Artists, innovators with local ties share ideas at virtual TEDxDetroit

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News

Painters, poets, entrepreneurs and more -- most with Detroit ties -- came together virtually Wednesday for an unusual TEDxDetroit, where adaptability during a chaotic year was a key theme.

Al Jean, a Detroit native who went on to become a writer and the showrunner for Fox's "The Simpsons," shared how he became a writer for one of the most iconic TV shows of all time. To other aspiring writers, don't talk about writing, Jean said.

"Just do it," he said. "If someone like me from 12 Mile Road can grow up and come to Hollywood, so can you."

Rob Paulsen, voice actor behind cartoon characters from Pinky and the Brain, Animaniacs and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles talks to the crowd.

This year's program, for the first time ever, was free to anyone who wanted to attend virtually. More than 4,000 people signed up.

TEDxDetroit, which debuted in 2009 and brings together speakers to talk about technology, entertainment and design, draws thousands every year from across southeast Michigan. It was originally supposed to take place at Ford Field this year but after COVID-19 hit, organizers switched gears to a virtual format.

Speakers were broken into three sessions with brief livestream videos no longer than 12 minutes. This year's program was sponsored by United Shore/UWM, which allowed organizers to offer it for free.

"It’s perfect timing," said Charlie Wollborg, TEDxDetroit's executive director and curator. "Everyone could use a little boost of optimism and creativity right now."

Andy Didorosi of the Detroit Bus Company and Detroit Sanitizer Company talked about having a thriving bus company before coronavirus hit this spring. They eventually pivoted to create something coveted during the pandemic -- hand sanitizer.

"You have to find your way through," said Didorosi. "And you have to accept that it's going to be a little uncomfortable."

Painter Timothy Orikri demonstrated his artistry during a segment, showing how he creates a Detroit landscape.

"Art is a way to communicate ideas" such as hope and joy, said Orikri. "It’s not just for the aesthetics."

Wednesday's program didn't shy away from tackling some of the most divisive topics of the day, including systemic racism.

Khary Kimani Turner, executive director of the Coleman A. Young Foundation, shared his own experiences with racism and offered five ways for everyone to do their part, including calling out loved ones on their beliefs, being brutally honest with others and celebrating Black culture, not appropriating it.

After the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and the protests that have followed, "we’re all awake now," said Turner. "And if we don’t screw this up, we just might change the world’s consciousness."

TEDxDetroit will hold its third session from 8-9:30 tonight