TEDxJacksonville Visionary Dinner. TEDx Approaches

October 22, 2014 1 comment Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

The work of TEDxJacksonville (and indeed the whole TED organization) extends beyond annual event and the sometimes extraordinary TedTalk videos. In its local and regional iterations, it also creates a touchstone of involvement for the creative classes to actually meet, mix, conspire and be inspired at each other. The recent TEDxJacksonville Visionary dinner was a concrete example of this sidereal mission. Join us after the jump for details.

It has become a tradition for the organizers of the TEDxJacksonville event to throw a dinner mixer with the creative team, sponsors and speakers (both former and upcoming) just prior to the actual TEDx Conference.

The reasons for this are fairly obvious:  Generally its just nice to get all the people involved with an event into one big happy relaxed environment before they all work together on a day long presentation.  It breaks the ice, creates good will, makes personal connections, and eases tensions and expectations.  Not all TEDx events actually have them, but our local group does and they have turned into something really really nice.

We were at last years event as well, which we liveblogged, and it was held on the night prior to the actual TEDx Conference.  As a result it was a little stressed for the organizers as they were simultaneously in the middle of moving furniture into the WJCT sound stage (where the event is held), trying to tend to the stage set, taping down electrical wires, doing sound tests, and in short running around with their heads on fire.  Even so, most people were so delighted to be in such a creative environment, surrounded by other people working on such an amazing project that the internal distractions were nothing compared to the real feelings of fellowship and connection that were made during the dinner.

The event is organized by Doug Coleman, Sabeen and Asghar Syed, and Cari Holland, (and of course a pretty big committee of volunteers) and they have really stepped up their game this year.  The pre game mixing event turned into an actual dinner, it was moved back two weeks prior to the conference, and the location moved from the somewhat spartan hallway of the WJCT building to the top floor of the Peninsula Building, looking down (literally through clouds) over the city's skyline and brackish river.

Instead of schlep apparel, the dress was cocktail attire, as we were advised by the invitation:

Dear Stephen Dare,

We are very excited that you'll be joining us for TEDxJacksonville's Visionaries Dinner tomorrow night.

Some quick notes. It's cocktail attire. And we've made arrangements for valet parking at the Peninsula.

Due to capacity limitations, this event is by invite only. If you plan to bring someone who hasn't RSVP'd, please let us know in advance.

We hope you can join us right at 6:30 pm to enjoy the sunset and a live performance by TEDxJacksonville's own Sam Pacetti.
See you tomorrow!

-The TEDxJacksonville Team

Now on the same day, I was also serving with Karrissa Wade as the first emcees of the Jacksonville Pride event.  Although there has been a Pride event for 35 years, this was the first year in which the parade was emceed from a stage set up right in the five points intersection as the floats and marching groups paraded by, so I personally was somewhat pressed for time.

The parade had been scheduled to begin at three o'clock, but since it was both an LGBTQ event as well as located in the Southern region of the United States, the start time was actually about an hour and a half later (all done in accordance with the official SST---Standard Southern Time-- manual on style and protocol)

This left me somewhat pressed for time and with the addition of frozen cocktails whose sheer poisonous strength I had sadly underestimated, driving myself to the event wasn't on the table. Naturally both jacket and tie were safely waiting in the car.

I arrived at the event, sans coat or jacket. Which I had worried about beforehand, but its still technically acceptable as cocktail attire according to wise geek:

Cocktail attire is usually described as less formal than formal attire, but not too casual. Similar to but usually slightly less formal than semi-formal attire, it typically means a dark suit or slacks and a sport coat for men, and a cocktail dress or nice blouse and skirt for women. What is appropriate to wear when an invitation asks for cocktail attire can vary depending on the location and event; the most important element is that the outfit fits well and looks sharp.

Men's Attire

For men, the definition of cocktail attire is relatively simple, although there is room for variation. A dark suit or well-pressed pants, sport coat, and a crisp dress shirt and tie is sufficient for most occasions. For less formal events, a man might not wear a jacket or, alternately, wear a suit without a tie. It's usually a good idea to bring both along, however, just in case they are needed.

