See the pic above? That’s the first day of Alt Summit, the once-a-year blog conference I attended in Palm Springs earlier this month. It looks arduous, doesn’t it? All those palm trees and the very conspicuous sunshine. One writer in attendance, the brilliant Meg Conley, joked:
“My husband keeps saying that Alt Summit is what I seem to think all of his business retreats are like. But really his are him hunkered down in a corner eating a Big Mac while working in an airport and Alt is, you know… meditation cabanas and flower arrangements and dinners with women who wanna make your dreams come true.”
In a nutshell, Alt Summit is a place where women bloggers, podcasters, YouTubers, social media influencers, and creatives of all types can meet, swap stories, share business cards, and, best case scenario, find a sisterhood. The classes and speakers are impressive but they are secondary to the relationship-building that is the crux of Alt. Very touchy-feely until it happens to you for real. (Read here about how it happened to me.)
Alt Summit also does an excellent job of documenting all the colorful exuberance with many photographers in attendance. I’m excited to share the spectacle with you.
Joanna Gaines, the Novogratzes, Garance Doré, and Others
Joanna Gaines, the star of HGTV’s Fixer-Upper, and the woman blamed by every designer I know for single-handedly killing color in homes, shared a couple of interesting remarks. She used to sell radial tires for her father. She dreams of being an accountant in a cubicle sitting behind stacks of paper. She gets headaches. Also, she’s a recovering micromanager.
I asked my friend Tina what she thought of Joanna. While we both agreed that Joanna’s clogs were super, overall we found her talk not that interesting. Tina said, “She didn’t share enough of her story to make us feel inspired. Nothing that allows us to dream that her success is attainable. If we can’t see ourselves in the journey, we can’t learn from hers.”
Robert and Cortney Novogratz, the hipster design couple with seven kids, were refreshingly real. I cranked up my bullshit-o-meter and detected little activity. My friend Tina whispered to me that she was sick of the pics of their kids. “The kids are the brand. Without them, they’re nothing!” I whispered back. Truly though, I loved Robert and Cortney’s advice on buying real art:
Art doesn’t have to be expensive. You probably know an accomplished photographer. It’s as important as a sofa. And don’t save it for your living room only. Follow The Jealous Curator and you’ll find $100 art. Put it in your kids’ rooms too.
And it’s interesting that they are currently selling off many pieces of art from their private collection to fund their kids’ college. Some brave soul in the audience asked them for celebrity dirt and they admitted that Donald Trump approached them to work and they turned him down. They didn’t click with Sean Coombs either.
Garance Doré (center above) talked a lot about her journey from the pinnacle of fashion blogging to a complete burnout followed by a breakdown. She confessed that it took her a long time — years! — to understand that she was suffering from depression. When she began writing long posts about her struggle with mental health, her readers responded, “Yes, we know.” Still she’s circumspect about social media. She thinks Instagram is “braggy” and about Twitter, she said, “How much more are we going to be reduced?” Garance has been building her platform for thirteen years, which means that by modern internet standards, she might be the Amelia Earhart of blogging.
I attended the screening of the touching film, The Mountain of Should, created by Eliza Reisfeld, Abby Van Muijen, and Marisa Rafter of the all-female animation company Rogue Mark Studio. The film is a depiction of an original poem by Brady Gill. Its art direction is inspired by the work of Shel Silverstein and Ben Shah, and it contains over 4000 individual drawings. I strongly recommend this film for anyone at a crossroads. If you have a high school or a college student, watch with them.
A Feast for the Eyes
Alt commissioned several artists to paint murals throughout the conference locations. Alt hired several photographers to take your portrait if you liked. There were traveling photo booths, walls of flowers, artist installations, a serenity tent where you could meditate, craft projects, poetry slams, fashion shows, hammock circles, and of course Mark Ruffalo. (Yes, that Mark Ruffalo. Read more here if you are a fan.)
Best Part Was My Besties
Our group grew this year, which was wonderful. Nancy, Brooke and Paige are interior designers. Tina is an architect. Petra is a textile and surface pattern designer. Paisley is a filmmaker. Caitlin is a graphic designer. We had conversations about our conflicted feelings on design. How we love it yet with all the pain and suffering in the world today, we feel guilty worrying about color and typography. Someone quoted Grace Bonney who says one should never feel shallow about creating beauty.
Some of us ate breakfast together every morning, seated at the same table next to the firepit. One person ordered the exact same thing every day. (She shall go nameless.) One person thought a cat was a panther and screamed out a warning to the other diners. (She shall go nameless too.)
Truthfully, Alt Summit probably isn’t my scene anymore. I’d like to attend a writing conference and learn about plot structures and the geographies of non-fiction. But where these women go, I will follow. That’s how much I gain from their company. Plus, the unrelenting sunshine... the straw hats... the cool clogs... the midcentury modern architecture... the hammocks… .
Photographs by Nicole Breanne and Justin Hackworth, via Alt Summit. Click here for information about attending Alt Summit 2020.