Idea Festival 2015 Challenges You to Embrace the Danger of New Ideas

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It’s no secret that Idea Festival is one of my favorite annual “moments” in the South every year and that I’ve attended for about five years now as a media partner. For those who are reading for the first time, Idea Festival is an event that encourages new ideas that will transform how we view our world — in fact, this year’s theme was Embrace the Danger of New Ideas. Love it! Take a look at the coverage from last year’s event which highlights last year’s theme and speakers.

Idea Festival maintains the belief that individuals don’t have to be geographically or socially privileged to have great ideas and create positive change and their event which is held every September in the heart of Louisville at the Kentucky Center for Performing Arts, expands that notion through physical and digital spaces.

Unlike TED which focuses on shorter talks and no Q&A, Idea Festival gives every speaker an hour which includes interaction with the audience, many of which are smart students who are eager to change the world, even before they graduate. With a heavy academic and cultural focus, the speakers are vastly diverse, and insights come from a variety of disciplines, including literature, history, politics, culture, arts, music, science and technology.

Over the course of three days, attendees were educated and inspired, with break-out sessions and creativity warm-ups as part of the overall agenda.

Rich DeMillo talked about re-imagining college in the 21st century, David Epstein took on the science of athletic excellence, Nipun Mehta explored the radical power of stillness, humility and generosity, Maurice Decaul read us poetry written in the midst of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan and Roman Yampolskiy embraced the world of artificial intelligence and what the future will look like when robots are in the driver’s seat which was at direct odds in many ways with Astronomer Bob Berman, who brought us deeper into quantum revelations and recent cosmological discoveries that have led us to a new understanding of the universe, and that consciousness so has a place in our world.

Ella Frances Sanders focused on the power of words and ideas from around the world and the different cultures that simply do not translate into English, Stephanie Freid came in from Tel Aviv to share her world of reporting from the world’s dangerous conflict zones, Daniel Kish, blinded since an early age, redefined how the blind are perceived through examples from his own life journey, Joe McCormack amused us with his talk on Brief and how we can make a bigger impact by saying less and Bill Bishop surprised us with data about how we have built a country where we now choose neighborhood, church and news based on lifestyle and beliefs in a new wave of segregation.

Daniel Altman took on the cultural patterns which are shaping and disrupting the global economy. From the economy to art, we then had Titus Kaphar’s sculpture, installations, art and film highlighted America through race-related issues, Nelson Mandela’s grandson Ndaba Mandela shared his quest to keep the beacon of freedom alive in Africa noting that “one person can make a difference“, Scott Barry Kaufman demonstrated why and how our means of interpreting intelligence and creativity are often misguided, Sage Galesi and Alisandra Puliti took on celebrity and pop culture and related to modern culture and self image, Traci Mann explored the psychological dynamics and misconceptions surrounding dieting, eating, obesity and health.

While these topics may all be inspiring and insightful, it is the hallway conversations and after hour discussions that get you to think about the world (your world) through fresh eyes. Through compassion, empathy and deeper understanding of these issues, we realize that we can make a difference through one small change in our lives, a change that can potentially impact dozens of people around us if not hundreds.

New to Idea Festival this year was something they referred to as Club  IF, which was a 1960’s style night club and lounge inside the Kentucky Center — they converted tables to an American yesteryear culture, with ashtrays and boxes of cigarette candy on the tables adorned around retro styled lamps. The only difference was that we didn’t have music blasting from a post Mad Men era, but Larkin Poe, an American Roots rock band from Atlanta with electric guitars.

Fronted by sisters Rebecca and Megan Lovelli whose powerful voices beautifully echoed through the bar and beyond, we all couldn’t help but tap our foot and smile ear-to-ear for the remainder of the night.

One of my favorite parts about the conference is that while it is primarily focused on global and local issues, food is woven into its thread for a night, when some of Louisville’s hottest chefs come out to play. Known as TASTE of Innovation or simply TASTE, the all things foodie event is usually held at the prestigious Churchill Downs Millionaire Row.

This year, they spiced things up a little and moved the location to Copper & Kings, which specializes in all things Brandy and is housed in a funky brick building in the heart of Butchertown.  Nestled in an eclectic neighborhood of Louisville, their unique tout is that they make a differentiated, uncommon, unadulterated pure pot-distilled natural American brandy that is distilled in American copper potstills and matured in Bourbon barrels. Their signature house style is a little feisty and rambunctious with a long smooth finish. YUM!

