What Now? David Pharr on TEDx Jackson 2014
What now? That’s the question everyone seems to be asking David Pharr these days.
The Fondren-based attorney who organized last week’s TEDx Jackson conference at The Capri Theatre is coming down off a high he hopes will never end.
Find It In Fondrenâ„¢ sat down with Pharr for a conversation on the outcome of TEDx Jackson 2014.
In Jackson, we can come up with some great ideas and that’s all they are. Maybe it’s that people are too scared to fail. Do you hope Thursday’s TEDx Jackson changed that?
Absolutely. This was an event a lot of us have been proposing in various forms for a long time that had not taken hold until now. Frankly, I heard a lot of pessimism about whether something like this could be successful in Jackson. In the future, I believe we will look at this and say it was a bellwether for people who have been challenging those voices of negativity in Jackson.
I’ve been interested in TEDx for 5 or so years. Â Then, as I was transitioning out of the big law firm in 2012, I ran across a New York Times article about a lawyer turned real estate developer in Roanoke, Virginia by the name of Ed Walker. Ed had organized a place making conference called CityWorks (X)po, and so I thought I needed to meet the guy. I had no idea how transformative that meeting that might be. I came back from CityWorks, just wearing people out about doing a TEDx style event here. So when Tim Mask (at Maris, West & Baker) called, I didn’t hesitate at all. I thought this would be a huge opportunity to prove the city was ready for this.
From my perspective, if that is the primary effect of TEDx Jackson 2014 — that people start thinking more positively about what we can do – that’s a win for me. The way we presented our city to the world has been so much fun – to see an event in Jackson get so much positive coverage. It’s great for Jackson to be portrayed as a place that is a wellspring of ideas.
There really hasn’t been time to process the full effects of TEDx Jackson for everyone in the audience. But, for you, has this event given rise to next steps or big ideas?
There are more specific plans in my world that will probably get more traction off of this. I’m always looking for ways to help Jackson align its goals and resources to make big improvements. I have projects – a lot of people do — and hopefully conversations will move quickly.
You mentioned last Thursday night, as soon as the event wrapped, that you had been unsure it would even happen. There were a lot of moving pieces, right?
There were a lot of unknowns and our team had never done anything like this. Mainly, we were fans of TED talks. Curation of speakers was the most comfortable part for us. But the planning part was not in our wheelhouse initially.
I thought someone like Nina Parikh (from the Mississippi Film Office) would be valuable as an addition to our team, so I asked her to be a part as the ‘game day quarterback.’ She has handled Crossroads Film Festival for fifteen years but has never had the challenge of an event in a building that had to have infrastructure improvements!
There was the live stream and a full-on production that had to happen. And Nina knew who to call. Mississippi Public Broadcasting came in to handle the camera work and help with the live stream. There were just so many things no one anticipated initially that had to come together for the event like audio/video rental. That was a challenge with so much going on in Jackson this past week (Sanderson Farms Golf Tournament, Mistletoe Marketplace).
And the facility…I mean the Land vs. Ocean team, did an incredible job (of set design and aesthetics,) working late nights for two weeks. It’s amazing. It’s such a high bar to reach for the second event.
I think Scott Colwell from MPB said it best: “Our approach was to throw enough talent at it so we could figure out whatever came up!” People came out of the wood work to make it happen. A lot came together at the last minute. I’m still soaking in the gratitude I feel toward everyone on the event and the divine hand for allowing it to happen the way it happened.
Don’t you see the metaphor for Jackson?
Yeah. Just do it. I think it’s important that this worked. All of the challenges — that’s part of it. In talking to other TEDx organizers, I have a hunch that’s the way it always happens. It kind of seems to be a TED thing, to present a challenge and have creative people figure it out. That’s what TEDx is all about, bringing together everyone interested in focusing on innovative ways, building on creative strengths.
What does this do for the people in room? What did this say to them?
I hope TEDx Jackson injects the group with optimism and they won’t hesitate to follow through with ideas they have had. It’s the “conspiracy of craziness” Kermit talked about. We need more of that, more ridiculous optimism. It doesn’t mean things always work out the way you plan, but sometimes they do.