Pecha Kucha arrives in Minnesota

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Schaefer and Pepper
Jonas Schaefer and Josh Pepper are co-producing Minneapolis Pecha Kucha. They say they became excited about the presentations after stumbling across the idea on the internet
MPR photo/Euan Kerr

It's spelled PECHA KUCHA. It's Japanese for "chit chat". The pronunciation's been causing Jonas Schaefer problems.

"Well, this whole time we've been calling it, screwing up the name and calling it 'PET-CHA KOOCH-AH,'" laughs Schaefer. "The correct pronunciation is 'peh-CHAT-kah.'"

Jonas Schaefer
Jonas Schaefer has been searching out presenters for the first Minneapolis Pecha Kucha. he says he's excited about the cross-pollination of ideas between disciplines.
MPR photo/Euan Kerr

He turns to his co-producer Josh Pepper.

"Is that right?" he asks.

"We'll go with that," smiles Pepper.

Schaefer and Josh Pepper are co-producers of the Minneapolis Pecha Kucha. Schaefer is an architect working for a Minneapolis firm and Pepper is a software consultant.

Pepper says an architectural film in Tokyo called Klein Dytham developed Pecha Kucha. The firm wanted to use a new hall as a hip gathering space. It came up with a party format where invited designers would talk about their ideas.

But Pepper says they wanted to make sure things kept moving.

Josh Pepper
Josh Pepper says he stumbled across the Pecha Kucha presentations while looking for TED conference videos on YouTube.
MPR photo/Euan Kerr

"If you don't interact with designers a lot, evidently they can't shut up," he says. "So you need to figure out a way, devise a format where you can get them to stand up, give their idea, shut up and sit down."

So the architects came up with what's called the 20x20 format.

"It's this 20 slides, 20 PowerPoint kind of slides, 20 seconds each," Pepper says. "So that's six minutes 40 seconds of them talking and once they are done, that's it."

The presenter doesn't control the slides, and there's a crowd, and a bar, to heighten excitement. By all reports the evening in Tokyo turned into a rocking good time.

Since that first Pecha Kucha in Tokyo the idea has spread around the world to more than 180 cities.

"It's not a classic Minnesota thing to be doing. It'll be very interesting to see if people can rise to the occasion."

While it started as a design forum, it soon evolved as presenters from other disciplines asked to be included. They can and do talk about anything. Jonas Schaefer says that's what makes the event so attractive.

"Have the architects talk to the software designers or what ever," he says. "And that's, to us, is kind of one of the real interesting parts of this, this collaborative thing that we are really excited to see take off here."

Which brings us to the Twin Cities. Josh Pepper found about Pecha Kucha when he was cruising the internet.

"I was really excited to go attend and I found out, well, there's no Minneapolis one," he says. "So I called up Jonas and I said 'Jonas, you're an architect. You should go start this thing.'"

First they applied to Klein Dytham in Tokyo to get permission to do the event. After a vetting process, Pepper and Schaefer signed a contract to run Minneapolis Pecha Kucha. It commits them to holding four events a year.

This might be a good time for Josh Pepper to make a confession.

"Neither one of us have either been to a Pecha Kucha event, or given a Pecha Kucha presentation," admits Pepper.

Wing Young Huie
Photographer Wing Young Huie will present examples of his latest project at the first Minneapolis Pecha Kucha. He says he likes the idea of community building through events like this.
MPR photo/Euan Kerr

However, he says the fact that he and Schaefer were ready to go through the rigmarole of getting the necessary approvals is just proof of their excitement.

The first Minneapolis Pecha Kucha will be Friday at 8 p.m. (doors at 7,) at Intermedia Arts in Minneapolis. About ten presenters have signed up.

There's a real mixture: some philosophy, some software design, some cartography, some internet television.

Architect Ralph Nelson will talk about making something wonderful from something worthless. Star Tribune arts editor Claude Peck will present on poet James Schuyler.

Photographer Wing Young Huie will talk about his project to photograph people along University Avenue. "I had never heard of it," he says. "So I looked at their website and I thought it was a fascinating idea, a different way of community building.

Melody Gilbert
Film maker Melody Gilbert has made films on weddings at the Mall of America ("Married at the Mall,") able-bodied people who believe they should be amputees, ("Whole") and the trials of a family with a daughter who has no sense of pain, ("A life without pain.") She has also prfiled Vice-President Walter Mondale and the world of urban exploration. She'll present her entire career in six minutes and 40 seconds at the first Minneapolis Pecha Kucha.
Image courtesy Frozen Feet Films

Huie says he's in favor of anything which will get people away from their computers and talking.

Filmmaker Melody Gilbert signed up to do her presentation "Seven Years, six movies....and Why I Hate Oprah." Friends who attended a Pecha Kucha event in New York told her it was the most interesting evening they'd had in years. She has one concern: will Minnesotans be too reserved for Pecha Kucha?

"It's not a classic Minnesota thing to be doing. It'll be very interesting to see if people can rise to the occasion," she says. "I think they can."

Minneapolis Pecha Kucha Co-producers Josh Pepper and Jonas Schaefer want to tap into the Minnesota creative community in coming months to put together Pecha Kucha evenings.

All they have to do is get people to say it right.