Tag Archive | communities conference

So you want to build a festival?

On August 28th and 29 we will be preparing the QuinkFair site. We are in essence running a mini-festival to help prepare for the full sized event on Oct 1,2 & 3. This free event is at a location which will be disclosed to volunteers and is just a few miles from Acorn Community in Mineral VA. Below are some of the things we are working on:

  • Assemble Domes
  • Build a floating dock
  • Mapping/Naming and Sign making
  • Tiny bridge upgrades
  • Assemble wooden benches
  • Decorate the Temple of Oracles
  • Craft a Riddle Garden
  • Clear brush
Build a dome, create a space, craft a culture

Assemble Domes: We have 2 thirty foot diameter geodesic domes which we hope to assemble in this work weekend. These domes have seen many events and the components are well marked for easy assembly. And it is still a satifsfying and challenging experience getting these up.

Build a floating dock: The South Anna River flows thru the festival site and there is a well designed ladder down the banks to the river. We have boats and canoes a many, but we need to craft a simple floating dock to launch them and for folks who want to sit beside the water.

Mapping/Naming and Sign making: The property has a spagetti swirl of paths, creeks, rivers and roads thru it. There will be domes and temples scattered across the space and we need to name and maps the diffent aspects of this temporary village. The outhouse at the back far edge of the property is already called “Back Drop” but a myriad of sites need to be named and roads and paths identified.

Tiny bridge upgrades: There are several simple plank bridges over creeks and a ravine. We need to put hand rails in place and stabilize some for heavier traffic.

Assemble wooden benches: Our hosts have asked us to produce as sustainable an event site as possible. We will have workshops and performances which need chairs and benches. Fortunately a significant number of wooden benches already have their legs cut and bench bodies fashioned. It will take a bit of crafty woodworker magic to make these come together, but we have the tools, the pieces and the fasteners needed to make something rustic and functional.

Decorate the Temple of Oracles: The gazebo which houses the Temple of Oracles pops up in minutes, but creating the right ambiance and specifying the missing furniture and cushions is going to take some more time. You can brush up on the Temple of Oracles here

Craft a Riddle Garden : Beside the hammocks garden we are building a garden of riddles. Some of these are historic and logical (like the Riddle of the Sphinx), some are drawn from fiction (like Bilbo’s riddles with Gollum) others are comic or trivial. Bring your riddles and we will decorate this piece of the forest with tiny mysteries and revealing solutions.

Come to the Riddle Garden

Add a comment if you want to come and we will coordinate logistics with you. Or you can RSVP on this Facebook event.

Better Labor Day Plans

Perhaps you are thinking about what you should be doing over labor day weekend. You have decided it is too expensive and too much hassle to go to Burning Man. You could visit your relatives, but Thanksgiving is looming and that is really a much better holiday for that activity. You could stay home and watch some sporting spectacular on TV, with teams you don’t especially care about with perhaps too many advertisements between plays.

bridge eyes cropped

Ads can make you crazy

Or you could come to the Twin Oaks Communities Conference. It is reasonably priced, it has no commercials, you won’t get fine dust in everything you own, and unless they are pretty cool already you probably won’t see any of your relatives.

But rather than talk about what won’t be there, let’s explore some of what will be happening at this year’s conference.

The event is a mix of different types of content and social/cultural aspects. The content comes in three big forms.

There are scheduled workshops, the schedule for which is at the bottom of this post and the detailed descriptions can be read here. [You need to click the arrow by the workshop titles to open up the full descriptions.]

