Toronto's Revival of the Parisian Salon

Many Torontonians know about the U.S. based TED and the now global TEDx events that revived eighteenth-century Parisian salons. Now meet heads.

Heads is the latest homegrown, TED-like event. Like the salons they emulate, TED and heads are social gatherings to exchange ideas and meet new people. Think scholarly conference, minus the formality, long presentations and academic-speak. Instead, add booze, short talks and mingling. The video above is one of the talks at heads 01 in October 2009.

Heads 02 happened last week in a cozy room at the Great Hall. "Yah, heads is like TED, except not as elite," said Simon Plashkes, one of the event organizers.

Heads was open to anyone who could pay the $10-15 ticket. On the other hand, you can only attend a TED conference via invitation or application. But, I have yet to experience a truly inclusive salon, where the crowd isn't mainly upwardly mobile, middle-class and white like me.

Simon started heads last year to create those "aha" moments that happen when you hear new ideas. It hit me with Laura Reinsborough's presentation on Not Far From the Tree.

Have you ever noticed the branches of trees laden with fruit in the city in late summer and fall? That fruit usually ends up rotting on the ground if Laura and her team don't get to it first. Not Far From the Tree is a non-profit that harvests fruit from trees in the downtown core. Volunteers get some, homeowners get some, and community organizations that distribute food get some. They harvested over 8000 pounds last year and picked over a dozen different fruits.

Laura said the project shifted her thinking of Toronto as a concrete jungle to something more akin to an urban forest. My "aha" moment came with that statement and the realization of abundance in apparent lack.

Simon says there isn't a theme when picking heads speakers, other than getting people who are passionate about their ideas. "It's like your thinking of guests that would make good dinner conversation."

Along with Laura's talk, the folks from Cowbell restaurant spoke about their mission to reconnect us to our food and local farmers. The third speaker was Catherine Middleton, a research chair in communications at Ryerson. As the guy next to me pounded on his Blackberry, Catherine spoke of how mobile obsessions are changing our relationship to work.

Like TED, you can also catch heads online. But as one attendee told me, with so many ideas going viral, it's nice to "get off of the Internet and interact in person." Stay tuned for the next head-talk in March.

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