Create, Innovate and Play at RI’s 5th TEDxProvidence

For any of you out there with desk jobs (bows head, raises hand), it’s possible you may have whittled away hours of Excel documentation by listening to online podcasts (*cough*”Serial”*cough*) or YouTube videos. About a year ago, however, I discovered TED talks, which were brief, educational and fascinating, and not only could I pass the time, but I learned A LOT while doing so.
TED is a nonprofit organization that promotes “ideas worth spreading,” and speakers of every age, passion and expertise share their stories, knowledge and perspectives from the global stage. From within that overarching mission, local and independently organized TEDx events are generated, and Rhode Island is about to host its 5th annual TEDxProvidence on April 9, from 9am to 5pm, at the Columbus Theatre in Providence.
This year’s theme is particularly exciting for right-brained enthusiasts (like myself): Create, Innovate and Play. I spoke to Robin Dionne, one of the five volunteer members who put this year’s event together, and she shared how this event came together and what she is looking forward to most.
My first question was which came first, the theme or the nominations? In a state like Rhode Island, rife with creatives, it seems like this theme could have emerged from the population. But she told me that the theme was chosen and then opened to the public for nominations. “Since every TEDx location is independently organized, it can choose its speakers in any fashion. But we like the idea of crowdsourcing our nominees because we are introduced to people we would have otherwise known nothing about.”
This year they received just over 200 nominations, and that’s when the work really begins. MANY hours are spent hanging out at the Social Enterprise Greenhouse narrowing down the list, advocating for favorites, hours and hours “before we get to Round 1.” One thing that is very apparent to Dionne and her team is that “there’s a lot of talent here in Rhode Island.”
Finally, 15 speakers were chosen, and here are just a few whom Dionne is looking forward to seeing:
Kimberly Arcand is a NASA scientist living in Rhode Island (“Who knew?”) whom Dionne says is “doing the only research of this kind in the entire world.” Attendees will get a glimpse into her groundbreaking work, and I’m told there will be photos.
Sydney Skybetter is a technologist, choreographer and writer, and no stranger to performances and lectures. Commenting on his presentation, Dionne said, “Choreography is not exactly a personal interest of mine, but one thing that we look for in a speaker is someone who is able to pull in all crowds with his talk, and Skybetter is able to do that.”
Meghan Kallman is a cofounder of The Prison Op/Ed Project, a program that offers educational and writing opportunities to incarcerated persons, allowing them to share their work through RI Future. She is completing her PhD in sociology at Brown University.
The Columbus Theatre, located on 270 Broadway, is graciously hosting TEDx speakers, and Dionne is hopeful tickets will sell out this year. “It would be a first, but there are only about 70 tickets left with a week to go.” A schedule will be available soon, and Julians restaurant, New Harvest Coffee and a plethora of food trucks will be providing mouth-watering services.
Rhode Island might be the smallest state, but it is brimming with innovative and inspiring people. One of my own friends, Nicholas Tragnark, is presenting his work, and I realized from reading his online bio that I only know a fraction of the things he does. That’s what Dionne points to as one of the biggest draws of this event. “We’re sometimes so focused on our own jobs and lives that we don’t realize what is happening around us. TEDxProvidence allows us to look up and see all the cool things that people in Rhode Island are doing.”
For tickets, visit

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