TED Talks — 18-minute speeches in which celebrated innovators and thinkers share their greatest ideas — have become a global phenomenon and attract online audiences of several million. In November, the talks will get a local twist when Charlottesville hosts its very own TED summit.
“We’ve invited speakers who have done amazing things,” said Jackie Knight, who is one of more than 120 volunteers organizing the event. “We want to inspire people to leave their comfort zones and create a better Charlottesville.”
TEDxCharlottesville is an all-day affair planned for Nov. 15. It will feature a host of colorful speakers, as well as four TED Talks screenings at the Paramount Theater.
Downtown Mall restaurants The Nook, Blue Light Grill, Mono Loco and others will team up to serve lunch at the Main Street Arena. After the talks, attendees are invited to the Jefferson Theater for drinks, live music and a chance to chat about what they’ve heard.
Tickets go on sale beginning at noon Friday.
“We expect about a thousand people to attend,” Knight said. “There has been an amazing amount of community support already, and we’ve only been advertising for three weeks.”
Speakers include such personalities as Zoë Romano, the first person to run across the United States without a support vehicle; Joel Fuhrman, a specialist in radical nutrition-based cures for chronic diseases; Ralph Cohen, founder of the American Shakespeare Center; and Leslie Gordon, discoverer of a gene defect causing premature aging.
TEDx is first and foremost a community-based discussion, so many of the speakers will be local notables. But only one of them will be accompanied by an orchestra.
“I want to talk about the power of passion and arts education,” explained Laura Mulligan Thomas, longtime director of the Charlottesville High School Orchestra. “I’m bringing 55 of my best students so we can play a little, talk a little, then play some more.”
During her 32 years at CHS, Thomas’ students have won numerous accolades and performed in Chicago, London, Vienna and Florence, Italy. Some have gone on to become professional musicians, music educators and band members for the likes of Taylor Swift, Gnarls Barkley and Hunter Hayes.
“When I started, I had eight students. Now I have over 150,” Thomas said. “Together we are making something bigger than any one of us can do on our own.”
Thomas said she believes the key to her thriving orchestra is her students’ passion for music, but also the strong support of the Charlottesville school district. She said she worries that if community backing for the arts ever wavers, her contributions could disappear.
“It’s a little dismaying to see how fragile arts programs are,” Thomas said. “Right now, schools are very concerned about math and science, and the arts are getting short shrift.”
If Thomas had her way, Charlottesville schools would expand their emphasis on “STEM” — science, technology, engineering and math — to “STEAM.”
“Classical music is not just dead white men,” she said. “For some kids, the arts are what make school worthwhile. The arts can change lives.”
Thomas said she is looking forward to hearing another Charlottesville teacher who will speak at the summit. John Hunter is the creator of the World Peace Game, an interactive political simulation that is played by students around the world.
“John was a teacher at Venable when ‘World Peace and Other 4th-Grade Achievements’ [was filmed],” Thomas said, referring to the documentary by local filmmaker Chris Farina. “Some of the fourth-graders in the film are my students now.”
Community members who have great ideas to share but have not yet been tapped to give a TED Talk still have a chance to prove their mettle.
On Sept. 30, TEDxCharlottesville will host a free Open Mic Night at the Jefferson Theater. Any Charlottesville or Albemarle resident may sign up to give a two-minute pitch, and judges will select the best among them to present at the Paramount in November. The deadline to apply is Thursday.