Red and white swag bags colored the entrance of Hahn Hall at the Music Academy of the West prior to the second annual TEDxAmericanRiviera event on November 11.
Speakers and attendees gathered to explore the cyclical ideas of beauty, happiness, and opportunity as they all play into how artists, entrepreneurs, inventors, educators, and countless other creators sustain and grow “the spark within.”
TED — which stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design — is a nonprofit organization committed to spreading good ideas. It all began with a group of friends discussing how to solve the world’s problems, and it grew into a global discussion including a national TED conference, TEDGlobal, TED.com, TEDTalks, and TEDx events.
TEDx events are individually organized TED conferences. Thousands of independent TEDx conferences exist, but TEDx American Riviera was one of the first.
In 2011, TEDxAmericanRiviera focused on “the spark within.” Producers explored that theme through talks on beauty, happiness, and opportunity.
Beauty can come out of the most unexpected places and the most mundane practices because beauty is relative, according to presenter Christopher Orwig. He hoped to inspire attendees to redefine their own interpretations of beauty so as to get a little more beauty out of, well, everything.
Robert Gupta, a violin prodigy with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, took Brahms and Mozart to the streets, mental health facilities, and a Long Beach veterans’ center. He found a deeper appreciation for music as he saw it heal and beautify these desolate arenas.
“I’m here to remind everyone of classical music’s humble beginnings that we’ve lost touch with,” said Gupta. Much of classical music was created in orphanages, hospitals, and during times of war and loss, which contrasts with the ornate concert halls it now calls home.
For photographer Chris Orwig, it took being hit by a car and enduring a period of self-doubt in which he defined himself by what he could not do to teach him how to identify beauty. After his father gave him a camera, he suddenly took off on a journey to capture important moments. The camera helped him find beauty, even through his pain. That struggle showed him that beauty is in the most unexpected places.
“It’s about the fight,” said Orwig. “All good art requires some kind of fight.”
Composer Tom Snow followed Orwig by sharing his own tool for dealing with self-doubt, rejection, and frustration: the “mulch pile.” He carries this metaphorical “mulch pile” with him to fuel his inspiration. In the 1970s, he felt the need to write a hit. Everyone around him seemed to be writing hits. After three weeks of failure, he stumbled upon a catchy tune. A year later, that tune became one of his numerous hit songs and a bit of confidence to add to the mulch pile.
Over 30 years later, and with a successful career in his rearview mirror, Snow could offer a bit of advice. “Keep showing up, be patient, have faith, and beauty, or something like it, will find you,” said Snow.
Beauty is not confined to the fine arts. It can burst forth in daily life because of something as simple as relief — from bad relationships, physical pain, or ties to unhealthy habits. Dr. Keith Witt’s talk focused on relationships. With good relationships, people develop more, become happier, and feel more complete.
Dr. Eric Goodman’s “art” is movement. Many of his patients with chronic back pain are always in search of a cure when they can help themselves by bending at the hips rather than curving the back.
And, finally, chef Matthew Kenney called on all to try a healthy raw diet to relieve Americans’ dependence on processed foods that are unhealthy for people and the environment. His Raw Food Academy trains chefs to prepare healthier meals and spread the raw food message.
Happiness, the focus of TEDxAmericanRiviera’s second session, is, according to presenters, both the result and creator of beauty. Relief can lead to happiness, which can in turn help sufferers see the beauty they have been missing.
Dr. Diane Gromala has lived with chronic pain for a majority of her life. She is passionate about using technology, like virtual reality, to heighten meditation and provide relief from chronic pain. Sufferers using virtual reality witness their synthetic environment evolve toward a clearer sky and more three-dimensional sound as they get closer to sustained meditation, allowing them to experience relief through numerous senses.
Orbit Baby President Joseph Hei and Conscious Business Institute founder Peter Matthies also discussed relief, but from chronic dissatisfaction with one’s work life.
Both Hei and Matthies advised attendees to chase their goals and to know what they are sacrificing to obtain those professional ambitions. “It’s okay to let go,” said Matthies. “It’s worth it. We can build successful organizations in a different way.”
This nod to the future was clear as the crowd cheered high schoolers David Schaeman and Jacob Greenspan’s guitar duet, which was followed by a video created by Santa Barbara area high school students called The Evolution of a Spark. The youth-created film highlighted 10 area high school students who were voted by their peers to have significant talent in their respective interests.
The children ranged from dancers and playwrights to musicians and mentors. As their stories were told, the focus of session two was clear. Following one’s passion and seizing the day leads not only to happiness but sustains the creative drive.
Middle school teacher John Seigel Boettner furthered this call to action. Seigel Boettner told the story of a former student who taught him the importance of carpe diem. He reminded his audience that one never knows where adventures will take them or how many adventures one has left. “It’s our blessing and our burden to seize the day,” said Seigel Boettner.
Author Jenna McCarthy’s advice focused more on gracefully surviving each day as opposed to seizing it. Her insights on a happy marriage and happily-ever-after were a hilarious mix of common sense and little-known facts — like the benefits of men doing housework and how watching romantic comedies increases relationship dissatisfaction. According to McCarthy, marriage has its benefits, and if both partners are content, chances for a happy marriage increase.
With unemployment abounding and finances tight, TEDxAmericanRiviera producers knew the third section needed to touch on creating opportunity.
To create opportunity, people must step out of their daily lives, do things they have never thought of, and remember the importance of proper organization and leadership.
Socialtext CEO and board member Eugene Lee personified the importance of leadership through the role of the orchestra conductor. A conductor must interpret music and help the large, diverse orchestra ultimately achieve a unified sound. Too many times, Lee argues, people think leadership is about dictating what happens. Lee sees it as a chance to create group cohesion.
Karen and Colin Archipley drew on their leadership abilities to not only try something new but to address social problems. They created Archi’s Acres and the Veterans Sustainability Agriculture Training Program to provide agribusiness opportunities to military veterans who may be having trouble integrating back into civilian life.
The Archipleys plan to create hydroponic farms around the country and in areas around the world to provide aid and security. “Globally, when we lack food, we lack good economies,” said Colin Archipley. “When we lack good economies, we lack stability.”
Architect Barry Berkus knows about stepping out his comfort zone. He has not only designed award-winning buildings but has gone on countless adventures, like climbing a mountain near the South Pole, to understand his limits and then surpass them. He pushes people to look at the world in a different way and exercise themselves beyond their limits. He argues one must dare to fail to see all of the possibilities.
Artist Stefan G. Bucher continually pushes himself beyond his limits and, often, beyond his employers’ requests. When he is asked to design anything, he takes the opportunity to create an entire world. For instance, New York myth holds that a Yeti makes snow on the roof of Saks Fifth Avenue. Saks asked Bucher to design a Yeti for holiday sales. Instead of handing Saks a design for a Yeti, he handed them a notebook of options. Further, he created a 20-page passport with care instructions for the Yeti and an authentic-looking Russian document explaining the Yeti’s origins along with rumors typed in a circa 1950s letter. He blames his OCD, but his art merely looks beyond the logical to see all that is possible.
“[My work] is not so much about creating opportunities as it is about out-running my brain,” said Bucher.
With TEDxAmericanRiviera 2011 completed, producers will begin planning for 2012. Look for information about TEDxAmericanRiviera 12/12/2012 at tedxamericanriviera.com. Come curious, and leave inspired.