Pecha Kucha - the chit-chat, low-down on Cincinnati's hottest designers

Thanks to a concise, lively form of presentation called Pecha Kucha (Japanese for "chit-chat"), gone are the days of sleepy lecture halls presided over by experts droning on about pet projects.

Pecha Kucha (PK) started in 2003 when Tokyo-based architects Mark Dytham and Astrid Klein (Klein Dytham Architecture) cooked up a radically simple, yet ingenious remedy to salvage a failing performance space.

By trimming down and spicing up the traditional lecture format, the remedy went like this: use 20 images in PowerPoint, and just 20 seconds to describe each. The 20/20 rule. Six minutes and forty seconds to share compelling ideas with a rapt audience with neither the crutch of reading notes nor the option to ramble.

Working within these limits, interested individuals gather to listen as designers and other creatives speak about topics of their choosing. The result is a casual forum where young designers can share their vision and network in an invigorating setting.

After proving itself a local hit, PK soon spread. What began in Tokyo has virally made its way to more than 170 cities, from Beijing and Barcelona to Amsterdam and Austin.

Now Cincinnati is chatting too.

On February 13, 2009, nearly 300 members of Cincinnati's creative class convened on the Contemporary Arts Center for Pecha Kucha Night Cincinnati Volume 01, sponsored by Pleat Design, Openfield Creative and Prestige AV and Creative Services.

"PK Vol. 1 was such a huge success," says official organizer, Greg Lewis. "It demonstrated that the same desire that got PK started in Tokyo six years ago is present here in Cincinnati today."

But a success like this doesn't just happen. It takes a great deal of passion, effort and cooperation.

"As with any major event, there are always going to be challenges in the production process," says Lewis, a project designer for KZF Design, independent furniture designer and adjunct professor at his alma mater, the University of Cincinnati College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning.

"Fortunately," he continues, "each team member took on different responsibilities for the event, such as coordinating with presenters and vendors, bringing in sponsorships, branding, media development and marketing."

At this inaugural event, attendees listened to presentations on various topics, from art and architecture to tattoos and graffiti.  Essentially, there is no restriction on what can be covered.

"As designers, we often seek inspiration from other designers, especially ones that practice outside of our discipline," Lewis says. "This is where we all benefit, both presenters and audience: from the diversity that PK promotes."

Although PK started as a venue primarily geared toward visual art and design, the format has expanded its scope to allow for presenters from the worlds of business and academia to join the dialogue. And with the 20/20 rule in effect, each event can accommodate nearly a dozen presenters from this open playing field.

"The greatness of Pecha Kucha Night Vol. 1 at the CAC came from the variety of ideas presented," Lewis says. "The outstanding presentations were the ones that engaged the crowd."

For example, Lewis notes, in A Collection of 20 Questions by designer and animator Jason Snell, "the sometimes hazy audio was played through a hand-held cassette player and synced with highly stylized portraits of the people being recorded. The resultant unpredictability of what was said was highly entertaining."

Another stand-out presentation was Dead Meat by Lauren Davis, a student at the University of Cincinnati. Lewis says Davis gave "raw commentary on outdated trends still alive in parts of today’s culture" which was "pointed enough to thrill the crowd."

But the event didn't start and end with mind-expanding forays into unexpected themes.

PK is a hybrid event tailored to the tastes of the young creative class for whom the line between work and play is increasingly blurred. The event is clearly about much more than listening to a few creatives chit-chat. Rather, PK is another high-energy, multifaceted happening that showcases the talent we have here in town.

And this is only the beginning. As word spreads about this year's experience, Lewis sees future Cincinnati PK events growing to include more of the city's finest business, medical research and branding experts.  

In addition to tapping into Cincinnati's commercial strengths, the PK committee also seeks to reach the public. Toward this end, three more local PK events have been scheduled throughout 2009, the next of which will take place at the Art Academy of Cincinnati.   

"Our ultimate vision for PK in the future is to hold an entirely free and public event at Fountain Square in the heart of downtown Cincinnati," Lewis says.  

It comes down to funding.

"One of the lesser discussed aspects to Pecha Kucha Night is that it is run as a not-for-profit organization," Lewis says. "Any revenue generated from the events is put directly back into the events. We are always seeking visionary people, companies, or other organizations to sponsor PK in Cincinnati."

When the money is there, PK has great potential to promote solidarity and interaction between the creative, business and public spheres, as well as help to strengthen regional identities.

Lewis sees Cincinnati's proximity to other PK cities such as Columbus and Indianapolis as an opportunity.

"This could be the beginning of regional PK events where we utilize the combined strengths of each city to raise awareness of the creativity within the region," he says. "We have even discussed within our team meetings the possibility of creating a national or international Pecha Kucha Night, where all participating PK cities around the country or around the world host an event simultaneously."

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Photography by Scott Beseler
Boyd Leigh Johnson, Build with Bullets or die
Lauren Davis, Dead Meat
Filled CAC lobby
Jason Snell, A collection of 20 questions
Raphaela Platow

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