Last week, I had the opportunity to attend TEDx Buffalo, held at the Montante Cultural Center on the campus of Canisius College in Buffalo, New York. I’m honestly so thrilled that my application was accepted; it was a pleasure to be able to attend such an event, and I walked out of the day feeling absolutely inspired and so happy to see all the passionate people and ideas in the local community.
After a brief introduction by the team who set up the event and opening remarks by the President of Canisius College, the first presenter was Keith Harrington with his talk, “The Projectionist.” This was less of a “talk” and more of a visual spectacle, as Harrington showed how the power of art can transform any space. Right before our eyes, he transformed a cutout of the Buffalo skyline into a perfectly mapped-out screen that showed footage of the city, including some rare footage from the 1901 Pan-American Exposition. He also transformed the ceiling of the building into an art display.
Overall, my takeaway from Harrington’s talk is best summed up by this quote of his: “Each of us has the power to transform the place where we live.” Whether we’re talking on a small scale of transforming your bedroom, house or other space into something that is safe and comfortable for you, or speaking on a wider scale about changing the community — we all have that power.
Next up was Ambra Sultzbaugh with her talk “Survive the Apocalypse By Learning Italian.” This was a unique talk about adapting in times of need and learning to survive anything. Mixed with lessons about zombies and the Italian language, the underlying theme was survival and adaptation.
My favorite quote of Sultzaugh’s was this: “Your evolution is now.” NOW is the perfect time to begin making changes, to grow, to learn new things. Now is the time to get started, to see things in our communities or our lives that we’re unhappy with and to not only recognize those things, but to work on changing them.
The final talk of the opening session was Sabrina Pena-Young with her talk entitled “Singing Geneticists and EPIC Virtual Machinima Opera in Cyberspace.” Wow! I had absolutely no idea what to expect heading into this one, and it was absolutely so different than what I had expected.
Pena-Young spoke about a virtual machinima opera she created, using contributions from people all around the world. Participants sent in sound bytes, funding and ideas and it became this huge project composed of all these pieces from worldwide. The finished product is now available online for free.
But what I took away from her talk wasn’t anything specific necessarily about animation, design, or even opera. It was about individual ideas and how the power of a community – whether a block club, neighborhood groups or a worldwide virtual environment – can come together to create this incredible product at the end. If we work together, anything is possible.
After a brief break, the TEDx Buffalo event continued with four more speakers (or should I say five.)
First up was Anna-Lesa Calvert, a local youth soccer coach, with her talk “Youth Coaching: More Than A Game.” Calvert spoke about the importance of sports and exercise, and particularly, applying these interests to children. Sports not only instill positive feelings toward exercise in kids; they instill values such as teamwork, dedication, etc. I think it’s important for people of all ages to remember that everyone plays a part in the community, even if they’re a child who may not make an impact for several years, and encouraging growth in everyone of all ages is incredibly important.
Next up was Dr. Kimberly Young with her talk “Internet Addiction: What Everyone Should Know.” People like to joke around about Internet addiction, but in reality, it’s a very serious issue. I mean, I fully admit that I probably spend more time on the Internet than a lot of people do, but hearing Dr. Young speak about the very real problem of Internet addiction made me realize that I’m not nearly as hooked as some people are. There are people who literally lose their relationships, their jobs, etc. because of their addictions.
If nothing else, what I took away from Dr. Young’s speech was the importance of face-to-face interactions. All too often we find ourselves constantly connected; it’s as if our phones have turned into a third hand or another appendage. We pay more attention to our phones than to the people sitting right in front of us. I know this is an issue for myself; I use my cell phone as a crutch in social situations. I’ve become accustomed to making friends and growing bonds through social media, and thus sometimes I feel awkward speaking to people in a real-life setting. It’s a great idea for us to think about disconnecting a little bit and really being present in our current lives, not just our virtual ones.
On a related note was the next speaker, Dr. Kenneth Regan, with his talk “Getting to Know Our Digital Assistants.” I have to say, I was impressed with Regan. His talk focused on our digital age and technologies such as GPS devices and how connected we are to these things. In the end, he ended up not only spitting out some impressive statistics and knowledge; he also sang AND produced a Dr. Seuss-like rhyme in the midst of his speech.