Cocktail attire is usually requested for events like weddings or celebrations, so there is some room for personality. A sweater or sweater vest might be worn over the dress shirt, with or without the jacket. Some style experts suggest that dark jeans — without holes or other obvious wear — can be acceptable, depending on the context. If jeans are worn, a jacket should be as well.

Little details can greatly affect the perception of how well a man is dressed. Shoes should be leather lace-ups or professional looking loafers, and they should be polished. A handsome set of cuff links and a stylish watch could complete the look.

Mixers can be fun.  Even the dreadful ones. Depending on how much mischief you don't mind being attributed to your attempts to rescue an otherwise awful evening from a fog of trite conversation and rigor mortis.  Sometimes all a collection of stultifyingly horrible people needs is a good couple fight, or the addition of scandal to perk up to acceptable levels of wit and engagement.  In extreme cases, I always recommend naked people.

That, of course, is if the guest list is lackluster or the event itself deadly boring..

Such was not the case with the kind of people one would invite to a TEDx social mixer.

Because of the elements necessary to make a good TEDx Talk (sponsors and patrons, engaged lively people who don't mind volunteering their time for something intellectually stimulating, and talented storytellers) you automatically have all the things necessary to make for a really good party: Money, Intelligence, Talent, and lots of energy.

Because of the paucity of such events here in Jville, this year's TEDx group is pretty much the cream of the crop in terms of dream party guests.

A mere third of the people at this event can make an otherwise dangerous construction site into something worth remembering (and Ive seen them do it) but the Visionary Dinner ended up being an exquisitely unplanned for success in terms of engagement and enjoyable, witty conversations.

To begin with the crowd was diverse in terms of experience and ages.  It was somewhat less diverse in terms of race and ethnicity, although it wasn't monolithic either.  But there was one thing that the entire guest list seemed to have in common: Life Force.

Curiosity, intelligence, wit, awareness, and the energetic desire to engage all of these things.

The top of the Peninsula building is a club house for the condo owners, a real perk for the people who live in the ultra luxury dwellings, and with the mid rise nature of the J'ville Skyline, the effect is somewhat Olympian.  It is called the 'Apogee Lounge' for reasons which are not readily apparent.  Perhaps an architectural comment, given that its the top floor.  Still a bit exuberant.  It's use for the evening was donated by Dan and Ruthie Sharp ----supporters of the TEDxJacksonville group who are also residents of the building.

One thing about it, the view really is spectacular, and provided a pretty dramatic backdrop for so many bright, creative and sophisticated people.  

The event was catered by another member of the TEDx Team: Karin Tucker from Biscotti's

The lovely Cari Holland and Sabeen Syed

Fresh from the Five Points event, (and admittedly unsteady from toxic liquor slushies), I arrived in the elevator lobby of the Apogee, where we were greeted by the exceedingly lovely Sabeen Syed and a bold red X display representing the TEDx logo. For obvious reasons, I inquired rather closely about getting a little bit of food in my stomach and the availability of coffee.  

I did explain my rather bibulous state, and with generous sympathy directed inside.

What followed was so beautiful that it was rather like its own bit of literature.

It was literally the kind of party that one imagines oneself attending if one were a character in the novels of F. Scott Fitzgerald or Evelyn Waugh.

First off, Hope McMath, the exquisitely stylish, tailored Executive Director of the Cummer Museum was in attendance with her husband Barry Wilson.  There is something elegantly spartan about the crisp intelligent woman who directs the Riverside cultural landmark that makes almost any gathering sparkle with possibility.  While she isn't garrulous or loquacious, her observations are full of humor and wit, and are usually best enjoyed in retrospect, when one has time to truly parse out what was said.  On this particular night, the two of them were a handsome pair and seemed sweetly in love with each other as the stood poised over the city against the setting sun and the glass balcony of the building.  

She posted a photo of the moment that captured the effect rather nicely.