There is Open Space, which allows the participants to design their own workshops and present them. While the scheduled workshops are all on themes directly related to communities, the open space portion of the event can be on any topic about which participants are excited. In the past this has included permaculture, polyamory, anti-oppression work, a critique of Occupy, and how to dumpster dive.

open space rules.jpg

Open Space’s slightly tautological rules

The other formal piece of content the conference provides is the “meet the communities” gathering Saturday morning.  Everyone who is in a community (including ones which are just forming) gets 60 seconds to introduce what they are doing. Then all the representatives distribute themselves in the main gathering area and put up little signs or other information on their place and answer questions presented by milling participants. There might be 30 or 40 communities represented. And you might just find the one which is a great choice for you.

meet the communities table.jpg

A bunch of tables like this talking about different communities during “meet the communities”

There is lots of informal content. Experts and adventurers at meals talking about their experiences. Late night chats around the fire, about how happy we will be not to hear so much about Trump and concerns about Hillary. There will be new friends and romances. Smokers will chat comically or conspiratorially in their little area. New allies will bond over coffee and early morning rituals.

While the information provided would be sufficient reason to come to this event, it is the culture, fun, and personal connections which seal the deal.  For many people the conference is about brushing up against the very different way of living at an income sharing, secular community which has deep sharing agreements. The communities conference dance on Saturday night is one of the best dances Twin Oaks has all year. The mud pit and the river beckon. The FIC auction is entertaining and often a bargain hunter’s dream.

comm conf table

The scheduled workshop program is as follows:

Saturday: 1:30 – 3:15 PM

Panel discussion with the Federation of Egalitarian Communities
Consensus 201: Different levels of agreement for a consensus proposal
Organizing Community? Remember PC2
The Community Land Trust: Networking Wealth

Saturday: 3:45 – 5:30 PM

The Parable of the Sower Intentional Community
Culture Hacking 101: How to Create a Participatory, Intentional Culture For Your Community
Legal Clinic
Mutual Credit and Sociocracy

Sunday: 9:00 – 10:45 AM

Creating Fertile Ground for Community
Boundaries: Speaking Truth, Meeting Needs, and Releasing Attachments
The Role of ICs in Manifesting a New Paradigm/Next System
Overview of the new Urban Kibbutz Movement

Time to Change your Plans for this Weekend

With some regularity a young activist will come to me and ask

“What issue should i work on?  There are so many important ones to choose from.”

Indeed there are.  And some years back i would have found this question quite vexing.  Clearly one should do some kind of analysis.  Looking at the current state of political affairs, weighing all different possible effects of the various campaigning efforts, examining where the opportunities were, comparing your own skill set to what the various movements need.

Young Activists in Europe

Young Activists in Europe

Now i think differently.  “Ignore the issues, look for the people who inspire you.  Look for the group you want to be with and do what they do.”  Issues matter, but it turns out that what inspires prospective activists matters more.

In a few hours we will start the communities conference.  There has been tremendous work at the site, expanding and improving the kitchen facilities, fixing bridges, putting up domes all over the place.  The place really looks great.

One of the before pictures, Nina Sapling on the roof of the expanded kitchen.

One of the before pictures, Nina Sapling on the roof of the expanded kitchen.

But it is not because of the physical plant upgrade, or even the killer program for this event that you should change your weekend plans.  It’s because of the people coming.  The colorful gang from the Baltimore Free Farm will be attending.   Representatives from Ganas and Catalyst Communities in NYC will be here.  Most of the income sharing egalitarian communities are sending ambassadors (East Wind, The MiddenLiving Energy Farm, Sandhill Farm, Acorn and Sapling).  Workshops will be done by folks from Red Earth Farms and Heathcote and The Farm and Dancing Rabbit.

Beyond existing communities there are compelling presenters coming from all manner of groups including Network for a New Culture, Hack RVA (the Richmond Maker Space), Charlottesville Time BankHealth Care for All and Grassroots Economic Organizing (GEO).

ideas change the world

If you need to be inspired, this group will do it.  If you are trying to start a community, useful answers found here.  If your idea is going to change the world, you should be presenting at the Open Space on Sunday.

Post Script:  The Communities Conference Dance on Saturday night is reliably one of the best dances at Twin Oaks over the course of the year.

Put on your dancing shoes

Put on your dancing shoes

What do you want out of the Monday Communities Conference Clinic?

