This year we are opening up Lead Volunteer Roles and support volunteer teams to help in the designing, creating, and handling some of the day-of activities and experiences at the event. From dreaming up the Night Lounge to moving tables around during meals to timekeeping for our teachers….we need you.

You can check out our current list of roles open here. Depending on which role or team you end up on, you also will receive either a discounted ticket, early registration for sessions, or the ability to arrive early on site for a free bonus night/day.

Create with Us

With the extra time on the schedule, as noted above, we are also open to new schedule formats, activities, and ideas! Want a 7 AM meditation session? Lead it! Want to bring and build something on site? Let’s do it. We invite anyone to submit a proposal/email with what youre thinking. Even if it can’t happen this year, we will add it to our idea bucket for future ones!

Just A Few Months Away!

Over the last 5 years this event has grown in a wild number of directions. It started out with a small handful of people in a set of beach houses during a crazy hurricane storm in south New Jersey, huddling around kitchen tables and in living rooms giving talks and growing close. Since then our budget has ballooned from $4500 to $18,000+ some years. We’ve bounced between airbnbs, hotels, islands, city rooftops, and classrooms, sometimes juggling as many as 15 different vendors and venues in a single weekend (never doing that again!). We reached leaders in 35+ states and 8 different countries (significantly more soon after our Europe retreat next week), and have consistently hit event cap.

Settling into Wenatchee for at least a few years is a welcomed change of pace, and an exciting one at that. We have room to grow the size of the event and more freedom than ever to invite all of you to create and build on site. We believe we are getting closer to creating that deeply desired space of relaxation and intimacy, as well as playful professionalism.

…and It’s only been possible thanks to enormous amount of volunteer hours put in by our team, especially Alan and Adam, as well as our core volunteer logistics and media teams. We have been able to keep ticket prices low and offer scholarships and travel stipends thanks to the generosity of our sponsors and discounts from our venues. Not to mention the continued enthusiasm, feedback, and support of all you attending.

With all that being said…We are excited to meet the Retreat camp of 2019 hear your ideas and have you involved as we shape whats going to be yet another incredible year.

See you on the Lake!

Caitlin Pontrella