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TEDxSIT conference brings ideas to life

BRATTLEBORO—On Sunday, May 8, the students at the School for International Training (SIT) will be presenting a day of lectures, music, and dance.

This community event, TEDxSIT: From Ideas to Action, seeks to involve SIT and the people of Brattleboro in a thought-provoking experience about the magical, complex, and exhilarating process of bringing ideas to life.

The impetus for the occasion was a group of local graduate students deciding they needed to connect with Brattleboro. Although only about three miles from downtown, SIT often has the reputation of being cut off from the community. As Jason Schlatter, the host for the event, points out, quite the opposite is true.

“We feel vitally involved with Brattleboro because that it where many of us live, work, shop, and dine. We feel a great obligation to give back to the community, and from this, TEDxSIT was born.”

TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is a nonprofit organization devoted to “Ideas Worth Spreading.” Started as a four-day conference in California 25 years ago, TED has grown to support world-changing ideas with multiple initiatives.

The annual TED Conference invites the world’s leading thinkers and doers to speak for 18 minutes each. Their talks are then made available for free at TED speakers have included Bill Gates, Al Gore, Jane Goodall, and UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown. The annual TED Conference takes place in Long Beach, Calif., with a simulcast in Palm Springs. TEDGlobal is held each year in Oxford, UK.

TEDx offers individuals or groups a way to organize local, independent TED-like events around the world. At a TEDx event, video and live speakers combine to spark deep discussion and connection in a small group. These local, self-organized events are branded TEDx, the “x” indicating that the event has been organized independently from TED.

Local and independently organized by students from SIT Graduate Institute, TEDxSIT strives to re-create the unique experience found at TED.

Since the SIT Graduate Institute is located in Brattleboro, a town known for its commitment to fostering a spirit of inquiry, creativity, collaboration, and change, organizing this event was a natural for SIT’s students, faculty, and alumni.

The speakers at the May 8 event come from diverse backgrounds.

Pedro Ultreras, born in Durango, Mexico, is a three-time Emmy-nominated news reporter, and has worked for Telemundo and Spanish-language outlets in the United States for the past 16 years. He now lives in New York City, where he is a filmmaker and freelancer with two feature films under his belt — 7 Soles/7 Suns and The Beast.

Dr. Elke Rechberger is a licensed clinical psychologist, and the founder and CEO of Visionary Development Team Inc., a consulting firm providing technical assistance nationally and internationally for non-profit, academic, and government organizations.

Tom Grasso is currently a senior advisor with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), where he focuses on reforming the economics and management structures of ocean fisheries. From 1999 to 2008, prior to joining EDF, he was the director of marine conservation and the acting managing director of fisheries for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

Tatsushi (Tats) Arai is an associate professor of conflict transformation at SIT Graduate Institute. As a trainer, mediator, and dialogue facilitator, Arai has led a number of peacebuilding workshops for government personnel, members of international organizations, and civil society leaders from around the world — most notably from the Middle East, the African Great Lakes, East and South Asia, and North America.

Jo Salas was a co-founder, in 1975, of Playback Theatre, a project featuring an original approach to theater. Her publications include Improvising Real Life: Personal Story in Playback Theatre and, as editor, Half of My Heart/La Mitad de Mi Corazon: True Stories Told by Immigrants.

Sam Stevens is a senior at Brattleboro Union High School (BUHS). Under his two years of leadership of the BUHS student group Civic Leadership, Education, and Action Project (CLEA), Stevens has led students from educationtoaction projects on local and global issues. Stevens participated in the BUHS Cuba project, working with other students to fundraise and obtain the license to travel to Cuba for a service learning project working with youth with Down Syndrome.

TEDxSIT, however, is not just about presenting invigorating speakers. From Ideas to Action will present an exciting group of performing artists as well.

Ukulelist Victoria Vox has become known among the ukulele community for her refreshingly modern and rhythmic ukulele technique.

Carl Russell is contributing his music to two performances for TEDxSIT. His piano piece, Sogno Sostenuto, is the backdrop for an evocative dance number. He is also the creator of the SIT Percussion Ensemble, a group of SIT students with no previous experience, but dedicated to experiencing the joy of playing drums together at a surprisingly high level.

Derrik Jordan, a Vermont resident, will be unveiling his new work entitled Windham Loops. Jordan is a recording artist, award-winning singer-songwriter, composer, producer, teacher, and multi-instrumentalist who plays electric violin, a number of percussion instruments, guitar, and piano.

The work will be conducted by Hugh Keelan, currently leader of the Windham Orchestra. Keelan was Music Director of the Erie Philharmonic for six years, following a 15-year tenure as Music Director of the Northeastern Pennsylvania Philharmonic.

The dance group Social Movement has created a two-part piece that chronicles the process of idea conceptualization and its performance. It is dedicated to all idea makers and shakers around the world.

The Anthony Trio, a small group of topnotch performers from Brattleboro School of Dance, springs to life at the sound of a beat. The title of the group's piece is Exactomundo, with choreography by Anthony Manuel and music by Brent Lewis. The dancers are Caitlin McCloskey-Meyer, Aria Roach, and Emily Wiadro.

John Ungerleider, a professor of conflict transformation at the SIT Graduate Institute, has written about youth empowerment and dialogue, and the use of music in building peace culture. He will be performing a piece from Secret of the Seasons, a participatory “co-opera” about global warming.

TEDxSIT will be held at the New England Youth Theater, 100 Flat St., on Sunday, May 8, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tickets are $10, which includes food throughout the day, mostly donated by local businesses. Seats are limited to 100. Once 100 seats are filled, the next 50 applicants will be offered a spot at the on-site livestream location.

Other livestream simulcasts are free and are planned at numerous non-commercial venues including the Marlboro Graduate Center. Tickets are available until May 5. More about the event, including detailed information about the speakers and performing artists, can be found at Tickets can also be purchased in person at Village Pizza and The Works.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #99 (Wednesday, May 4, 2011).

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