Second 'Festival of Ideas' sets out for new horizons
By Lou Fancher
The presenters of Berkeleyside's second Uncharted, a two-day festival of ideas, don't know who the keynote speaker for the second annual event will be. They can't predict which great thinker at the Oct. 24-25 bacchanal of brilliance will shine brightest. And there's no road map predicting which conversation about topics such as food, technology, marriage equality, psychology, prejudice, art and science will spark revolutionary thought.
The "genius" of the event, held primarily at and near Berkeley Repertory Theatre, 2025 Addison St., might be composer John Adams, chef Tanya Holland, author Adam Mansbach, physician and professor Daphne Miller, scientist Jennifer Doudna, Qeyno Labs co-founder Kalimah Priforce -- or it might be you.
That's because Uncharted is unscripted and spontaneous, Berkeleyside co-founder Lance Knobel said.
"There's an excitement to seeing great thinkers consider questions they haven't heard before, working out their ideas in real time," he said.
And unlike a symposium where experts' voices are the only ones given airtime, Uncharted boasts ample opportunities for dialogue with attendees.
Built into the conversations between innovators and moderators are free-for-alls: Q&A sessions, a Friday night party at the University Club atop UC Berkeley's Memorial Stadium, coffee breaks, Uncharted labs (call them miniature cognitive calisthenic sessions) and an Unplugged happy hour at Five Restaurant at the Hotel Shattuck Plaza on Saturday.
Despite the obvious planning needed for two dozen conversations to happen in two days, a large part of the festival's thrill is the unpredictability.
A participant from last year's inaugural event comments on the festival's website, "I tend to focus on the island of my work and it was a thrill to look up, meet people and broaden my horizons."
Others express appreciation for being encouraged to have conversations with strangers. But some people come to Uncharted more to listen than to be heard. For those people, the lineup is the draw. Knobel says he's particularly excited about writers Jeff Chang and Adam Mansbach, talking about multiculturalism, race and the politics of hip-hop.
A conversation between Kate Losse and Scott Rosenberg about the dilemmas of the networked, social media age is a second highlight.
Other provocative pairings and subjects hold promise: Editor/author Annalee Newitz and chemistry professor Nate Lewis wrestling over the issue of harnessing power from the sun; two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner Steve Coll and Knobel looking inside the Islamic State; researcher Deborah McKoy and writer Daniel Schifrin blasting through barriers as they discuss cities designed by children; and composer Adams and Cal Performances Executive/Artistic Director Matias Tarnopolsky addressing the question, "Why make music?"
"Even though we're covering an incredibly diverse range of topics," Knobel said, "threads will emerge that tie wildly different things together."
Of course, that's not something that can be planned -- or can it?
Like great jazz, where unforgettable improvisations spring from the bed of preparation and deeply understood and practiced craft, Uncharted is well-designed but with the architecture of a bonfire.
Lit with a spark -- or teased into new territory by an attendee's question -- Uncharted 2014 is designed to burn through boring and radiate radical, new thought.