Staying Curious: The Ideas & Art of Idea Festival

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It was my second year attending the Idea Festival, held at the Kentucky Performing Arts Center every year in downtown Louisville every year. We were once again a proud media partner of the event, whose goals are to enlighten, educate and accelerate change for the positive good.

Their tagline, Stay Curious, says it all. Speakers range from professors and other academics to scientists, authors, government officials, doctors and start-up entrepreneurs (Facebook’s 7th employee Kevin Colleran did a presentation on future trends and Jodie Wu, who is on a several year project in Tanzania, talked about her efforts to build sustainable technology for local communities).

The beauty about the event is that it delivers on all of those promises and does so in a creative dynamic environment in Kentucky’s Louisville at a perfect time of year: September. Arts thrive.

Social events on suburbia plantations thrive, horses and all. And people care about connecting, cross pollinating and accelerating.

Curt Tofteland inspired us by showing that prisoners can be reformed by Shakespeare “behind bars,” and showed up with former wardens and prisoners who shared their stories.

Harvard theoretical particle physicist, cosmologist and author Lisa Randall took the audience on a journey through some of the most perplexing aspects of our universe, including extra dimensions in space, cosmological inflation, dark matter and dark holes.

Pentatonix blew me away. I had never heard of this A cappella sensation group who won Season 3 of NBC’s The Sing-Off. Who knew? Instrument free, they sang in that Glee-like way that made your heart sing. From flat urban grunge sneakers and geek-mental attitudes to a hip-hop feel, they just pulled it off. My only off moment (which lasted about an hour) was how many of us (and I mean MANY of us) were put off by the hundreds of screaming teenagers in the audience who were screaming so loud and so often (I counted, 15 seconds didn’t go by before they screamed at the top of their lungs again), that we simply couldn’t hear the extraordinary voices of Pentatonix.

I’m sure ‘some’ of this feeds a young group like Pentatonix, but when I heard from a very smart high school senior during break that he just ‘couldn’t hear them properly — ever — because of the screams  and was also pissed off, I somehow realized I had a case.” Bottom line, let a group perform and shine in their glory – they deserve it and don’t take that on-stage moment away from them. Their energy, their sound, their shoes, their personalities were all addictive.  I loved, loved, loved them.












Cynthia Lowen also shared her experiences from co-producing Bully, a feature documentary following a ‘year in the life’ of America’ s bullying crisis.

Rich DeMillo detailed how the rapidly changing dynamics of learning, technology and economics are reshaping the very nature and destiny of American Colleges and Universities.

Michael Kimmelman’s ‘thing’ is turning architecture on its head and Tony Wagner from Harvard shares his insights and research into all the things we could learn from Finland’s transformative educational structure.

Magician David Williamson performed for the crowd and Baratunde Thurston did his pitch on “How to be Black.” Little did I know that I’d read his ENTIRE book on my flight from Kentucky to San Francisco via Detroit. (WOW – an extensive post is in the making on this one and oh btw, I drank bourbon with him in Kentucky exactly a year ago and the man is incredibly cool in so many ways).

Greg Van Kirk, who sat next to me for a stint before taking on the eager-to-learn crowd, discussed his work involving a Micro-Consignment model for global development. (inspiring and challenging).

Dr. John Barker, who I also sat next to for two sessions, shared the latest in regenerative medicine from his work in Frankfurt Germany. There are currently breakthrough ways to help the body regenerate and restore hand and facial tissue. I also loved his humbleness – apparently, he is originally from Kentucky.

Jodie Wu talked about the products and initiatives she has been working on in Tanzania and Nikky Finney shed light on the powerful synergy between art, history and life. Her fourth book of poetry, Head Off & Split, was awarded the 2011 National Book Award for Poetry. In addition to on-stage speakers, Idea Festival is as much about the hallway conversations in between sessions as it is about the content. Additionally, art flows IN and OUT of Idea Festival over the course of three days.

The Creative Capital folks were there again as was their clients and other engaging, enticing, stimulating and intoxicating designers and artists worth talking to and spending as much time with as possible.

Fresh Punches featuring the work of Land of Tomorrow and suckerPUNCH competition winners on exhibit at Land of Tomorrow Gallery.

 SuttonBeresCuller, Small Moons on display at Land of Tomorrow.














Group shot taken with Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer (center) at the opening Idea Festival reception.

Baratunde Thurston who spoke about his book, “How to be Black,” standing with Joshua Miller. I have huge respect for both of these men btw. Ask me if you’re really curious and I have no shortage of reasons why I made this statement in black-and-white here and now.

Drura Parrish with artists SuttonBeresCuller.  Artists group et al.






















Peter Van Buren author of “We Meant Well” signed books at the end of his talk. He had a fascinating if not complicated and painful story of his time committed to the Iraq war effort.

 Above: Chuck Lightning, Janelle Monàe, Nate Wonder and Roman GianArthur at the 21c Art Museum gallery opening of Idea Festival on Night One.












Above, local Louisville musician Cynthia Norton stopped by the Kentucky for the Performing Arts during Idea Festival to do a radio interview.

Speaker Jodie Wu outside the Kentucky Performing Arts Center.












Pentatonixwowed and woo-ed the crowd with their magical voices and energy (if they ever play on stage again however, someone needs to chat to those screaming teenagers in the back :-))

I couldn’t resist putting Cynthia Norton’s awesome furry vest on and parading around for awhile while she was doing her interview. It was just too fun not to. Thanks Cynthia.













Renee Blodgett, Jodie Wu and Holly Houston, who is a wealth of knowledge, talent and fun if you ever make it to Louisville.













The hats were just divine at social functions. The great thing about the south, Kentucky included, is that women love to dress up AND wear hats. I so wish a l’il of that stylish culture would be infused into the San Francisco Bay Area.

Kids performed at the closing ceremony party of the SPEED Art Museum….it will be closed for three years before unveiling its ‘new self’ to the public.

The SPEED Art Museum also had a graffiti and wall art wall, where people could express themselves using crayons and markers.

The Pentatonix group differed in styles and voices, but it wasn’t just their voices that were different on stage.

It wouldn’t be a visual experience of Louisville if I didn’t include at least one shot of a horse. Over the weekend, the annual Hermitage ‘show’and social gathering was on a farm roughly 40 or so miles outside of Louisville, something I felt I couldn’t miss experiencing and so….I watched sexy young Spanish men trot around the lawn doing a magical performance while we sipped martinis and bourbon.

I hung out with them after their performance.

I loved that the SPEED Art Museum event played ‘full out,’ and believed that style and ‘fun’ should be incorporated into the flow of the evening. A toast anyone?

Speaker Roz Picard shared how emotional data will reshape healthcare.

Shakespeare Behind Bars was one of the more inspirational sessions, where prisoners now living their lives in the real world, share their experiences performing and learning Shakespeare while behind prison bars. The effort was started by Curt Tofteland.


The Taste of Innovation, an evening at the Churchill Downs full of food, wine and merry, had a number of divine bourbons you could sample.

At Taste of Innovation (Churchill Downs).

Renee Blodgett/Chuck Lightning at opening Idea Festival in Louisville’s 21c Museum.

 Photo credits: All SuttonBeres Culler shots, Peter Van Buren Photo, All Land of Tomorrow art photos, Josh & Baratunde, – ©2012 Joshua Miller from NFocus Louisville Magazine — at IdeaFestival 2012. Chuck Lightning/Renee Blodgett shot by Anthony Raspberry. Opening Reception shots including the group shot with Louisville’s mayor Greg Fischer taken by Joshua Miller (NFocus) and all other shots by Renee Blodgett.

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