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Vestal: Sparks of creativity ignite engaging evening

Fri., Oct. 1, 2010, midnight

John Robideaux tries to generate excitement with the crowd at Ignite Spokane at the Bing Thursday.  (Jesse Tinsley)
John Robideaux tries to generate excitement with the crowd at Ignite Spokane at the Bing Thursday. (Jesse Tinsley)

Someone ought to steal this approach for business meetings.

Got a big idea? Take five minutes.

And not a second more.

The right five minutes – the right energy, information, graphics and delivery – can make the silly profound and the obvious meaningful. At least that was my takeaway from the first Ignite Spokane, a hard-to-define celebration of verve and ideas Thursday night at the Bing.

“We almost have to have one in order for you to understand it,” co-organizer and emcee John Robideaux told the crowd at the beginning.

Fifteen people were given five minutes each to present their ideas before a strictly timed series of projection slides. There were sober, business-seminar topics – What constitutes good leadership? What makes for good social marketing? – and outrageously silly ones.

But the whole affair was light and fun, and my favorite moments were the silliest: a case for the world-changing power of skipping, and an argument that the drunken “Guidettes” of “Jersey Shore” have become today’s most relevant feminists.

It was eclectic, to say the least. The crowd included members of the business community in suits alongside scruffy hipsters in vintage plaids and cool glasses. It had the air of something you might come across in a bigger city. Combined with the Knitting Factory concert by the punk-rock icons The Melvins at the opposite end of the block, it seemed as if a little corner of Spokane was doing its best to be Seattle for a night.

In fact, the first Ignite event took place in Seattle, as a chance for techies to share ideas and beverages. It’s since spread around the country. The format is based on Japanese Pecha Kucha nights, where designers and creative types mix and share ideas – briefly.

That brevity is the event’s saving grace. You can stand anything for five minutes. And the compression produces some surprisingly powerful moments, because people are forced to boil things down to their essence.

Tony Hines, a Billings author, gave an account of his battle with lymphoma titled “How Lucky Underwear Helped Me Battle Lymphoma.” He delivered a funny, moving triumph-over-cancer story complete with lessons learned – “When it’s your battle, lead the charge” – and it packed a greater wallop for its brevity.

Ignite Spokane was organized by Robideaux and Margaret Croom, who publishes the Nosey Parker shopping guidebooks. Some 30 people submitted videos for consideration, and 15 were selected to give presentations, Robideaux said.

They ranged all over the place.

Terry Canfield asked, “What would it take to make our region the corporate headquarters capital of the world?”

People laughed, but he wasn’t kidding. He laid out his idea for using Spokane’s climate, countryside and culture to anchor a PR campaign to make it happen.

Author Deanna Davis gave a hilarious spiel that combined leadership lessons with stories about her kids. “The fact is, kids are just smarter than us,” she said.

Scott and Alexandra Mueller talked about how they chucked corporate life to buy an environmentally friendly ranch and become “modern homesteaders” outside Spokane.

There were many more, and all were interesting and engaging enough for the five minutes. Think of the last meeting at your workplace where you could say that.

Easily the strangest presentation of the night was Ashley Paulus’ argument that the women of the “Jersey Shore” were creating a new model for feminism. Sharp and funny, the 22-year-old Paulus made a more-compelling-than- you-might-expect argument that Snooki, “this little troll,” and her hard-partying friends on the MTV reality show are establishing a new kind of female empowerment, based on sexual aggression and independence. They objectify men, instead of being objectified, Paulus said.

“These women are the relevant feminists of today’s society,” she said.

Later in the event, Patty Sanders took the stage and skipped across it. She made an impassioned appeal for the world-changing power of skipping – or, more importantly, for the Spokane-changing power of skipping. Ridiculous as it sounds, Sanders built a short narrative from the simple benefits of skipping – health, attitude and simple, child-like joy – to a way that Spokane can shake its second-city status for good.

If everyone here starts skipping, spreading happiness like a virus, soon the vibes will catch everyone’s attention. Oprah will come. Skipping will put Spokane on the map.

“Everyone will be talking about us,” she said. “We’ll be the happiest, healthiest, most humane place on earth.”

I’ve heard worse plans to polish the civic apple. And all of those took longer, too.

Shawn Vestal can be reached at (509) 459-5431 or

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