It is just a couple of weeks before the communities conference and we are putting the finishing touches on it.  I believe this will be the best Communities Conference of the 10 I have helped organize.  Some amazing presenters, many interesting participants and robust and relevant content.  We have a number of options for the Monday program with is Communities Clinic.  If you are planning on attending the Monday program on Sept 1st, we are hoping you’ll write us and give us an idea of what kind of issues your group is dealing with and what kind of help you’re looking for. There are 10 common topics described below with various questions to help you think about what might be useful to you.

zylaphone surreal

Financing and development: Almost every community needs money. How can you secure funding for improving your community?  What type of fundraising options have worked for other communities and are they exportable to you?  Under what conditions can you borrow money from banks or run a successful crowd funding campaign?

Ownernship and legal structures:  Well before you move in, you will need to figure out what type of community you are in a legal sense.  Is it a land trust, a residential worker coop, a 501D community, LLC or other structure.  Come discuss what these all mean and which models would work best for you and your forming group.

i want you uncle sam

Recruiting and outreach:  If you have the right members, you can do almost anything.  But how do you find these people (if they are not already working with you)?  Many communities reach other through FIC websites and publications, others write articles in periodicals which appeal to their value sets, some buy advertisements, others speak at colleges or festivals, still others blog or recruit thru social media.  What is the right mix for the people you are trying to find?  What is cost effective or no cost?  What places should you avoid?

i would agree with you

Relationships and conflict resolution (problematic people and expulsion):  Many European communities have no expulsion process, almost all US ones do.  How do you maintain personal and emotional relationships with your membership?  What do you do when relationships inside the community sour to the point where it might be necessary for the group to split or someone to leave?  What have long lived communities done to successfully deal with problematic or high negative impact members?

Decision-making:  The US cohousing movement has widely adopted consensus (including sociocracy models) as the way they make decisions.  Some communities use voting models including super majority models.  Do you have what it takes to be a charismatic leader for your community (hint this includes tremendous patience and a willingness to listen)?  Does your decision model change as your group gets larger?  If you can’t agree to change something are you always stuck with the status quo?  These and other questions will be addressed in this participant driven workshop.

dominos decision makingLocal relations/involvement:  Does it matter if you shop in the town closest to your community?  Does it make sense to invite the neighbors over for tea or will it just leave them more scared than they already are? What about political protest in your own town – will this distance you from your neighbors or bring you closer?  Should members doing controversial things try to avoid the community being affiliated with their work to maintain local harmony?  Is it considered community work to be part of the local volunteer fire department or volunteering to teach kids to read?

Cottage industries/Cooperative business: We have started calling them “income engines”Choosing the right business is one of the most important decisions a community can make.  If you rely too much on the skills of a minority of the membership (for example web development) the community economy can collapse if these people move on.  Should you be looking for something that any new member can be trained in?  Is the cottage industry open to all prospective members?  Can the community hire people who are not members?

The range of membership statuses:  Full member, provisional member, associate member, child member, intern, guest, ward of the state, lover of member – there are many different ways someone can be at a community for a while.  Especially egalitarian communities try to limit the number of membership types to try to preserve fairness.  Other communities have more flexible membership policies to try to be more inclusive or more versatile for members.  In this workshop we’ll discuss how all these status’ have been used and which ones might be right for your community.share apple

Different levels of  sharing:  Many student coops share a few meals a week, a clothes washer, and not much else.  Their academic, economic and social experiences are largely independent.  Some communities try to share everything from bank accounts to businesses to boyfriends.  The more you share the more benefits you’ll see but the stronger your systems and communication needs to be.  This workshop will look at some of these systems and how they combat internal hoarding and envy.  It will also help forming communities decide what they want to share – are cars too big? are clothes to personal?  Can we swing a public computer?  Do we want to buy box seats for the games?

culture creationCulture Creation:  Communities can create their own holidays and rituals.  Often these cultural aspects are the most bonding aspect of the community members life.    Should we buy instruments to help catalyze a more musical community?  Should our parties be mostly us and our close friends or should we invite a wider audience?  How does the community value and promote artistic expression?  Do we strive for transparency in our feelings or privacy?  There are dozens of aspects of cultural creation that communities can consider and often influence.  What you choose to focus on will determine how most people perceive you and in many cases whether you will grow and thrive.

