A Creative Night of Rapid-fire Ideas, Pecha Kucha Catches On

Last night, AIA Dallas’ Young Architecture Forum hosted the third Dallas-based Pecha Kucha event. Pecha Kucha is a idea that comes from Tokyo, and in Japanese, the name means something like “chit-chat.” Simply put, the event brings together a collection of creative people working in different genres and mediums to give rapid-fire presentations about their work: twenty slides per person, with only twenty seconds per slide to talk about the content. Though they only started in Dallas earlier this year, Pecha Kucha events are quickly becoming popular. Without any media coverage or marketing, last night’s event reached capacity days after it was announced on Facebook. I spoke yesterday with Sarah Jane Semrad, one of the two organizers instrumental in bringing Pecha Kucha to Dallas, to find out more about the innovative event.

Front Row: Where did the idea to import Pecha Kucha come from – who heard of it, what was the attraction?

Sarah Jane Semrad: My pal Brian Murphy approached me a little over a year ago to apply for the license from Pecha Kucha in Tokyo with him.  We thought it would be a fun addition to the creative landscape of Dallas and serve as a force to keep juicy ideas and collaborations flowing.

FR: What the goal/aim of the event?

SJS: The goal is to succinctly present information. 20 visual slides with 20 seconds each forces the presenter (whatever the topic) to focus intently on his / her message.  It’s a little exhilarating and breathless to witness a person keep up with an automatic slide show on a subject he / she knows well.

FR: What is gained by the rapid-fire nature of the event — the short presentations, the multiple presenters?

SJS: What’s gained is an all senses explosion of a topic.  Twenty visual slides is a lot.  Twenty seconds per slide is, simply put, not.  Combining these two constraints with a variety of topics is great fun.

FR: Tell me a little about the first couple of events. Who has come out? What has come out of them?

SJS: The first event was back in February at Smoke.  We called it “friends and family edition” because Brian and I didn’t know what to expect. About 70 people came out and had a fabulous time.  Presenters included preservationist Catherine Horsey, photographer Allison V. Smith, David Gotl of Design Within Reach, Brian Gibb of The Public Trust, midwife Cherie Boettcher and designer Bang Dang.

We hosted the second one in May at Sons of Hermann Hall as a mash up with Spark Club, an emerging network of social entrepreneurs, artists, leaders and doers.  Featured speakers were what we called Game Changers – Chris Zielke of 48 Nights, Stacy Caldwell of Dallas Social Venture Partners, Jason Roberts of Oak Cliff Transit Authority, Marianna Griggs of Community Gardens of Oak Cliff, Greg Metz of UTD, Tori Trad of Perkins + Will, Omar Jahwal of Vision Regeneration and Benje Feehan of BC Workshop’s Congo Street Project.

What has come of both previous events is a renewed zest for creativity and collaboration.  These events naturally attract a certain type of person who is drawn to consciously experiencing inspiration.

FR: There seems to be a natural relationship between Pecha Kucha and Spark Club in terms of the creative mixing / networking / free flow of ideas. Are the two organizations/ events informing each other?

SJS: The last PKN was a mash up with Spark Club.  Maybe we’ll do that again in the future, but for now the similarity is having some of the same players at the table.  For tonight’s event, we crisscross with Young Architects Forum to feature a variety of artists, architects and creative people.  Sharing the “official” PKN license with other groups is really important and we hope to collaborate with other groups in the future.

FR: So what would be the best way to describe the event: an idea incubator, a brainstorming session, idea food, or a creative energy recharge?

SJS: E. All of the above.

Photo: Jason Roberts presents at a recent Pecha Kucha night at the Sons of Hermann Hall (Courtesy photo)

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