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In August, the MMI Grantmaking and Capacity Building (GMCB) team hosted its first-ever Leadership Respite Retreat for grantee partners in Gatlinburg, Tennessee at Big Elk Lodge. The GMCB team invited nine arts leaders at eight grantee organizations for a three-day wellness retreat to encourage true rest and relaxation.

MMI also contracted the services of Jackie O, holistic wellness coach, to lead various exercises in self care including light yoga, meditation, breathwork, and a sound bath. It was a beautiful weekend full of love and community—and a much-needed break. Arts organization leaders give so much of themselves to their communities, and MMI was delighted to facilitate some space for those leaders to pause and to breathe. 

This week we'll be sharing reflections written by different members of the MMI team. Today, our Director of Grantmaking & Partnerships, Dr. Rychetta Watkins, reflects on the process of putting the retreat together, and some of the lessons the team learned along the way. Enjoy! 

One of my favorite Twitter feeds is The Nap Ministry. Founded by Tricia Hersey in 2017, it extols the beauty and power of restfulness. When MMI Executive Director Amber Hamilton first raised the idea of a retreat for grantees as part of our Call & Response initiative, I went to the Nap Ministry feed for inspiration.

Don’t wanna be booked and busy. Wanna be aligned and rested.

Stop creating unnecessary labor for yourself and others. Let there be space for leisure and rest.

And most importantly:

Rest is resistance.

Many of our grantees engage communities in some of the most underresourced neighborhoods in Memphis, which is tough enough—but the Covid-19 pandemic had also taken a heavy toll. Almost all of the grantees were showing signs of fatigue, and some admitted they were burnt out or on the verge.

I needed inspiration because the idea, while worthy, seemed daunting. How could my team and I convince 15 overworked, understaffed, passionately driven nonprofit arts leaders (many of whom are the only full-time staff for their organizations) to drop everything and decamp to a retreat in the mountains of East Tennessee for four days? 

Tawanna Brown, then Community Grants Program Manager for MMI, was totally aligned with the idea. Though we had to retool and reschedule twice, our team, which grew to include Brianna Harrington, incoming INE Program Manager and Serena Snyder, MMI’s Administrative Assistant, persisted because we all knew how important it was for our grantee leaders to learn and practice the skill of rest. (Honestly, we needed the practice too.) 

By the end of the nine-month journey to plan, develop, and execute our first ever grantee Respite Retreat, we all had learned invaluable lessons about ourselves and each other that made us better colleagues and allies ready to value rest as well a vital part of the work. Key was the thought partnership of Jackie O., wellness practitioner who began consulting with nonprofits, businesses, and civic organizations around wellness after a 20-year career in nonprofit management and leadership development. She worked with us to develop a series of workshops leading up to the retreat to help educate our leaders about the importance and role of rest and self-care. During the retreat she led reflective workshops on self-care practices as well as exercises in meditation, a sound bath, and 1-on-1 check- ins with grantees and MMI staff. The activities were not only relaxing, but they also brought all of us into even deeper community. 


Stay tuned for reflections from Tawanna Brown, formerly our Community Grants Program Manager, and more photos from the weekend! Black rest matters.