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In a NOLA State of Mind

BY ANCHAL BIBRA | THE NEST COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR

 

“I’m watching the weather app. The rain forecast keeps changing!” Our Creative Director Leigh Robbie was glued to her phone last month when we found ourselves producing our first out-of-state event in the muggy and magical city of New Orleans. Woven Studios, The Nest’s event production and design studio arm, was tasked with planning a beautiful, connective, and rooted retreat for the Solidaire Network, a community of donor organizers mobilizing critical resources to the frontlines of intersectional movements for racial, gender, and climate justice.


Despite the weather pulling a fast one on us, Solidaire’s team said what we curated “was totally incredible” and “such an enjoyable and relaxing event.” Their team appreciated our attention to detail, our extra special touches, and how we conducted the general flow of the event. 




We learned a few key lessons along the way that we think will elevate your next event:


Lesson One: Stack Your Roster with Quality Peeps


Our team had to largely plan this retreat from our headquarters in Los Angeles, which meant it was critical to have a reliable network of event planning support on the ground. Thankfully we have a longstanding relationship with Community Solstice, a local arts and community organization. Their founder Shana Turner was able to help us organize local outings and special guest speakers. She was so helpful that we ended up asking her to be the lead facilitator for the staff workshop sessions throughout Solidaire’s retreat!


Another crucial “on-the-ground” supporter was Alex Burzynski, Leigh Robbie’s sister-in-law! Alex is steeped in the local service and events industry and helped us design and produce a dazzling house party, the culminating event for Solidare’s staff retreat. Alex did all the ground shopping, put together a rockstar event day crew, hired a local jazz band and seasoned bartender, and found a radiant host for the night!


We also made sure that we had a focused general team member who did everything from building tables and dropping linens, to bussing dishes and packing up food for guests to take home at the end of the night, to ensuring every rental made its way on the rental truck at the end of the night.


The best event teams require a combination of hard work, attention to detail, adaptability, high spirits…and someone who can make a banging setup/breakdown playlist! We certainly had all our bases covered in New Orleans!


Lesson Two: Be Prepared!


The guests at the retreat’s culminating House Party celebration had a great time, eating, drinking, listening to music, and connecting with old and new community.


But the road to that success required a ton of infrastructure! The party was hosted in a community member’s backyard, and the setting was stunning! But even with a beautiful canvas, there’s a lot to build to turn a great yard into a comfortable, engaging, and attractive event space. We wanted to host the entire event outside and built our Plan A design around that. But we knew there was a chance of rain, so we had to develop a strong Plan B option. 


Unfortunately, the weather channel isn’t precise and it can be hard to know what exactly a 20% chance of rain means. Leigh Robbie was so in love with the original outdoor vision that she held out for quite a while, hoping the forecast would shift. But once we saw drizzle, we made a hard pivot with less than an hour before guests would arrive. 


Thankfully, there were some covered spaces on site that they were able to utilize. They scrapped the outdoor plan, which included low dining tables two sofas, and more comfy seating sprawled across the yard. Instead, they focused on all the high cocktail tables and bar seating, and they were able to incorporate one sofa. So instead of a sprawling garden party, they ended up with more of a cozy, house party/lounge… which was perfect in the end. Guests arrived and had no idea that a shift had even taken place! 


Lesson Three: Engage Locals 


Collaboration and Connection are two of our four values at The Nest. In that spirit, we didn’t want to just helicopter into a “cool” retreat location. Our event planning team made sure there was engagement with the local community for Solidaire’s retreat.  


We reached out to local nonprofit Grow Dat Youth Farm to get a tour of their land and learn about the unique opportunities they provide for New Orleans youth to develop leadership skills and initiate change. Leigh Robbie is a former advisory board member for Grow Dat and when we realized they’re also regionally funded by Solidaire, we felt confident that uplifting this group’s impactful work would enrich the staff’s retreat experience. When we presented the idea to Solidaire, they loved it! The Solidaire staff thoroughly enjoyed getting to connect with one of their grantee partners and the opportunity to get outside of the hotel during their stay in New Orleans.


Event planning is by its very nature an exercise in solid planning and then pivoting creatively and gracefully when that solid plan gets thrown out of the window! We’re thankful for the lessons learned in New Orleans and have integrated them into the Woven Studios event production process. We’d like to send gratitude to the many hands who made this and all our events possible!


***


The Solidaire retreat took place on the ancestral lands of the Chitimacha people, with the Atakapa, Caddo, Choctaw, Houma, Natchez, and Tunica inhabiting other areas throughout what is now Louisiana. This land was known to the Indigenous people as Bulbancha, “the place of other tongues.”


We encourage you to check out Bvlbancha Collective, a mutual aid collective of Indigenous peoples and allies who make plant medicine, crafts, and regalia. The majority of their medicine goes into the Indigenous community, with about 25% being sold to raise funds to help their Indigenous members with travel costs for activism, education, and spiritual development.


BY ANCHAL BIBRA

COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR,

THE NEST


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