At the Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza, Italy, the stage’s backdrop gives the illusion that you’re peering through the alleyways of an ancient city. Designed by Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio in the 16th century, the building was inaugurated with a performance of Oedipus the King. Fast forward about 400 years. In June, the theater hosted the first TEDxVicenza.
“We decided to have the event here because this is the symbol of Vicenza,” said organizer Benedetta Piva. “The theme of our event was ‘Planting the Seeds,’ so we thought planting our ideas and showcasing them on this stage was a great way to say ‘Vicenza is back.’”
On a map of Italy, Vicenza is a small dot. But the city is witnessing a resurgence in art, innovation and tourism, said Piva, something she noticed after returning to the city from living abroad in France and the US. She curated the TEDxVicenza program to shed light on the potential of the city and think about problems unique to it.
“People might not all know about TED or TEDx, but we have the right mindset to embrace an event like this,” she said.
Throughout Northern Italy, events like TEDxVicenza are springing up amongst hilly vistas, Roman ruins and vineyards. The region is bursting with TEDx events — new communities cropping up as days pass — each showcasing a special part of Italian culture, innovation and ideas.
Padova, or Padua, is about 40 minutes east of Vicenza. This city also brims with its own traditions. “It’s famous for being the city with the three ‘withouts:’ the cafè without doors, the garden without grass, and the saint without [a] name,” said TEDxPadova organizer Carlo Pasqualetto. Padova is also known for astronomy, he added, as this was where Galileo Galilei studied the sky.
Pasqualetto and his team organized the second TEDxPadova at the Palazzo della Ragione, or “Palace of Reason,” once a medieval court. With more than 700 attendees and the theme “Think Big,” the event dwarfed the size of its first edition.
“Speakers stood at the base of a 10-meter wooden horse, the symbol of our city,” said Pasqualetto. “The atmosphere was intense. The speakers talked about their ideas inside a palace with almost 1,000 years of history. The contrast gave a sense of our vision: innovation within tradition.”
In Trento, about two hours north in The Dolomites mountains, a TEDxTrentoSalon took place right under the peak of Cimon della Pala. The theme: “Dolomiti: Assoluto.”
“I don’t know how to translate it into English, exactly,” said organizer Martina Margoni. “It means when you look at the beauty of the mountains, you can’t say words.”
Attendees trekked up the mountain together to reach the open-air stage. There, the group screened four TED Talks, starting with Matthew Child’s “9 life lessons from rock climbing.” Four live speakers also shared ideas, looking at the mountain from an anthropological, philosophical, biological and tourism perspective.
Margoni has been organizingTEDxTrento alongside her friend Mirta Alberti since 2013. On November 28, the third edition, themed “Courage to Dare,” will take place at the Teatro Sociale. Margoni and Alberti are excited for the speaker program, which will include Samantha Cristoforetti, the Italian astronaut who lived on the ISS until June, and a deaf choir who will perform a song with their hands.
An essential part of TEDxTrento, both organizers believe, is building new rituals. They plan a dinner party for speakers inside the glass Museo delle Scienze and cheers with sparkling wine at every event’s conclusion. “We hope people take away a small heritage,” said Alberti.
The TEDxVicenza team takes a similar approach.
“We think of TEDxVicenza as a dandelion,” Piva said. “You blow it, and the seeds go everywhere.” Attendee badges were crafted out of seed paper, and Piva instructed the audience to plant them in their gardens at home, to “remember us.”
But the most enduring moment of TEDxVicenza may also be the most ephemeral. At the end of the event, artist Mick Odelli projection-mapped a digital tapestry of flowers onto the interior of Teatro Olympico. To make this happen, the TEDxVicenza purchased a laser.
“We donated it to the municipality, so that it would be available for anyone who wants to tell another story with that technology,” said Piva. “That was our gift to our community.”
Piva, Pasqualetto, Margoni and Alberti are just a few of the organizers celebrating the diverse communities of Northern Italy — other events thrive in cities like Milan, Verona and Como. With each event, the Northen Italian TEDx community expands, highlighting the heritage and future of this unique locale.