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TEDx set for Shelburne Falls

Stacy Kontrabecki of Buckland in her home office.

Recorder/Franz Stacy Kontrabecki of Buckland in her home office. Purchase photo reprints »

SHELBURNE FALLS – Imagine a United Nations genocide investigator, one of the “pioneers” of the modern tango, the coffee trader who uses his business as a tool for social justice, a giant of improvisational theater and a legendary woman rock guitarist as part of one colossal event.

That’s Emily Kontrabecki’s vision for “A Taste of TEDx.”

The TED isn’t a who; it’s a conference planned for Nov. 3 at Shelburne’s Memorial Hall.

The TEDx Shelburne Falls conference, modeled on and licensed by the California-based organization that began in 1984 hosting events to share “ideas with spreading” and has licensed more than 16,000 talks on innovative topics at more than 3,200 TEDx events in more than 130 countries.

TED — the name stands for Technology-Entertainment-Design — hosts two annual four-day conferences outside of Los Angeles and Edinburgh, Scotland, to bring together “the world’s most fascinating thinkers and doers ... to give the talk of their lives in 18 minutes or less,” according to the nonprofit’s website.

With TEDx, these kinds of teach-ins have fanned out across the globe, at independently organized mini-events under strict TED license agreements. Last month, 219 TEDx events took place in 58 countries, according to the website.

That’s how Kontrabecki, who moved to the area in 2000 and operates a business from her Buckland home to help makers of sustainable forestry products get “green” certification, got the idea that Shelburne Falls should have a TEDx conference of its own.

After joining other “TEDsters” watching talks from TED events on the organization’s website, she took the TED “ideas worth spreading” slogan to heart: “I decided to create a TEDx experience in my backyard.”

She applied to TED, which has to license all TEDx events in its name, and which sets strict limits, such as a maximum of 100 people for a first-time organizer and the stipulation that the organizer can not get compensation and cannot videotape the forum for broadcast in its entirety. Kontrabecki attended a TED event at Hampshire College last year to get a sense of what goes into it, then applied for funding from local arts councils and won just $225 from Shelburne. She wasn’t sure that was enough to put an event together, but she decided to go ahead with the theme of a “TEDx sampler.”

The Nov. 3 program, which will also be video-streamed live to 100 more people at Mohawk Trail Regional High School to provide for a larger audience than the 100 allowed at Memorial Hall. In addition to the live speakers, Kontrabecki plans to show several recorded TED talks from prior events.

The format calls for a conversation period after each of the two 90-minute speaker sessions.

Videos of the Shelburne Falls event will be made available, as all TED talks are, for free viewing on TED’s Youtube channel.

“It’s a huge thing for Shelburne Falls,” said village resident John Bos, participant at the Shelburne Falls event, “because I think Stacy wants to do this on an annual basis. They’re very strict, I gather in their kind of permissions and franchising, so she’s taken on a lot. It’s an amazing thing.”

Bos is a former deputy director of the New York State Council on the Arts and former director of cultural programming for National Public Radio as well as a hospice volunteer and a founder of the hospice choir Eventide Singers. His talk will be, “Why do we sing?”

“In this little area of the Pioneer Valley, we’ve got kids singing in the elementary schools, we’ve got the Mohawk Select Chorus, we’ve got Amandla, Greenfield Harmony, the Pioneer Valley Symphony Chorus, Da Camera Singers, we’ve got Eventide. We’ve got a lot of people singing – and they’re passionate amateurs. It’s the healing power of music, and the ‘idea worth spreading’ that everyone has a voice. We’re just like people who like to sing for others.”

Here are some of the other speakers Kontrabecki rounded up:

Dean Cycon, co-founder and CEO of Orange-based Deans Beans, is a lawyer and development worker who pioneered in fair trading of organic coffees and founded his company to see if a business could be a real partner in addressing the poverty and chronic underdevelopment in coffee villages. His talk will be on specialty coffee as a vehicle for progressive change throughout Asia, Africa and the Americas.

June Millington of Goshen was called “One of the hottest female guitarists in the industry” by Guitar Magazine. She has made music since she was a child playing ukulele in her native Philippines and was a member of the all-women’s band “Fanny” in the 1960s. The co-founder and artistic director of the Institute for the Musical Arts, her talk will be “Rocking the Boat: How Playing Like a Girl Can Change the World.”

Shalini Bahl of Hadley, a consultant and researcher specializing in programs for mindfulness in business, social media, health care and academia. She is a co-founder of The Mindfulness Connection.

Darby Dyar, an astronomy professor at Mount Holyoke College whose research is aimed at understanding how hydrogen and oxygen are distributed throughout our solar system, has ongoing funding from NASA’s Mars Fundamental Research program.

David Shepherd of Belchertown has been called the father of American improvisational theater, as the producer who co-founded the Compass Players in Chicago, which launched the careers of Mike Nichols, Elaine May, Jerry Stiller, Alan Arkin, Barbara Harris and Shelley Berman. After Compass Players, the forerunner of Second City, he helped create the Improvisation Olympix, MOVIExperience and Canadian Improv Games.

Keith Harmon Snow of Williamsburg is a former aerospace and defense professional who later worked as a genocide investigator for the United Nations. A small farmer, war correspondent and photographer, he was 2009 Regents Lecturer in Law and Society at the University of California Santa Barbara and is a facilitator of consciousness workshops who describes himself as a spiritual seeker learning to breathe and feel fine while preparing for the end of the world as we know it.

Daniel Trenner of Florence, who encountered tango in Buenos Aires in 1986 after innovating in tap, jazz, modern, and postmodern dance, and then spent the next two decades traveling 100 cities and igniting a multigenerational tango renaissance. Trenner, who now teaches at Smith, Amherst and Mount Holyoke colleges, and the Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter School, created the first tango tours to Buenos Aires and the first tango store in North America.

Jim Vieira of Ashfield is a stonemason and co-owner of North Wind Stonework and belongs to the Northeast Antiquities Research Association, a clearinghouse of information regarding mysterious monuments of antiquity.

Ezekiel Heter Wegscheider of Shelburne Falls is an 18-year-old meditator, poet and artist who is exploring the inner workings of the mind, studying the science of the physical world and thinking about how these connect. He is pondering fractal imagery as a visual framework for the idea of infinite infiniteness, underscoring his belief that expanding our perspectives will facilitate greater positivity and connection with all things.

Northampton storyteller Rona Leventhal will be host for the event.

The world of TED, Kontrabecki said, is filled with enthusiasts around the planet who use TED apps like the ones she had created for the Shelburne Falls TEDx event and that organizers can use to post their events and network with other TEDsters. In fact, when she was trying to create a “taste of TEDx” poster design and had complications working with a graphic designer she knows in Springfield, Kontrabecki got a message from a designer in Argentina who volunteered to whip up a design incorporating a fork motif.

Kontrabecki, who is getting assistance from Greenfield and Shelburne Falls community cable stations, said she already has plans for repeating the TEDx event next year, and she already has speakers in mind.

For that, she’s applying for Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation grant funding so that she can attend a TED session next winter in California as part of the vetting process to be licensed for a bigger event.

“I have big dreams of who I want on my stage next year,” she said. “I need to have the capacity for who I’m planning to put on the stage. That’s my training and my vetting. We’re trying to plan for the future.”

The two 90-minute sessions will begin at 11:30 a.m. and 3 p.m., with tickets for each live event sold separately. The sessions at Mohawk are free, but registration is required. People can register and buy tickets by phone at 800-838-3006 or online at


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You can reach Richie Davis at
or 413-772-0261, ext. 269

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