Big Thoughts 

PREVIEW: TEDxRVA 2015 offers an unlikely mix of speakers from the secretary of education to Gwar.

click to enlarge The TED movement isn’t without its critics. But organizers of TEDxRVA are trying to open the day to more people with increased capacity and a lower ticket price. Speakers include musician and teacher Michael Bishop of Gwar.

Scott Elmquist

The TED movement isn’t without its critics. But organizers of TEDxRVA are trying to open the day to more people with increased capacity and a lower ticket price. Speakers include musician and teacher Michael Bishop of Gwar.

Only in Richmond could a TED talk feature the possibility of spurting blood.

The decades-old nonprofit TED, short for technology, entertainment and design, was started in California as a four-day forum. It aimed to bring together curious minds to hear inspiring ideas, talks that were taped and sent home with attendees.

Six years ago, the organizers began posting those videos online, raising awareness of TED beyond the West Coast. The breakthrough came when TED started licensing local organizations to present TED events, such as the TEDxRVA scheduled for April 10.

“They can be done very scrappy and low-cost,” volunteer Risa Gomez says — “or at the Sydney Opera House.” Lacking an opera house, Richmond’s first event in 2013 was held at the old Haxall Point power plant and in 2014 at the November Theater. Each drew 500 people.

The ante’s been raised significantly this year with a larger venue, the Carpenter Theatre at CenterStage, and a ticket price of $50, reduced from $100. That includes the locally catered lunch dubbed Picnic on Sixth and the afterparty, Sippin’ on Sixth. Organizers say they expect to double attendance numbers.

TEDxRVA is run by a core group of
volunteers, with more added for the event, and speakers are unpaid. As part of the licensing agreement with TED, all talks must be recorded and posted online. The theme, Uncommon, aims to forge dialogue and interaction while highlighting uncommon communities in modern-day Richmond.

The daylong event features personalities and speakers from myriad fields and social backgrounds, such as the advertising guys who masterminded the Foo Fighters CrowdTilt project, one way to make what you want happen in Richmond.

There will be a writer who’s drawn to exploring and preserving the unique culture of Tangier Island. Two photographers sharing how they explore self-expression through unconventional portraiture. A scientist working to make dreams of living on Mars a reality. The chief executive of an environmental foundation that’s putting Virginia on the architectural map for sustainable design standards.

The youngest speaker is a freshman from Deep Run High School, an actor with 13 plays under his belt and an ambassador for the March of Dimes. The tastiest may be the cookbook author and editorial director for food at Martha Stewart Living speaking about the legacy of cooking with loved ones.

Merging his passion for the outdoors and photography, a Web developer will share his experience of floating the 343-mile James River in a custom pontoon raft to create the first 360-degree image map of an entire river.

Also on the bill is the state’s secretary of education, a former first lady of Virginia. There’s a music and life coach who was a founding member of the group Jade. And the founder of Science Overdrive, a nonprofit that offers free professional development to science teachers elementary and middle schools.

Mike Bishop, who has the dual distinction of being a Gwar band member and holding a doctorate in ethnography, is sure to be a highlight of the day. He plans to use his social scientist background to discuss the culture that the band’s created and how it’s become a cultural icon for Richmond. “There will be a surprise performance piece that follows which I imagine will be highly entertaining,” Gomez says, laughing.

For those who can’t afford tickets, five viewing parties are planned: at the Community Foundation, the Partnership for Nonprofit Excellence, the Collegiate School and Trinity Episcopal School, all in Richmond, and the Cameron Foundation in Petersburg.

The free gatherings tap into the LiveStream feed and cap attendance at 100. And for those with concerns about being showered in fake blood by Gwar, they offer a less immediate, less messy way to go. S

TEDxRVA will be held April 10 at the Carpenter Theatre at CenterStage, 600 E. Grace St. Tickets available at the CenterStage box office or online at tedxrva.com/tickets.

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