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Fast-Talking Creativity Forum Comes to the Fleming 

State of the Arts

PechaKucha is not a familiar expression to most Americans. Not yet. But, like karaoke, anime and any number of global Japanese brand names, it’s likely to roll off the tongue eventually. The Fleming Museum aims to put Burlingtonians in the know this Thursday with an inaugural PechaKucha Night (PKN) featuring 10 local creative types showing their stuff.

Really fast.

PechaKucha is part salon, part networking and part sales pitch, though what presenters “sell” are their ideas. Its rapid-fire approach is akin to speed dating: Using 20 images shown for 20 seconds each, participants describe a current project. During socializing breaks, they can get feedback along with snacks and drinks.

Tokyo-based architects Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham created PechaKucha in 2003 as a forum for young designers to connect with each other and show their work. The name — pronounced peh-chak-cha — loosely translates as chitchat. The fast-paced presentation was the inventors’ answer to typically tedious solo PowerPoint speeches. Their initial PKN was a wild success, and attendance mushroomed with successive events. And then it spread, in that 21st-century viral way, around the world.

“The way they organize it is kind of a franchise,” says Fleming executive director Janie Cohen, who is part of a consortium behind the Burlington PKN. When she learned about PechaKucha, Cohen offered the museum as a venue. Each city is allowed to have only one, she explains — though adherence to this restriction is on the honor system. Otherwise, there is no oversight of local groups. “When you sign on, you make a commitment to do four [PKNs] a year,” says Cohen. “You sign a contract that’s basically a handshake deal.”

The only other town in Vermont with a PKN site is Brattleboro — which is hosting an event this Tuesday, November 9, that doubles as an Architecture for Humanity Haiti fundraiser. Donors can also give online at www.pecha-kucha.org.

The more than 360 PKN sites extant so far have a presence on that website, which is managed by Klein Dytham Architecture, and event organizers are encouraged to send images from their presentations. And boy, do they. The images show how far from PechaKucha’s initial art-and-architecture focus it has come in seven years. “It expanded as it spread around the world to creativity in all realms,” Cohen says.

The Fleming’s PKN is a case in point. There are artists and architects among the presenters, to be sure, such as Rolf Kielman from TruexCullins Architecture + Interior Design, Burlington photographer Gary Hall and paper-clothing designer Samantha Talbot-Kelly. But the list also includes Fuse youth-marketing consultant Katie Barone, dietitian Ellen Albertson and guitar maker Creston Lea.

To populate the debut Burlington PKN, the consortium — which includes Susan Weeks of TruexCullins and winwinapps founder/Fleming board member Anna Rosenblum Palmer — invited individuals to present. In the future, Cohen believes, people will sign up for a slot; she’s already got interest for the February PKN.

Attendees this Thursday will find a Marble Court-turned-salon: thick, sound-absorbing curtains around the walls; tables and chairs; hors d’oeuvres and a cash bar; and musical interludes provided by Ryan Miller of the acoustic-pop band Guster. “He’s a friend of Anna’s,” Cohen explains. While Miller’s in the area on tour, she asked him to provide a playlist and serve as MC for the night.

“One of the most important things [about PechaKucha] is just to create a really comfortable environment,” says Cohen. “I’m excited, because we’re transforming the Marble Court into a different kind of space. We’ve wanted to do this for the longest time,” she continues. “I’ve been thinking about various forums for creativity. When I heard about this, PechaKucha sounded like such a great concept, we kind of jumped at the chance.”

This new venture coincides, as it happens, with a name change — not a huge one, but meaningful: The Robert Hull Fleming Museum, which opened in 1931, will henceforth be known as the Fleming Museum of Art.

While a redesigned logo is still in the works, UVM President Daniel Fogel uttered the name in introductory remarks at a recent Fleming event. It sounded so natural, no one even noticed — except museum staff. Perhaps that’s because other institutions with similar types of collections — art, historical and anthropological artifacts — have similar names, such as Dartmouth College’s Hood Museum of Art. “It does not reflect any change in programming,” says Cohen, “but just better articulates what we are.”

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Pamela Polston

Pamela Polston

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Pamela Polston is the cofounder, coeditor and associate publisher of Seven Days.

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