Barry Wilson and Hope McMath

TEDxJacksonville began life as TEDxRiverside, an event brought to life originally by Doug Coleman, Wayne Wood's partner in crime on these kinds of public engagement events.

But he was joined by the graceful and elegant young married couple, Sabeen Syed and her rather debonair attorney husband, Asghar.  All of them were at the party, Asghar deftly entertaining groups of businessmen with the kind of inviting wit which has become his trademark.  Asghar is equally comfortable in a well tailored suit amongst the wealthy and powerful and at underground events at art lofts in Five Points (which is where I actually met him)  He just has an easy grace that helps lubricate the wheels of a social gathering.

Al Letson was wandering around the room, signature glasses and dreads, and healthy aplomb on display.  In groups, Al is one of those guys that can be found in small and intimate conversations, chatting subversively with only a couple of other rather than holding court in a large group.  Its quite the opposite of how most people imagine the decorated performance poet, playwright and dynamic radio personality.  Always interesting to watch at parties, as he has a voice that can own an amphitheater but which he uses to speak barely above a whisper with whoever he is quietly talking.  At irregular intervals, you hear fairly booming laughter, at which you are left to wonder about, since it is simultaneously infectious and impenetrable.  It makes you want to move closer to him, if only to be in on the jokes.

Asghar Syed

Also amongst the crowd were the luminary speakers from the last TEDx conference. Barbara Colaciello, Chevarra Orrin, Hank Coxe and Ambassador Nancy Soderberg being notable.

Barbara is a smallish, theatre woman in Kissinger glasses and a little black dress.  In fact she is wearing a full Roman Observance uniform of black.  Raven black hair, black dress and accoutrements, she looks like a dynamic mix between Diana Vreeland and Sophia Loren as rendered by a Czech miniaturist.  In groups she is like a tasmanian devil of interesting and compelling short stories, only taking a break to make wry observations about the absurdity of the details of any setting.  In a crowd, Barbara is pretty much a go to person if you are looking to get the skinny on the crowd and the event.  And with her experience at Warhols Factory, Interview Magazine and a waspishly long list of similar projects, she certainly has the credentials.  We pick apart the buffet offering presented by Biscotti's with very opposing needs (Im vegan, and Barbara is carno all the way)

Cari Holland (another one of the organizers) is charming and beautiful.  She is a graciously appointed young thing in a gorgeous dress which looks like it is dissolving into frosted icicles.  It is her job to make sure nothing goes terrible astray with any of the details of the evening, while simultaneously appearing to be frivolously unconcerned with the details.  She succeeds in this fairly admirably, and there is a telepathic link betwixt her and Sabeen that is only barely noticeable, and only if you are looking.

Karin Tucker, the blustery, amazing co owner of Biscottis is socially dazzling in any situation.  She has one of the largest smiles that you can imagine, and a laughter that is every bit as infectious as Al Letsons, although far less private.  Hers is a general sort of laughter, and when she arrives in a room, that crucial element of fellowship immediately makes itself manifest.  Its really uncanny sometimes, as she can make a part of four people meeting in the parking lot of a Jiffy Food Store feel every bit as auspicious as a State Dinner, but its a talent and she makes meaningful use of it.  Since Biscotti's is pretty much the default caterer for every event thrown by the upper crust in this town, Karin is popular and well known.  Like Barbara, she has glasses that would have been perfect during the Kissinger years, and combined with the honey wheat mane of hair, appearance of gentle freckles beneath a healthy tan, she still carries the mantle of her years in California like a penumbra of vitality about her.

Chip Southworth looks like the very picture of what would have happened if Adam Ant and Elvis Costello had fathered a child together.  He manages to lend a wholly subversive air to the entire evening, which I think is greatly aided by his choice of hats.  Chip is one of the speakers at the upcoming event, and has been lately famous for his squalid treatment at the hands of the philistines at the JEA.  He was arrested for painting a 'Keith Harings Ghost' graphic on one of the vogon electrical boxes in Riverside, which resulted in his decisive jailing and booking at the County Jail.  Most of the arts set were pretty outraged over this fact, and people came out in force to support him.  As a result his paintings have been conspicuously commissioned and hung wherever the cretins at the top of the JEA power structure are most likely to look next.  He is late thirties/early forties, unpredictable, well spoken, deeply alternative in his dress and manner, possessed of a punk rock sensibility.  Not unhandsome, he cuts a swath through the party with his lovely wife, Rikki (a spare, attractive and wickedly observant woman) through the crowd.