What we learned from the Kitchen Upgrade Appeal

We are in the last few days of the crowd source effort for the conference site kitchen up grade.  We will likely miss our goal.  Fortunately, the option we selected on Indiegogo (our crowd source host) insures we still get the pledges (and supply all the premiums), but our processing fees are higher if we come in short.  Specifically, if we make the $8K goal on the kitchen campaign, we will pay the crowd source host 4%, if we are anything shy of the goal, we pay them 9% to process the donations.  This makes great sense from the perspective of the crowd source platform, because you want people submitting  campaigns to think hard about what they need and carefully design their goals.  This was not one of our mistakes, $8K was a reasonable and appropriate goal for us.

Click on the banner ad to make a last-minute donation.


Nor was outreach our problem.  We contacted former participants of the communities conference and women’s gatherings and asked them to support this necessary upgrade. We blogged about the campaign, posted it everywhere on Facebook and Google Plus that made sense.  Used the FIC newsletters and other email lists to let people know what was happening.  Even shot a couple of compelling videos about the importance of the event.

We even got the community to get behind the campaign by getting a pledge from Twin Oaks that if we make the goal, the community will contribute another $7K to upgrading the site, effectively doubling the crowd source contributions.

So if we set the goal right, did strong outreach to friends and allies, got matching funds, what went wrong?  Why are we not making the goal?

Part of the problem is the hybrid nature of our event.  We are not a classical non-profit, we occupy an unusual economic terrain,  “Why should people give money to support your business?” GPaul asked pointedly.   Technically, the communities conference and women’s gathering are cottage industries under the community’s umbrella of businesses.  It is a bit rare for people to give money to for profit enterprises.

Willow's first Conference. With organizers Valerie, Sky Blue and myself - circa 2003 Photo by Anissa

Willow’s first Conference. With organizers Valerie, Sky Blue and myself – circa 2003 Photo by Anissa

But for better or worse, we don’t really operate these events as profit maximizing operations.  We try to make them accessible to everyone who wants to come (charging sliding scale for entry).  We get lots of volunteer labor to help make them happen.  We charge only a tiny amount over our costs for people who can’t camp out and sleep at Sophia House near by.  We offer some work exchange positions for people who want to come but can’t afford the low registration fee.  We offset some travel expenses for our presenters.  We are not looking to make bank on this event, something better than breaking even is great.  The purpose of the event is to build the movement, foster new communities and to facilitate networking.  These priorities trumps making money.

Another thing we could have done better was selecting more premiums earlier.  We are relatively new to crowd sourcing (having really only worked on the Acorn Arson Appeal campaign before) and probably underestimated the importance of this aspect of the appeal.  In case you are interested or influenced, there are now more premiums on the campaign, including a fine Twin Oaks hammock, copies of “Is it Utopia Yet?” and Southern Exposure seeds.

One of the new premiums for the campaign

One of the new premiums for the campaign

And i would happily be proven wrong.  Bust out your credit card and help put us over the top, all contributions are still welcome (remember to end you donation in a $1 increment so we can tell you were inspired by this post – so $51 or $101 etc).  And even more importantly, come to the communities conference (instead of Burning Man, which you don’t have tickets for anyway and it is sold out).

If you have seen one art car, you have seen them all

If you have seen one art car, you have seen them all

Conference Site Kitchen – Can you help?

There is a debate within Twin Oaks these days about earmarked gifts.  On one side there are members who are concerned that our carefully designed and mostly democratic budgeting process gets hijacked by outsiders who generously give us money, but require us to spend it on a particular thing (solar panels, bees, orchard, musical instruments, commie clothes, and parties are some historic examples).  Others feel like we have a large operation which regularly runs tight budgets. We rarely budget extra money for musical instruments or parties. These things are not just desirable, but important for the quality of life here.  There is no easy answer.

