PechaKucha: Information sharing for the short attention span age

Valerie Sonnenthal presented a series of drawings she completed as the artist-in-residence for a renowned New York-based dance company in the 1980s. — Photo courtesy of Valerie Sonnenthal

Those attending a unique event last Friday at the Harbor View Hotel were treated to a handful of short presentations on topics as diverse as the Vineyard’s winter population itself. Among the subjects covered in rapid-fire slide show format were the scarab beetle as design element from antiquity to today, ideas for a sustainable utopia, wind turbines, and pod hotels.

The seven-minute visually enhanced talks were part of a trend called PechaKucha, which is sweeping the globe and has now been launched by the Martha’s Vineyard Museum as a winter activity for Vineyarders, either in an active or passive role.

The idea for PechaKucha (a Japanese word for “chit chat”) was conceived in Japan in 2003 as a vehicle for young designers at a Tokyo-based architectural firm to present their ideas.

In response to the question, “Why invent this format?” on the FAQ section of the website, the founders explain, “Because architects talk too much! Give a microphone and some images to an architect — or most creative people for that matter — and they’ll go on forever!” PechaKucha presentations follow a 20/20 format: 20 images shown, with accompanying narrative, for 20 seconds each

PechaKucha is referred to on the website as “The Art of Concise Presentation” and the beauty of the format is that the participant has to keep pace with the automatically changing images projected on a screen.

M.V. Museum assistant curator Anna Carringer was introduced to the concept at a museum conference two years ago. Staff members thought it would be a great off-season event for the Vineyard. The museum established an arrangement with the PechaKucha founders to act as an official host. An inaugural Vineyard PechaKucha night was held as part of the Art*Island Festival of Arts and Ideas that took place at the Harbor View over the course of a week last fall. At that event, seven artists showcased their work and talked about process and inspiration to a packed house. “We did artists for the October one,” says M.V. Museum marketing director Katy Fuller. “Now it can be on any topic.”

Participants in last weekend’s event chose an interesting array of subjects. In every case, the topic was something that the presenter was either passionate about or found intriguing enough to prompt some research and come up with a way to present the information in an entertaining way with a personal viewpoint.

Development director Noelle Colome gave a presentation on pod hotels, budget “cubicle style facilities” that have recently sprung up in cities around the world. Her talk included a little history and global examples (units in some other countries resemble dog kennels) as well as pictures illustrating her recent experience at a pod hotel in New York City and some personal asides. The talk was very funny and her subject appropriate, given the condensed PechaKucha format.

Two other members of the museum staff participated. Education director Nancy Cole used the opportunity to present a mini virtual exhibit of interesting bits and pieces of artwork from the museum’s collection including old advertising materials and decorative sketches from a whaling log book.

A scarab presentation by the museum’s chief curator and confessed Egytophile, Bonnie Stacy, was a real crowd-pleaser. She included beetle-decorated objects covering a diverse field, from Tiffany lamps to rock group logos to a very odd looking early minivan from the 1930s and a modern garbage-sucking robot.

Gary Harcourt of Great Rock Wind Power gave an interesting first-person account of his work with wind turbines in the U.S. and U.K. that also included a little little bit of a travelogue. Anna Edey presented images and narrative from her upcoming book, “Green Light at the End of the Tunnel,” which outlines plans for a solar powered eco-friendly community.

Two local artists showed examples of their work. Valerie Sonnenthal presented a wonderful series of drawings she completed as the artist-in-residence for a renowned New York-based dance company in the 1980s. Mark Plummer showed off some spectacular landscapes done with his iPhone camera.

The Harbor View’s Chappy Room, where the event was held, was almost full. The crowd responded very positively and afterwards many audience members stuck around for an informal Q&A. A number of participants have already signed up for the next two upcoming PechaKucha nights.

The museum will host a PechaKucha night on March 8 and another on April 19. Anyone interested in participating can contact Jessica Barker at 508-627-4441, ext. 117 or

There are a number of PechaKucha video presentations from the over 600 host cities around the world and lots of information on the phenomenon on the official website