Grand Forks holds second year of TedX

Musician and composer Jonas Fisher performs at TedX Grand Forks. Photo courtesy of John Campbell of NINE18 Photography.

Almost 250 people braved the cold Saturday afternoon to attend the second ever TedXGrandForks event downtown at the Empire Arts Center, where eight speakers from across the country shared the stage and their ideas.

In the works for several months, the event was a huge success, according to co-hosts Stacey Dimmler and Scott Meyer.

“There was tremendous growth from year one to year two,” Dimmler said.

Last year’s event was limited to an audience of 100, per TedX rules, making this year’s turnout more than twice its size.

How it works

The speakers are mostly hand-picked by event organizers based on current big issues.  However, what makes TedX Grand Forks unique is the Open Mic Night that was held a few months before the event. An audience of 100 listened to the 14 various speakers and then voted their two favorites, Jason Schaefer and Natasha Thomas, into the TedXGrandForks event.

Meyer, who has previously hosted a TedX in Brookings, SD, said she really liked the idea of opening up the stage to ideas and questions organizers might have overlooked.

“One thing that they do in Grand Forks that I really love is they have the open mic night, so that’s where people can say I want to speak, here’s my idea; otherwise it’s more thinking about what’s the idea and then we’ll find the person to match that idea or question.”

At the conference, each speaker was given 18 minutes to speak (or dance or play), and halfway through there was an intermission at Daktyl Tattoo Gallery, where local Amazing Grains Food Cooperative and Dakota Harvest Bakery provided sustenance and audience members were encouraged to mingle with each other and with speakers to build on their newly launched ideas.

“It’s lots of fun but it’s also like a total whirlwind,” Thomas said of her experience as a speaker at TedX. “It’s a really unique process, I’d say; I’ve never been part of anything like it.”

Recent college graduate Colleen Baker admitted that there were parts of the conference that were pretty foreign to her, but she said she had a positive experience.

“It’s a nice opportunity to be exposed to this art and dance and music that you normally wouldn’t be,” Baker said. “I don’t understand it completely but it’s nice to be exposed to it.”

UND student Kevin Golla agreed.

“The speakers have been very entertaining, very engaging,” Golla said. “We just wanted to experience a TED (Technology Entertainment Design) talk, because we’d seen a lot of them online and we wanted to get a first-hand experience- it’s been very worthwhile.”

The idea sharers

Despite initial internet technical difficulties, the conference got up and running with live streaming on campus thanks to UND Student Government. The first speaker, Tim Larkin, who teaches self-defense around the globe, hailed all the way from Las Vegas, surprising audience-members with his first words of the TedXGrandForks conference.

“Violence is rarely the answer, but when it is, it is the only answer,” Larkin said.

Larkin said he was thrilled when organizers asked him to speak at the event, especially because he usually needs more than just a couple of minutes to get people to actually listen to his message.

“If you soundbite me, I can sound like a maniac,” Larkin said. “I can sound like, ‘kill kill kill,’ and that’s why having the time to actually talk about the subject and put it in context is really valuable for me, and a longer format is really great.”

Other speakers included writer and lecturer Anna Astvatsaturian Turcotte, who has spoken on Capitol Hill twice already about her family’s struggle living in Baku, Azerbaijan, Maggie Bergeron and Nicholas Gaudette, a couple from Minneapolis who wants to start a festival called Hear Here, Alex Gilliam, who founded Public Workshop in an attempt to get communities more involved with building, Patrick Kasper, who got the audience on its feet and gave listeners a taste of his motivational program Positive Motion: Movement with a Message and Bill Wong, an occupational therapist specializing in autism. There were also a couple very young contributors who proved that age doesn’t hinder innovation. An undergraduate student at Boston University, Taylor Mortell co-founded a non-profit called Still Running: An Art Marathon for Boston as a 19-year-old student while also working two jobs. And even younger than her, accomplished composer Jonas Fisher celebrated his 18th birthday on the day of the TedX conference. Fisher shared a handful of songs with the audience, one of which was a work of his own composing and that has already won more than one award.

“I thought (the conference) was fun, just because I was with these inspirational people who came so far,” Fisher said.

The conference lasted about five hours, after which an after party was held at HB Sound & Light.

Organizer and license holder for the TedX for TedXGrandForks Becca Grandstrand was very happy with the event overall, and is excited about the ideas that were launched.

“We had a very passionate audience, many of which are actively involved with important community initiatives in Grand Forks,” Grandstrand said. “With so many amazing presenters, I think the event got people excited with new ideas and new ways of thinking that can grow and improve our own communities.”

Marie Monson is a staff writer for The Dakota Student. She can be reached at [email protected].