By Mary Ann Bourbeau
RED BANK – Planning the TEDxNavesink event was a lot of work for Brian Smiga, in addition to his two full-time jobs, one as a venture capital investor in New York and the other as a video producer.
But Smiga isn’t afraid of hard work because he also makes plenty of time for play, especially kayaking.
“Play” is the theme of this year’s TEDxNavesink conference, which will take place at the Two River Theater on Saturday, May 10.
“Play creates possibility,” the Atlantic Highlands resident said. “It’s not just frivolous. It’s an engine for growth. People underestimate how productive it can be.”
TEDxNavesink is the second Monmouth County-based event licensed by the nonprofit organization TED, which stands for technology, entertainment and design. This year’s TED conference, an all-day event, will feature two dozen live talks about the surprising ways that play can be a positive force by facilitating greater openness, tolerance, creativity, generosity and curiosity in all aspects of life.
The purpose of TED’s global organization, which started in California 29 years ago, is to spread ideas, and that is what the organizers of TEDxNavesink aim to do on a local level.
“We are all about putting on a brilliant day of talks, art and entertainment in Red Bank,” Smiga said.
At this year’s conference, landscape architect and playground designer Matthew Urbanski will talk about creating play spaces for the livable city. Author Lois Holzman will share her ideas about how play helps people grow, no matter their age. Peter Gray, a research professor of psychology at Boston College, will discuss the decline of play and the rise of mental disorders.
Laurie Brekke, the cofounder of GoSprouts.org, also is on the bill. Along with organization cofounder Hope Hanlon, they created a learning garden at Atlantic Highlands Elementary School three years ago. America Rice, an 11-year-old girl from Asbury Park, will share her story, as a youth volunteer at Second Life Bikes.
Augie Carton will talk about how his career choices have often been determined by whether they allow him the time to play. As an owner of Carton Brewing in Atlantic Highlands, he is allowed the freedom to play with beer recipes.
“Doing what someone else has already done isn’t attractive to us,” Carton said. “There are so many flavor possibilities with craft beer. Like wine, people should consider which beer would go with their meal. Or, if it’s a really great beer, they could consider what food might go best with it.”
Carton even gets to play with the beer names. One recent recipe, called GORP, stands for good old raisins and peanuts. Swisher Blunt Ale was made with sour cherries and smoked malt, and Comma was brewed with black pepper and saison.
“I was as flattered as I could be when I was asked to contribute to TED,” Carton said. “I’ve subscribed to the TED podcasts for a long time. TED Talks is where some of the most interesting conversations are going on.”
Smiga said the audience will be comprised of numerous entrepreneurs and start-up business people.
“It’s a great way for creative entrepreneurs and open-minded people to network and meet each other,” he said. “There are a lot of very creative people in Monmouth County.”
Along with the talks, five artists have been selected to visually express the concept of play in a nonliteral way through sculpture inside the theater. Lisa Bagwell of Ocean Grove repurposed discarded materials for her whimsical creations. Erik Johanson of Tinton Falls, a fine art professor at Brookdale Community College, created five sculptures for the exhibit that together create a mobile suspended from the Two River Theater’s ceiling.
The art will be on exhibit at the theater through May 9. Admission is free.
This year’s TEDxNavesink conference is sold out, but Smiga will use his video-producing skills and offer the talks free of charge for viewing online in the near future.
“I would love to see schools and teachers utilize these videos because many of them are locally relevant,” Smiga said.
Vibe writer Mary Ann Bourbeau can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.