Justin Brown was one of the speakers at the Jan. 27 event. The speakers were recorded and their videos will be posted on the TEDxNorthAdams site.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — January's well-received TEDx talk brought nearly a dozen "Ideas Worth Spreading" to Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Arts' Club B-10.
The success of the venture has organizers considering how to make it a regular event.
"It was just a great docket of speakers who spoke to a whole bunch of topics but it all came together very cohesively," said Benjamin Lamb, a city councilor and one of the organizers, at a reception following the talks. "It was a packed house. Normally you see a prettey decent washout at events but we saw hardly any ... I was told to prepare for 15 or 20 no-shows — not even close to that."
TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) grew out of a conference 30 years ago. The short talks can cover a range of topics. The small "x" signifies an independent community event endorsed by the TED organization. Last week's talks were the first to be held in North County.
The project by Lamb, Geeg Wiles and Keifer Gammell, backed by a team of volunteers, was sold out at the limited 100 tickets allowed under the TED licensing. Initially planned for the Mohawk Theater as a way to reinvigorate redevelopment efforts of the dormant venue, the afternoon event had to be moved to B-10 because of liability issues.
The speakers on Jan. 27 ranged from authors to magicians, psychology professors to river movers, politicians to financial planners. The mix from around the region and across the country were Dr. Clare Mehta, Julia Bowen, state Sen. Adam Hinds, Amanda Brinkman, Catie Hogan, David Feng, Dylan Dailor, Judy Grinnell, Justin Brown, Dr. Matt Carter and Samantha Livingstone. The following reception, held at Terra Nova Church's The Green space, was also well-attended by speakers and audience members. Local eateries and Bright Ideas Brewing and DeMarsico's Wine Cellar provided food and beverages.
"It flowed really well so you didn't get that feeling that this person is rambling on for too long," said Ashley Shade, who volunteered at the event. "It was all really interesting, everybody had something interesting to say."
Shade was most moved by Olympic gold medalist Samantha Livingstone, who spoke on the pitfalls of perfectionism in her drive to be a champion and how it can eat away at confidence and self-worth.
"It felt like she was personally talking to me with some of the stuff she was staying," Shade said. "I really connected with that story."
Livingstone, on her webpage, described her first TEDx as being "magical, exhilarating and humbling ... Even the messy parts."
The loose connection of ideas gave each speaker more room to expound on their themes. Livingstone wasn't the only speaker making their TED debut.
David Feng, a native New Yorker raised in Macau, is a professional magician who found declaiming somewhat more difficult than prestidigitation.
"It was a little nerve-wracking at first. I'm used to performing a lot for entertainment value," he said. "I think TED talk is very different, it's more intellectual."
Feng had planned to speak on what he'd learned from the reactions of his different audiences, such as homeless people, but the revelation his mother had late-stage lung cancer led him to dedicate his talk to her and others battling cancer.
"I guess the crux of what my talk is, it's always about the people I interact with, they have a reaction after they see magic," he said. "I think in reality cancer patients, they're doing things that are much more amazing than what magicians are doing."
Where Feng worked to memorize and polish about a 15-minute talk, Dylan Dailor decided to free-wheel his personal accounts on addiction and autism.
"I treated today's TEDx like a therapist's couch and kind of talked to people in a very unscripted way, where my mind will take me kind of way. ... that's my favorite personal style," he said. "It's time to trust that I can lead myself to where I need to go."
Dailor's also been on the other side as a TEDx organizer elsewhere and empathized with the amount of work that goes on behind the scenes.
"I think there are a lot of great moments, and I think there are a lot of stressful moments, but when you get into the room and the first speaker gets up on stage, it's like that's it," he said. "One of my proudest moments was seeing someone I coached get up on stage and talk ... there are some really nice moments."
Organizers offer a cheer to the event and its local sponsors.
Catie Hogan saw it as a bit of a homecoming. The North Adams native and Drury graduate has had plenty of practice recently speaking at mostly colleges and with groups about financial planning for millenials, and using humor to get her point across.
"This was an amazing event," she said. "Doing the TEDx style of speaking for 15 minutes of memorized speech was far more difficult than I have ever done. It was challenging but I would say probably one of the most rewarding things I have ever done in my career ...
"I was relieved that people laughed at some of my jokes."
Hogan was one of four locally connected speakers at this inaugural event. Hoosic River Revival founder Judy Grinnell, state Sen. Adam Hinds and Julia Bowen, first executive director of Berkshire Arts and Technology Public Charter School, also spoke on their areas of expertise.
"I was second so I could watch everybody else," Hogan said. "Samantha Livingstone's talk really resonated with me and it was like exactly what I needed to hear ... I learned literally something from every single person who talked. It was a great."
Justin Brown isn't local but his ideas may end up informing North Adams' future shape. A director with Boston-based Mass Design Group, Brown's talk focused on so-called "fringe cities" — smaller municipalities that have had to weather economic and population declines.
"Recently, through our our work in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., we're finding a lot of common challenges and assets in other similar cities," the architect said. "We're starting to understand there have been a lot of common forces that have shaped cities roughly between 10,000 and 20,000 people and who have experiecenced a 10 percent decline [in population] since 1970, the end of urban renewal."
Where urban renewal lead some communities in the 1960s and 1970s to gut their downtowns wholesale (North Adams lost about 80 percent) to make way for new, Brown's non-profit architectural group looks at ways for communities to build more thoughtful design to better serve their people, their history and their futures in healthier and more economically sustainable ways.
"We're investigating these places as areas where design can function in a catalytic role," Brown said. "I've had the privilege with working with people on the ground in North Adams ... I felt very privileged to share these early discoveries and look forward to modifying them as we move forward, hopefully, in contexts like this and elsewhere in the country that are facing similar challenges."
Mayor Thomas Bernard was pleased at the turnout of both speakers and audience.
"It was a great showcase for North Adams, it was a great showcase for some really interesting ideas," he said. "I particularly liked the fact that we had four terrific presenters right here from the Berkshires ... and as this has a second life nationally, internationally as people see it on YouTube, people in the community will be seen that way. ... The organizers did a wonderful job."
He and his wife, Jennifer Bernard, were impressed with all the speakers but particularly so with Grinnell and Bowen. "Those two I resonated with and Justin Brown was terrific," the mayor said. "That's the kind of thinking that's going to help us move the city forward."
"I loved Judy's," his wife said of Grinnell's talk on the potential of a riverwalk. "It made me very excited about the possibilities what can this city become."
Lamb said the entire day went well but noted it had come at the end of a long eight months of preparation. After "we all sleep a little," he expects the conversation to begin about the next TEDxNorthAdams.
"When I look at what we did, I think we really hit all the marks that TED requires," he said. "The demographics of the audience — everying from right out of college to folks who have been in the community 60 years — it really ran the gamut. Everyone seemed to get something out of it ...
"I think that's also a good sign for a successful event."
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