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Innovation + Job News

MiX previews 2015 TED Talk/Northern Spark-style festival of ideas

On Thursday October 2, Minneapolis Idea eXchange (MiX) holds its inaugural event at Minneapolis City Center, to offer “just a taste of what’s to come,” says MiX vice chair Mary Shaffer. The theme of the free event (register here), which runs from 5-8:30 p.m., is “the power of ideas.”

MiX will feature three prominent headliners with a local connection: Sandy Vargas, president and CEO of the 100-year-old Minneapolis Foundation; Barry Kudrowitz, a product design luminary at the University of Minnesota; and Nate Garvis, founder of Studio/E.
The event, which will immediately follow the Downtown Council’s MPLS 2025 Forum, will also feature a lively cocktail hour for about 500 attendees and a performance from internationally known piano virtuoso (and Twin Cities native) Nachito Herrera. “He’s the icing on the cake,” says Shaffer.
The October 2 event previews the first full Minneapolis Idea eXchange in Fall 2015. Planning for the three-day festival, modeled after similar “festivals of ideas” in Chicago, Aspen and Portland, is just beginning in earnest. About 20 downtown business leaders and residents—“from lawyers, to creatives, to accountants,” says Shaffer—are spearheading the effort, which is chaired by pastor Tim Hart-Andersen of downtown Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church and chartered by the Minneapolis Downtown Council.
Despite superficial similarities to other ideas festivals, MiX has some key differentiators. For starters, it’s free and open to the public, unlike more exclusive events. Shaffer hopes for as many as 10,000 attendees over three days next year.
MiX is also multi-locational and multi-format “in a Northern Spark meets TED Talks meets Minneapolis kind of way,” says Shaffer. Other ideas festivals tend to be concentrated in a single ballroom or convention center, reducing opportunities for attendees to interact with the host city.
On the interaction front, the festival’s timing should be a boon. “The early October dates give us the opportunity to celebrate the fall colors and highlight our spectacular landscape, while it's still feasible to do outdoor activities,” says Shaffer.
She adds that MiX hopes to coincide with the Twin Cities Marathon and attract as many of that event’s attendees—many of whom come from out of town—as possible. In fact, Shaffer’s team is actively working with Meet Minneapolis and Twin Cities in Motion to ensure that MiX and the marathon are complementary, not competitive.
Each annual MiX festival will have its own theme, typically an evocative verb like “intersect” (MPLS 2025’s theme) or “captivate.” The organizers encourage restaurants across the city to use these themes as inspiration for special dishes and drinks. By getting local businesses involved, visitors “can participate in an exciting activation of downtown,” says Shaffer.
To make next year’s festival as engaging as possible, MiX is actively courting corporate sponsors. Current sponsors include Ryan Companies, the Bush Foundation, This Is Folly! (the creative agency behind the MiX brand) and several private individuals on the MiX development team.
MiX is the last of 10 initiatives in the Downtown Council’s MPLS 2025 plan, though “that doesn’t mean we’re least important,” says Shaffer. Some of these goals are aspirational, like doubling downtown Minneapolis’ population within the next 10 years and turning the area around the new Vikings stadium into a “sports district.” Others are more concrete, like launching MiX and building Gateway Park.
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