Once criticized for its lack of diversity, sense of inclusion, and Davos-like crowd, Summit, the ultra-exclusive conference community with rotating locations, has finally found a sweet spot through unique programming and cultural curation – legitimatizing the cause-driven ethos at its core.
Founded in 2008, the 50 employee organization [which can scale up to 300 during productions], hosts events in every climate – Instagram-popular vacation destination, Tulum, Mexico, on top of the $40 million mountain in Eden, Utah the group owns, and more recently, Downtown Los Angeles.
By designing community-oriented experiences to unite and inspire innovators, entrepreneurs, artists, activists and philanthropists, Summit weaves in food, music, art and cultural elements to foster a human-centric feel. “We are creating dynamic, powerful, fun conferences but adding that cultural layer so it doesn’t feel like a conference,” says Alex Zhang, Director of Art at Summit, “everyone is fully present for the experience.”
In 2018, Summit hosted 3,500 attendees for its 3-day spread across a 2.5 block radius in Downtown Los Angeles, taking over 9 hotels, 4 parking lots and 6 historic theatres. Tickets to Summit go for over $3,000 a pop and last year bought you access to heavy hitter speakers and executives ranging from Al Gore and Howard Schultz, to Civil Rights Activist Tarana Burke, Eckhart Tolle, and billionaire Ray Dalio.
Marrying key facets of culture – music, art, wellness and a fine culinary program, Summit may have found a happy medium for diversity – a key step for maximum community impact.
“Summit is an intersection of subjects, people and locations that tries to change the way we see the world,” says Joey Rubin, Creative Director of Culinary at Summit and owner of Parade Agency. With a background in the hospitality and culinary industry, Mr. Rubin brings to Summit a unique network of brands and local and global food and beverage talent complete with established and emerging chefs, bartenders and event producers.
In 2018, along with Executive Chef, Haru Kishi, Culinary Lead Alex Menache, and producer Sarah Erickson, the Culinary Team served over 30,000 meals for attendees over the course of 3 days during Summit LA18. 3,300 meals were also donated to local charity, Skid Row Midnight Mission, in partnership with the Twice New Foundation – a group pairing perishable foods with people who need them.
In between talks with spiritual teacher Ram Dass or former Lady Gaga manager, Troy Carter, attendees can mingle with the rest of the Summit community amongst best-in-class food and beverage experiences on a rooftop, in a converted parking lot or a private hotel suite before heading to a show.
“Live music is an integral part of the Summit experience, and it’s always been a priority to bring incredible, world-renowned artists of all genres to each event,” says Pete Gross, Director of Music at Summit. In 2018, the music program saw RZA from The Wu-Tang Clan, Lee Fields and The Expressions, Questlove, and John Legend. This year, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Grand Master Flash, DJ Spinderella, Bob Moses, and Bonobo – an electronic producer popular on the festival circuit – will all be part of the programming in Los Angeles.
With cohesion and narrative building as top priorities, the content program is taken very seriously at Summit and is also run mostly by women. “Anything where you are being taught an intellectual concept, that is where we are focused,” says Cari Levison, Creative Programming Director for Summit who will help curate over 80 speakers during Summit’s Los Angeles program in November including Dara Khosrowshahi, CEO of Uber, Payal Kadakia, Founder of ClassPass , and Miguel McKelvey, Co-founder and Chief Culture Officer at WeWork.
In an effort to open access to the unbridled opportunity, capital and power the Summit community boasts, a fellowship program will roll out this month, aiming to increase membership diversity and inclusion in the organization and events matching accepted applicants with Summit mentors.
As a highly curated community, exclusivity serves its purpose by ensuring quality over quantity. Placing value on cultural programming and intentional inclusion is a move towards authenticity for Summit.