May 25, 2018
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Maine ideas worth spreading: TEDx comes to Brunswick

By Kathleen Pierce, BDN Staff

BRUNSWICK, Maine — Technology. Entertainment. Design.

The message of TED Talks, formed years ago in California, has launched a thousand careers, a million thoughts and countless tweets. Held all over the world, the nonprofit conference with the tagline “ideas worth spreading” unites thought-leaders, innovators, doers and dreamers for a day.

On Sunday, Maine’s version, called TEDxDirigo, comes to Brunswick. This year’s theme is “generate.”

“The idea of generate is to bring something into the world that’s positive,” said Adam Burk, chief operating officer at Baxter Academy for Technology and Science in Portland, who is directing the event for the fifth time. “Our focus is on Maine.”

Organizers selected speakers pushing boundaries in their fields, including Voot Yin from Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory, who studies animals such as zebrafish for clues into human organ and limb regrowth; Rafael Grossmann, a Maine-based physician and early adopter of Google Glass; and Alicia Eggert, an assistant art professor at Bowdoin College whose kinetic sculptures are shown around the world. All 18 speakers represent the state’s motto “Dirigo,” which means “I lead.”

“It’s built around the notion of connecting people to the world through discussions, talks, academics and filmmakers to tell their story,” said Michael Gilroy, founder of Frontier, the event space where TEDxDirigo will be held.

Pairing speakers such as Mohammed Nur, a Deering High School standout, with John Coleman, founder of The VIA Agency in Portland, demonstrates the state’s diversity.

The “x” in TEDx stands for independently produced. Gilroy, Burk and executive producer Janice O’Rourke, who works in leadership development at L.L.Bean, have spent the last nine months creating the conference.

“This thing has been driven by passion since we started,” said Burk. “We love it. Love helping connect these amazing stories.”

One story that’s emerging in Maine are “maker spaces.” Jennifer Oxman Ryan, a Portland resident and researcher at Project Zero at Harvard Graduate School of Education, will discuss ways these communal places, where strangers share tools to make everything from bicycles to 3-D earrings, can empower youth.

Burk and Gilroy say the location, in an old mill on the Androscoggin River, is not by chance. Gilroy opened Frontier, a gallery, restaurant and cinema, seven years ago with events like this in mind. The concept has spawned efforts such as the Treehouse Institute to “push TED forward and create spaces for people to cross-pollinate, collaborate and create innovation and ideas,” said Gilroy.

“These are Maine ideas worth spreading,” said Gilroy. “We are interested in the maker’s culture and looking at trying to tell the Maine story. At one point it was producing textiles, now it’s generating new ideas with Hathaway in Waterville … We will be talking about how to re-generate Maine’s assets.”

Past TEDxDirigos have been held in Portland and Lewiston. This is the second time the phenomenon descends on Brunswick. The growing college town is part of the experience.

“We try to tell the story of place. Come experience Brunswick,” said Burk, who has arranged for private tours of Bowdoin College Museum of Art and tastings at The Gelato Fiasco for the 250 people who have signed up for the talk.

“At a fundamental level, we have the opportunity to bring something into existence,” said Burk. “It feels like we are getting Maine the glory it deserves. It’s all very humbling.”

TEDxDirigo is from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 3, 14 Maine St., Brunswick. The event is sold out. A webcast will be livestreamed at On Saturday, Nov. 2, a popup makerspace and repair cafe will be open to all in the Cabot Mill from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m.

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