While last year’s theme was Bourbon, which was so fitting given that the event represents the best of Louisville, this year’s event included a wide array of food samples, with pretzels with beer and cheese from El Camino, southern barbeque from Feast BBQ and deliciously flavored beans from Mayan Cafe to Rivulet Artisan Pecan Liqueur, chocolate whiskey from Ballotin and Red Tea from Rooibee.

Participants included 8UP Elevated Drinkery and Kitchen, Art Eatables, Comfy Cow, El Camino, Garage Bar, Kern’s Kitchen, Khalil’s, Lilly’s Bistro, Marketplace Restaurant, Mayan Cafe, Proof on Main, The Silver Dollar, Spotz Gelato, Stout Burgers and Beers, Bulleit Bourbon and Ballotin Chocolate Whiskey to name a handful. Southern style was integrated into many of the dishes — after all, where else would you find cupcakes topped with Bourbon Cream icing and bacon? They were one of my favorites — so delicious and creativity prepared!

Creativity extended throughout the event, not just with this year’s food and on stage. Delta Dental of Kentucky was a premier sponsor and played full out, from sharing stories of the important programs they run for kids throughout the year to the creatively inspired campaign they ran during the event.

The team set up a massive larger than life-sized green horse at the Kentucky Center and asked people to write down a word or phrase of “what makes them happy,”and paste it on the horse. Over the course of the three days, a number of creative answers emerged. Some of my favorites include the ones I list below…

A job that I love, my children, innovation and creativity, my sister, coffee, making others smile, culture, Jesus, #language, organic lifestyle, music, pizza, Christmas, ultimate frisbee, writing, my dog, waking up in the morning blessed, the universe, when #diversity is embraced (mine), dark chocolate, canoeing on a lake at dawn (also mine), flowing water, #horses, perspective, my wife, laughing children, all inclusive feminism, my truck, taking pictures, making art and helping someone!

There’s no shortage of innovative and fresh creative ideas coming out of the Delta Dental team. They have a program called Teeth on the Go, which is a statewide oral health education program, catered to kindergarten through sixth grade students and their teachers. They offer free Teeth on the Go oral health learning kits, which can be requested by teachers anywhere in the state, as well as in-school presentations featuring University of Louisville & University of Kentucky dental students and their mascot, Marshall Molar. How cute is that?

The main goal is to teach kids about proper oral hygiene. The free kits include one week’s worth of lesson plans for grades K-2 and grades 3-6, activities and worksheets that can be photocopied for mass distribution, an oversize tooth and toothbrush model to demonstrate good brushing techniques (I love this), a CD of The Brush-A-Long song (hilarious), a DVD about oral health care for children and children’s books about oral health.

Speaking of smiling, Diane Snow did a short break-out session on The Science of Smiling, which was well received. And, like other years, creative sculptures and installations emerged from the floors, ceilings and walls. There was also a physical book store set up where you could purchase books from current and previous speakers.

A great conference wouldn’t be memorable without a few after parties and activities. In addition the scrumptious TASTE of Innovation event where we devoured everything from southern style dishes and bacon creamed cupcakes to brandy and various flavors of Bourbon. Oh joy!  We also had break-out dinners which were delicious (there are some fabulous chefs in Louisville). Be sure to read my write-up on Two Restaurant Gems in Louisville: Rye-on-Market and Brendon’s Catch 23 which only opened this year. In fact, Brendon’s Catch 23 was so cool that I managed to get behind closed doors with Muhammed Ali; while his health may be flailing, it was still an iconic moment to be among such a great legend.

Virgin Produced CEO Jason Felt showed up and threw a Pop Up Party at the Butchertown Pub. Let’s just say that Virgin knows how to throw a good party and there were some fabulous dancers on the dance floor doing their moves as well. Bravo!

A boat loada creativity on the walls and floor as well….

Below, Stephanie Freid, CCTV International Correspondent, Tonya York Tees with Idea Festival, Renee Blodgett and Tech Republic’s Hope Reese.

If you haven’t heard of this event yet, check out this year’s speakers on their website at and @ideafestival on Twitter. You have a full year to plan to attend the next one — held every year in Louisville Kentucky, it’s an easy trek from both American coasts.

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