Asheville’s ‘intellectual capital’ takes center stage at TEDx Asheville event

Call it a circus for your brain. Call it an idea explosion with a rock-and-roll vibe. Call it a variety show for nerds, by nerds.
No matter how organizer Jennifer Saylor describes it, the TEDx Asheville event set for Aug. 30 at the Orange Peel will do one thing — spotlight the ideas and talents of Asheville's big thinkers and creative minds. The event is the culmination of several months of planning after a local group of fans of the annual California-based conference known as TED (which stands for technology, entertainment and design) got together and decided to stage an Asheville version of the event.

"Our presenter lineup is the result of around 90 speaker nominees and months of volunteer labor, watching videos, reading bios, discussing our options, listening to talks and ideas," Saylor says. "We think our lineup is completely in the TED spirit of humor, mastery, changing society and having vision for the future. It's made up out of the coolest and most interesting people we could find in a citywide search several months long."

The line-up of speakers includes David McConville, co-founder of The Elumenati, an Asheville design and engineering company that creates custom immersive environments such as domes; Drew Jones, a specialist in systems dynamics and climate-change modeling who is program director for the Vermont-based Sustainability Institute; Dee Eggers, an environmental studies professor at UNC Asheville; Robert Zimmerman, whose Web development company has created sites for illustrators and art directors; and Caroline Yongue, a home-funeral educator who talks about end-of-life transitions.

There's plenty of entertainment mixed in the four-hour event, with acts including poet Glenis Redmond and Chris Tanfield and Dave Hamilton. Saylor promises a couple of "big surprises" as well.

Seating is limited to 400 people and the show is free, so Saylor is encouraging people to arrive early to be sure they get a seat. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. The party starts at 7 p.m. Saylor says she doesn't have a feel for whether the event will fill up, but adds that interest has been high. 

Asheville resident Rick Fornoff, who coaches public speakers and is a TEDx Asheville organizer, has been coaching four of the event speakers. The TED requirement is that each speaker be limited to 18 minutes.

"Part of the power of the talks is that it's great information that's condensed. You don't have long to get it out there," Fornoff says. "So it's a matter of pruning and getting to the point."

Both Saylor and Fornoff note that local organizers have a real passion for TED, which is built around the idea of offering a global forum for ideas worth spreading. They hope that their excitement shows in the production.

"We're all fans of TED, and in Asheville we're all proud of the fertility of the community here," Fornoff says. "This is a chance for us to show off our intellectual capital."

The goal is to hold the event again next summer, with planning for that starting in October. Saylor urges anyone interested in getting involved to send an e-mail to

For more information, visit


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23 thoughts on “Asheville’s ‘intellectual capital’ takes center stage at TEDx Asheville event

  1. AvlResident

    A comment on another thread says about UNCA, “As for the media doing a bit of investigative reporting? It will not happen. Reporters who have shown an interest in digging deeper have been called off by the editors.”
    Does this apply to the situation at Mission Hospitals that has been revealed through heated anonymous comments in a local blog? I was eagerly awaiting this week’s authoritative investigative report – with facts, not rumors, with attributed comments, not anonymous accusations. When will Mountain Express step up to the challenge? Surely our hospital is more important to more people (more readers?) than people giving speeches at the Orange Peel?

  2. September Girl

    I’m sure the organizers of TEDx would disagree. They have been working hard to assemble this event and deserve every word of publicity they can garner. People like Jennifer and the speakers are Asheville’s and the world’s hope. As important as Mission is, ultimately their problems will have to be solved by Mission.

  3. James L

    So is this event in any way affiliated with the Sapling Foundation or have any of the organizers ever even been invited to attend the TED conference? I see they post disclaimers all over their website about not being organized by TED. I hope this is not another example of people in Asheville trying to hijack the name of national noteworthy initiatives for their own ego worship. If legitimately carried out, the aspirations seems sound and admirable in principal, but if it’s not authorized or affiliated with their namesake, I would hope this community could do something genuine of their own merit without more fraudelent name dropping.

  4. Ex-Pat

    “the speakers are Asheville’s and the world’s hope.”


    oh boy…Call it more Asheville narcissistic self-adulation and hype.

    I love ya Express, but this puff piece makes me wanna barf. I know a couple of the featured speakers and well, I find September Girl’s suggestion above (like the article itself) to be so preposterous to almost qualify as obscene.

    It’s nice to see Asheville’s intellectual capital hangs on the nail of the man that brought you the Happy Meal and the guy who did for interactive technologies what Buckminster Fuller did for modern housing.

    ugh…sorry for sounding like such a hater, but let’s get real, please.

