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A TED Grows in Portland: TEDxDirigo and the Art of the Audience

tedxdirigo, portland, maine, 2011

Lately I’ve noticed innovators across many fields working in the art of circumstance. These are people working with situations as the medium. They write scripts of chance. They orchestrate the action so that one audience member’s potential interaction with another becomes an underlying creative force. Theatergoers become actors. Tourists become attractions. And in the case of an upcoming conference in Portland, Maine, audience members can have the impact of keynote speakers.

TEDxDirigo, inaugurated last year at the Frontier Cafe in Brunswick, is a day devoted to Maine “ideas worth spreading.” This year's conference, on Saturday, September 10, will take over the more spacious Portland Stage Company. The participants’ exchanges are as central to the day’s success as their attendance at a series of stimulating talks. This is not a conference on a single issue—the goal is to generate interdisciplinary connective tissue. TEDxDirigo gathers over a dozen members of the Maine community with wildly diverse achievements (from beekeepers to musicians, nurses to thinkers on sustainable development). All are asked to give “the talk of their life,” said Jen Boggs, a TEDxDirigo representative. In the words of Executive Director Adam Burk, the speakers give “high impact TED talks that evoke contagious emotion,” following the format of the nationally renowned TED conferences. No two speakers from even remotely similar field will speak back to back. The ordering of talks is designed to generate maximum friction for the audience’s inspired conversations, and Boggs compares structuring the day’s schedule to putting together “a big puzzle.”

The even bigger puzzle, is the audience. The secret ingredient to TEDxDirigo’s art of circumstance begins with the selective application process to attend. Burk relished in this notion of a curated audience, saying “We put a lot of care into building a diverse program for a diverse audience, because you never know who is going to connect with what idea or what person. This is part of the magic, the synchronicity of life. There are other events that focus on single issues or fields. If someone is worried about the depth and breadth of our event, then perhaps it's not for them.”

Then who, specifically, is this event geared toward? Burk said, “people with a track record of engaging in the power of ideas, such as product developers, social innovators, philanthropists, researchers, entrepreneurs, performance artists, musicians, visual artists, etc.” Selecting a crowd of our community's most proactive thinkers ensures that the ample breaktime provided in the wake of each talk (as well as top-quality Maine cuisine) will spur attendees to self-organize and move projects forward through collaboration.

Speakers include: singer/songwriter Emilia Dahlin; Executive Director of the Center for Preventing Hate and civil rights activist Steve Wessler; and founder and director of Kitchen Gardeners International (KGI), Roger Doiron. Videos of all of last year's talks are listed on the speakers page as well. If you are interested in being an audience member (just like the main TED conference, only much, much less expensive) you can apply to attend here. It won't be the same without you.

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