Meet the New Gatherers
There were a number of things working against Cassidy Davis on Valentine’s Day 2022. First off, she was, as she describes it, “tragically single.” And dating apps hadn’t unearthed anything approaching love. So she decided to throw a party. Unfortunately (for her), Valentine’s Day that year was close to the Super Bowl, leading to a wave of cancellations from men on the guest list. “I panicked and, at the last minute, invited 65 men off Tinder to my house — gave them my personal address and how to get into my building!”
Safety concerns — and her parents’ terror — aside, the night was a success. Cassidy, her girlfriends and the Tinder guys played games, danced and had a great time. Video she posted from the event, which she captioned “a chaotic party,” went viral with more than 1.7 million views on TikTok. And nearly as many pleas from single Californians to do it again.
“Everyone in LA was like, it is so challenging to find love, and this party is such a fresh perspective on dating,” says Davis.
In response, she chose not to have another house party and instead rented a venue for 500 people. Tickets sold out in 30 minutes, and 900 singles showed up at the door. After having, as she puts it, “accidentally started the singles party–planning business,” Cassidy officially launched a monthly party, aptly named Chaotic Singles, in Los Angeles. She has since expanded to New York and Chicago. In 2024, she will lead a group of people looking for love in Portugal as part of Chaotic Singles’ first international trip.
For those who attend the parties, it’s more than just a fun night out. More than 50 couples have found love, including Davis, who met her partner at the very first event. “I believe there’s a person out there for everyone,” she says. “So getting to help them get even one step closer to finding that person is the coolest thing that I’ll ever be a part of.”
Cassidy is not just an accidental cupid. She is also part of a dynamic group of experience makers we at XP Land are calling The New Gatherers. This group — from DJ D-Nice, who got people to turn their homes into energetic dance clubs in the terrifying early days of the pandemic, to Jennifer Uphoff Gray, the director elevating regional theater and bringing jobs and artistic opportunities to the Midwest — each saw a need in their community. And, through their own ingenuity and commitment, they’re filling it.
The New Gatherers’ influence reaches across industries, from dating to video games to self-care.
They include Davis, Derrick “D-Nice” Jones (Club Quarantine), Imani Ellis (founder and CEO of CultureCon), Abbey Londer (who launched LA’s first comedy festival, Riot LA), Jennifer Uphoff Gray (artistic director at Forward Theater Company), and Chip Conley (co-founder of the Modern Elder Academy, the world’s first “midlife wisdom school”). Think of them as outside-the-box connectors who bring people together in fresh and unexpected ways. And, in the process, really show the meaning of building community.
These experience-makers are able to speak so effectively to the communities they gather because they are also speaking for themselves. Take Chip Conley. On paper, he has lived a life that many would envy. Successful CEO of a boutique hotel, a trusted advisor to the founders of Airbnb, and many other professional accolades. Yet, as he approached midlife, he entered into a state of malaise that included suicidal ideation. Chip realized what was happening to him was also happening to many, and he began to seek a collective solution.
“I knew there was a need to infuse some awe into midlife, as it’s perceived as a boring time of decline,” says Chip, who in 2018 co-founded The Modern Elder Academy, an experiential education workshop in Baja, Mexico, that produces what he calls “collective effervescence.” The academy has since opened a campus in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
XLIST 2023: The New Gatherers
To date, the academy has worked with over 4,000 people in 44 countries. Chip believes a factor behind Modern Elder’s success is its origin story about him finding a way to live better. He says, “When you connect with an experience on a multisensory level, you can feel, taste, and emote the experience; you carry it with you way more than if it was just something that filled your head.”
Imani Ellis, the founder and CEO of CultureCon and The Creative Collection NYC, also believes in the power of sharing what you know with others. And, in turn, learning from them to create powerful experiences. Says Imani, “We weren’t meant to be on this journey alone, and no matter how organized you are, true growth requires collaboration.” Imani knows the power of groups firsthand: when she was Vice President of Communications at NBC, she saw a stark lack of people of color at most conferences. In response, she gathered ten of her friends in her one-bedroom Harlem apartment. “We shared a vision to build a community, support one another’s dreams, and assemble a collaborative space for other creatives of color,” she says.
The result was the launch of CultureCon in 2017. Calling itself “the ultimate creative homecoming,” it brings together more than 3,500 people in New York City each year for three days of talks, networking, deal-making and panels. “The heart of CultureCon is to empower multicultural creatives and create a brave space for creatives of color to be themselves, to be supported, and to be celebrated,” says Imani. “We want to provide resources that lead to economic freedom, creative liberty, and unprecedented access.”
Imani, like so many of the New Gatherers, not only places community at the heart of her mission, but launched her vision using a grassroots approach.
She brought friends into her small apartment to brainstorm. Cassidy literally opened the door of her home to strangers. D-Nice logged onto Instagram and played a song. These beginnings sparked something that caught hold because it was filling a void. And as they grew, they attracted brand partnerships along the way. This year’s CultureCon included partnerships with Max, American Express, and Spotify. Last year, D-Nice partnered with Louis Vuitton to celebrate the second anniversary of Club Quarantine, a pairing that nearly didn’t happen because D-Nice says Club Quarantine wasn’t about building brand partnerships, but “just doing things that kept people going and kept people smiling.”
It’s a philosophy that can effectively be adopted by all experience makers. Lead with the idea of giving a community what they need because, well, they need it. And as the New Gatherers show, doing that does not start with data sets and flow charts and focus groups. It starts with introspection. “It’s important for creators and creatives to lean into their lived experiences so that they can build and connect from a place of authentic storytelling,” says Imani, who was called a “visionary” by Forbes. “Beginning anything from who you are and what inspires you will always shine through when it comes to building community.”
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