Walking along Canada Place at dusk last night, my eyes were drawn from the waterfront Vancouver Convention Centre to the mountains and harbour – and then back to an orb. This wasn’t just any multi-coloured, shape-shifting orb competing with the nearby highrises for air space, or with the North Shore mountains for peoples’ cell phone camera lenses; this was TED’s sphere, or statement, to Vancouver and the world. A statement that nicely framed the Convention Centre and TED signage sure to appear in social media around the planet.
TED began life in the Silicon Valley as a conference encompassing technology, entertainment and design. Owned by the Sapling Foundation, a private nonprofit organisation, TED’s brain trust contains a number of familiar names. The organisation espouses “ideas worth spreading”, and its website invites skeptics, of which there are possibly almost as many as there are admirers.
TED recently set up shop in Vancouver, where it’s celebrating its 30th anniversary by hosting TED 2014: The Next Chapter, over the course of five days this week. Talks are capped at no more than 18 minutes, and topics run the gamut from business to global issues to science. TED’s Vancouver conference has an impressive speakers’ list, and its audience members would appear to have impressive patience and bank accounts or credit limits. Not only did the 1,200 audience members undergo an application process that included a profile and essay submission; each successful applicant also paid $7,500 as the price of admission.
For those who decided to forgo the application process, or failed to make TED’s list of 1,200 leaders for the Vancouver audience, a number of Vancouver venues are streaming presentations free of charge.
In an appearance made with little or no advance publicity, American Edward Snowden, the former intelligence contractor, appeared on TED’s stage this week via a remotely-controlled robot, which he apparently controlled from exile in Russia.
If you’re among those interested in TED, click here to see the organisation’s most recent list of its 20 most popular presentations, or talks.
Meanwhile, outside the convention centre, the shape-shifting sphere, which is actually a gorgeous soft netting sculpture by Janet Echelman, stole the show for the quiet crowd of locals and visitors voicing their appreciation in a variety of languages. This piece of art was three years in the making, triple the length of any of Echelman’s previous sculptures, and technically ambitious. This 745-foot sculpture is draped between the Convention Centre and the Fairmont Waterfront Hotel.
As the mountains in the background lost their light and settled into familiar silhouettes, the installation gave me a sense of a benevolent interloper – albeit one that could be admired and controlled via cell phones held by the clusters of people gathered ’round, and without benefit of $7,500 admission fees or rigorous scrutiny of application protocols and essays.