TEDx Martha’s Vineyard at the Performing Arts Center on Monday

This year’s participants weigh in on what’s in store and how the Island can facilitate social change.

Last year, Dmitri Tymoczko, a music theorist at Princeton University, discussed the geometry of music. — Photo by Lisa Vanderhoop

Monday, August 31, will mark the second annual TEDx Martha’s Vineyard (TEDx MV) event, a day of thought sharing which takes place at the Performing Arts Center in Oak Bluffs. The independently organized TED event takes its format from the global organization’s method of spreading ideas, in the form of short, powerful talks.

According to ted.com, TED began in 1984 as a conference where Technology, Entertainment, and Design converged, and today the events cover almost all topics — from science to business to global issues — in more than 100 languages. Meanwhile, independently run TEDx events, like the one on Martha’s Vineyard, help share ideas in communities around the world.

This year the Island version, organized by Katy Plasse and Maggie Bryan, features a diverse, well-curated list of speakers sharing their ideas on topics from social media to social justice, from philanthropy to food advocacy, and more.

The Times recently had the chance to speak with three of the participants, each a member of the Martha’s Vineyard community, about their role in the event and what makes the Island the ideal place to spark conversation.

Julie Anne McNary, executive director, Permanent Endowment for Martha’s Vineyard

MVT: How did you come to be involved with the TEDx MV?

JAM: I arrived on the Island in October 2014 to serve as the new executive director of the Permanent Endowment Fund for Martha’s Vineyard. (Note: I am coming to TEDx MV as an individual, as a fundraising/development/philanthropy services professional with 17 years in the field, and not as a representative of the endowment.)

I attended TED conferences in Long Beach back during my service to an influential funding and advocacy organization in Silicon Valley, and I have used TED talks in my teaching for Harvard University Extension and Summer Schools (I teach online writing courses), and as a way to keep myself as current as possible, professionally and personally. I met Katy [Plasse] through my younger brother, Martin McNary, here on the Island, and I was thrilled when she invited me to speak about philanthropy, as producing a TEDx talk on the subject has been an item on my own bucket list for a long time. I was also thrilled to learn that there is a TEDx forum here, as I really do think it is a boon to any community, and should be fostered and supported by all.

MVT: Describe the topic of your talk “Giving Back Now” and some key points. 

JAM: My talk is about the multiplicity inherent in all things related to philanthropy, and more particularly, how (so far) even more complex I find philanthropy to be here on Martha’s Vineyard, specifically. I hope my talk will be of interest to both donors and recipients of philanthropic support here on the Island, but I am also curious and eager to learn more about how my own observations dovetail, or not, with the diverse constituencies represented here in this unique community. I should also make it clear that I have as much to learn from Martha’s Vineyard as I do to offer it, so while I have what I hope are complex observations to share, they are only going to be as valuable as the community deems them to be.

MVT: What makes the unique community of Martha’s Vineyard an ideal location for this type of event?

JAM: I believe this community is a perfect location for a TEDx forum, because of the socioeconomic, cultural, and intellectual diversity inherent therein, but also because there are specific boundaries, realities, and influences here on this Island that are unique to this specific place, and therefore open to a level of study that is perhaps not possible in other, more diluted, forums.

All in all, writing this talk has been an experience for which I am already very, very grateful, and while I am not giving the talk as a representative of the endowment, writing the talk has also solidified for me that serving this specific community in my new role will, I hope, represent the most meaningful work I have ever done in my life.

Dean Bragonier, founder and executive dyslexic, NoticeAbility Inc.

MVT: How did you come to be involved with TEDx MV?

DB: I was speaking with Christian Thornton at Atria, pitching him on sponsoring my swim this summer, and he thought it would be a good match for TEDx. [Mr. Bragonier recently completed a circumnavigation swim around the Island to raise awareness for dyslexia and funds to to develop a school curriculum for students with dyslexia.] He introduced me to Katy, we started chatting about my work, and she thought it was a compelling message to bring to the agenda. I have tremendous faith in Katy’s vision in creating a comprehensive dialogue with a handful of unique presenters on a theme that will translate through it. I’m very excited to see how I play a part.

MVT: Describe the background of your talk “Reframing Dyslexia” and how it relates to the the event’s theme of “New Frontiers.”

DB: Well, genetics are responsible for my talk. Being born with dyslexia, it’s who I am, and it’s what I do and why I do it. The notion that our scholastic system is built upon arguably the most archaic form of communication second to speech is outrageous. The printing press rolled in around same time as the Industrial Revolution. Up until then it didn’t matter if people could read.