Ever heard the one about the people who drove into a flooded area and then got stuck, all because they listened to their GPS rather than common sense? Yeah, that happened.
Finally in the second group of speakers were Aaron Krolikowski and Darren Cotton with their talk “Collaborative Construction: A New Take on the Sharing Economy.” These two men work with a tool library in the University Heights neighborhood of Buffalo. A tool library, you ask? It’s exactly what it sounds like, and no, I hadn’t heard of it before either. But residents pay roughly $10 each year and thus have access to all these shared tools that they can use for home improvement and construction projects.
It’s definitely a neat idea, and learning about this part of the aptly-titled sharing economy was incredibly interesting. I thought that was such a novel idea — and did you know that the average power drill is only used for something like 12 minutes in its lifetime? A person buys it, uses it maybe a handful of times and that’s it. The rest of the time, it’s sitting in the garage. By implementing a sharing economy idea like a tool library, you get a lot more use out of these basic household items.
After an hour-long lunch break, the program continued with four more speakers. We were encouraged to switch seats for the afternoon session, which I took advantage of in an attempt to try something new and get myself out there a little more.
First up were a pair of dancers from LehrerDance, who did a performance piece entitled “Fused by 8.” It was a refreshing little way to break up the day and get us all out of our comfort zones. Next up was Gaitrie Subryan with her piece “Mixing Bollywood With an Evolving City.”
Subryan spoke about how there were no Bollywood classes in Buffalo when she moved here from NYC, so she decided to create her own classes. (And yes, she gave a performance as well.) I think there’s a lot to take away from this. First and foremost, we each have our own culture that we bring to the table; every group, every event, is a unique smorgasbord of ideas and beliefs and values and it’s a spectacular thing. Second, recognizing needs and opportunities and taking advantage of this. She saw something missing here. She went looking for it, and then ended up creating it herself — a lesson we all can learn from.
Next up was Dr. Michael Cropp from Independent Health with his talk “A Culture of Health is the Engine for a Community in Motion.” Cropp spoke about health insurance and the rising costs of health care, as well as the need for this “culture of health” in order to allow us to keep moving forward. I think it was a good lesson; what I got out of it was that we may see these bigger issues all around us, but we can’t forget the smaller attributes that allow us to tackle these bigger issues. For instance, if we aren’t healthy and don’t make the changes necessary to maintain our health, we won’t be able to be that community in motion.
The second-to-last speaker was Clinton Parker, who spoke about “Democracy on Every Corner: Cooperatives in Buffalo.” Parker was a really interesting talk to me. I don’t know much about the cooperative movement; the only one I’d ever even heard of before was the Lexington Co-op on Elmwood. I had no idea these communal living spaces and other things like cooperative credit unions and bakeries even existed. While I can’t see myself moving into a home with 13 strangers, it’s such a unique idea that it just blew my mind. It really speaks to the power of community, the power of groups who can communicate effectively, and the power of people to take charge and ownership of businesses and organizations that affect their every day lives.
After another break, Miranda Workman closed out the day with her talk, “Collateral Damage in the War Against Animal Homelessness.” It was a pretty sad speech about euthanasia and animal shelters; these are topics I’ve always thought about and rallied against deep in my heart, so it really hit home for me. When she ended her speech, I basically wanted to go out to the shelter and adopt every animal in the place. Alas, neither my budget nor my home would permit me to do that.
For those who missed out on TEDx Buffalo, the stream is now available online. In the coming weeks, each individual talk will be posted in high-res video, but for now, check out the archived stream of the entire event. In addition to the speakers detailed above, we also watched several TED Talks from other TEDx events around the world. For instance: I saw a guy make a clarinet out of a carrot. Yep. That happened.
All in all, I left the event feeling enriched and inspired. I felt powerful and charged with a newfound energy about how much we can do in our communities and our lives, both on a small scale and a wider one. I feel like there are so many amazing things being done in the world and I just want to learn more about them and get involved myself. If you ever get the chance to attend a TEDx event — do it. You won’t regret it.