  5. entopticon

    Ex-Pat, if you don’t like it, don’t go, but your sanctimonious drivel adds nothing of value. Sorry, but it is beyond asinine to describe the above article as a puff piece, as if you were really making a point. It’s an event listing, and nobody is twisting your arm to go.

    Ragging on Buckminster Fuller, who has a very important place in the history of this area, and an extremely important place in the future of technology and design, was particularly lame of you. I for one am extremely grateful to have the Director of the Buckminster Fuller Institute here in Asheville, not just because he is a close friend, and I very much look forward to his talk.

    Your self-righteous rant says a lot more about your lack of character than the people involved in this event. If Ashevillains want to share their ideas at the TEDx Avl event, good for them.

  6. Ex-Pat


    I cannot help but suspect that I know the source of your sensitivity about Fuller’s domes. Fuller may have a place in the future of design, but for now he is as the Cratylus is to liguistics, elegant and fascinating, but without practical relevance. His local relevance exists in that he allows us to imagine that this has always been a hotbed for the creative class (apologies to Merce and John, RIP) as always, history is a means of talking about ourselves (though I’m psyched your friend got a job out of the deal), which brings us to the actual participants, who are billed as “our intellectual capital.” Zimmerman is best known for designing Happy Meal boxes, McConville transformed a bank into some type of Anne Rice theme park. You’re killing me!

    The piece above appeared in “Buzzworm News Briefs,” which by its very label makes it something a bit more than an event listing. It’s advocacy is explicit in its placement in this section, as well as it’s editorial and prosaic flourishes, clocking in at over 500 words. Event listings also don’t typically involve quotes from more than one organizer and enjoy authorship by a staff writer.

    But really, it’s TEDx that’s the puff piece -“TED is an annual event where some of the world’s leading thinkers and doers are invited to share what they are most passionate about.”

    In any case, I sincerely apologize for ruffling your feathers. I hope you have a fabulous time.

  7. entopticon

    Ex-Pat, exactly what is it that makes you so goddamned superior to Buckminster Fuller, David McConville (Director of the Buckminster Fuller Institute) and virtually everyone in Asheville apparently?

    An Anne Rice theme park? Sorry, but you are completely full of crap. NASA, NOAA, and a remarkable roster of world leaders have been directly involved in some of the amazing things going on in that old bank building, and it sure as hell isn’t about Anne Rice.

    You talk a lot of crap about things that you clearly know very little about. I’m still waiting to hear what makes you so superior to Buckminster Fuller. This should be rich. I guess your life’s work has had a profound affect on the development of nanotechnology and the future of design as well. Currently the Buckminster Fuller Challenge is offering $100K grants for people offering solutions to some of humanity’s most pressing problems, and the results have been amazing so far. I can’t wait to hear about what you are doing that is so flipping superior.

    It’s an events listing, not an expose. Apparently the buzzworm ate your brain there Ex-Pat. And speaking of Happy Meals, you seem to be a few fries short of one.

    Again, nobody is forcing you to go to this event of local people sharing their exceptional ideas, and nobody is forcing you to suffer through being so superior to the rest of us here. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out. Send a post card from whatever country you land in.

  8. Ex-Pat

    Oh, calm down, will you? I don’t think I’m superior to anyone.

    Really. That’s the problem. You obviously seem to be hung up on the “great man theory of civilization.” And sorry if I don’t believe that strategic consumer engineering, technological band aids, “world leaders” and the aerospace industry are poised to save us all. I honestly don’t believe anything less than a larger systemic challenge will suffice to effectively deal with the enormity of our problems at this late hour. If you want to, that’s fine. Those are very comforting ideas. Particularly for the professional class.

    As far as what I do, I devote a very great deal of my time addressing the world’s problems in my own way. More than most. I could say a lot more about this, but I don’t feel like forfeiting my anonymity, especially for someone as hostile as you.

    Again, I sincerely apologize for upsetting you. I’ve just lost patience with the popular embrace of feel-good solutions and belief systems currently in vogue that fail to address the root causes of the world’s problems.

    I’m on your side.

  9. entopticon

    Calm down yourself you hypocrite. You are the one who came here sanctimoniously attacking people who are guilty of nothing more than trying to help the planet and share their ideas. You come here and make up nonsense about my closest friend here and self-righteously put people down, and you want me to believe that you are on my side? Now that’s rich. You are on your own side.

    It’s no surprise that you couldn’t back up what gives you the right to act to goddamned superior to Buckminster Fuller and the people of Asheville. Your “great man” theory is a straw-man argument that is particularly asinine in light of tonight’s presentations focussing on systems theory approaches.

