News Column

THE NEW REVIEW: Observer Ideas - a day festival of talks and performance:

July 20, 2014

John Mulholland



DATE: SUNDAY, 12 OCTOBER

PLACE: BARBICAN THEATRE, LONDON

Observer Ideas is a day-long festival of talks and performances at the Barbican in London, featuring acclaimed creator of The Wire, David Simon, leading author Evgeny Morozov, campaigner and writer Jack Monroe and a host of others - plus live music. Observer Ideas, supported by BT, is designed to challenge, inspire and provoke. Come and join us, says Observer editor John Mulholland

The last time we organised a day-long event such as this one (in March 2012 at Sadler's Wells), the response was overwhelming. Twitter recorded the response in real time and many of those echoed

@lorz18: "The beauty of tedxobserver is power of expression of different medium - dance, music, images or words, all inspiring." Or this from

@Mario-Dubois: "Laughter, tears, goose bumps, singing & dancing = tedxobserver."

Those in the audience were responding to a blizzard of different talks and performances, from Hugh Masekela's reflections on the influence of western culture on Africa to Plan B's plea to reach out to disadvantaged youths; or from Giles Duley's account of his photography and life-changing accident in Afghanistan to Tali Sharot on the neuroscience of optimism. And that was just a small selection of the themes discussed that day.

Observer Ideas, we hope, will have the same impact. We have chosen to organise this event independently of TED, though much else about the day will be the same. Talks (mostly) will be 20 minutes or less and the event will also feature musical performances. There will be Cambridge scientists and world-class mathematicians, leading digital thinkers and culinary historians.

We will hear from Chido Govera on how to empower Zimbabwean orphans (through mushrooms) and Michael W Twitty will ask why it is that the African-American story is written out of the culinary history of the deep south. Maggie Aderin-Pocock will tell us why it is that space science is the preserve of the "pale and male" and Jeremy Deller will ruminate on the connections between art and industry in Britain.

David Simon, creator of the acclaimed TV series The Wire, will present the keynote talk. Last year we were thrilled to host Simon and film-maker Eugene Jarecki in London when they came to discuss the failed war on drugs. Simon is a compelling, passionate speaker. Last year he offered an impromptu speech on the rise of the two Americas and described how the elite 1% were drifting away from the rest of a hollowed-out working and middle class. At Observer Ideas, Simon will offer more of his thoughts on race, class and capitalism in contemporary America.

And these are just some of the many avenues we'll explore. In addition to the speakers highlighted on these pages, more will be added over the coming months.

As well as the overwhelming reaction we have had to previous events, there has been another familiar question asked: "Why do you do this?" It's a reasonable query, given that our priority is to produce journalism every Sunday. But that's also the reason we do this.

In editing a Sunday newspaper it is sometimes too easy to set your focus on familiar sights and usual targets. Your field of vision is fixed on certain areas and you get accustomed to making journalistic journeys down the same paths in search of ideas and inspiration. The road map can begin to seem familiar, as though retracing your steps. If you're not careful you are in danger of telling the same stories.

Observer Ideas, and the previous one-day events we have organised, are a creative jolt to the system - forcing us to broaden our horizons in search of different, challenging stories, often told by a new group of storytellers. Not restricted to a magazine or an arts section or some of the other familiar structures around which we organise our journalism, we are free to roam more freely in search of different journalistic perspectives. How else might we have come across Peter Lovatt, who got the entire Sadler's Wells audience dancing while explaining the psychology of dance?

Often these themes don't end with the day-long event but are carried on in other aspects of our journalism. When Giles Duley decided to return to Afghanistan a year after he appeared at our event, he chose to write about that trip in the Observer. After Plan B - at our event - pledged to start a charity for kids in east London, we followed him on that journey. And so, although Observer Ideas will play out over one day in October, we expect the results to flow into our journalism for months to come.

We are pleased to welcome BT as our supporter. We have been talking to BT for more than a year to try to find the right event that we could collaborate on. I am pleased that Observer Ideas is something with which BT wishes to be involved.

Observer Ideas is about presenting ideas, curating debate, provoking discussion. And about finding new storytellers and new stories to enhance our journalism. I do hope you can come and be part of that story.