Chip and Barbara are natural hangout buddies at the party, and as they weave in and out of the crowd, the seem to converge together fairly often.  Also a perfect person for running commentary at any party in the urban core is photographer Tiffany Manning

Jane Condon, the dowager former principal of the Douglas Anderson School of the Arts is in the room, along with a number of ver seasoned women of the cultural life of this town.  She and Carol Grimes, and a few other like minded women formed a flying phalanx of legitimacy and practical party behavior (as well as running commentary) for the better part of the evening.

There was a surprisingly large representation from Jacksonville University in the mix.  The youngest of which was Clayton Levens.  Clayton is in his 20s, and one of those enterprising young men that manages to secure support and attention from the older silver backed males of his class.  In a previous generation he would have been described as an older man's younger man.  Meaning that he is the type of young man that older men approve of.  He has a rather unwieldy list of achievements and positions for such a fresh faced, farm fed young man, but this didn't stop him from possessing a lively curiosity about the sometimes adult conversations being had around him.

I was by far, the most prolific source of salacious commentary at the party, (I spent a good amount of time trying to fix up Cari Holland with Joe Shuck, one of this year's performers----and the long time boyfriend of the very lovely Chelsea Vandevender, who is in turn the daughter of Playwright and musician Jennifer Chase)  Inevitably I did my best to give young Clayton a Sebastian Horsely education about parties and mixing, much to the alarm of JU Den Mother, Dr. Lee Ann Clements, who kept prominently mentioning Clayton's position with the President of JU whenever dangerous suggestions were made.

Whenever Nancy Soderberg walks into a room, people imperceptibly snap to attention.  As an ambassador and a professor, she emanates gravitas and the need to mind one's Ps and Qs, which is a something of a shame, as she is also a very lovely person with a flippant sense of the absurd.  She always ends up surrounded by a coterie of men who seem positively frantic to hear her opinion on things, which involves a good deal of surreptitious white wine drinking and a pose of careful listening on Nancy's part.  All of the activity with the Ambassador is with her eyes, as she give almost nothing away with body language or other communicators.  She has a grown out blonde bob, wears tailored skirt suit combos, and has the posture of a girl who went to finishing school after a couple of years of either dance or piano lessons.  She manages to be both poised and powerful at the same time, in a way that eludes easy description.  One would say that she has an almost masculine sense of purpose, except that one would be wrong about that.  Its more of well earned presupposition of respect perhaps.  This night, Nancy led a few groups of (appropriately suited men) for a few turns around the balcony, and a slow tour of the bar and food tables, and then without so much as a puff of smoke disappeared completely.

Most of the evening was spent in the perfect temperatures of a Florida twilight in September overlooking the city like guests at dinner party in some modernist version of Olympus.  Considering the gorgeous views (which are badly captured in these photos) it would have been disrespectful not to linger on the balconies I think.  Whats more, is that there was a shared realization, never vocalized, amongst all the guests that the moment was worth living in.  Savoring even.

And so it was. Sam Pacetti, a musician who has been discussed several times on MetroJacksonville, was set up outside and while I think the general idea was to have a crowd gather around him while he played, this in not what happened.  Instead, crowds of people assembled along the railing overlooking the water below.  Beneath our feet there were low misty clouds that slowly passed by and below those were flocks of white birds leaving the golden waters of the St Johns as the last minutes of the day slipped over a fiery horizon.

Altogether lovely, and even though the crowd didn't really gather around Pacetti, his music had a much profounder effect as a result.

Rather like a living room, full of the most interesting people you know

Finally the night came, and as it did, the crowd left their various perching points on the balcony and were drawn inside to the 'Apogee Lounge'.

