What's happening at TEDx Sydney with Head of Curation Fenella Kernebone
Fenella Kernebone is the Head of Curation for TEDxSydney, responsible for leading the programming for what has become one of the largest TEDx events in the world as well as TEDxSydney Salons. Fenella manages a team of over 20 curators and producers dedicated to spreading great ideas and strong stories in fields including science, technology, arts, business and design. Ahead of TEDx Sydney this week we spoke to Fenella about the program.
What’s happening at TEDx?
What’s happening at TEDx? We are in our final stages of preparation for the main event on Friday the 16th of June, and for me, as the Head of Curation, that literally means getting our speakers prepared and ready, as they’re in the final stretch. We’re doing final rehearsals, talking on the phone and Skype and FaceTime. Also, it means making sure that everybody’s got the right details, the flights are booked, accommodation’s sorted, food preferences – gluten free etcetera – it’s lots of elements involved in making sure those ideas from are speakers are ready to rumble on the stage, but also that they’re looked after and given the love that they deserve. They’ve worked really hard towards this final event.
And what are the trends you’re seeing in the TEDx speakers this year?
I don’t think it’s trends so much, because each year it seems to be speakers who are approaching or tackling ideas that are changing the world in their own way. So if you can think of that as being about particular topics that might be a trend –like one of our speakers, for example, this year is looking at sustainability. Last year, there was another speaker who was looking also at the issue of sustainability and ethical fashion. But this time we’re thinking about what we eat, and sustainable fishing, particularly in the Pacific. Sustainability is one of the big topics that is coming through, and that’s a global concern, as opposed to a trend.
I think for me, as the curator, it’s trying to get a range of ideas on that stage that spark the brain, that spark the synapses in our audience to think differently about the world, to potentially change the things that we can do in order to make a big difference. That’s the sort of stuff that we’re seeing on the stage this year.
The world’s certainly going through a lot of change at the moment, and we’ve had a lot of dark news coming out of the Middle East and in Europe. How do you bring inspiration into your TEDx curation against this gloomy backdrop?
I think there always is inspiration. You can’t hear world-class speakers talking about a topic that they’re passionate about, and incredibly knowledgeable about, without feeling inspired, that’s for sure.
Yeah. It’s a good point. There is a lot of negativity in the world, and every single day we hear something else that’s horrendous, whether it’s happening in London or Manchester or in Iraq, or even here in Melbourne, Australia this week. Sometimes you feel like you can do nothing, and you feel that everything is going to shit. All these big issues that are out there, and honestly, I feel this every single day – it’s palpable. And so how you try and find a way of creating optimism and change is by having people on stage who can not only inspire with great storytelling that, brings it all together, but speakers who can help provide a shape of what the future could look like.
But they also give you some practical ideas on how to make change, and how we can do things differently, and that’s the bit that I really value when I hear these speakers on stage. Whether it’s someone talking about their personal experiences, or whether it’s Auntie Judy Atkinson talking about her work in grief and trauma in Indigenous communities, we are given the chance to hear stories that may help think differently about the negativities that are out there in the world. I don’t think it’s necessarily to get rid of them of course. It’s like a guide for what we can do, and how we can change our thinking, in some cases.
And without giving anything away, what are some of the big questions that you’re going to be looking at this year?
I’ve already talked about one, which is sustainability, which is a big question – ethical ways of thinking about how we live in the world. In the case of one of our speakers, who is a Fisheries Manager, David Power, he’s talking about how we can rethink how we fish in the Pacific in order to sustain nations. It’s sustainability of a different kind – it’s about how we actually live together.
One of our other speakers is Mariam Veiszadeh, who’s a lawyer and a diversity consultant, social commentator and radio announcer, and she’ll be talking also about how we can literally live together in a way that provides – to use a phrase – an equal playing field for everyone. So everyone has the same opportunities together, which I think is really important.
