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TEDx Anchorage brings TED talks to Alaska

Ben Anderson
Photo courtesy TEDx Anchorage

Sitting in a room listening to a lecture doesn’t sound like a good time for a lot of people. But the TED -- that’s short for Technology, Entertainment and Design -- lecture series has made a name for itself by providing riveting discussions on cutting edge science, technology, aesthetics and ethics and has attracted big personalities like filmmaker James Cameron and Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.

Anchorage is home to its own TED series, one of many offshoots of the main program known as TEDx, signifying an independently organized, usually local event capturing the spirit of the larger TED series. On Saturday, the third-annual TEDx Anchorage event will take place with a full day of free lectures from a variety of Alaskans looking for ways to make the 49th state a better place.

The event this year is being held in the Wilda Marston Theater at Anchorage’s Loussac Library, and much of the time and logistics have been donated by willing volunteers. Speakers have been nominated and then voted on by committee to find a variety of subjects and voices, all of which fall under the broad theme of “Finding our Voices.”

 According to event coordinator Carolyn Kinneen, there’s been more interest in this year’s event than in year’s past, especially at the event’s Facebook and Twitter pages.

“When I put out the call on Twitter and Facebook for potential speakers, people responded, and a lot of our speakers eventually came from folks in the community who talked to me about them,” Kinneen said. “Multiple people proposed each one of (the eventual speakers).”

Once a speaker has been nominated, a committee votes on each, eventually whittling the field down. There will be 19 speakers this year, giving talks of about 15 minutes apiece, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. with periodic breaks. The event is free, so audience members are permitted to wander in and out depending on which speeches pique their interest.

Oddly enough -- and Carolyn Kinneen swears that she recused herself from any part of it -- one of those eventually chosen to speak was Carolyn’s husband, Rob Kinneen. It’s not a fishy choice -- Rob is a well-regarded Alaska chef who has made an appearance on NBC’s “Today” show and who frequently advocates for Alaska food security and improving the sustainability and diversity of Alaska-grown foods, just the kind of topic befitting a TED talk.

Rob’s speech is titled “Alaska’s Food Culture,” where he notes that 95 percent of food eaten by Alaskans is imported. He advocates for utilizing more of Alaska’s resources, including foods that one might not normally consider -- Rob discusses ingredients and dishes like seaweed, fish head soup and spruce tip syrup in his lecture. Alaska has a unique selection of natural foods, he said, and said that the state could have a food culture unlike any other place in the world, in the way of the Creole and Cajun cooking found in New Orleans, where Rob has worked.

In addition to utilizing traditional Alaska foraging techniques -- Rob is partly of Tlingit descent -- he also said that weaning Alaska off the importation of food can be equally important.

“If you go into the grocery store, you’ll see (British Columbian) hothouse tomatoes,” he said. “Why can’t we do that up here?”

Rob is hardly the only speaker, though, and food is far from the only topic to be discussed Saturday. One thing that’s different from past events, Carolyn Kinneen said, is the youth element.

Some TED events focus solely on teen voices, but TEDx Anchorage will this year will feature a group from Spirit of Youth, which highlights the positive roles that teens can have in their communities. One of the first speakers is Josiah Patkotak, one of the young Alaska Native stars of the Alaska-made movie “On the Ice,” that recently saw theatrical release.

Other talks are titled broadly, like “Reshaping the Dialogue on Race,” “Arctic 101: A Circumpolar Agenda for Alaska” and “The Music of Life: Storytelling Songs.”

So what makes Alaska worthy to host such an event like TED? Well, Carolyn has an answer for that.

“Once people started suggesting speakers to me, it was so clear that we have so many amazing people in Anchorage and Alaska who aren’t recognized enough,” she said. “We’ve got great thinkers here, we’ve got people doing amazing things in Alaska. Whether you’re born and raised here, or whether your come up and consider yourself Alaskan, there’s something very unique and very innovative about being up here.”

So if you’re interested in learning about some possibilities in your home state, visit the TEDx Facebook page for a glance at the program and see if there are lectures that jump out at you. TEDx Anchorage takes place from 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. on Saturday at the Wilda Marston Theater in the Loussac Library in Anchorage.

Carolyn said that the lectures will also be available on YouTube hopefully within the space of about a month after the event.

Contact Ben Anderson at ben(at)alaskadispatch.com