You can tell by the photos that the result of so many creative people, bonded together through wine, food and the spectacular environment was rather like a living room crowded with the most interesting people that you know.

Obviously any social event is made more congenial with a little wine and spirits, but this evening was above and beyond the normal.  Imagine the conversations that were possible with Al Letson, Hope McMath, Barbara Colaciello, Chip Southworth, and Nancy Soderberg in unguarded moments made move buoyant with wine.

They were exactly as you might imagine. Sparkling, surprising, inspiring.  

If ever there was a real reason for the events behind the videos that make up the central mission of TED Talks, it is exactly so that these kinds of meetings and discussions happen. A safe space for cross germination of ideas and unanticipated collaborations.

By the time that this years MC's (Al Letson and Hope McMath) got up to speak about the actual TEDxJacksonville Conference, it was almost like a necessary aftermath.

But instead, we got an interesting look into the relaxed Hope McMath that was a little heartwarming.

Have you ever had one of those moments where you know that someone you have been hanging out with is brimming over with emotions?  Like somehow the conversation has wandered into an area that resonates with them viscerally?

Hope got to talking about so many cultured people in the room, and suddenly had one of those moments.  Suddenly it was clear, that like most of us, she also yearns for settings and groups like the one created that night. Its something I think, that almost all of us would like to have on a daily basis.  There is so much drudgery and vacuous flimflammery in every day life.  You get absorbed by the details. You lose the inspiration that motivated you in the first place.

And in the end, sometimes that motivation is just to be in a gorgeous setting, high above a city at sunset, surrounded by the type of conversation that surprises and challenges you.

This is the mission of TEDx at its finest.  To re inspire groups and creativity, to romance us all around a future of possibilities.

And this year, at least at the Visionaries party, the mission succeeded

Stephen Dare

Joe Shuck(left)

Riverplace Tower

For the detail minded, here is a list of the attendees of this years Visionary Dinner:

Dixon Hughes Paul Droubie
Dixon Hughes Andrea Beck

JU Dr. Wenying Xu
JU Clayton Levins
JU Dr. Julius Demps II
JU Dr. Lee Ann J. Clements
JU Carla Fry
JU Dr. Don Capener

Freed Family Foundation Crystal Freed
MetroJacksonville Stephen Dare
MatrixOneSource Eric Tewey
MatrixOneSource Steve Bisnett
CSX John Claybrooks
Fidelity Jennifer Chapman
Fidelity Josh Chapman
Sight & Sound Alfredo Garcia
Host Al Letson
Stacie Letson
Host Hope McMath
Peninsula Dan Sharp
Peninsula Ruthie Sharp
Musician Sam Pacetti
WJCT Michael Boylan

Presenter Spring Behrouz
Presenter +1 Andy Lee
Presenter Herb Donaldson
Presenter Michael Smith
Presenter +1 Connie Smith
Presenter Ted Powell
Presenter +1 Nancy Powell
Presenter Judi Herring
Presenter +1 Bert Herring
Presenter Sara Gaver
Presenter Warren Anderson
Presenter +1 Diana Anderson
Presenter Chip Southworth
Presenter +1 Rikki Southworth
Performer Sara Sanders
Performer Joseph Shuck
Performer Dan Mclintock

Team Doug Coleman
Team Sabeen Perwaiz
Team Asghar Syed
Team Cari Holland
Team Michael O'Connell
Team Bridget McDonald
Team Amie Barr
Team RoseMarie Alarcon
Team Tom Gentry
Team Sarah Clarke Stuart
Team Carol Grimes
Team Dianne Dawood
Team Heather Downs
Team Mark McCombs
Team Ron Hubbard
Team Tiffany Manning
Team Amanda Brooks
Team Ashley Emans
Team Alaina Reaves
Team Gary Becka
Team Karin Tucker
Team Jane Condon
Team Becky Morgan

Former Speakers Bruce Ganger
Former Speakers Barbara Collaciello
Former Speakers Hank Coxe
Former Speakers Nancy Soderberg
Former Speaker Chevara Orrin