Aspiring to Inspire: TEDxJerseyCity 2015 Conference “Metamorphosis”

November 11, 2015 Stephanie Romano

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Jersey City is about to be inspired by a group of forward-thinking ambitious individuals. TEDxJerseyCity, an event that brings people together to spark deep discussions and connections in a TED-like atmosphere, will host its third conference “Metamorphosis” at the Landmark Loew’s Jersey Theatre on Saturday, November 14.

TED is a non-profit organization devoted to spreading ideas and sparking conversation. Started in 1984 as a conference for technology, entertainment and design, it has expanded to cover topics from science to business to global issues. TED lectures are given throughout the year and made available free to the public on their website. Independent TEDx events, like the one in Jersey City, help share ideas in communities around the world.

TEDxJerseyCity was founded in 2011 by Alicia Ruth, a Jersey City artist and executive assistant for the Historic Downtown Special Improvement District (HDSID). A long-time admirer and viewer of TED talks, Ruth decided to obtain a free license from TED that would allow her to live stream lectures given at conferences around the world. Her intention was to organize small gatherings of individuals to watch and discuss the conferences. Ruth organized her first live stream event in 2011 at the office of Bag The Habit on Grove Street. Filling the small office with about twenty women, Ruth remembered how the event got off to a rocky start but in the end proved to be an emotional and touching experience for all who attended.

Ruth explained, “TED is a clearing house for free knowledge. Short eighteen minutes or less lectures are made free to the public in a conference form. The lectures must express some tangible idea that is actually going to shape the world we live in.” Speakers are asked to identify a problem and discuss a solution. Ruth went on to explain that, “TEDxJerseyCity is an off-shoot of that.” Working directly with the TED headquarters, she and her team organize their own local events.

In 2013 Anne McTernan, a local architect, reached out to Ruth after learning she had a TED license. McTernan who works part-time for the Office of Cultural Affairs was interested in bringing TEDx to Jersey City. In addition to streaming videos of TED conferences, the two decided to organize their own live conference. The first TEDxJerseyCity conference titled “Spheres of Identity and Influence” was held in November 2013 at City Hall. McTernan said, “Having the help of City Hall and that kind of support was really great for our first year because we were on a shoestring budget.” With the help of then Cultural Affairs Director Maryanne Kelleher, the duo presented a dozen speakers who spoke about topics ranging from contemporary superhumanity to the importance of microbes in the human body.

Carl Erik Fisher, M.D. presenting his lecture "How Neuroscience is Challenging Punishment" at the first TEDxJerseyCity conference in 2013 at City Hall

Carl Erik Fisher, M.D. presenting his lecture “How Neuroscience is Challenging Punishment” at the first TEDxJerseyCity conference in 2013 at City Hall

Pictured from left to right: Yvonne Vairma, Anne McTernan, Alicia Ruth, Michelle Luebke and Caley Vickerman at the 2014 TEDxJerseyCity conference "Brave New World"

Pictured from left to right: Yvonne Vairma, Anne McTernan, Alicia Ruth, Michelle Luebke and Caley Vickerman at the 2014 TEDxJerseyCity conference “Brave New World”

In 2014 they followed up with a second conference titled “Brave New World.” Held at Middle School #4, the conference included powerful talks discussing world wide issues such as human trafficking, women’s reproductive rights, body image, and transgender youths. After the conference, all of the lectures were made available to the public on the Internet. One of the talks by Lillian Bustle titled “Stripping Away Negative Body Image” went viral with over 100K views on YouTube and has been translated into multiple languages.

In addition to Ruth and McTernan, the current TEDxJerseyCity team consists of Production Director Mason Beggs and Production Manager Summer Hortillosa as well as a core group of twenty-five people plus additional staff of volunteers who help out during the day of the event.

