International conference comes to Calgary

In a vibrant metropolis like Calgary there are more than a few ideas worth spreading, and a local conference with international roots is planning to make exactly that happen. TED, a non-profit organization which started as a conference bringing visionaries from the fields of technology, entertainment and design, is helping communities organize their own independent conferences. Calgary will host TEDxYYC February 26, 2010.

“We love the TED program and we think that bringing it to Calgary would be a good idea,” said Alex Middleton, a co-chair of the event’s organizing committee.

While TED is helping to foster the same atmosphere as its larger ventures in its local talks, they have put some restrictions on the TEDx events. Thirty per cent of the presentations have to come from already existing talks available on TED’s website and local events are capped at 100 attendees for all first events. While the TEDxYYC organizers are abiding by the mandates, their vision is anything but small — the theme for Calgary’s first TED foray is “Great Minds.”

“If you look at the other TEDx events around the world, if you look at the actual big TED events, they have a sort of a narrower theme,” said Middleton.

He said that event organizers wanted Calgary’s focus to be broad so nobody’s ideas would be overlooked.

Currently six speakers have been announced, with more listed on TEDxYYC’s website weekly. The University of Calgary’s own Dr. Garnette Sutherland from the Department of Clinical Neurosciences and John Manzo, an associate professor of Sociology, will present alongside Ben Cameron, program director for Arts at the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation in New York City, Rick Castiglione, a journalist, film maker, teacher and philanthropist, Jennifer Martin, president and CEO of the Telus World of Science and Chris Turner, author of The Geography of Hope and Planet Simpson.

The event has not been without criticism. TED has been accused of elitism due to the expensive ticket prices and long application process which emphasizes personal achievements. With a limit to the number of people who can attend the event, though, the long application process is necessary.

Middleton noted that the online application’s length means only people with genuine interest will complete the form.

The decision on who will be able to attend will not be made lightly and, as with all TED related events, a mix of attendees from diverse backgrounds is the goal.

“Picking 100 people is going to be very difficult,” said Middleton. “We’re a real mix of people, industries and backgrounds, so I guess it’s as democratic as it possibly can be.”

Despite the capped number of attendees, the entire event will be streamed live on TEDxYYC’s website and organizers hope to have a screen in MacEwan Student Centre broadcasting the presentations. Community Natural Foods has donated 10 tickets to be distributed to post secondary students who apply on the TEDxYYC site.

“We were very excited when Community Natural Foods agreed to do this for us because, you know, without being cheesy, hopefully these students will stay in the city and do great things and make this city a better place,” said Middleton.

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