By TOM CHESEK
The way that Brian Smiga sees things, it’s an idea whose time had come — even before the arrival of a thing called Sandy.
“All of us here on the Shore recently experienced a big event that disrupted our lives,” says the native Rumsonite, software entrepeneur, actor and venture capitalist. “There’s really no time like that, no moment like this one, to plan for the next 20 years and beyond.”
The future of what Smiga calls “the country Shore” — in particular the Bayshore, Atlantic coastline and “Two River” areas of Monmouth County — is the primary topic this Friday, when the first-ever TEDx Navesink event comes to the Performing Arts Center at Brookdale Community College. The daylong ideafest features more than two dozen short lectures by innovators in education, technology, science, sustainability and the arts, who “will give the talks of their lives during 5-to 18 minute presentations that focus on their contributions, thoughts and vision for the future of the New Jersey Shore,” according to the promo lit.
Scheduled to run from 8 am to 5 pm (with a post-event reception hosted at the adjacent Monmouth Museum on BCC’s Lincroft campus), TEDx Navesink: The Next Wave has sold out available admissions to the 360-seat PAC building — although event organizer Smiga notes that the presentations will be recorded live and archived for subsequent viewing on the event website.
To the uninitiated, the notion of spending the the better part of nine hours seated in an auditorium, listening to dozens of lectures, sounds like pure Purgatory in an age of itchy smartphone fingers and hair-trigger attention spans. But to devotees of TED conferences, the format is perfectly synched to an era of innovation that it helped to kickstart in no small way — a time in which “ideas worth spreading” possess star power and sex appeal.
Since becoming a yearly thing nearly 25 years ago, the California-based TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) events have drawn media moguls and musicians, spiritual leaders and scientists, philosophers and philanthropists, former presidents and future Nobel winners to the stage for tightly-timed talks on the big themes governing globally connected life in the new millennium.
The nonprofit presentations have since spawned TEDGlobal spinoffs, in addition to independently organized “TEDx” events like this one (and the concurrent TEDxCity2.0 in NYC, streamed live for attendees of the Navesink event). And while entry to the main TED events can run to many thousands of dollars, a free online cache of talks from past TEDs has been viewed more than a billion times.
Having attended or sponsored several TED events in the past, Smiga fulfills a years-in-the-making ambition with this inaugural edition of TEDx Navesink. The Rumson-Fair Haven Regional graduate grew up “living in the lowest house in Rumson… a house that flooded every single year. We lived like the Venetians do; to us, it was normal.”
Nowadays, Smiga lives 140 feet above sea level on Ocean Boulevard (aka Scenic Drive) in Atlantic Highlands with his wife Mimi Cross, a well known singer-songwriter and author of five unpublished novels (“she’s working to change that”), and their 7-year-old son, Charles.
Possessor of both Actors Equity and Screen Actors Guild cards, the co-founder of Alpha Venture Partners will be taking the keynote spot for a full morning and afternoon of guest speakers highlighted by internationally noted engineer and inventor Bob Lucky of Fair Haven (topic: “Innovation and New Jersey: Storied Past and Uncertain Future”), Microsoft VP Tereza Nemessanyi (“Reinvention of a Suburban Mom”), and Clean Ocean Action executive director Cindy Zipf of Rumson (“Our Wild and Industry-Free Ocean”).
The schedule of speakers – a complete rundown of which is viewable here – encompasses artists, activists, farmers, filmmakers, scientists and surfers, with Smiga defining the Next Wave theme as “the next generation of cultural life on the Shore… not just regarding environmental issues, but also about those 20,000 tech jobs that we want to get back.”
“It’s a good and helpful thing to the community for three main reasons,” Smiga explains. “First of all, with New Jersey being the crossroads between major cities, it’s the best place to meet likeminded, open-minded people – people with whom you can network, do business, collaborate.”
“Second, everybody who lives here likes living by the beach… and there’s no reason why we should be secondary to that big city that we look upon. Third, a TED conference is ‘nonfiction theater:’ every talk is a dramatic arc about ideas. And every TED organizer subscribes to these three reasons.”
With assistance from the crowdsourcing platform RocketHub, several Monmouth County nonprofit directors — including Kerri Martin of Second Life Bikes and Susan Pellegrini of Asbury Park Musical Heritage Foundation — will be utilizing the TEDx Navesink forum to introduce and kick off their current fundraising campaigns. There will be music to go with the words, too — highlighted with a late afternoon solo set by Rolling Stone “New Guitar God” Kaki King.
“There were a lot of speakers that we had to turn away, and a lot more things we wanted to cover,” says Smiga. “The local infrastructure, the power grid… we had to say ‘next time’ for that.”
“Next time” indicates that Smiga and his co-organizers are already at work laying plans for the years to follow, a prospect about which he says, “We’re thinking about going to more than one day, although I’d rather see it happen successfully first with the one day event…I don’t think we’ll be making an announcement until around Thanksgiving, but we’re definitely planning for 2014.”