June 13: TEDxPittsburgh is “Weaving Futures” at CCAC

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SOMETIMES, big change grows out of small conversations.

You can listen in to the chat (and start your own) this June 13 when TEDxPittsburgh: Weaving Futures takes place at Foerster Student Center, Community College of Allegheny County main campus, from 6:00-9:30 pm.

As in past years, TEDxPittsburgh features an eclectic lineup of innovators and changemakers:

… and a performance by Pittsburgh’s Emmy-winning rapper Frzy.

TEDxPittsburgh 2024 speakers: (top l-r) Dr. Andre Samuel, Sabrina Saunders Mosby, Ronna Davis-Moore (bottom l-r) Caroline Fitzgerald, Vivien Luk, Frzy

TEDxPittsburgh is operated under the organizational umbrella of TED (Technology-Entertainment-Design), a global set of conferences run by a nonprofit foundation with the motto “Discover ideas worth spreading”.

Founded in 1984 as an informal meetup for Silicon Valley tech denizens, the first TED featured Sony Corporation’s Michael Schulhof giving a demo of the newly-invented compact disc.

The TED concept quickly evolved into an annual, five-day conference offering short, succinct stage presentations on a wide array of timely social, political and scientific topics delivered by notable speakers such as Isabel Allende, Oliver Sacks, Bill Clinton, Diana Nyad, LaToya Ruby Frazier, Bono, America Ferrera, Jimmy Carter, Frank Gehry, Ray Kurzweil, Anna Deavere Smith, Edward Snowden, Thandie Newton, Jeff Bezos, Julie Taymor and several hundred others.

In 2006, the presentations were posted online as free downloadable video clips called TED Talks; currently, over a million people a day access an ever-increasing digital library of 6,500 TED Talks.

The initial TEDx programs were introduced in 2009 — localized versions of the large TED conference focused on topics of interest in a specific community. Over the last 15 years, nearly 50,000 speakers have appeared at over 10,000 TEDx events, including a TEDx Sewickley Academy last month.

TEDxPittsburgh organizers Chris Daley and Sara Coffey

TEDxPittsburgh was launched in 2013 as TEDxGrandviewAve. It’s coordinated by an all-volunteer team chaired by Sara Coffey (creative director for Coffey Design) and Chris Daley (senior director of digital marketing at UPMC Health Plan), who guide an expert team handling speakers, event experience and an innovation corridor spotlighting Pittsburgh entrepreneurs.

LOCALpittsburgh spoke to Sara and Chris as they finalized preparations for the June 13 event.

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LOCALpittsburgh:  How did the group come up with this year’s “weaving futures” theme?

Chris Daley:  That came from Michelle King, who is on our organizing committee. She’s a former TEDxPittsburgh speaker, and she calls herself a “learning instigator”. She is a fantastic speaker and often co-hosts our events as well. She had this idea of “weaving futures”, which is an interesting thing that happens when you invite people who don’t know each other to give a TEDx talk. Inevitably, you find they are connected in ways no one can predict or previously knew.

Sara Coffey:  Weaving futures implies the interconnected nature of innovation. There are many threads to past TEDxPittsburgh events, such as continuing the conversation around equity in women’s sports when we had Nationals Women’s Soccer League star Meghan Klingenberg in 2019. She’s a Pittsburgh native and Pine-Richlands High School grad who plays professionally for the Portland Thorns. This year we have Caroline Fitzgerald, a women’s sports expert here in Pittsburgh, and it gives the audience the continued story of the innovation happening in Pittsburgh in women’s sports. That’s just one example.

Daley:  There are connections that come up in every speaker class. And we always talk about them being embedded or woven together. Michelle was imagining this idea of how we’re all connected. That and — in this hybrid world — how we may be physically disconnected, but no matter what, our futures are intermingled in a really interesting way.

LOCALpittsburgh: How does TEDxpittsburgh select the speakers?

Daley:  Usually they are invited, based on what we’re seeing out there. Mostly the curation comes from who we see in publications or in other community events.

Coffey:  We have a huge running list of people in the region we’d like to feature.

Daley:  We have an open call for ideas a couple of times a year. That brings hundreds and hundreds of applicants, and occasionally we find folks from that, too.

LOCALpittsburgh: Wow! Hundreds! People certainly have a passion about TED.

Daley:  They do. It’s an honor for us that people apply.

LOCALpittsburgh:  Do you typically have an arts-oriented speaker?

Coffey:  Yes, and I think that’s one of the unique things about TEDxPittsburgh and the community in general. With Frzy, that’s another connection story. Our 2018 event featured Dr. Jackie GartnerSchmidt from the University of Pittsburgh Voice Center, and she works with Frzy on controlling the voice. She was recommending him for years, and finally it worked out that we’re able to have him perform at this event. He’s working on a new special project he’ll introduce through his talk.

Hanifa Nakiryowa, featured speaker at TEDx Pittsburgh 2019. (photo: Chris Sprowls, TEDxPittsburgh Flickr)

LOCALpittsburgh:  Who is the audience for TEDxPittsburgh?

Daley:  Our audience is a really interesting collection of people. They’re curious. They like learning, they like technology, entertainment, design. There’s certainly an academic section of the audience. I think there’s also like a startup zone part of the audience, a creator economy part of the audience. All different ages and backgrounds.

Coffey:  The energy you leave these events with is like no other. People feel empowered because they see people who are their neighbors up there on stage — up there putting their ideas into action. I think people feel very inspired by that. And when they’re around other people that are also inspired like that, the conversations sparked are what the event is all about. What are people going to take away from this and implement in their own small ways? It’s definitely an inspirational event.

Daley:  We try to treat the audience with the utmost respect by working with the speakers in preparing their talk. You have to meet your audience where they are. Our speakers rehearse a lot.

Coffey:  We’ve brought in past speakers to provide feedback to our new speaker cohorts. Some former speakers have been a part of our team.

LOCALpittsburgh:  What is it about the TED movement that personally attracts you?

Daley:  It’s the practicality that you can have access to ideas and people that are often hard to access. TED and TEdx are democratizing. They lower the barrier of entry to getting really useful information. This isn’t an awards show, it’s not a PR pitch. It’s an opportunity to learn from people who have had demonstrable success and demonstrable learning. It’s a mix tape of ideas. It can take you on a journey.

Coffey:  For me, the importance has always been the community it creates and the networks it builds where we can all just be stronger together with ideas and innovation in the Pittsburgh region.

Daley:  The moment when the first talk happens is a special moment for the team and the speakers and the audience. You feel the energy in the room. The energy of curiosity, the energy of positivity. Yes, there are real challenges across many fields, many areas, many walks of life, but there are people doing amazing work to try to meet and rise above those challenges.

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TEDxPittsburgh: Weaving Futures. Thursday, June 13, 2024, 6:00-9:30 p.m. Foerster Student Center, Community College of Allegheny County, 839 Ridge Ave., Room SSC 360, Pittsburgh, PA 15212. Tickets: $45 … register here

TEDxPittsburgh 2023 speakers and volunteers (photo: Chris Sprowls, TEDxPittsburgh Flickr)
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L.E. McCullough is a Pittsburgh musician/writer/journalist who writes about Arts every chance he gets. Got some Arts to talk about? Contact him at www.lemccullough.wordpress.com