In theory the idea of a weekend in the country communing with nature and all its glorious silence sounds idyllic to us city slickers, but the actuality of spending a Saturday and Sunday without brunch, bars or the Brooklyn Flea is another beast entirely. This is why Magaret Raimondi and Ari Joseph decided to offer the best of both town and country when they created Offsite, a weekend retreat in the Berkshire Mountains that combines the tranquility of the great outdoors with creative workshops, games and activities aimed at keeping participants too engaged to opine over lost internet connections.
“New Yorkers need a middle ground for sure,” says Raimondi who lives in Greenpoint with her husband and spent eight years working for MoMA before decamping to do something different. “I told my husband ‘I wish I could go to camp,’ because camps for kids in elementary school are designed in a similar idea as we designed Offsite–you can do a bunch of different activities with low expectations. You’re not supposed to produce or have a thesis in mind. It’s just about trying new things.”
Offsite is taking place the weekend of Feb. 22-24 at the Isabella Freedman Retreat Center in Falls Village, Conn. You can get there from Boston or New York by the Peter Pan Bus Line, or take Metro North to the end of the line. A shuttle from the Wassaic train station will transport attendees the rest of the way.
“It’s on 400 acres with tons of beautiful walking trails,” Raimondi says. “All the buildings are arranged around a pond. They have a farm there and two yurts and an arts-and-crafts shack.”
After securing the site last autumn, Raimondi and Joseph turned their attention to activities.
“One of our early rules was ‘No yoga, no icebreakers,'” says Joseph, who lives in Williamsburg and works for Hostelling International, the city’s largest youth hostel, located on the Upper West Side. “Some of it’s a twist on camp activities–like you go to camp and crochet, canoe, learn to whittle. We started with a traditional base and then figured out which options to do a twist on.”
Workshops are broken down by category–art, cocktails, crafts, dance, design/build, food, writing–and include lessons on home brewing and distilling, seed starting, canning, natural dyeing and building light sculptures. They’re taught by instructors selected by Raimondi and Joseph based on level of expertise and a workshop proposal. Teachers are headed to the Berkshires from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design, Massachusetts College of Art and Design, New York Hall of Science, Brooklyn’s Textile Arts Center and Clawhammer Farm, which supplies meat to some of Brooklyn’s favorite farm-to-table restaurants like iCi, Franny’s and Northeast Kingdom. Raimondi and Joseph have also arranged for an indoor arcade and interactive dance party to take place Saturday night, as well as opportunities for more traditional camp pastimes like eating s’mores, sing-a-longs and making out by the campfire.
“If you just want to come up with a couple of friends and do a few workshops, but mainly just hang out and hike and sit by the fire, that’s totally fine. If you want to fit in as many workshops as you can, that’s fine too,” Raimondi says. Meals and workshop materials are included in the price, which ranges from $350 to $450 based sleeping arrangements. Day passes are also an option. The plan is for campers to arrive at their leisure on Friday night–dinner will be served from 6–7 pm with an open bar to follow, as well as a scavenger hunt to get acquainted with the space. Morning and afternoon workshops are broken up by breakfast, lunch and an afternoon break on Saturday. A final workshop on Sunday morning will wrap up the weekend before shuttles whisk everyone back to civilization, new skills and new friends in tow.