Fortunately, there are some places where we agree that non-members giving us earmarked grants is a good thing, in fact a very good thing.  One of these areas is the Twin Oaks Communities Conference.  We are currently running a crowd sourcing campaign for upgrading the kitchen at the conference site.  I would like to strongly encourage you to support this project, and I want to tell you a bit about why.

Me doing workshop at Comm Conf from middle of table.

Me doing workshop at Comm Conf from middle of table.

The communities conference is a transformative event for a fair few people who attend.  They meet people who are practicing community living in a way they can see themselves embracing.  It is often the case that these participants do not then immediately quit their straight jobs and move off to the community, but the path is set and people begin moving in that direction.

But even more importantly (from my never modest perspective) is that participants of the conference see that this other lifestyle is possible and highly desirable.  Even if they do not find the community of their dreams, they realize that they want more community in their lives.  For some it is the flexible work schedule, for others it is great access and involvement with their children, for others it is the dramatic decrease in carbon footprint/ecological impact that community often represents, for many it is about having a supportive extended family or tribe that they are part of.   Once the community idea has gotten into many participants minds, it gives their lives a direction it did not have before.


The kitchen is at the heart of the communities conference (and the Women’s Gathering, which happens on the same site).  Unfortunately, the conferences themselves are not big money makers for the community, so they do not get the economic resources they need to maintain their infrastructure well.  And it is the kitchen which is the biggest and most important piece of the puzzle.  It is also the most expensive.  There has not been a significant upgrade to the conference site kitchen in the 15 years that I have lived at Twin Oaks, despite having served literally thousands of people.

If the conference organizers are able to raise $8K from external sources (like the Indiegogo campaign), the community has agreed to match and exceed this amount with another $10K.

If you can support this project even in a small way, I would appreciate it.  And if you can please end your contribution in a single dollar (like $51 or $21) so we can tell this blog helped bring you to this campaign.

This is the link to go to the Communities Conference Kitchen Upgrade sight

That extra Burning Man ticket

The Muslims have Mecca, Funologists have Burning Man.  If you are serious about thinking that transformational festivals are important in building a better world, than this event is one of the most important ones to go to at least once in your life.  [Though i would argue that the Rainbow Gathering is actually more important, for reasons i will get into in another post.]

So when Caroline was visiting the communes around her birthday in February, she reminded me that the BM tickets were going on sale and i bought one.  I was already pretty sure i would not be going.  In part because the dates conflict with the Twin Oaks Communities Conference which i am helping to organize.  But more importantly, i knew i was not really ready to go back.  i got burned by BM in 2009, part of it was i was overly ambitious certainly, i wanted something amazing to happen with the Villages in the Sky project and was working it quite the wrong way.  A bigger part of it was the police entrapped some folks at our camp and our chaotically laid plans got trashed.  i am still healing from this burn.

i will perhaps go back one day, with the right clan or camp.  But for now, i am quite happy to do regional burns like Transformus, which are also much less far and expensive.

We hoped to replace the iwo jima photo with raising the windmill - Circa 2009

We hoped to replace the iwo jima photo with raising the windmill – Circa 2009

But the Burning Man tickets are hard to come by, so Caroline and i both bought them.  And now it is time for some amazing person who wants to go to this event to contact me and offer the $395 that i paid for it.  [This ticket is now sold, sorry.]

Caroline at Burning Man - circa 2009

Caroline at Burning Man – circa 2009

5 Ways to get the most out of the Communities Conference

This post was written by Paxus and originally appeared at www.communitiesconference.org Sections in italics are additions to the original post.

1. Reconsider your living situation.  If you let it, the Communities Conference can really shake you up.  Daring people who are trying new or untested lifestyles are presenting or in attendance.  Step outside your comfort zone a bit and start from the assumption that you could live somewhere else, or with other people and see what this event has to offer and demonstrate.  Let go of the assumption that your next year has to look like your last year and go back to your own personal values.  What do you really care about?  How could this be better experienced in your daily living situation?

This is a call to be daring, which i think is the most under nurtured revolutionary trait.

