Whitney Nožisková was tired of going to parties — at least, tired of going to the wrong kind.
“I felt like it wasn’t meaningful in any way. It was all just so superficial. You just came away being like, why was I there? Why did I waste my time?”
Like many people who attend similar parties, she found that no really deep communication happened. People tended to gravitate to others with similar interests or with similar social connections.
“There’s too many niche interests, and if that’s what we’re basing all of our relationships — our deep, meaningful relationships — on, then we’re missing the point of being a common, core human.”
Nožisková knew, though, that there must be a way to facilitate deeper conversations among people with diverse backgrounds. “I knew it was possible for people to connect and converse,” she says. “I was like, okay, what can I do to create an event or a party where no matter who shows up they can be part of what’s going on in a really substantial way?”
On an overcast Saturday afternoon, the stoop of Nožisková’s Georgian-style red brick house in Pleasant Grove bears a message in chalk. “You have left a trace,” it says, written for guests to read as they exit one of her events.
"It is the salon of old. The function of salons was bringing people together and digging deeper into who they are and what they are trying to be."
These events, which Nožisková calls Agapes, consist of a tea or meal filled with homemade goodies, tea, conversation and philosophy. She publicizes her Agapes by word of mouth and through her website.
In an age of rapid text conversations and superficial Facebook interactions, Nožisková is hearkening back to an earlier era.
“It is the salon of old,” Nožisková says. The function of salons, she says, was “bringing people together and digging deeper into who they are and what they are trying to be.” She seeks to reinvigorate social relationships and encourage introspection.
Nožisková does this by facilitating creative, inspiring conversations where self-discovery can happen. Each Agape centers on a theme intended to highlight a particular aspect of human experience.
The theme of her December Agape was the inner hero, while the theme of her January Agape was “awakening,” in honor of the new year. Other events have centered on “shadow,” held on All Saints’ Day, following the Day of the Dead, and “transformation.”
“Essentially all of these ideas and themes stem from the one — who are you really behind the mask you normally wear for the world? You go out into the world with this mask, but what’s under the mask? That’s what I’m interested in.”
"Essentially all of these ideas and themes stem from the one — who are you really behind the mask you normally wear for the world? You go out into the world with this mask, but what's under the mask? That's what I'm interested in."
After guests gather their tea and treats, which Nožisková and her sister, Kasey, have prepared, they seat themselves at the dining room table. Mason jars swirled in glitter hold tealights and sprout greenery at the table’s center, while silver bits of tinsel drape a tree-branch chandelier plucked from the Nožiskovás’ front yard.
Kasey Nožisková, who has worked as a fashion stylist in New York, crafted the visual environment for the December and January Agapes.
“It’s not like this amazing set,” Kasey says, but “automatically you feel this is something special. I haven’t seen this before. This is not just a tea party. This is a moment. Everyone is taking the time out to say this is new; this is different.”
Kasey draws aesthetic inspiration from people as varied as the pre-Raphaelites and Yoko Ono, while Whitney Nožisková finds inspiration in contemporary British culinary designers extraordinaire Bompas & Parr.
The substance of the evening involves conversation while dining in this ephemeral atmosphere. Whitney facilitates a discussion surrounding the hands-on activity held at the beginning of the event.
Agapes are intended to offer people opportunities for real connection. Whitney says, “Now that we can connect in all these different ways, how do we really use that to really connect? The absence of real connection only makes us want real connection more. So we become more conscious of our responsibility to create venues and places where that can happen.”
Such connection involves people taking a risk, however, to share who they really are, Whitney Nožisková says. “The only way you can actually connect with another person, the only way you can have a fulfilling social interaction, is if you are exposing who you really are. So all of the activities are about who are you? Express who you are to another person, and let that person express that to you. Then you will connect and feel fulfilled.”
Whitney Nožisková, an independent corporate consultant with degrees from Boston University and the University of East London, is already expanding beyond her Utah roots. She hosted a couple of Agapes in New York City in February, and will be hosting more in London in March. Anyone can sign up for these fêtes through her website.
Elizabeth Pinborough graduated from Brigham Young University and works as a freelance writer and editor.