The first thing that organizers of Emerge2013 this weekend at Arizona State University in Tempe want to make crystal clear about the event is that you don't have to be a geek, nerd, or egghead to attend.
Though it's true that the forward-looking event, which aims to envision mankind's future through a melding of art and science, is a cerebral experience, says co-organizer Joel Garreau, it's aimed to entertain anyone and everyone, regardless of their SAT scores.
"We're not going to apologize that this is an event for people with some smarts," Garreau says, "But we're also hell-bent and determined to make sure that it's interesting and -- dare I say it -- even fun."
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Emerge, which launched last year, aims to not only entertain and enlighten a wide cross-section of Valley residents and get them considering the road ahead, says Garreau, an ASU law professor, it also aims to help "bust down any barriers between artists and scientists," both of whom are the types who typically are involved with helping chart the future course of society.
"The whole idea behind Emerge is to bring everyone from artists and dancers to engineers and storytellers together to redesign the future of what it means to be human," he says. "The two groups historically, in part, that have been staring at each other from across this divide with a certain amount of distrust."
This collaboration between arts-minded and science-minded types make up the first portion of Emerge2013 and takes place during a series of nine invite-only workshops that start Thursday and take place at ASU's Tempe campus over the first two days of Emerge.
Garreau says that organizers sought out a variety of local visionaries, tech-heads, lab geeks, politicians, and creative types to participate in the workshops. Each covers a series of subject matter related to the future, ranging from cutting-edge technology and game-changing singularities to the possible exploration and colonization of distant worlds.
"We were looking for a mix of people, and we deliberately reached out as far into the community as possible. The whole idea is that the poets don't have a lock on the truth any more than the physicists have," he says. "The workshops were carefully curated, like a dinner party, to bring together these people together to work together, and the notion is, hopefully the outcome will be greater than the sum of its parts."
Over the course of Thursday and Friday, the participants of each workshop will collaborate and conjure up 12-minute-long vignette-style presentations on each topic that will be staged on Saturday, when Emerge2013's events are open to the general public both inside and outside ASU's Neeb Hall. Garreau says that each is meant to be both brain pleasing and brain teasing.
"It's a cross between Prairie Home Companion and a TED talk," he says. "They've got 12 minutes to fill and it better be good."
For instance, he says, the workshop on how future disaster and atrocities will result in a talk show, while the participants tasked with envisioning the exploration of distant planets will conjure a gigantic comic book.
"Whether it's a performance, a comic book, a children's story, or whatever, they've got to get up there on their hind legs and show the world what they're made of and do it in a fashion that has people's jaws dropping around their Arizona Centennial belt buckles, I hope," he says.
In addition to the presentations, Saturday's public event will feature keynote talks from such visionaries as the legendary futurist/artist Syd Mead (who helped create the futuristic worlds seen in Blade Runner and Aliens) and renowned myth expert Betty Sue Flowers, a onetime protégé of Joseph Campbell. ASU President Michael Crow will also speak.
Garreau says that day is also akin to a Maker Faire or Tempe's recent Geek's Night Out event and will include a diversity of interactive activities and distractions of a tech bent in the plaza outside of Neeb Hall. Like the "Wurm Hole," for example, a 12-foot attraction shaped like an enormous C that uses a "hacked version" of the Xbox Kinnect to scan attendees and a 3-D laser cutter to create a miniature keepsake sculpture.
"This is something where if you don't have a good time at this event, we've really done something wrong," Garreau says.
Meanwhile, a uniquely wide variety of entertainment will take place throughout the day and into the evening hours, including performances by ASU's Laptop Orchestra, a reading of "Twitter Verses," an avant-garde performance art session by Michael Krzyzaniak + AME dancers titled Separation: Short Range Repulsion, and music from two Native American "chicken scratch" bands.
"I've discovered a new pleasure late in life, which is spending Michael Crow's money on two Tohono O'odham bands," Garreau jokes.
Speaking of the ASU prez, Garreau relates an anecdote about his experience at the inaugural Emerge event in 2012.
"[Last year], Michael Crow came out and did a keynote and waved at the crowd, like we expected him to. An hour later, he came back dragging his wife and daughter behind him saying, 'You've got to see this,'" Gareau says. "That's when we knew we'd created something that is more than just a big nerd fest. We'd succeed in this kind of mash-up between the artist and the scientists and the engineers and the storytellers, which is at the heart of this."
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Garreau hopes that the general public has a similar experience this Saturday.
"This is something where if you don't have a good time at this event, we've really done something wrong," he says.
Emerge2013 runs from Thursday, February 28, to Saturday, March 2, at Arizona State University's Tempe Campus. Public events take place starting at 9 a.m. on Saturday at Neeb Hall on Forest Mall. Admission is free.