PechaKucha Night Celebrates Salt Lake City Arts, Design, Beyond
by Austen Diamond
POSTED // 2012-02-23 -What makes Salt Lake City so great? Thirteen presenters will say their piece in 20 slides at 20 seconds each this Friday for PechaKucha Night.
A sampling of the well-rounded crop of presenters include Tim Lee (senior exhibit designer Natural History Museum of Utah), Dan Christofferson (artist/Big Cartel Missionary), Prescott Muir (architect), to name a few. A full line-up and more information can be found here. Tristan Shepherd, Salt Lake City Organizer of PechaKucha Night, spoke with City Weekly about the event.
PechaKucha Night @ The State Room, 638 S. State, Friday, Feb. 24, 6:30-11 p.m., $10 in advance, $15 day of show
City Weekly: PechaKucha is a PowerPoint presentation style format where speakers show 20 images, each for 20 seconds, and talk on a certain subject. Is it liberating to have such strict confinement? (either way, why have this style of talk?)
Tristan Shepherd: The PechaKucha founders, Klein Dytham Architecture, knew that a mic in certain hands could lead to long-winded presentations, especially with a PowerPoint behind them. They knew they needed to come up with a way to keep presenters on topic and concise. The 20x20 format may seem restrictive at first, but I think it helps take out a few of the possibilities of how you might present a topic. That, I think, is liberating.
To know that I only need to create 20 slides and have enough to say about that slide for 20 seconds. However, that really is the only restriction given to a presenter. Some take it quite literally, one image on a slide and they talk about that slide for 20 seconds and move on to the next. Other's manipulate the format to fit their story. One presenter used the same image for a few slides in a row so that he could talk about a particular image for longer than 20 seconds. We do allow some video clips, but try to keep them to 20 second clips. So, in that sense, the format is liberating in how a presenter chooses to work within the 20x20 format.
CW: This local event is part of Global PechaKucha Week. What's that all about?
TS: This week--starting Feb. 20--marks the ninth anniversary of the first PechaKucha Night in Tokyo. PechaKucha Headquarters have put together previous Global Events, usually centered around the anniversary. A PechaKucha Global event is where as many PechaKucha Night cities (currently 490) try to hold an event on the same day. The first Global Event they ran was designed as a fundraiser to support Haiti after the earthquake in 2010. Last year, after the disaster in Japan, a Global Day for Japan was organized to raise money for relief efforts there.
This year, they decided to hold a Global Cities Week to take some of the stress out of trying to have an event on a specific day. PechaKucha HQ asked that we try to theme the event and presentations around "our city." Usually, presenters are not asked to tailor their presentations around a specific theme. But in this case we want to know about the cool things that are happening in our city, or the cool places other people might not know about. Why do the presenters choose to live and work here? Tell us why Salt Lake City is great. Not every presenter is held to the "celebrate our city" theme, but all our presenters have a connection to our city, so in that respect just their presence at the event is a reason why Salt Lake City is worth celebrating.
CW: I think if I was presenting, I'd recycle an idea I read about where the L.A. Times food writer reviewed every restaurant, in order, from his commute from home to work--for me, that would include Channon Thai, Moochie's, Cannela's, Copper Onion, to name a few. That'd be delicious. If you were presenting, what would you talk about?
TS: Oh man, I'm always asked if I've presented (I haven't, I'm always too busy getting everything ready for all the other presenters.) Honestly, I'm not sure what I would present about, but I like your idea! I've been thinking about a food theme for a PechaKucha Night, even though we don't usually do themes. Want to present at a future event?
On the PechaKucha website that have a section of old presentations. One of my favorites was a guy in St. Louis (I think) who did a presentation on all the best taco stands and restaurants in the city. It is funny, and totally informal, and just great.
Anyway...what would I present...I'm an architect in training, but photography is also something I really enjoy. One of the reasons I decided to move here and go to school for architecture was the potential of the city and built environment. There are so many cool industrial buildings, vacant buildings, run-down buildings, vacant lots, historic structures, and just cool buildings and neighborhoods around our city. I don't think our city is fully utilizing these bits of architecture and urbanism. If I were presenting, I would have gone around and photographed as many of these places I could find and try to talk about potential uses for these places. Could something become a cool, hip new restaurant or shop. Maybe some under or misused buildings really want to be someone's house or condo. An old warehouse could become an indoor skate park or climbing gym. It would be a fun exercise to try and come up with these kinds of ideas for our city.
CW: As I understand it, PechaKucha began as a way for architects to geek out on, well, architecture stuffs. But it has evolved to include people of all ages and interests. For this event, you've curated a DJ, the creator of Craft Lake City, a gallery owner, along with architects and designers. Talk about this broadening of scope.
TS: I don't know exactly what the backgrounds were of the first PechaKucha Night presenters. But I can say this: of the 490 cities that have PechaKucha Night's, the original founders of PechaKucha Night have never asked someone to start a series in a city. PechaKucha is a grassroots movement that expresses a viral desire for people to share things they're passionate about. So, while it may have started with an architectural basis, I think almost everyone has a desire to share their work and talk about things they're proud of. PechaKucha Night gives you a reason to get into your city and share and connect with "real" people, to look someone in the face and say, "Hey, that was awesome, I love what you're doing!" PechaKucha allows you to break from your digital network and shake someone's hand. People have a desire to connect with others, and I think everyone generally responds positively to another who is genuinely passionate about what they're talking about.
What intrigues me, and why we strive to always have a diverse range of presenters, is the possibility to learn from people who have a different background, or work in a different field than me. I like the idea that PechaKucha can expose people to things and ideas they might never come across in their typical day to day lives. At a PechaKucha Night, you can share a drink with people who do incredible things right here in our city. We recently had a presenter who is an engineering student at the University of Utah. She works on these impossibly small mechanical assemblies. Real science-fiction type stuff, like making camera lenses so small that they might one day be used to make artificial eyes. I like to think that there was someone in the audience who had no idea that something like that exists but now has that connection and they might come up with something together that could change the world. Grand idea, I know, so maybe it is something more simple like an author writing a book and they just saw an incredible artist and they get together to illustrate the book. I think the cross-pollination of ideas and disciplines is what makes PechaKucha Night great!
CW: What are the keys that set some presentations off above and beyond others?
TS: When someone talks about something they truly care about, that can be felt by the audience. There are so many things that can make a presentation stand out: unique and innovative work and ideas, bizarre and interesting stories, humor, being energetic. I think the presenters who have an interesting story to tell are the ones that stand out.
CW: Are there any in particular that you are looking forward to tonight?
TS: I'm in the unique position of seeing all the presenters' slides before anyone else. So I'm always interested to hear what they have to say about the slides. Usually when we ask someone to present we have an idea of what they should present. If, for example, we ask an architect to present, we probably expect them to talk about some cool new building they just completed. In this case, because of the "celebrate our city" theme, some presenters really took it to heart. So instead of seeing their portfolio of work, or some specific project they worked on, they are going to be saying something about the city. So I'm interested in hearing what all our presenters' have to say about our city. It was fun having the AIGA involved with this event. They brought in some presenters we might not otherwise have known to contact, so I'm interesting is seeing what they have to say. This also relates to your "broadening of scope" question above.
CW: I'm sure there's something I'm not asking ... anything you'd like to add?
TS: I'm sure there is something I could think of, but I think my answers are already longer than a 20 second reply.