Photo by Tess Polivka Photography.

Depending on how long you’ve been in Denver, you may have had the pleasure of witnessing the surreal transformation of the River North Art District over the past few decades. What was once an industrial wasteland of factory space disregarded by the city has blossomed into the hip RiNo district—one of Denver’s premiere, thriving neighborhoods full of innovation, art, creative businesses and more (all while maintaining the integrity and character of its history).

Key to all of this transformation was a reimagining of the community and world around it. This idea was largely in part the inspiration for the theme of the inaugural TEDxRiNo event that took place last month: Reimagine.

Surely, unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past decade, you’ve heard of TED. Ideas worth spreading. That’s what it’s all about—giving innovators, thought leaders, world changers, etc. an effective platform to highlight their ideas and be heard. TEDx is that—but independently organized on a local level.

For Kimothy Pikor, one of the co-organizers for last month’s event, it was only a matter of time before TEDx would be brought to RiNo.

“If it’s not us and it’s not now, then who’s going to do this?” she asked herself, “We weren’t going to wait for anyone else to do it. We know enough people there who would definitely be all hands on deck to help pull this off—so we did and everybody came together. It was awesome.”

“Just to promote the creativity, ingenuity, the whole reimagine concept that has been re-emerging from that district for quite some time. We thought they really deserved a platform of their own to elevate those ideas onto the global TEDx platform and just showcase what is happening there.”

TEDxRiNo team. Photo by Tess Polivka Photography.

But it wasn’t all that simple—it was actually quite a long process and a tireless effort of Pikor and her team to pull this event off. It all began back in December of 2013 when Pikor, feeling inspired, emailed Melanie Kaup asking if she thought they would be able to get awarded a TEDx license and then actually make it happen, to which Kaup replied, “I’d guess it’s worth trying!”

They were eventually awarded a TEDx license in May of 2014 and it was all moving on the ground from there—meeting people, introducing themselves, and really getting them to rally around the idea of bringing this platform to the district.

“We wanted to talk to business owners, artists, coffee shop owners, anyone and everyone and just ask:

-What do you want to hear?
-What topics are relevant and important to you?
-Who do you think would be a great speaker?
-What do you think has been reimagined in the past few years that you’ve been here?
-What ideas could we highlight?”

The resulting theme of reimagine was broad enough but at the same time relevant to the district as it started off as an industrial factory space often overlooked by the city until reimagined by development pioneers like Mickey Zeppelin who stepped in and saw the unseen—saw visions of art galleries and unique mixed workspace campuses. People who had visions to transform the neighborhood and really brought it to fruition. It’s inspiring.

Mickey Zeppelin. Photo by Tess Polivka Photography.

Zeppelin was one of six speakers at last month’s TEDxRiNo event. As founder of Zeppelin Development in the 1980’s, he was able to offer some of his historical perspective for a lot of the area’s newcomers who haven’t been in Colorado for nearly as long as he’s been. He touched on reimagining in the role of a developer and really demonstrating commitment to the area.

“Mickey Zeppelin was definitely a favorite,” Pikor said, “just hearing about his vision and how he’s been committed since the beginning, decades ago, and how he has had such a hand in the area as a developer.”

For Melanie Kaup—it was the women that stole the show:

“If you look at Amanda Cavaleri who is very young (26)—she had very great ideas about how to really bring elders back into our population rather than continue to push them out. I think that fact that she is so young and really voicing that on both a local and global scale is really inspiring.

Wendy Lu McGill was also really interesting with the whole concept behind eating insects. I think that it may have made a few folks squirm but again it was just a very out of the box talk in my perspective.”

Amy Friedman, David Emrich, Mickey Zeepelin, Amanda Cavaleri, Sam Pike, Wendy Lu McGill, Mike Biselli. Photo by Tess Polivka Photography.

That’s right—eating insects. It’s called entomophagy. Look it up.

Other TEDxRiNo speakers included Mike Biselli who talked about the importance of community collaboration in transforming the healthcare industry, David Emrich who talked about the how re-evaluation is integral to personal growth, and Amy Friedman who redefined the idea of literacy and the roles that plays on the learning and development of our youths.

Afterwards, the event organizers sent out a survey to attendees and got excellent feedback—really enforcing that everyone had an amazing time and were really inspired.  Pikor was no exception to the general consensus:

“When you create these forums in your environment that are safe, unbiased, and volunteer-based, it just elevates the innovation in the area,” she told us, “That’s why I’m really passionate about this idea-sharing and elevating not only RiNo, Denver and Colorado but sparking new meaningful conversations that lead to innovation.  I just love what the program stands for.”

If you were unfortunate enough to have missed out on the inaugural TEDxRiNo, have no fear—Pikor and Kaup hope to continue the event in the future.  But it could be a little while since they’re still caught up in closing down this one.  In the meantime, however, we’ll be seeing videos of these talk pop up on the TED website in the near future, so we’ll be sure to share them with you when they do.

See more photos of the event here.