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TEDx Event Comes to Miami


At long last, smart people have landed on Miami Beach like aliens in a land of fluff.  In an island that cares more about Kim Kardashian than about littered beaches and Snooki has headlines over the homeless, TEDx alighted last Thursday night at the Wolfsonian Museum, bringing together an amazing crop of intelligentsia.

But I exaggerate – not all of Miami Beach is a photoshopped tourism brochure.  There are people on the island who are smart, spiritual and lead stable, real lives. Culture is readily available if you look for it.  One such example is the Wolfsonian Museum, which hosted an official TEDx branded mini-conference last week titled “TEDxMIA: Where Global Tribes Meet.”

(The first official TEDx in Miami-Dade was TEDx Brickell, held by Incubate Miami, an organization that focuses on startups and technology.)

The Wolfsonian Museum, which is also a library and research center, was the perfect setting for this gathering. TEDx events are the community outreach version of TED, a nonprofit started in 1984 to support “Ideas Worth Spreading.”  The word TED is an abbreviation of technology, entertainment and design, but TED talks enjoy a much more amplified range of topics today.  Each year, the official TED conference take place in Long Beach, California, with a simulcast in Palm Springs. Oxford, England, also hosts an annual global meetup.

In short, TED is a gathering of very smart movers and shakers, thought leaders and innovators from around the world.  Speakers at TED have been top gun over the years—Al Gore, Richard Branson, Bill Gates, Isabel Allende and UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, to name a few.  TEDx are offshoot events in different communities designed with a particular TED protocol but based on local, grassroots resources. And by resources, I don’t mean things, but people who are making a difference and have something to say.


TED talks are expensive and some may say even elitist. To attend the main TED conference, you fill out an application and pay a high fee (in the thousands).  This seems contrary to the mission of spreading ideas. I was scratching my head and thinking “hmm” when I heard there were no media passes for TEDxMIA and that admission was $50.  The thought of having to apply for admission and be “approved” to attend was also a turn off.

I’m still scratching my head over this, because after meeting all the friendly, outgoing and even humble folks who gathered on Thursday to share ideas, I wouldn’t dare to call anyone there an intellectual snob.  But TED events are based on pretty high standards and as such are curated in terms of speakers and audience. Ironically, although I believe ideas worth spreading should be available to all, I don’t see how the exclusivity issue would be a problem in Miami.  I doubt throngs of uncultured jackasses are going to be lining up at the door for TEDx tickets like it’s hip-hop night at Mansion.


And so it goes.

Thursday’s roster of speakers was truly stellar. I originally laughed at the idea that I was going to meet Miami “geniuses” (their description, not mine) and perhaps “genius” is not the right word. What these speakers had in common – besides extraordinary intelligence – was a purpose to do things that improve the world.  Intelligence without action is pointless; put that brilliant mind in service for humanity.

In a span of two hours, we learned, we laughed and most importantly, were inspired while listening to ten different presenters. I wish I could write about them all, but I’ll focus on a few that really stood out for me.

The first, Sanjeev Chatterjee, Executive Director of the John S. and James L. Knight Center for International Media at the University of Miami, spoke about visual journalism and the power of images to communicate messages without language barriers. Check out one of his projects, One Water, a film about that resource we often take for granted.

lady of miami sculpture
The Lady of Miami sculpture. Photo courtesy of Miami Urban Think Tank.

Haitian artist Edouard Duval Carrie followed and spoke about his sculpture at the mouth of the Miami river. The Lady of Miami, a Janus figure, is based on the goddess Erzulie Freda, who is supposed to “protect” those coming in and out of Miami. But as he put it: “she is also a figure of assimiliation,” which is what Miami is all about.

Other speakers included scientist Roland Samimy, a visiting scholar at Florida International University and Senior Research Manager at the University of Massachusetts School for Marine Science. Samimy, who has been fascinated by water since he was a child, talked about the potential of harnessing the ocean for energy. Of interest to us Miamians is our proximity to one of the planet’s driving ocean currents, the Gulf Stream. “If we were to place turbines in the Gulf Stream,” he said, “we could potentially generate the equivalent energy of up to 10 Turkey Point power plants and provide electricity for millions of homes and businesses.”

He urged us to think about the value of the water that surrounds us, from the Everglades to the Atlantic.  And I couldn’t agree more. I have always felt Miami Beach is a giant floating pontoon between the bay and the ocean.  We are but a dot in a big blue sea. 

When I asked Samimy if an energy program in the Gulf Stream would adversely affect the environment (the underwater river is so powerful, it influences climate), he explained that this visionary science is in a testing phase.  But think about it:  harnessing water, just like wind, would provide very clean energy; no more oil spills and risk of nuclear disasters.

From the literary world, poet P. Scott Cunningham spoke about why Miami needs fake universities, which I found particularly amusing, considering there are more fake boobs in this city than there are college graduates.  Cunningham is leading a rogue movement called University of Wynwood, named after Miami’s warehouse art district, which pokes fun at classical academic institutions by being completely “useless” because it focuses on poetry, a long lost art in mainstream culture.  By saying “useless,” of course, Cunningham is being cheeky; his real mission is to curate events and projects that promote contemporary literature in Miami.

The grand finale at TEDxMIA was a talk titled A Vaccine Against Ignorance.  Rodrigo Alboreda, Chairman and CEO of Miami-based One Laptop Per Child Association, spoke about the impact of technology in developing countries. The nation of Uruguay has been a leader in the movement, giving one specially manufactured laptop and internet access to every single child in primary school.

one laptop per child
Students in Afghanistan with their XO laptops. Photo courtesy of One Laptop Per Child.

Alboreda presented a compelling slide show from countries around the world to prove his point: a Peruvian child in a remote area teaching his grandparents how to read and write; an old-fashioned teacher in India changing his methodology, with students huddled about the laptop, learning about the world; and a “classroom” in Kenya, set up on the dirt under a tree, with solar panels providing energy to each laptop.


I could write volumes about all the others speakers and encourage you to visit the TEDxMIA website to learn more.  Kudos go out to Gina Rudan, whose vision it was to bring this version of TEDx to Miami.  The TEDxMIA board and volunteers did an excellent job.

The next edition of TEDx in the magic city is tentatively planned for the spring and will be at a larger venue, possibly on the mainland.

As part of its mission to spread ideas, TED does offer myriad videos for all to see.  Check out TEDx’s YouTube channel, which features excerpts from talks.

Related Categories: Miami: Local News, Technology,

About the Author: Maria de los Angeles is a freelance wordsmith who loves to write about all things travel in Florida and the Caribbean. She is also the author of the award-winning blog Sex and the Beach.

See more articles by Maria de los Angeles.

See more articles by Maria de los Angeles

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