In January 1890, Claudia L’Engle Adams hosted a dozen of her peers at her Downtown Jacksonville home for what officially became Friday Musicale three years later. Since 1926, the organization has utilized the current Riverside location for concerts, educational opportunities, community outreach efforts and its own in-house choruses and bands.
In all that time, the venue has never hosted anything quite like “Collective Genius,” which marks the formal debut of TEDx Riverside/Avondale.
Organizer Doug Coleman is a seasoned TED aficionado. He did his research in spades, attending two events in Michigan and Arizona and “perhaps 300 to 400 online.” What began in 1984 as a compact confab of Californians showcasing fresh thinking in “Technology, Entertainment and Design” caught fire worldwide once the talks became available online five years ago. More than 1,200 individuals have given almost 1,500 TED Talks since February 1984, when Nicholas Negroponte predicted the advent of touch-screen computers.
Almost 1,000 talks are up at TED.com, where a team of 500 has produced 21,000 translations in more than 40 languages. TED’s YouTube page has more than 600,000 subscribers; its 1,300-plus official videos have drawn more than 141 million views. Next year, the annual TED Prize for innovation will be increased from $100,000 to $1 million. Northeast Florida is now tapped into this vast and growing network.
Altogether, TED Talks have been watched online perhaps a billion times, and the world is paying attention.
TEDx Riverside/Avondale is hosted by Michael Boylan, now in his 14th year as president and CEO of WJCT, and veteran reporter/producer Karen Feagins, with multimedia support coming from members of the station and Douglas Anderson School of the Arts.
The Jacksonville event is one of at least 312 TEDx events scheduled around the world this month and one of 27 slated for Oct. 20 alone. Local partners include AIGA Jacksonville, Intuition Ale Works, iStartJax, Wingard Creative, the Art Institute of Jacksonville and the regional chapter of U.S. Green Building Council. TEDx Riverside/Avondale has already hosted remote viewings of a previous TED Talk at Sun-Ray Cinema, and TEDx Women will be streaming live from Washington, D.C., to the University of North Florida Auditorium on Dec. 1, but this is their first attempt to run an in-house event.
Several venues were considered for “Collective Genius,” but “Friday Musicale is one of North Florida’s hidden gems,” Coleman said. “The themes of creativity, history and rebirth resonate very well with the goals of the TEDx event,” added Dr. Wayne Wood, one of the speakers, who covered the building’s history in his book, “Jacksonville’s Architectural Heritage.” Once the location was chosen, a six-person committee culled a stampede of proposals down to 38 for review, from which eight were selected by the whole team.
Some observers noted the absence of female speakers. Coleman called it an oversight; half the selection committee is female, including the chair, and the final eight were selected by a much larger group. However, four of the six scheduled musicians are women: violinist Aurelia Duca performs with cellist Sofia Zappi, while singer-songwriters Lauren Fincham and Louise Mosrie will play solo sets. (Saxophonist Morton Perry and guitarist Zack Wing will also perform as a duo.)
Bringing these eight speakers to the stage of L’Engle Hall required the collaboration of more than 40 individual volunteers, including some of the leading figures in the local arts/media scene. Video, lighting, sound, staging, coffee, catering, computers and other logistical matters had to be worked out first, in keeping with TED’s typically rigorous standards for its regional affiliates. With all the high-tech gadgetry and progressive talk going on in this historical space, the past and future will be truly colliding in the present.
Attendance is limited to 100, chosen after applications at tedxriversideavondale.com. Organizers say they are seeking a diverse and inspiring audience full of creative, open-minded individuals who care about the city and the world. Those selected will be notified via email.
The featured speakers represent a cross-section of the community and its interests:
Public Health Solutions
Dr. Bert Herring originally wanted to be a surgeon, but those plans were forever changed by a three-year stint in the U.S. Marine Corps. Traveling the world instilled in him a passion to pursue bold solutions to the big problems in public health — starting with cancer, which he views in both literal and metaphoric terms. “The biomass of humankind is acting almost identically to how a cancer acts on the body,” says Herring.
“Like a cancer, the human race is growing out of control, supporting its own growth at the expense of neighbors and damaging systems that keep the body alive, which eventually results in the death of the cancer itself. Something’s going to give, and it might be very unpleasant if we don’t wise up.”
Future of Space Travel
Local audiences will get an insider’s view of outer space courtesy of Jon Cowart, a 25-year veteran engineer at NASA, who’s been in the control center for 65 Space Shuttle launches. “I don’t think you will see a spacecraft with its capabilities fly again before 2050,” he says. “It could fly seven people and 35,000 pounds of cargo or satellites and support spacewalks. … But it was expensive and very demanding of its ground crews preparing it for flight.”
Cowart’s presentation is set 50 years in the future, as he “looks back” on the innovations he sees just beyond the horizon — a subject of special importance to this region. “So long as flying humans into space is the sole responsibility of large governments, the chances of you and I flying into space are extremely limited. It is when we unleash the power of the private sector to innovate that we see the possibilities of space line companies like we see airline companies today.”
Dynamics of Historic Preservation
Retired optometrist Dr. Wayne Wood developed the Riverside Arts Market, and he remains a driving force in the community through the Jacksonville Historical Society and other ventures. He’s also an authority on this region’s unique architectural history — a subject he spoke about at MOSH in August.
“TEDx is all about sharing ideas — ideas that inspire, ideas that help start a community dialogue,” he said. “TEDx Riverside/Avondale is yet another exceptional event that focuses on the creative energy in this special neighborhood.” Wood will be surveying the landscape of historic preservation efforts locally and beyond — yet another subject on which he’s an expert.