GREATPHL began last year as a Philly-made ideas fest that sought to be both more philosophical and specific at the same time.
Last year, the day-long fest asked of its participants a rather pointed question: All this change in Philly is great and all, but what is it actually doing, and who is it doing anything for? I loved that question because it begged lots of other questions, while also hinting at an unsettled feeling that I think any good Philadelphian should be having these days. GREATPHL wants to address exactly that feeling.
But also I should admit this: I was skeptical at first. I thought it was Ted-Talk-Scientology-Amway stuff. And I told Kismet coworking/GREATPHL founder Christopher Plant as much. He had the best answer: “Talk about that,” he said. “Just throw yourself into the question.”
And so I did. In the end, I wound up doing a combination Power Point/personal history monologue/musical performance that will stand in my memory as perhaps the most simultaneously eccentric and satisfying public speaking engagement I’ve ever done — but that is a story for another time.
The point, rather, is this: what attracted me, and what I think attracted others, to GREATPHL was the opportunity to throw oneself into that big question, knowing that the shape of people’s answers would vary in every way possible, and likely turn up something new each time.
In the same way that people have written millions of words about, say, love, this fundamental question about Philly could (and does, and will) fill volumes.
But it also feels volumes, too. On the day of the event last year, there was a feeling in the room that you don’t get often: everyone shared a common purpose, but everyone was also coming at it from a different angle, from a wide swath of occupations and concerns. What this spurs is a great combination of fellow-feeling and ultra-curiosity — it reminded me of the best parts of a writers’ retreat, or the old Philebrity Awards, which over the years turned into a kind of Christmas party for all the nonprofits that had been nominated each year.
GREATPHL didn’t disappoint: it had a little bit of everything, from the wonkiest bits of theory about community building to a dance performance that involved lots of upside-down-ness and splashing water.
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This year, Plant and the crew have upped the ante even more, making #GREATPHL19 a 24-hour affair. As in: 24 consecutive hours, each programmed with at least one speaker but often with more.
It’s a big challenge, sure, but again, GREATPHL’s asking a big question. But it’s also got this freewheeling energy that sets it apart from other ideas fests, encouraging people to come at that open-ended question in literally any medium they wish.
What will that look like this year, in this format? I don’t know!
But I do know I’m looking forward to, say, the conductor Jeri Lynne Johnson, whose Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra is one of the more bold agents for change in classical music today. (They do a bangin’ Piazzolla, too.) There’s Eli Kulp, the celebrity chef who’s come out of a grave physical injury with a whole new focus on social impact ventures. There’s Alex Auder, the actress and yoga radical who is very actively trying to keep Philly (and yoga) weird. There’s Justin Roseberg, who founded Honeygrow in part to help stop fast food from being so dumb and bad for you.
And that’s just naming a few. All of these people are Philadelphians, and all of them are involved in this great question at #GREATPHL19.
I hope they rest up and drink plenty of water! This is gonna be a helluva time.-30-
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