When it comes to the concept of community, interested + engaged = good citizen. Anything else = tourist. And yes, I mean you .
Actually, I mean me. Because that's how I felt a few weeks back at "Walk the Talk: Green Your City," held in Vancouver's Queen Elizabeth Theatre. Some 3,000 of us had gathered, at the bargain price of $10 a head, to take in a dozen or so six-minute-and-40-second presentations on self-heating buildings, recycling computers, city-grown food, and related topics. Some, like greening up the garbage generated by ethnic street festivals, were imminently practical; others, like the role of artists in environmentalism, traced a more philosophical axis - though no less important or directly related. With all these doers on stage yapping about the what, how and potential of their various endeavours, I was feeling altogether touristy. But I was also interested in each concept, many of which were new to me, and what I took away from the experience was a litany on how to better engage in "greening" my own life - and what to expect/demand from community leaders and politicians. Maybe I could make the leap to Good Citizen after all.
Green Your City was the special-edition theme of Vancouver Pecha Kucha 12, latest in a series comprising that city's incarnation of a global phenomenon. Japanese for "chit chat," Pecha Kucha was devised in Tokyo in February 2003 as a way for young designers to meet, network and show their work in public. Pecha Kucha night has since become a massive celebration, with events in over 300 cities around the globe. Its success resides in a presentation format based on a simple idea: presenters have 20 seconds to show and talk about 20 images (hence the earlier 6:40 reference). Regardless of whether the image is a photo, graphic, flow-chart, or words, presentations are concise and fast-paced.
Aki Kaltenbach, who oversees a stable of some of Whistler's most famous bars and restaurants, heard about a Pecha Kucha taking place in Vancouver in early 2010 and was intrigued. After attending, she knew she had to do it here.
"I liked the idea of bringing a diverse group together to share their passions and views. Whistler has an abundance of artists, scientists and philanthropists but there was no forum for these people to share what they're working on. Pecha Kucha is a great way to get all these minds in one room and start conversations."
Round one, during the World Ski & Snowboard Festival, was wide-ranging, provocative and entertaining, drawing mostly on Aki's eclectic circle of friends. There was no theme, but there were several dedicated foodies: one talked up the Japanese Cookbook she was working on, another waxed poetic about her particular brand of vegetarianism; a famous Vancouver chef titillated with a mediation on soy architecture, and local Lisa Richardson deconstructed Pemberton's annual Slow Food Cycle event.
But lest the crowd find this moveable feast too appetizing, it was happily punctuated by lunch-losing weirdness: periodontist Michelle Lee spoke passionately about her love of gum transplants, replete with pictures of mouths in need, bloody strips of gum tissue seeking a home and Frankentein-like suturing; Grant Stoddard offered a madcap, latex-and-loathing look at life as a sex-columnist in New York; yours truly took a whimsical swipe at invasive species, based on Florida's growing swarm of non-native Burmese pythons. (And yes, I couldn't resist showing a photo of a giant snake that had swallowed a person. Did this happen in Florida? No. Could it? Maybe. But that's the point of Pecha Kucha - there's as much "Here's why" as "What if... ?")
Others were less shocking: there were presentations on the evolution of ski gear, the rise of social media and a photo essay on ski bumming. All in all, a barrel of laughs, a cornucopia of information, considerable drinks downed, and some damn interesting things learned.
"It went great," says Aki. "I don't think anyone knew what to expect coming in - myself included. Ultimately, I think that's what made it so successful. Everyone learned something new."
If you're up for similar intellectual entertainment, catch Whistler Pecha Kucha 2 at Maxx Fish on Monday, Aug. 9 during Crankworx. There may or may not be bike-themed chit chat, but it's a guaranteed mélange of far out and fast-paced topics. Seven bucks gets you in the door and puts a drink in your hand. That means it costs virtually nothing in a day and age of rarely getting your money's worth, in a town famous for pricing out the proletariat.
In the end, Pecha Kucha's most salient feature remains its format: a fun and breezy forum for both lifelong passions and ideas of the moment - a way of maintaining community around questions, creativity, and expertise. I'd like to say it's perfect for post-literate sensibilities or those with diagnosed (i.e., not weed-induced) ADD, but that would be selling it short. If you need a modern metaphor, try this: it's a Facebook with real faces and people who actually know what they're talking about. That, in itself, is enough to make you go "Hmmm..."
(info at http://pecha-kucha.org/night/whistler and http://www.facebook.com/crankworx )