What You Missed at TEDxSomerville 2014

The independently organized offshoot of the popular TED conference featured discussions of innovative ideas by local leaders, an aerial dancing performance, and an appearance by Amanda Palmer.


Amanda Palmer at TEDxSomerville. / Photo by Patrick Rogers Photography

The audience got up from their chairs, mats, and Yogibo bean bags to give a standing ovation to Amanda Palmer after the “Social Media Queen of Rock-N-Roll” performed her “Ukelele Anthem” at TEDxSomerville, held at Brooklyn Boulders Somerville this past weekend. Fresh off a stop in Vancouver for TED’s 30th anniversary conference, Palmer said she was “very happy” to attend the much more intimate and less formal TEDxSomerville, an independently organized offshoot of the popular series.

Before bursting into song per an audience member’s request, the free-spirited—and often controversial—performer reinforced the ideas she discussed in “The Art of Asking,” her moving speech from the TED2013 conference in California that was screened for the Somerville audience before she took the stage.

Thirteen other speakers, many of them with direct connections to Somerville, took the stage to share their visions for the city and the world at the day-long celebration of innovative ideas centered around a “Movement” theme, which also physically manifested itself in performances by aerial dancers, a drum line from a local charter school, and others. Movement was also present in the background, where non-audience members continued to use Brooklyn Boulders Somerville’s rock climbing and gym facilities like on any other day, prompting Palmer to give a shout-out to the people using the ellipticals on the second level.

In their speeches, the speakers discussed movement of all scales, sharing initiatives taking place on both personal and community levels. Mimi Graney—the executive director of Union Square Main Streets who is perhaps most famous for organizing the annual Fluff Festival—urged people to accept that “gritty is good” and embrace local industrial spaces rather than transforming them into housing developments. George Proakis, Somerville’s director of planning, shared his four-step approach to “zoning by design,” prompting loud cheers from the crowd for the third step: prioritizing people over parking. Bekka Wright, the writer and illustrator of the web comic Bikeyface, encouraged the audience to take up biking, joking about the need to make it an activity not just for “Lance Armstrong wannabes and hipsters.”

But the speeches that seemed to strike the audience most were ones centered around personal initiatives. Miranda Aisling, the 20-year-old author of Don’t Make Art, Just Make Something, challenged the audience to abandon their perception of art as something that belongs in a museum, channel their own creativity, and make something. Author Matthew Dicks urged people to open up more possibilities in their lives by saying yes to every opportunity. And Christina Economos, an associate professor at Tufts University and the director and cofounder of ChildObesity180, encouraged the audience to start movements of their own.

“Will you seize the moment? Will you become a champion?” she asked, and the crowd erupted in cheers.

  • lucheen

    Does anyone in Boston really care about Amanda Palmer at this point? Especially after her hideous cooptation of the Boston Marathon bombing for her own narcissist purposes with her “poem” for the bomber? I would much rather see a profile of Mimi Graney and the other local speakers.

    This synopsis just emphasizes one of the many distasteful aspects about TED, even in this apparent removed form of TEDx: its emphasis on the rich and famous over true community building.

  • theorellior

    Amanda Palmer showed a canned video as her TED Talk, took three questions from the crowd and then launched into a ten-minute ukelele song. I was left thinking that the Empress of Social Media has no clothes.