Idea Festival just about wore me out with all the excitement. Lots and lots of interesting presentations, speakers and ideas. And also? Juggling.
I was twittering and photographing a bit during the festival so I didn’t liveblog or take a great deal of notes during most of the sessions I attended. But I thought I’d share some of the highlights from my Idea Festival recollections.
First though I’ve been thinking about the best way to describe Idea Festival for people who tell me they still don’t “get” what it is or what it is all about. I’ve come up with three “elevator pitch” descriptions:
1. It’s like SXSWi for grown ups. That sounds kind of condescending though (even though I don’t mean it to be at all) so I changed it to SXSWi for nerds of all stripes, not just web nerds.
2. 3 days of smart people talking about interesting things on the widest variety of topics and subjects you can imagine.
3.The place you absolutely need to be in September if you enjoy smart people, big ideas and getting lots of new things to think about and discuss.
Any other suggestions?
Recaps after the jump.
On Wednesday I attended the first ever Idea Kentucky conference. There were speakers in the morning, including the governor, while the afternoon was like a communal think tank experience. With four large topic areas (education, energy, environment, health) in mind everyone in attendance was encouraged to throw out and discuss ideas for improving Kentucky. The ideas were encouraged to be great big transformative ones no matter how far fetched they seemed. Lots and lots of people in attendance were really passionate about K-12 education so the conversation seemed to get turned back to that large topic a great deal. I wish there had been a bit more talk about post secondary education and entrepreneurship. Then again, I didn’t speak up so I’ve really no right to complain. Have a great big idea to present next year is now on my list of goals.
Also on Wednesday I watched representatives from Humana’s Freewheelin program, Geek Squad and 21c race around downtown on bicycles. There was also a gigantic penguin hanging around with giganctic “Everybody Always Thinks They are Right” monkeys. I was also in close proximity to the mayor though I didn’t speak to him. </ nervousness around mayor>
On Thursday the first session at Idea Festival I hit was called Another Day in the Frontal Lobe. It featured Dr. Katrina Firlik, a really interesting neurosurgeon. She was an engaging and funny speaker. She started her presentation by saying brain surgery is not rocket science. Heh, heh. That’s science nerd comedy gold. Oh and a word of advice, viewer discretion advised on any presentation that includes the words “frontal lobe” because, you know, that means there’s going to be a little bit of gore. Not too much, I didn’t get queazy or anything but there were some slides of brain surgery going on there. Dr. Firlik talked about some really complex and interesting things regarding brain health and morbities in easy to understand ways. And she gave great answers in the q/a part of her session. I enjoyed her presentation very much.
Next up for me on Thursday was Mark Beasley’s presentation on public art. I love art but I admit to be not so much up on or into performance art and having some kind of boring and stuffy conceptions about what public art is or should be. Beasley’s presentation had a few points of inspiration for me but in terms of my thinking about public art I’ve actually got to give credit to 21c. The gigantic monkeys downtown at first perplexed me, then amused me and then made me think about my relationship with art. Seriously. I’ve been thinking about what art is and isn’t and my relationship to it these past several weeks because of gigantic inflated monkeys hanging around downtown. Isn’t that crazy?
Next on Thursday was Will Shortz’s presentation. I don’t do crossword puzzles, I don’t play sudoku, I barely even listen to Will Shortz on Sunday mornings on NPR so I’m not sure what I was expecting from his talk. What I found though is that Mr. Shortz is awesome. He talked about the history of crosswords, his newest puzzle obsession (something called kenken), how he chooses what puzzles to run in the New York Times, the varying levels of difficulty in the puzzles (Mondays are the easiest puzzles) and the error in a puzzle that he’s received the most feedback on ever. That error involved indicating Rupp Arena was located in Louisville not Lexington. Then we played some group puzzle games. It was festive.
After Mr. Shortz came Amy Chua’s talk on The Rise and Fall of Hyperpowers. I’d gotten up before 6AM on Thursday so I started to lose it a little bit here so while it was an interesting topic and Chua was a good speaker I don’t have a lot of recollections on this session. Bad Michelle, bad Michelle.
Because of the aforementioned badness on my part I went home and rested a bit before returning downtown for Taste of Innovation. Food, drinks, cooking and mixology demonstrations, mingling were what Taste of Innovation was all about. It was a good time. The only negative was that a couple booths ran out of food before I got a chance to sample their wares. I’m not going to lie, that was a downer. Highlights from Taste of Innovation included master mixologist Joy Perrine’s bourbon cocktails, the Findlandia vodka cocktail Brown-Forman was serving (it was absolutely delicious but I can’t remember what is was called), corn chowder from The Patron, truffles from Hollyhill Inn and pumpkin risotto from…someone. I want to say the sign on the risotto booth say The Marketplace or just Marketplace. If anyone remembers who was serving the yummy pumpkin risotto please help my failing memory.
OK now onto Friday. I’m not generally a fan of Penn and Teller so going into it I wasn’t that excited about Teller’s presentation on The Science and Wonder of Magic. How very wrong I was. He was an exceptionally intelligent and entertaining speaker. He kept a packed house absolutely captivated for his entire presentation.
Teller politely asked for a voluntary embargo on spilling the beans of his presentation. He essentially said “let’s just keep this as a conversation between those of us in this room” and I and all the other bloggers present have done that. We didn’t twitter or blog specifically what he was talking about. It irritated me that the Courier-Journal didn’t show the same respect. I know the specifics of what Teller talked about aren’t some really huge secret that must be protected at all costs but there’s value in a) not pulling the current back all the way and b) respecting a polite request. Anyway.
After Teller was the crazy energetic Danish architect Bjarke Ingels discussing Designs on the Future City. The projects he described in his presentation are the very definition of innovative. That said I totally admit to be superficial and being most geeked about what he and his group did with 250,000 legos.
The last session I went to on Friday was the most powerful one of the day. The session was called Surviving Rwanda and the speaker was a woman named Immaculee IIibagiza. S
he and 7 other women surived for 91 days while hiding in a 3×4 bathroom during the storm of genocide that engulfed Rwanda in the mid 1990s. The presentation was mostly about how she found religion from this experience and while her religion isn’t exactly my cup of tea her thoughts on being able to find the good in people and to be able to forgive were incredibly profound and moving to me. I mean if a woman who hid in a bathroom for three months because people literally 5 feet away at times want to kill her for her ethnic background can find a way to forgive her would be killers (and the people who slaughtered her entire family) how in the world can I hold a grudge against someone for a business or personal slight. I can’t. Well I can’t and then be, in any way, happy with myself.
That’s enough recapping for today I think.