WHAT'S ON

JACK MONROE

Food writer, activist, campaigner

The Politics of Food

Jack Monroe's story is remarkable. She'd been forced to give up her job when she couldn't find childcare to cover her nightshifts. Living on benefits, and occasionally being forced to use food banks, she learned the hard way how to cook on a budget. She started a blog, A Girl Called Jack, and among the posts about local politics she also began writing down the recipes that she was cooking, healthy food for her and her son produced on a budget of pounds 10 a week. And then a journalist for the Telegraph came for lunch and life changed. Monroe now writes a weekly column for the Guardian, has topped the paperback charts with her first book, has appeared in an ad for Sainsbury's and undertaken trips for Oxfam, but she's as outspoken as ever on the subjects of food inequality and what life is actually like for the huge numbers of people struggling to get by. @MsJackMonroe

MAGGIE ADERIN-POCOCK

Space scientist, TV presenter

All Children Should Be Allowed to Reach for the Stars

One of the country's leading space scientists, and co-presenter of BBC's The Sky at Night, Maggie Aderin-Pocock has spent a great deal of time reaching out to children - many in inner-city schools - in order to demolish some of the myths about class, gender and race that surround science. She told the Guardian earlier this year: "In space, race doesn't matter, nationality doesn't matter. In space, you see the world as a globe and you don't see the boundaries."

Dyslexic at school, Maggie was often ignored until teachers discovered her aptitude for science. From that day on her grades improved, teachers began taking her seriously and she began to dream of a life in space. At Observer Ideas she'll talk about why children of all colours and genders should share that dream.

CHIDO GOVERA

Farmer, campaigner, educator

How Mushrooms Give Hope and Help Young Africans

Chido Govera was orphaned at seven in Zimbabwe, and turned into a parent at the same age, mothering her brother and caring for her grandmother, who was close to 100. She faced poverty, hunger and abuse. Between school and doing household chores, she worked for others to make some money. "I was the grown-up in the family." She was chosen at 11 to learn about mushroom cultivation by a local charity and this proved her salvation. "It was life-changing." She realised it was easy and affordable and could deliver her financial independence. She was able to pay school fees and educate her brother and other orphans. And now she teaches small-scale farming to women and orphans across Africa and Latin America through her foundation, The Future of Hope. @chygovera

DENAI MOORE

Musician

Born in Spanish Town, Jamaica, Denai Moore was surrounded by music from a young age. Aged 10, Moore relocated with her family to Stratford, east London. Moore has appeared on Later. . . With Jools Holland, and has released an EP, Saudade. She is working on her first album. Last year she told an interviewer: "Lauryn Hill has always been a big influence because of her honesty, but a couple of years ago I started listening to folk music like Bon Iver and Feist - they've become my favourite people now." @DenaiMoore

JEREMY DELLER

Artist

Art and Industry: From Wrestling to Mining

Winner of the Turner prize in 2004, Jeremy Deller last year represented Britain at the Venice Biennale with a show called English Magic. Tim Adams, in an interview with Deller in the Observer to coincide with the Biennale, attempted to distil his work: "His skill is juxtaposition, he is a master of putting things and people next to each other, altering contexts, lighting touchpapers and standing well back. 'My work is either things that bother me or things that I like,' he says. 'Sometimes they are the same thing, sometimes separate things. . . . Summers of love, melancholy, the north, open air, the miners' strike. . . Subsequently he has tended to let his audiences find their own cat's cradle of reference points in his work." @jeremydeller

KEYNOTE SPEAKER

DAVID SIMON

Author, journalist, TV writer, director, producer

A Tale of Two Americas

After leaving college David Simon became a crime reporter for the Baltimore Sun, and worked there for 13 years. He is also the author of Homicide: a Year on the Killing Streets and a co-writer of The Corner: a Year in the Life of an Inner-city Neighbourhood. Simon was the creator, executive producer and chief writer on the HBO series The Wire. Simon was also executive producer and writer on Treme, exploring the worlds of music and politics in post-Katrina New Orleans. Last year in a speech in Sydney, excerpted in the Observer, Simon said that America had become "a horror show" of savage inequality as a result of unbridled capitalism and bemoaned how it had lost sight of its social contract. Simon will deliver the keynote speech at Observer Ideas, after which there will be a short Q&A session onstage.

