Two-day Berkeley festival to showcase visions, perspectives10.06.2017
EAST BAY TIMES / By Marta Yamamoto —The fifth year of Uncharted, the Berkeley Festival of Ideas, on Oct. 27 and 28 at Berkeley Repertory Theater and Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse, will have a new co-curator and new conversations that promise to live up to the slogan “Unscripted, Unpredictable, Uncharted.”
The festival, founded in 2013 by online news site Berkeleyside, supports the belief that solutions to today’s challenges can result from the convergence of different visions and perspectives, arrived at through intimate, one-on-one conversations about some contemporary issues.
This year, Helena Brantley joins founder Lance Knobel as co-curator.
“Our goal is to create a space, two days in time, where people from across the Bay Area can come and be informed, share ideas, question and challenge,” Brantley said. “It’s meant to be a space where people can be OK with all the questions and, at the same time, enjoy what a real diversity of people have to say about some of the key issues of our day.”
This year’s conversations will cover such topics as criminal and restorative justice; business and leadership; gender and race; work-life balance; religion; refugees; and end-of-life issues.
A specific talent Knobel has demonstrated is in identifying people who are shaping the way things happen and bringing them to Berkeley before they peak by winning a Breakthrough Prize or before they’re featured on the front of The New York Times arts or science section.
“One of the things we pride ourselves in is finding unexpected people, well ahead of the curve,” Knobel said. “So our name, Uncharted, has that resonance that we’re taking our festivalgoers into uncharted waters, to find ideas and thinkers they didn’t expect to encounter.”
Knobel and Brantley take the festival’s curation seriously, spotlighting people who have something different to offer and creating a celebration of people, ideas and ways of thinking.
They look for people who are writing, teaching or creating in some way about a topic that’s relevant now and have demonstrated some commitment and knowledge around current issues.
They’re not looking to have angry rhetoric and sparks flying, tempting though that might be, by simply bringing together people with opposing views on a topic.
“One of the key messages I want people to understand is there is a way that we can take advantage of this moment, and our goal is to find thoughtful people and offer meaningful conversations that really leave you moving in the world differently and thinking differently,” Brantley said.
So how does this festival actually work? Festivalgoers sit in the audience in very comfortable spaces and listen to a series of one-on-one conversations – just two people on stage with no presentation or panel of speakers.
For example, “Death 101” will match Dr. Jessica Zitter, a palliative care physician at Highland Hospital and author of “Extreme Measures,” with Amy Tobin, chief executive officer of the East Bay Jewish Community Center.
“They’ll talk about the broader issue of how do we think about death and dying; what are the ways we might think about what happens at the end of our life differently than the way we do now,” Brantley said. “The value for the audience is that you have an expert on these issues talking with someone who is deeply connected to the community who is likely dealing with these issues personally or in her role at the JCC.”
Another conversation, “The most segregated hour in American life,” pairs the Rev. Mauricio Wilson, of Oakland’s St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, and Rev. Pam Kurtz, pastor of Lake Merritt United Methodist Church, talking about why Sunday mornings in the country are still the most segregated hour in America and what has been done to increase diversity in churches.
A new collaboration with the East Bay Jewish Community Center will offer “living room conversations” that give attendees the opportunity to further explore complex issues raised during the two days. The festival will also feature music and dance performances, arts spotlights, and hands-on labs.
Ticket holders are invited to attend Uncharted Festival’s opening-night party Friday at the David Brower Center in downtown Berkeley, as well as Saturday night’s closing happy hour at the Hotel Shattuck Plaza.
Knobel has a simple test to determine whether the festival has achieved its goals.
“I’m looking for people to come up to me on Saturday afternoon saying I came to Uncharted because I was interested in speaker or topic x, but there was a woman talking about y on Friday afternoon who totally blew me away,” he said.
“I want to see that they had that shock of recognition, of discovery, thanks to our skill in curating the program. Fortunately, that’s happened a lot in the first four Uncharted festivals, and I’m confident it’s going to be the case again this year.”
Uncharted: The Berkeley Festival of Ideas, Oct. 27-28, 9 a.m. to 4:45 p.m.