PopTech focus 'Toward Resilience'
Camden — Leetha Filderman lives in a global community and she can see it all from her office located on Elm Street in Camden. Filderman is the president of PopTech, a conference that draws together an eclectic network of innovators who annually convene in Camden to explore an issue, or issues, at hand on the global stage. With PopTech drawing innovative presenters, diverse global thinkers, and attendees hailing from all over the world, the multi-faceted conference — in its 16th year — has grown roots in Camden.
"We view this as our home," said Filderman, who pointed out that 16 years "in and of itself is a big commitment to the community."
While the $2,500 price tag for the conference — which begins with an evening welcome reception Wednesday, Oct. 17, and extends through Oct. 20, — may seem lofty for some budgets, Filderman noted the conference works to provide public events that are inclusive to the greater community.
"Lots of paths to participation are a priority to us as an organization," she said.
PopTech maintains a year-round office on Elm Street and works to draw the community into as many events as possible, she said. The conference is broadcast free of charge online and also on a local access television channel.
Filderman said PopTech "exemplifies the idea of a creative economy."
PopTech enthusiastically includes high school students and presented the idea of student attendees about four years ago, she said. PopTech Fellows — selected as cutting-edge thinkers and innovators from around the world — attend an assembly at Camden Hills Regional High School a few days in advance on the conferences, and the organization extends a trio of gratis passes to CHRHS for students and faculty to share.
"These are some of the important ways that PopTech contributes to the community," she said.
Filderman said public art projects also are a recurring way PopTech is present. This year the Pilobolus Umbrella Project will dazzle the public with a modern performance involving LED lighted umbrellas and the human body as a means for expression during outdoor performance Friday, Oct. 19, at Camden Amphitheater.
PopTech commences on the same late October weekend each year, a decision Filderman said was originally made to help extend the season for local businesses. She said full-time office staff "works year-round on many different projects."
Founded by members of the Midcoast community, PopTech was subsequently run locally for the first five years as a true "grassroots community organization." As the conference grew, Filderman said the infrastructure evolved and PopTech became a "more professionalized non-profit."
She also noted PopTech orchestrates a host of global projects and programs. In early 2012 PopTech hosted their first international conference in Iceland and began the conversation on resilience there.
She described Project Masiluleke a "mature" project launched four years ago that delivers information about HIV and AIDs via mobile phones in South Africa where 95 percent of citizens have phones, but seeking out public health information can be difficult or cause stigma. She said the project is just one example of a PopTech accelerator.
Filderman said a course at University of Maine is now based on PopTech.
"It opens you up to different avenues of pursuits leaving high school and college," she said. "The kind of stuff that isn't obvious."
Filderman said about 80,000 viewers tune in to the online live streaming of the conference. She said she hears positive feedback routinely about the service.
"We get notes from people about the joy and inspiration that having that access brings to them," she noted.
Filderman said the 2012 topic — "Toward Resilience" — is the culmination of a conversation that has been ongoing for several years.
"We've spent the last two or three years looking at resilience," she said. She noted the United Nations has explored resilience as a way of "heading off a crisis."
Filderman said discussions on resilience explore how to create economic, social, political and educational systems that can "bounce back" after a crisis or major disruption, or in the face of volatility. She noted the past decade has demonstrated that resilience is a key contributing factor in creating systems and communities that have "shock-absorbers" in place in an often unpredictable world.
She said speakers will explore a vast array of creative and technological tools that contribute to the conversation about resilience. Speakers will address aspects of resilience from standpoints as diverse as creativity, ecology, political, economic and technological.
PopTech takes place at Camden Opera House Thursday, Oct. 18, through Saturday, Oct. 20. For more information on 2012 events and performances, visit poptech.org/camden2012, or join the social media conversation via Facebook at facebook.com/poptech; or Twitter at @poptech, use the hashtag #poptech.
Courier Publications reporter Jenna Lookner can be reached at 236-8511 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.