BENJAMIN CLEMENTINE

Musician

Born in Lon BenjaminC began busk Metro, and agent. Clem in June 2013 range, often time in Paris thisyear he way; more Jacques B is a difficu spokenw charisma an interv person a say som Born in London before moving to Paris in his early 20s, Benjamin Clementine became homeless in the city and began busking to make some money. He played on the Metro, and it was there that he was noticed by a music agent. Clementine's first EP, Cornerstone, was released in June 2013. He has a unique vocal style and an eclectic range, often infusing his lyrics with literary references. His time in Paris has proved formative in many ways. Earlier this year he said: "I started writing music in a French way; more focused on lyrics than melody." He cites Jacques Brel and LEo FerrE as influences but his style is a difficult one to categorise, often owing as much to spoken word as song. In performance Clementine's charisma and personality shine through. As he told an interviewer earlier this year: "I'm a very honest person and I'm quite emotional for a man. If I want to say something I'll say it." @BenjClementine

EVGENY MOROZOV

Author, academic

Politics Without Politics - What Happens When Big Data Becomes the Answer

Evgeny Morozov, a leading author and thinker on the impact of the internet on politics and democracy, has published The Net Delusion: How Not to Liberate the World in 2011, and in 2013 To Save Everything, Click Here: Technology, Solutionism, and the Urge to Fix Problems that Don't Exist. Morozov expresses concern about the power given to internet companies. In an Observer interview last year he said: "I have a lot of respect for these people as engineers but they are being asked to take on tasks that go far beyond engineering. Tasks that have to do with human and social engineering. . . [that] I would prefer were taken on by human beings who are more well rounded, who know about philosophy and ethics. . . it will not end well." @evgenymorozov

DR KATE STONE

Scientist, start-up entrepreneur, walker

Giving Paper an Electronic Future

Aged 20, Kate Stone moved to Australia and found herself herding 22,000 sheep on a 50,000-hectare farm. Soon after, she returned to the UK to study electronics at Salford University, earning a PhD. She works with paper and technology and sees herself as a "creative scientist", who blends art and science, fusing old and new technology. "We are looking at making anything that's printed interactive; giving printed materials a 21st-century user experience. It's lots of fun - a combination between science and art."@drkatestone

CEDRIC VILLANI

Mathematician, author

Why Mathematics Is One Big Adventure

The Fields me maths (becau every four ye ever received work complet 3,000 mathem he received on describes as "observe some is neither a sc talked previou the beauty of Theorem: The @Cedric-Villa The Fields medal is often called the Nobel prize for maths (because there isn't one), but it's only awarded every four years, and just 52 mathematicians have ever received it: all for outstanding mathematical work completed before the age of 40. In 2010, 3,000 mathematicians applauded CEdric Villani as he received one for his work on entropy (which he describes as "the uncertainty that remains after you observe something"). Mathematics, Villani believes, is neither a science nor an art: it is both. Villani has talked previously about the romance of maths and the beauty of equations. His next book is Birth of a Theorem: The Story of a Mathematical Adventure. @Cedric-Villani

MICHAEL W TWITTY

Culinary historian, writer

America's Food History: What's Race Got to Do With It?

Michael W Twitty says he is interested in exploring, interrogating and interpreting African, African-American, southern and Jewish food histories, representing, as they do, different aspects of his cultural identity. Twitty celebrates the cultural roots of southern food and demands recognition and respect for black slaves who brought food and styles of cooking to the south. Why has the African-American been written out of America's culinary history, he asks. He has conducted classes and workshops,written curriculums and educational programmes, given lectures and performed cooking demonstrations for more than 100 groups including the Smithsonian Institution, Colonial Williamsburg, Thomas Jefferson's Monticello, Library of Congress and the Oxford University Symposium on Food and Cookery. @KosherSoul


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Source: Observer (UK)


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