TEDxBrooklyn Brings Big Ideas To Small Venues

This article was originally published in the International Digital Times here.

Smaller TEDx Events Generate the Same Thought-Provoking Content as the Parent Conference

TED x Brooklyn

Many of us are familiar with the TED conference that collects influential speakers to share innovative ideas on their area of expertise each year on the West Coast. While attending the conference is prohibitively expensive for many, the brand has reached millions by offering videos of its speakers online.

The organization has also created the TEDx initiative, which consists of local, independent conferences that function in much the same way as the flagship brand. This allows communities to hold their own events and extend TED’s message of the power of spreading ideas. Those who organize TEDx events must adhere to several rules. The TEDx organizer must have attended the principal TED conference, and speakers must hail from the area where the event is held. TEDx events must also show a percentage of TED conference videos between speakers.

One TEDx event named TEDxBrooklyn took place at Williamsburg’s Brooklyn Bowl last December. Started four years ago by Varghese Chacko, the theme this year was “Everyone Only.” The one-day event brought together speakers from areas as diverse as filmmaking, education, music, technology, and even parkour to share their perspectives on community, connection and collaboration. I spoke to Stephanie Najor, who curated the speakers, about arriving at this year’s theme. “We all thought about why we got involved with something like TEDx. There’s this great power in connecting to the people immediately around you and beyond, and Brooklyn is known for that neighborhood mentality of ‘I’ll help you, you help me.’ We wanted to celebrate that.”

Many of the talks struck on this exact chord. The opening speaker, Nicole Glaros from the startup accelerator Techstars, spoke about how giving first, without expectation of reward, leads to abundance in your own enterprise. Robert Groff, the principal at the first completely vegetarian public school, spoke about a eureka moment he had when a student requested kale instead of fried chicken nuggets, which led to that student performing better on his exams. The team of Murray Nossel and Paul Browde spoke about Narativ, an attempt to create a universal way of communicating with others. Then there was notable director Spike Lee, who discussed his collaboration with Michael Jackson for “They Don’t Care About Us,” saying that he encouraged Michael to utilize live Brazilian drummers to play over the track in the video, an artistic choice Jackson supported.

“New York can feel like this exclusive club, but if you just reach out and ask for help, somebody will probably want to help you,” says Najor. “So we wanted to celebrate connection and collaboration, and the power of what can happen when you get people to help make your idea bigger.”

The point of these smaller conferences seems not only to encourage the transfer of ideas. It also expresses that one doesn’t need to win a Nobel Prize, as some of the TED speakers have, to share something insightful. It’s clear there’s incredible work arising in societal subcultures we ordinarily may be oblivious to, but at these events such worlds come into view and our perspectives expand.

The TEDx events happen all over the world throughout the year. It’s an excellent way to reconnect with the community you live in, make some contacts, and maybe even get inspired. For those living in the New York area,TEDxGowanus is happening on January 26th with the theme of “Inspiring Community.”

Rachel Leventhal, in charge of the marketing for TEDxGowanus, says “Gowanus is an interesting place at the moment. It’s definitely a neighborhood that’s undergoing a lot of changes, and there are a lot of different subcommunities, like artists, entrepreneurs, activists, all sorts of people. It’s traditionally been an area that’s very diverse.” This sentiment is echoed in the program for the event, which will touch on such topics as architecture, environmentalism, design, and food, to name a few. There’s no doubt that a wide gamut of ideas and thinking will be represented, a fitting accompaniment to the Brooklyn event earlier last month.

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