This year’s conference will include a total of twelve speakers; four chosen from auditions held earlier in the year and eight who were sought after by Ruth. McTernan expressed that the auditions are important because they provide community participation. Held in various locations throughout the city, individuals were invited to pitch a four minute synopsis of their lecture to a live audience. Chosen speakers were given feedback and invited to a second audition. McTernan said, “Opening it to the public gives a special element [to the conference]. You never know which ones are going to be the ones who really connect with people. That part really excites me.”

Lillian Bustle presenting her lecture "Stripping Away Negative Body Image" which has since gone viral with over 100K views on YouTube

Lillian Bustle presenting her lecture “Stripping Away Negative Body Image” which has since gone viral with over 100K views on YouTube

Dancer Megan Woods performing at the 2014 TEDxJerseyCity Conference "Brave New World"

Dancer Megan Woods performing at the 2014 TEDxJerseyCity Conference “Brave New World”

Speakers and talks chosen from the auditions will include:

Angus Vail: “The Container Glove – A Punk Reimagining of Shakespeare’s Classic Theatre”
Avi Telyas: “Makerhoods: Creating Economic Opportunity Through Affordable Work/Live Communities”
Jenny Coombs: “Investing for a Better World: Utilizing Wall Street to Implement Social Change”
Willie Earley: “Truth Telling in Relationships, Are We There Yet?”

Additional speakers include award winning author and world renowned physicist Leonard Mlodinow; CNN hero and BlinkNow founder Maggie Doyne; avant-garde Cooking Channel host and culinary explorer Justin Fornal; author of I am Dandy: The Return of the Elegant Gentleman Nathaniel Adams; ground breaking game developer and private astronaut Richard Garriot; and director of business innovation for Virgin companies Diane Osgood.

The daylong conference will be broken down into four sessions. Each session will include speakers, followed by a video of a past TED talk, and a performance. Twenty minute intermissions between the sessions will give attendees time to leave the auditorium to enjoy food and beverages for purchase from local establishments such as Modcup Coffee, The Hamilton Inn, Bone In, Bread & Spoon, GP’s Restaurant, and many others. Intermission is also the time to check out the “Smart Tech” engagement room for hands on activities including demos of the newest technology and apps, brain games, a dance area, and a JC Bootcamp.

Attendees can enter and leave the conference any time during the day. Although, once a lecture begins, no one is allowed to enter the auditorium. Ushers will be on hand to welcome and seat guests. At 6:00 pm ticket holders are invited to a lobby reception for cocktails and hors d’oeuvres. An after party will take place at 8:00 pm at Miss Wong’s, the underground bar and lounge in the basement of Talde located at 8 Erie Street.

Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop with TEDxJerseyCity Founder and Executive Director Alicia Ruth

Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop with TEDxJerseyCity Founder and Executive Director Alicia Ruth

Ruth and McTernan do not receive a salary for organizing the conference and they are currently looking for donation sponsorships. This year’s fiscal sponsor is the Jersey City Theater Company. Most of their budget is put into producing and editing individual videos of the lectures which will be available for view online a few months after the conference.

McTernan said that TEDxJerseyCity has gotten positive attention from the individuals at TED headquarters in New York. She and Ruth are excited about expanding and adding new TEDx events.  Ruth recently flew to Canada to have her license upgraded since her original license was limited to only 100 attendees per event. The new license allows for unlimited seating. In the coming year she has plans to organize the first TEDxJerseyCityYouth Conference for students in grades 8-12 and said she would love to partner with Liberty Science Center. She also looks forward to holding partner events with other countries via streaming conferences.

TEDxJerseyCity conference “Metamorphosis” will take place at the Landmark Loew’s Jersey Theatre, 54 Journal Square, on Saturday, November 14 from 12:00-6:00 pm. From 6:00-8:00 pm ticket holders are invited to a lobby reception for cocktails and hors d’oeuvres. The cost of admission is $25. Tickets can be purchased online or at the door the day of the event. For more information, visit tedxjerseycity.com, the JCI Cultural Calendar, or the Facebook event page.

Photos courtesy Alicia Ruth

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