Nanaimo’s vibrant cultural landscape relies on an active exchange of ideas. In a world full of stories, it can be hard to cut through the noise and actually hear what others have to say. Moving into other perspectives can help us process the world and incubate new ideas. With new input, life elevates itself beyond simply working to consume and play, and into a place where it is engaging, invigorating, and fully-lived.
Devised in Tokyo as a way for young designers to meet and share their work in public, PechaKucha Nights attempt to feed that need to exchange perspectives. Close to 100 Nanaimoites enjoyed their own event—PechaKucha Nanaimo Vol. 2, “Mines and Yours: Honouring Heritage in Nanaimo”—on September 26 at The Port Theatre.
Anchored by short presentations, PechaKucha Nights provide a place for participants—presenters and audience alike—to discuss, build on, and share ideas while forging connections that foster new partnerships and projects. The Japanese word “PechaKucha” translates into “chitchat,” which is at the core of the event. PechaKucha 20×20 is a simple format for presentations: 20 images projected for 20 seconds each as the presenter narrates the ideas that link them together, and ultimately, to the evening’s central theme. In Nanaimo, the evening was about sharing perspectives on our cultural past, present, and future.
Event organizers share a passion for the spirit of the format and approach. They’re usually employed in creative fields, and volunteer their time. Here, members of The Nanaimo Design Nerds, Jackie Duys-Kelly, Monica Shore, and Sean Enns, stepped up to become stewards for PechaKucha Nanaimo. As “agents of change,” the Design Nerds work to “engage the community in creative and culturally significant ways.” Numerous sponsors also helped to make the evening possible.
Any fun space—usually with a bar—can host a PechaKucha night. They’re anchored by the presentations, but networking and the exchange of ideas before and after are an equally important part of the experience. It’s meant to be relaxed and informal, knocking down boundaries that could staunch the free flow of ideas. The Port Theatre Lobby was a good fit as a venue—at night it comes alive with light and shadows. Mounted on the curved wall of the lobby is Phil Ashbee’s “Salmon Coming Home,” an expansive piece that features over 100 carved salmon, anchored by the “Sun Mask” at the centre. The lobby’s art exhibit also includes large musical instruments made of cardboard that hang freely overhead, casting their own shadows. The chairs arranged in front of the projection screen accommodated about half of the audience, which was made up of artists, academics, writers, designers, students, and others. Expecting only about 40 attendees, the organizers welcomed over double that to explore Nanaimo’s heritage. “We’re thrilled by the turnout,” Duys-Kelly said. “We’re excited by the way Nanaimo is embracing PechaKucha.”
One of the evening’s sponsors was Nanaimo’s Culture and Heritage Department. It’s a relatively new department, developed out of the City’s intent to foster the importance and visibility of cultural vitality. This is one of the four pillars of sustainability included in the City’s Corporate Strategic Plan (2012), and the department’s work is guided by the 2014-2020 Cultural Plan for a Creative Nanaimo (2014). When PechaKucha Nanaimo’s organizers were searching for a theme for Vol. 2, Culture and Heritage was a natural fit.
The City was happy to come on board as a sponsor for the event. Chris Scholberg, Culture and Heritage Planner for the City of Nanaimo, was excited about the opportunity for “entertainment and information sharing” as a way to explore the topic in a new and unique way. “It meshes with the Heritage Conservation Review process we’re undergoing right now,” he said. It was a way to connect with, and get feedback from, residents that might not otherwise be captured using typical consultation methods like surveys or open houses. He was thrilled with the strong turnout and cross-section of participants. The approach was a great way to gather information, he said. “It’s a bit unorthodox, a different tool we can use to reach a different audience.”
Presenters come from different areas of life and business, but they all share a passion for the theme, as well as a unique viewpoint and voice around the idea of “heritage.” New and unexpected information, along with a healthy dose of humour, were also in evidence. The 20×20 format was originally devised to force sometimes long-winded creatives, like architects, to keep their presentations succinct. Encouraged to present on something they love and are passionate about, distilling that into 20-second bites is a challenge. In her opening words, organizer Duys-Kelly said, “20 slides each spoken to for 20 seconds. That’s a tough nut to crack for some people.” Presenter Kim Smythe, CEO of the Greater Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce, was a bit more blunt: “The format is designed to strike terror and fear in the heart of public speakers,” he joked. Many other presenters echoed the sentiment throughout the evening.
Geraldine Mason, member of the Snuneymuxw First Nation and an Elder-in-Residence at VIU, called the 20×20 format “a real test,” because she’s used to “speaking from the heart.” She went on to deliver a moving presentation about the Snuneymuxw history in the area, tied in to the heritage that was stripped away by the residential school system, and today’s attempts at healing and reclaiming of that heritage. VIU is an important part of bringing those teachings back, and celebrating the achievements of First Nations graduates.
Representing the PsychoGeographical Association, author and poet Roger Farr presented an unexpected view of downtown Nanaimo. Through his lens, heritage in the space took on a unique flavour, delivered with a distinct lyrical and rhythmic style.
Christine Meutzner, Nanaimo’s Community Archivist, spoke of the importance of preserving history and the stories of those who came before. She also emphasized how critical it is for the public to have access to public records, saying, “It’s central to democracy.” Interpretation curator at the Nanaimo Museum, Aimee Greenaway, shared about artifacts as a component of storytelling, and the way they fit into the variety of exhibits featured at the museum.
Other presenters explored different points of view from the streets of downtown, uncovered the early history of craft brewing in Nanaimo, and talked about public events as a way to bring residents together to embrace and celebrate their heritage.
VIU was represented by several instructors. Imogene Lim, anthropology instructor, presented on the area’s rich Chinese heritage, and Director of the new Master of Community Planning Program supplied an unexpected history of the retail landscape. Many VIU students and alumni were also in the audience. There’s a natural synergy between education and PechaKucha; it’s a natural space to feed hungry minds.
VIU graphic design student Rio Trenaman said, “It’s a constructive and interesting event and I’m happy to see it growing, attracting increasing interest.” In spite of juggling other commitments that weekend, it was important to him to be there.
Presentations from “Mines and Yours: Honouring Heritage in Nanaimo,” as well as PechaKucha Vol. 1 “The Full Nanaimo” are available online at pechakucha.org. PechaKucha Nanaimo Vol. 3 is being planned for early in the new year with a theme around socially responsible design. Watch the website and Twitter @PKNanaimo for updates. New volunteers and theme suggestions are always welcome, too: Nanaimo.designnerds.org.
Trenaman summed it up nicely: “It’s meeting the aspirations of the PechaKucha developed format, aligned with the creators’ goals. It’s inspiring—inspiration is the key word.”