And now, at this point, how can it be that we still educate students on math based off the printing press? Despite the technology of the phone and the fact that YouTube is packed chock-full of lessons and thoughts and teachings, we’re still stuck in reading-based education systems. We’ve failed to engage 20 percent of learners because they are locked out of the curriculum. We need to institute tech advances as they become mainstream, and make education more accessible to unique learners. Those people [with dyslexia] are only considered abnormal because the norm is so constrained. We need to consider a printless-based society that can better accommodate the strengths of people with dyslexia. This kind of initiative represents a “new frontier” in education. It is well known that our education system is currently broken. We [the U.S.] have the most amount of money, relatively speaking, but we produce the least-prepared students across the developed countries.MVT: What makes the unique community of Martha’s Vineyard an ideal location for this type of event?

DB: Well there’s two ways to address that. First, there’s a strong devotion to community among both the people that resonate with this place as a location to bring their families and create memories, and the Island community that resides here. There’s an exceptional brain bank that has identified this rock in the ocean as a place to consort with like-minded people.

Second, if I walked into Putin’s office right now and said “Martha’s Vineyard,” he’d know it, because the leader of the free world just left. It’s a microcosm with social entrepreneurs like me or Katy who are taking advantage of the fact that the eyes of the world are fixated on this place. For visitors, many of them powerful and influential people, they can vacation in their flip-flops and tank tops, and capture our message and deliver it back to their own communities. Martha’s Vineyard is an opportunistic place for social agendas to be planted and nurtured. You’d be hard-pressed to find a day in the summer that doesn’t have 25 cool things going on. There is a captive audience here, and everyone is looking for a cool concept. If you can present that to an audience here, you can make change happen faster than anywhere else around the world. That is why I chose to do my swim here on the Island. Thoughtful, intelligent, educated people reside here, and could help it garner attention. [The response to my swim] could not have been achieved by swimming around Key Largo.

Christian Thornton, co-owner of Atria

MVT: How did you come to be involved with TEDx MV?

CT: I’ve known Katy since she was a kid; I think she worked for me when she was 15. She has amazing energy, is intelligent and creative, a lot like TEDX. When she first brought this to my attention [last year], I was thrilled for her and the Island.

Katy contacted me when she was first in the idea stage: “Hey, I want to do a TEDx event on the Island, what do you think?” The way that I participated as a chef is feeding people. I didn’t know what I was doing, with the exception of hosting a dinner [for VIP ticketholders the night before the event]. I’ve been doing this a long time, and it was a magical night for the restaurant to be filled with such smart, passionate, creative people. To watch the energy in the room was really special; it was magic for me. The fact that I could share what I do with these people that I learned to respect and love made for a special night.

MVT: Describe your participation with the event this year.

CT: This year, what I’m trying to do in hosting the welcome dinner is to show the best of Martha’s Vineyard, and create a meal where everything is farmed or raised on Martha’s Vineyard. It’s going to be another really special night; it’s a chef’s dream to cook a meal like that. The menu is yet to be determined, but will include what’s freshest and available that day.

MVT: As Dean mentioned, you helped facilitate his participation. Are you responsible for organizing any of the other speakers?

CT: Michel Nischan [chef, author, and food-equity advocate], who is a James Beard Foundation humanitarian of the year recipient, is a friend of mine, and I asked him. There’s another chef, Asha Gomez, whose goal is to end world hunger in her lifetime. She’s an amazing woman with boundless energy. These are wonderfully passionate, articulate people to get in front of this audience. I just give some of these ideas to Katy, and she runs with it. She’s the perfect person to organize this type of event.

MVT: What makes the unique community of Martha’s Vineyard an ideal location for this type of event?

CT: The Island is such a wonderful mecca and a place well networked with a vibrant summer and year-round community. It represents a community of thinkers who appreciate new ideas and thoughts, and that’s what TEDx is all about.

TEDx, Monday, August 31, from 1 to 7 pm, Performing Arts Center. Tickets: $75 general admission; $500 Angel donor tickets include admission and a welcome dinner at Atria on Sunday, August 30; $1,000 Savior tickets include a VIP dinner at a private residence on Chappaquiddick on Saturday, August 29, welcome dinner at Atria on Sunday, August 30, and lunch day of the event. For additional information and to purchase tickets, visit tedxmarthasvineyard.com.