David Hunt will be talking about different approaches to Australian history, and who we are as a people, and how what we’ve done in the past talks about who we are today, and how we can use those lessons from our history to think about our future. He’s very funny. He wrote that book called True Girt, which is a very entertaining history Australia since invasion, colonisation; since Cook landed, in Botany Bay. So there are different kinds of themes that are coming through on the stage. In some ways, it’s actually very difficult things to talk about without giving things away, because that’s one of the beauties of TEDxSydney is that you go there and this sort of secret ingredient, is about being in that audience and listening to these very smart, creative people sharing these big ideas. To use the TED mantra - ideas worth spreading. You sort of sit there and listen to it - that’s what’s so exciting about it as well.
Can you tell me who’s going to be in the room from New South Wales?
The speakers from New South Wales include Peter Greste, who’s an award-winning foreign correspondent. He’s an extraordinary journalist; he was at the ABC for many, many years, and he more recently has become known, widely, as being one of the journalists who, along with a number of his colleagues, was arrested in Egypt, in Cairo, when he was working with Al-Jazeera. And he was falsely charged with terrorism offences, so there’s a big question there about freedom of speech, freedom of the press, which is more than ever important in this current climate where we’re dealing with, this whole concept, this strange concept, of fake news or whatever it happens to be. One of the things he has done since he was released from prison in Egypt a couple of years ago is to campaign for press freedom everywhere. What he can do and what he talks about is incredibly current, and super important.
Another one that’s from New South Wales I mentioned before is David Hunt before. Sarah Houbolt, is from New South Wales; she is a former Paralympian, and is also a performer; a circus performer and a physical theatre performer, who also works at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) as a diversity advocate and as an Arts Manager. She was actually speaking at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas last year, that’s where I heard about her. I also saw her in an interview on The Feed on SBS, and she was talking about how she’s a natural born freak and she wants to change the dialogue around disability. She is incredibly eloquent and will focusing on design, a kind of unconventional talk about design, so I’m really excited about hearing from Sarah Houbolt.
Other speakers from Sydney include Mariam Veiszadeh, I mentioned her before; she runs the Islamophobia Register and is an ambassador for Welcome to Australia also, which is about providing a conversation around asylum seekers and refugees and multiculturalism – a very smart, engaged person who is on Twitter all the time trying to keep the conversation going about equality, diversity, for all. So she’s a really extraordinary person. So there’s about four or five speakers who are specifically from New South Wales, but all are Australian this year.
As a curator, I think our readers would be interested to know what you’re reading and what podcasts you are listening to.
I have to go to my bedside table… okay, this might sound like a wank, pardon my language. I just started reading, again, Walter Benjamin, One Way Street and Other Writings, who was a philosopher and an essayist, cultural theorist, between the wars. Really amazing. I just read his article about his book collection, which is really fun, I found it fascinating, particularly in this age where we don’t collect books as much anymore. I have plenty of books that I love to dip into every now and then, but most of the time we find ourselves going to bed looking at our phone and reading whatever’s on Twitter or Facebook. In his essay he’s talking about the passion for collecting books again.
Another book that I’m reading at the moment is about the spirit of cities. I did a talk last week about how to shape Sydney for the future as we look towards the growing population of Sydney – that’s going to grow exponentially; where are we all going to live, do we have jobs, how are we going to be able to get to our places of work?
There is this amazing book by this a guy called Daniel Bell and Avner de-Shalit called The Spirit of Cities and it’s all about the identity of cities in the global age. And actually my big dirty secret is I listen to loads of podcasts and audio books, so I’ve been listening to a couple of the books from our speakers.
I’ve listened to David Hunt’s book and his recent updated book, most recently, and the other book I’ve listened to is Tom Griffith’s book – he’s one of our speakers. He’s formerly from Western Australia, and he wrote this book with Brian Christian that was released last year called Algorithms to Live By. And it’s the most perfect, nerdy book you could possibly read or listen to, so it’s how we as humans could live or even potentially apply the ideas from computer science and computers essentially, so algorithms when it comes to our decision making. So if we’re choosing what restaurant to go to - sometimes it’s difficult when we arrive in a new city - you don’t know whether to go to something you’ve been to before, or maybe you go to something brand new. How do you make that decision? Sometimes we’re wracked by not knowing what to do. And this book’s really fun because it talks about how you can use computer algorithms to sort that stuff out for you. He’s actually talking about ideas like that on stage, which is lots of fun.