    All that crap about world leaders and the aerospace industry solving our problems is just a ridiculous confabulation on your part, and is the antithesis of what many of tonight’s speakers have to offer. It has about as much basis in reality as your asinine claim about the Elumenati being some kind of Anne Rice theme park. Here is the website for what the Elumenati actually does:

    The more approaches the better. Your cartoonishly misleading characterizations of tonight’s TEDx talks are specious at best. Your insistence on trying to pawn off a bunch of crap that you just made up as fact doesn’t really make you a trustable source.

  10. Piffy!

    [b]Again, I sincerely apologize for upsetting you. I’ve just lost patience with the popular embrace of feel-good solutions and belief systems currently in vogue that fail to address the root causes of the world’s problems.[/b]

    a-freaking-men, EP.

  11. James L

    I’ll add a holy-freakin-amen to that as well. We could solve all the world’s energy problems if we could just harness a fraction of the self important ego driven hot air generated by this community. I’ve seldom seen such acclaim put forward from a populace with so little genuine accomplishment.

  12. entopticon

    Sounds like Greenville and Charlotte would be right up your alley then. Bon voyage.

  13. JamesL

    I think the members of this community who have actually invested themselves in meaningful work for decades and are not obsessed with patting themselves on the back and singing false praises will be happy to take our community back from the fly-by-night posers and wannabes thanks very much. If you want to pretend to be a big fish, at least have the courage to find a bigger pond. Not everyone in this town is buying your spray painted taxis and snake oil anymore.

  14. entopticon

    JamesL, first you come here and talk a bunch of crap about how the TEDx event was fraudulently hijacking the TED conference, and when it was pointed out that your careless aspersions had no merit whatsoever, and that in fact the TED organizers have been very, very supportive of the Asheville event, you didn’t even have the character to just apologize.

    Several hundred people attended the event, and 400+ more had to be turned away at the door. It was a huge success. Your crap about TEDx people patting themselves on the back and singing false praises is just bs that you made up. Without exception, the speakers showed kindness and humility, and all argued that the problems were much bigger than any one person and require a broader systemic approach.

    Again, if you hate so many people here, why not just move to any other bland, generic, right-wing town like Charlotte or Greenville, since that is clearly what you want? There is no shortage of towns without the quirky, taxi painting Ashevillains that you despise so much. There are thousands and thousands of run-of-the-mill towns with nobody to offend you. For those people that you despise so much, there are no other options like Asheville for them.

  15. September Girl

    “Again, I sincerely apologize for upsetting you. I’ve just lost patience with the popular embrace of feel-good solutions and belief systems currently in vogue that fail to address the root causes of the world’s problems.”

    “a-freaking-men, EP.”

    Cynicism is often just an excuse to do nothing.

  16. Piffy!

    [b]Cynicism is often just an excuse to do nothing. [/b]


    Of course, it is also often an outgrowth of working tirelessly for years on real projects like ‘radical’ newspapers and community gardens, while all the attention and resources go to theoretical ‘intellectuals’ only interested in gaining tenure and selling books, while placating the public with ‘feel good’ ideas that never really address the root causes of the problems in the first place.

    That also makes some of us a bit cynical, yes.

  17. entopticon

    Why the self-righteous, sanctimonious drivel? To dismiss all the TEDx speakers as “theoretical ‘intellectuals’ only interested in gaining tenure and selling books, while placating the public with ‘feel good’ ideas that never really address the root causes of the problems in the first place” is complete hogwash.

    You think you are the only person who ever worked on “real projects,” and the only person whose projects are “real”?!? What an absolute load of crap. There were plenty of people there who are doing some pretty amazing, real projects, that most certainly do address the root causes. You aren’t exactly the only person to ever work on a community garden or an alternative newspaper. Sheesh.

    It’s nice that you think you are so frickin’ superior to the rest of us, but seriously, give it a rest.

  18. not entopticon

    How ironic that you claim others purport to be superior to you. You come across as one of the most sanctimonious people on these blogs.

  19. entopticon

    That’s real brave of you “not entopticon.” I gave a perfectly legitimate example, and all you can do is make vague accusations. I could a give a flying f@#k whether you like me or not. My point stands that the sanctimonious criticisms of the TEDx organizers and presenters, who worked hard with great care and humility, were not warranted.

  20. Gina Nelson MD

    Yeah I’ve had it with all these feel good solutions, how bout some FEEL BAD ones LOL.

    The original TEDs are some of my favorite video content EVER, and so if TED is having babies, I say let’s have a shower. .

    The TED speakers of my acquaintance are, BTW, real ppl with real jobs, who work VERY HARD. SO let’s all show up and do the same.

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