Monasterino: Restoring Equity, Inclusion, and Adventure to Our Programs | Nicola Conraths | 6 Min Read

October 24, 2022

The people, the food, the views, the things that I have learned

This is how Lyndsi, a student from Ashland University in Amish country Ohio, leaves her mark in the guest book of the Monasterino della Conoscenza. Her group spent two memorable weeks at this unique retreat which has no website, no Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter accounts. 

The monastery is a historical landmark founded in 1070 A.D. nestled in the Tuscan hills in northern Italy. Chiara Iacomelli, the director of education at the Monasterino, tells me that the Italian word conoscenza, or knowledge, is at the heart of everything they do:

“We encourage the study of all disciplines while here and especially focus on sustainability in the food we serve and how we take care of our gardens.”

The Monasterino is an example of a new way of thinking about philanthropic engagement, sparked by an independent school art teacher.  Ken Tighe, chair of the visual arts department at Walnut Hill School for the Arts, leaned on a centuries-old idea of apprenticeship and retreat as a way to grow and expand our minds:

The combination of art making and the travel experience can be transformative for the young artist! Not only does it give them permission to conjure more freely but, maybe for the first time, see themselves beyond the constraints of their usual surroundings and interactions, and understand their relationship to the world in wonderful new ways. The Monasterino was thoughtfully and intentionally designed, with the young artist in mind, to be the jumping off point for unique creative exploration and wondrous self discovery.”

One visionary phone call with a donor family set the wheels in motion and the retreat has been operational since 2021. Having visited the monastery while it was still being restored, I had no doubts about the magnificence of the place and the hospitality it would provide. This little gem of an estate can host 16 students and their accompanying teachers.  It is pitched high on a hill, surrounded by hundreds of fruit trees, a vegetable garden, and bee hives with…

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Nicola Conraths

Nicola Conraths has worked in independent schools for 15 years, serving as Director of Artistic Studies at Walnut Hill School for the Arts and as director of Comparative Arts and dance instructor at the Interlochen Arts Academy. Nicola merges her many interests into projects that connect unlikely topics, people, and places. Recently she has worked with New England Conservatory Prep School, Boston Ballet, YOLA/LA Phil, and SMOC/Headstart schools. Her newest venture, Das Surrealistische Büro, is a consulting capsule for tangential thinking. She lives in Detroit.