Can one event “bridge” the divide between today’s social and political rifts, at least locally? TEDx Portland cofounder, curator, and host David Rae hopes to do just that.
“Bridges felt like the perfect theme for this year because it’s just completely on trend with where we are: we’re fractured," Rae says. Never have we been more divided with perspectives and opinions and social media and rants and how people are weighing in and protesting ... At the end of the day, the bridge in our mind is a symbol of progress.”
TEDx is a one-day event packed with seven hours of programming: four artistic performances and 14 presentations. For its eighth year, 500 working names were whittled to a diverse group of 13 speakers who “bridge” two seemingly different ideas. To select the 14th speaker, organizers installed a red TARDIS-like booth at the Oregon Historical Society where anyone—including you—can record a 90-second pitch. The person with the most compelling story will become one of this year’s speakers. You have until April 5 to submit your pitch.
“Ann Curry, Oregon Symphony, and Danielle Outlaw—there are some huge names on the program this year, but I think the underdog, or the crowd favorite, will be this person who comes out of the booth,” says Rae.
No other TEDx in the world has initiated anything like the idea box. The TED headquarters in New York told Rae it was “game–changing” and “democratic.”
But how democratic is the selection really? Aren’t the people who gravitate toward TED mainly like-minded liberals?
In response, Rae emphasizes the diversity of the audience, ranging from 11-year-olds to the oldest repeat attendee, a veteran of D-Day who will be 96 this year. “The audience is like-minded in that they want to see positive change. They do believe in a better world. But there are raging conservatives in the crowd. I know that for a fact because I get the emails after the event. I know there are raging liberals and everything in between.”
In 2008, Rae, with cofounder Mark Starkey, began laying the groundwork for TEDx Portland, which became one of the first programs licensed to use the TEDx branding in 2009. Since the inaugural event in 2010, TEDx Portland has grown to be one of the largest TED spinoffs in the world, and now fills the Keller Auditorium's 3,000 seats. Rae says he’s humbled by the unexpected growth. “If you told me in 2009, when we were struggling to get it off the ground and get one conference done at the Armory for 700 people, that it was going to scale to be this massive thing, I wouldn’t have believed you.”
The reason behind this local affiliate's success? Rae credits its mostly local sponsors, from the initial three to the current 62. “Portland is a fiercely independent, proud city," he says. "If events are done right, if they’re thoughtfully planned, people embrace them, and Portland has embraced TEDx like no other city in America.”
No matter how large they become, Rae says they stick to their core mission. “The driving goal was to spread ideas, to find Portland innovators, makers, doers, and thinkers, and give them a stage to share their ideas in their backyard. That’s our guiding North Star.”
Here's a look at this year's speaker lineup:
Truth / Trust
World-renowned journalist and University of Oregon alumnus Ann Curry, a headliner, will discuss reformed journalism, storytelling, truth, and trust. Her six-part series We’ll Meet Again recently premiered on PBS.
Albert Chi, MD
Bionic / Man
Oregon Health Science University Associate Professor of Surgery Dr. Chi focuses on improving the research, development, and advancement of prosthetic limbs.
Tami Lynn Kent
Shame / Honor
Physical therapist Tami Lynn Kent wrote Wild Feminine, a holistic guide on curing women’s maladies caused by 21st-century demands.
Junkman / Alchemist
Rae describes artist Tom Sachs as an “Andy Warhol contemporary.”
Chief Danielle Outlaw
Humanity / Authority
Danielle Outlaw, the first African American woman to lead the Portland Police Bureau, said during her swearing in, “Twenty-first century policing requires strategic solutions to complex dynamic, and ever-changing problems. Our communities not only expect us to address crime, but they want us to solve larger systemic issues. In Portland, for example, these systemic issues are related to those who are houseless, or have mental health or addiction issues ... As your new chief of police, you will see me implementing several strategies that promote positive interactions between police and our communities in order to build trust and legitimacy.”
Capitalist / Socialist
Architect Kevin Cavenaugh designs and develops small commercial and residential building, including the brightly painted building at the intersection of East Burnside and the Willamette.
Houseless / Hopeful
An injury while training to be a firefighter wrecked Tyrone Poole’s credit so much that he became homeless. After encountering frustrating obstacles while looking for housing—property managers often have different requirements—he designed an app called OneApp that allows prospective tenants to find housing for which they qualify without driving all over Portland. Find a Q&A with Poole in the forthcoming April issue of Portland Monthly.
Lost / Found
Colleen Yeager of Basic Rights Oregon fights for equality and protections for her transgender son, Eli, and others.
The Gay Beards
Hate / Love
Brian Delaurenti and Johnathan Dahl, known collectively as the Gay Beards, host a whimsical Instagram account featuring a variety of colorful facial hair appliqués.
Christopher Nichols, PhD
Peril / Promise
In the era of “America first,” this Oregon State University Associate Professor of History is something of an expert—he literally wrote the book about American isolationism from the 1890s through the 1940s.
Cultivate / Liberate
Award-winning advertiser Mira Kaddoura, born in Egypt and raised between Lebanon and Canada, has worked on brands such as Nike, Coca-Cola, Belvedere Vodka, Target, and Travel Oregon for Portland ad agency Wieden & Kennedy.
Risk / Reward
Rick Turoczy, cofounder and general manager of Wieden & Kennedy’s startup accelerator PIE (Portland Incubator Experiment), helps local entrepreneurs find their footing in the marketplace. He also founded the popular tech blog Silicon Florist.
Artist / Activist
Latin jazz singer Edna Vazquez, who toured with Pink Martini in January, is known for her powerful vocals and guitar technique.
Hunter Noack & Thomas Lauderdale
Ron Artis II
Bound / Free
Hailing from the North Shore of O‘ahu, Ron Artis II is described by Rae as an autodidact with a golden voice and a “virtuoso talent” destined for super stardom.
Tradition / Innovation
The Grammy-nominated Oregon Symphony is now in its 121st season.
8 a.m.–5 p.m. Sat, Apr 21, Keller Auditorium, $125–200; free live stream at Oregonlive.com and KGW.com