I’m also listening to a podcast called The History of English. There’s about 95 episodes and they’re about an hour long, and I just got up to episode 94 last night, and then I got sad because I realised I’m almost finished.
Wow. That was a good question to ask you.
I’m always reading something. I wake up in the morning and I read the news, go through the papers online if I can, and I check out my Twitter feed, always. I follow all the different papers from around the world, and obviously I follow some people who post links to incredible things that you need to know, so I do find myself reading all the time, which is good.
Any good throw-outs there for our Twitter followers? Anyone that they should be following?
You can follow me, but you can also follow TEDxSydney. Obviously all newspapers are really useful – lots of different journalists are great. I love following magazines like New Scientist; there’s a futurist guy called Mark Pesce, who I met the other week and just started following, and I’ve been going back to his posts, and he’s always posting amazing things too.
For me, when I’m reviewing Twitter, I’m mostly interested in reading from people who are posting about stuff that I want to follow, so great links to articles or ideas that I haven’t thought of before, so it’s like the most interesting dinner party you could possibly imagine, where everybody’s posting something and you go, ‘What?' I want to find out about that, that I may not have necessarily thought of before. It’s quite useful.
It is very useful. So Kim Kardashian’s not getting any love?
No. No. No! In fact, I must admit if anybody posts anything these days like ‘Oh, man, that was the worst coffee I’ve ever had’, I want to delete.
With all these creative thoughts going around, I’d like to know what you think the future of Sydney could look like.
I think the future of Sydney is bright if we think about the future of everybody who’s living in the city, and at the moment, I don’t think that it’s a positive experience for all. I do think if we create connectivity that works, that includes public transport that enables us to get to our workplace and home within a particular period of time without having to sit in traffic, for example, then we have made a more satisfied city. But I do think the future of Sydney will only be one that’s positive and that can thrive if it’s one that is thinking about all of the inhabitants, and not just focusing on people who live in the inner city. So there’s lots of big divides in our city, which worry me greatly, and until we’ve solved, I think particularly, big question of transport, it’s going to be very difficult. I think it’s bright, but there’s a lot of work to be done.
With your vast knowledge and interest in all the nerdy technologies and algorithms, what do you think some of the future positive implications are for the New South Wales screen and art industries and practitioners?
Arts practitioners are great embracers of technology, whether it’s to create art, or to communicate to customers, friends, and clients.
I think we– artists and arts practitioners, and those in the creative field - are if not first embracers, then certainly early adopters of new technology. We have a very strong, vibrant, intelligent creative community who will see, as soon as something’s invented, new ways of using it in order to be beneficial. That’s the benefit of being a creative thinker and thinking outside the box. You can look at something, and everybody says ‘this technology’s only used for this; that’s its purpose’ but actually that’s the great thing about artists and those in the creative industry, because they can say ‘Yeah, it might be used for that purpose, but we can also use it for this and for something else.’ It’s those sorts of ideas that are skirting around the outside that I really am excited by and welcome.
Aside from TEDx what else are you working on – where can people find you next?
TEDx for me has become year-round. TEDxYouth@Sydney has happened simultaneously in the last three years as the main event, but this year it is going to be happening in a couple of months’ time, and we’ll be announcing those details actually on the 16th of June at the International Convention Centre. I’m working on that.
Other than TEDxSydney, I’m doing my usual thing, where I obviously host events and I write. I’m also hosting a podcast for the Sydney Opera House, so I’ve been doing that at the same time; I’m doing interviews with some of the musicians who are out here in Australia for the VIVID Festival. I’ve done about four interviews so far, and I’ve got another four next week, so lots of funny little jobs. I’m a slashie! TEDxSydney slash something else.
TEDxYouth is going to be fantastic and incredible, and our youth curators have been working hard. I can’t wait for that event to happen so we can see the great speakers and performers that they’ve dreamed up and we’re currently supporting to get on that stage, so more soon. Very exciting.
TEDxSydney event is a unique and vital day of talks, films, music and debate, and is one of the largest TEDx events in the world. TEDxSydney 2017 will take place on Friday 16 June at the ICC Sydney, Darling Harbour. #TEDxSydney