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Burt Pinnock, Richmond architect and co-founder of Storefront for Community Design Photo by Jay Paul
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Nicole Anderson-Ellis, a preservationist and environmentalist Photo by Ash Daniel
From its 17th-century founding, Richmond has always been an idea town, with a creative class that has a knack for revolutionary thinking. Remember those guys in the powdered wigs? Those bold thinkers dreamed of liberty and framed ideas for modern government.
These days, the region's thinking class still dreams of revolution.
On March 22, a cast of local would-be innovators will share ideas as the TED franchise, a digital-age, super-thinker speaker series, comes to Richmond. TED (Technology, Engineering and Design) features top-level experts proposing real-world solutions with a zesty splash of futuristic innovation. TEDx RVA is the first TED event allowed to brand itself to a region, rather than a concept or state of mind.
TEDx RVA promises a 12-hour mental workout with 40 speakers — as many as 25 of them from the local talent gene pool — sharing ideas to stir the next creative revolution. But why wait? TED dreams big, and so do we with our wish list of Richmond revolutionaries and a few ideas for topics.
President, American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar
History's most painful lessons are often the most important ones. But how do we teach lessons of human cruelty that often are so shocking, but also so profound? Coleman prefers the direct approach. In Colonial Williamsburg in the 1990s, she blew visitors' minds by staging a live slave auction — complete with realistic brutality and tragedy. Coleman shows us how to turn Civil War history on its ear to make it relevant for all audiences and galvanize our national concept of liberty.
How do you balance social justice with urban renewal in a city that was largely abandoned by its middle class 30 years ago, but that now is experiencing a kind of renaissance? The Storefront for Community Design was dreamed up by Pinnock and other civic leaders in the wake of the city's approval of Union Hill as an Old and Historic District. That decision threatened to displace hundreds of low-income African American families, but the solution, a nonprofit design and building consultancy, has helped establish a model for creative, inclusive community revitalization.
Farm to Family, urban food delivery pioneer
Psychologist Abraham Maslow once compiled a hierarchy of human needs. It began with the basics: food, clothing and shelter. Without the basics, he postulated, a person isn't likely to be a productive member of society and to achieve the luxury of creative thinking. How might Mark Lilly's local food approach — which follows a trend away from Big Agriculture and back to local farmers — help lead to the liberation of the inner city poor?
Since bursting on the scene in 2009 with a guerilla-style takeover and makeover of a vacant home, Karn (aka "Mo Karnage") and her merry band of like-minded anarchists have forced Richmond to rethink the definition of activism. Karn would argue that it is one thing to create change within the social framework that we're presented with, but it may be imperative to tear down the city's outdated institutions and worn-out ideas — or suggest doing so — in order to achieve something new and fresh from the ashes.
Preservationist, environmentalist, social conscience
Nicole Anderson-Ellis has been many things over the years: university professor, editor of Richmond City Edition, director of the Henricopolis Soil and Water Conservation District — and most recently, successful crusader for the preservation of historic Route 5, literally the cradle of American industry, culture and creativity. She provides a new roadmap to this creative crossroads where a unique model for preserving the landmarks of past can make the present a better world.
Bon Secours hospital CEO
Two decades ago, Peter Bernard attended a planning meeting in Louisville, Ky., looking at a proposed New Urbanist development that changed his perspective on a hospital's responsibility to its community. Since then he's championed the New Urbanist movement, a community design and development concept that seeks to create walkable, sustainable neighborhoods. The idea revolves around reforming dense urban landscapes full of residents still dependent on cars to go to work. What if the hospital really could be used to heal the community it serves? Could health care be the anchor tenant — the job creator — that New Urbanism has long needed?
Dr. Andrew Larner
VCU, Martha Anne Hatcher Distinguished Professor in Oncology and co-leader of the Cancer Cell Signaling program at VCU Massey Cancer Center
The body is a collection of systems, Larner argues in his pioneering research on obesity: circulatory, digestive, endocrine, immune, lymphatic, muscular, nervous, reproductive, respiratory, skeletal and urinary. But these systems are part of a body — you can't have one without the others. So how can seeking answers in one system lead to answers (and cures) for problems in the other? And how can medical science, where doctors long held to their specialized fields, better work across disciplines to save lives?
Community organizer, founder of the Kinfolk Project
Urban decay is a problem made distinctly worse where high poverty is most concentrated — as in public housing projects. Art Burton argues that these areas of high poverty share more in common with the Third World than the American Dream. And he asks hard questions like these: Can Third World solutions restore promise for those living in areas of concentrated poverty? Instead of government programs that tend to institutionalize and perpetuate poverty, why not apply a fleet-footed Non-Governmental Organization to our local Third World disaster areas?
Dean of the VCU School of Arts
Creation requires conflict. And there is no purer expression of both creation and conflict than art. Often conflict is imagined as a place where opposing forces collide, but Seipel envisions this intersection as a point for potential inspiration — and creation. In projects like VCU's newly planned Institute of Contemporary Art, Seipel imagines a proving ground for his concept of torsion — where art meets seemingly disparate fields, such as genetics, engineering or even sports. Redirected along a curve of imagination, these alien forces can each take on new ideas and new meaning.
Founder of WRIR 97.3 LP-FM
Chris Maxwell created sound literally where none had ever been heard before — that creation has since become a cacophony of sounds that has changed national law and become the nation's gold standard for community low power FM radio. Low power FM radio is today a viable communications force in Richmond, but it did not exist before Maxwell began his fight to create something valuable for his community before the community even knew what the commodity was.