LEWISTON — “I put a lot of my making-the-world-better energy into becoming a better consumer,” said Stacy Mitchell, a researcher and writer at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, which challenges corporate consolidation of the economy. “(But) what we really need to do is change the underlying policies that affect the marketplace.”

“When you decide to let sustainability permeate your life, you start to have all sorts of conversations,” said Seth Silverton, founder and director of The Wood Chop School, which teaches sustainability in Lincolnville.

“We are the youth of today,” said Anjali Appadurai, an activist and senior at College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, “born at the dawn of globalization, recipients of its gifts and witnesses to its mistakes.”

The presenters at Saturday’s TEDxDirigo conference spoke on topics ranging from environmental and economic issues (the welfare of Maine’s river ecosystems) to the personal (dealing with family and community relationships). But all 16 speeches and performances that took place throughout the day in Bates College’s Olin Arts Center converged around the notion of “villages.”

“We wanted to explore human beings living together, historically and currently, between an age when we not only have reality, but we have virtual reality and virtual identities,” said Adam Burk, executive director and curator of TEDxDirigo. “It’s also an homage to the quintessential New England experience and how we experience community here in Maine.”

TEDxDirigo is an independently organized, Maine-based offshoot of TED, a global community that brings together experts and thinkers to discuss contemporary issues and freely distributes the discussions and speeches that it produces. The name is an acronym for Technology, Entertainment and Design and its slogan is “Ideas worth spreading.”

The global TED talks have spawned tens of thousands of similar, localized conferences, each organized independently of TED. Since 2010, Burk has served as head of Maine’s group, TEDxDirigo, which also has put on conferences in Portland and Brunswick.

Saturday’s speeches and performances were broken into three 90-minute sessions. The speakers, five to six in each session, came from all corners of the state. Each brought a personal touch to the topic of “villages.” Many raised concerns about how community living has affected the environment, personal well-being and decision-making. However, there was a general sense of optimism and the speakers almost always offered prescriptions for the problems they discussed.

“I want to start by bringing the voice of the natural world into our conversation,” said Mike Tetreault, who lives in Bath and works for the Nature Conservancy. Tetreault spoke Saturday about the future of Maine’s rivers. “We also have a problem in how we think about this stuff,” he said. “People tell you we can either have a healthy river or have economic growth. I don’t buy that.”

Don Gooding, who lives in Falmouth and works as the executive director of the Maine Center for Entrepreneurial Development, spoke Saturday about creating a “Maine innovation village.”

“Distance is the problem we’re trying to solve,” he said during his speech, referring to the difficulties in trying to spur innovation in a disparate community. Because, he said, “high-energy collisions and connections create change-the-world innovations.”

Those who attended Saturday’s conference came for many reasons. While some were there to network, others came simply to take part in the discussion and to hear innovative talk on pertinent issues. Still others came because of the relevance of the topic to their work.

“By looking at Maine as kind of a village and a community in a broader sense, I think it really couples nicely with our approach of trying to teach people about civil rights and issues related to native people,” said Raney Betch, who lives in Southwest Harbor and works at the Abbe Museum in Bar Harbor.

The significance of TED talks, both globally and locally, comes from their ability to start new conversations and prompt innovative thinking.

Gabrielle Russell, an architect who lives in Lewiston, was giving a talk Saturday about “new uses for a historic mill,” she said before her speech. On the significance of the conferences, she said: “If you can envision change, you can make it real.”

For Izzy Labbe, 14, of Waterville, the event was an opportunity to discuss opinions. Labbe, who this year co-wrote a petition demanding that editors stop photoshopping images of girls in teen magazines, was attending Saturday’s conference in preparation for a speech she will be delivering in Washington, D.C., in November. Her speech will be part of the upcoming TEDWomen conference in the capital. “I think this is where a lot of ideas can be expressed,” she said.

TEDxDirigo talks have been seen by more than 350,000 people around the world,” Burk said. “It’s a new form of storytelling. And it’s done effectively. I’ve heard people talk about changing their behavior … getting involved in new ways in the community, starting new initiatives.”

Jennifer Boggs of Portland, who does media relations for the TEDxDirigo conferences, said the talks offered a chance to showcase the state.

“We get to show the world what kind of talent we have, what kind of resources we have, what kind of fresh thinking is here,” she said. “The immediate feeling I get from being here is hope.”

Phuc Tran, a classical language teacher and tattoo artist who lives in Portland, was gave a speech Saturday about how language affects people’s perception of themselves and others.

“The speed at which we share information now, TED talks reflect that,” he said. “You sort of immediately cut to what’s at the heart of an idea. You can present a life-changing idea in a short amount of time. Or at least begin a conversation about it.”

Gabrielle Russell, an architect who lives in Lewiston, gives her presentation about “new uses for a historic mill” at Bates College on Saturday. 

Rachel Boggia, assistant professor of dance at Bates College, performs during the TEDxDirigo event on Saturday. 


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