TEDx brings people together to share ideas

Published: Wednesday, May 18 2011 5:06 p.m. MDT

Rakesh Kochhar

Brian Nicholson, El Observador de Utah

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SALT LAKE CITY — A University of Utah architecture professor thinks people have become too disconnected from each other.

So the professor, Hank Louis, developed a program that would connect people, specifically his students with families in Navajo Nation who he says are living in Third World conditions without plumbing or electricity.

Students in the program, called DesignBuildBLUFF, spend the one semester designing a house for a family in need, and the other living in Bluff, San Juan County, where they have the opportunity to build what they've designed.

Louis said the program has created lasting bonds between his students and the families they serve. "There is truly a love affair between both students and the families," he said.

Louis will be one of 12 speakers Friday at Salt Lake's first TEDx conference, an independently organized spin off of the popular TED (Technology Entertainment Design) conference.

TED started 26 years ago as a four-day event in California and has hosted speakers like Bill Gates, Al Gore and "Eat, Pray, Love" author Elizabeth Gilbert under the banner of "Ideas Worth Sharing." Two major TED events are held each year, in Long Beach, Calif. and Edinburg, Scotland.

More than 1,000 independent TEDx events have been hosted around the world in the past two years, including conferences last year at the U. and in Park City. Draper will host a TEDx event in November. 

Marketing executive Jed Morley said he organized TEDxSaltLakeCity in his spare time out of "a love for ideas." He said he spent at least 20 minutes a day since last July putting the pieces for Friday's event in place.  

"All of us have God-given talents that we could use to bless the lives of our fellow citizens, our families, our communities," he said. "TED is an invitation to do something great with those talents."

The Salt Lake event is sold out, and snagging one of the 120 tickets to the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center was more involved than, say, buying a ticket to a concert. Potential attendees had to request one of the $85 tickets by answering a series of questions that gauged their level of interest as well as their achievements.

Despite the focus on accomplishments, Morley refutes the idea that TEDx is a get-together for elitists.

"This is an event that's no respecter of persons, except that you have a track record of making things happen," he said. 

A myriad of people are expected to attend, including a professional ballerina, U.S. Synthetic founder Louis Pope, and Sen. Dan Liljenquist, R-Bountiful, and up to 5,000 people are expected to view the event live on the TEDxSaltLakeCity website.

"I've never met anyone who doesn't identify with the spirit of TED," Morley said. "People identify with it because it speaks to their own potential."

Other TEDxSaltLake City speakers include:

Amy Lukas, co-founder and managing partner of Infinite Scale Design Group, a graphic design studio that integrates brand strategy into environment and event design. 

Beau Seil, managing partner of Unitus Impact, an investment firm that provides capital to improve the lives of working poor in Asia and Africa.

Chris Johnson, director of the Scientific Computing and Imaging Institute at the University of Utah. 

Jason Fairbourne, founder and president of Fairbourne Consulting, a firm that consults corporations on growing their businesses in emerging and developing markets.

Jeff Parkin, a Brigham Young University professor of theater and media arts

Kristin Peterson Brown, founder and president of Grow.Learn.Give, a health education program operating in Africa and India. 

Mark Fuller, CEO of WET Design, the company behind the Bellagio fountains in Las Vegas.

Pauline Ploquin, chief management officer of branding agency StruckAxiom and creative services manager for the 2002 Olympics. 

Peter Chan, an instructional technologist and adjunct professor at Brigham Young University. 

Rachael Herrscher, CEO and co-founder of online media and publishing company TodaysMama

Tami Goetz, state science adviser and former Salt Lake Community College biotechnology director.

E-mail: averzello@desnews.com

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