2. Chat with a rock star.  There are a bunch of inspiring personalities at the Communities Conference and they are more accessible in this relaxed 3 day event than they are at most times in their busy lives.  Seek out the people who say something that excited you and ask to have lunch or a more private chat with them.  If this is your first time attending, read the entire set of workshop descriptions upon arrival and find out which presenters sound like they are doing stuff you are excited about and then get any of the event organizers to point that person out to you.  This conversation might just change your life.

This calls to core funological metrics.  If you are doing something really important, it will be transformational.  

3. Fall in love with someone new.  I’m not just talking about romantic love. Most participants of the Communities Conference come with the intention of stepping out of their regular lives at least a little bit.  We arrive open to new experiences and people who we might not consider dancing with in our more mundane day to day life.  The conference also throws people together in various small groups in workshops, or child care shifts, or mealtime chats.  Dare to be open to someone new, introduce yourself, dont be afraid to share your thoughts, show up.

Here we are combining principals – being daring and doing things that change your life positively.

4. Engage deeply in the workshops.  There are too many good choices at this event, but dont let that stop you.  Figure out which workshops are going to make the most sense to you and figure it out early.  If you are unsure, go check in with the people who are presenting and figure out if they have things to offer you.

This is in part a pitch for coming to the event prepared to get the most out of it.  We write up this program with all manner of info in it and too few people (i fear) dont really use it deeply as they could and would benefit from.

5.  Give a workshop in open space.  So you have never given a workshop before?  Time to give up the idea that you can’t.  Start by thinking about the thing you care most about in the world, then think about what it is that might make other people interested in it.  One of the easiest ways to give a workshop is to recognize that it is not a lecture.  The wisdom is in the room, not just in your head.  So think of discussion questions, let other people offer their truth, often they will hit the most important points, then you can just bat clean up and add the details which make it a bit richer.  Keep the conversation moving, watch for the attention of your participants.  Ask questions of people who seem engaged and curious. It is time to share what you are passionate about.

Another life changers is for someone to get up and do a workshop on what they are passionate about for the first time.  They almost always get inspired to continue on and they often find new allies.

Communities Conference Photos – new

Part of my problem with living here is i lose things.  It is like i have a huge home, with dozens of buildings and a myriad of workstations and i could have left it at almost any one of these places.  I got a memory stick, promptly lost it and just the other day found it in Pucks room , where i sleep with some regularity.  When i looked at it i found all these communities conference pictures i was going to use for a blog post.  Here are some of my favs, a bit late.


Registration – your journey begins here

Make up is out – body paint is in

learn from the orient – leave your shoes behind

Hayden on fire poi – no injures

Always info to be had

lots of content

Ball pit was part of the kid space

our most important critics (Luuk and Willow)








Rumor Control – New Comm Conf management team

Rumor has it my illustrious co-dad Sky will be the principal organizer for next years communities conference.    He is actually a brilliant choice.  He is experienced with the conference management from his previous membership stint.  He is coming from a number of years outside the commune and is thus more in touch with what progressive movements are doing beyond the often insular walls of the community.  He has been to a bunch of other communities both in Europe and the US.  He is a good networker and charismatic.

the activist as artist

And as is so often true, the rumor is not true.  Sky is happy to be part of the team that makes this event happen, but he is not jumping in to bottom line it, at least not at this point.

Happy Comm Conf participant test our products

As i have written, Janel did a brilliant job organizing the conference this year.  Central to her success was not experience in organizing this event, nor being universally capable (tho she is quite capable).  Rather she was a titan of delegation and asking people for help.  The combination of her charm and tenacity took an anemic event which had 85 participants last year, to a bustling, complex, vibrant happening with over 180 people registered, not including the numerous Acorners, Oakers and workshop providers who attended.  Participants are still complimenting us nearly a week later.

me holding forth at a comm conf workshop back when i had long hair

Next year, likely Valerie and i will again play our senior adviser with Sky, and some as of  yet to be identified bottom line organizer, or perhaps none.

Senior adviser, including Willow