Tucson is not usually known for its economic growth, but things are changing, and the TENWEST festival aims to support that change. The second annual festival, in the same vein as Austin's South by Southwest, is all about creating connections and making Tucson a better city.
Improv with the mayor, film, live music, an art museum, the orchestra, dozens of inspiring talks and an idea contest with a $25,000 prize are just a few of the things to do at this year's festival, from Oct. 21 to Oct. 28.
TENWEST, put on by nonprofit Startup Tucson, brings together four elements of the city's culture: art, technology, entrepreneurship and community.
It's is an opportunity for artists, business owners, innovators and all people who care about Tucson to find out what's going on and connect with opportunities that may not be in their everyday sphere, said Dillon Walker, Startup Tucson consultant and TENWEST organizer.
"Tucson can be more successful simply through connection and education," he said. "Educating folks on what we have here and what opportunities are available to them is a big component of it. The other piece is supporting arts and culture and the sense of community in our city."
Startup Tucson created TENWEST to facilitate a couple of key issues in Tucson's continued advancement, Walker said. First is the ability to support entrepreneurs who want to create more local jobs, by enhancing their skills and by supporting a community that's desirable to live in.
The second key point is supporting technology by showcasing the tech-related industries we already have and showing how technology impacts our community.
Tucson has a great potential because of our multi-cultural perspective, said Jeremy Shockley, another Startup Tucson consultant organizing the festival.
"You meet somebody with a totally different perspective, from a different path or walk of life, and it will enrich your ability to do things or enrich your perspective," he said.
The festival is about connecting those different elements of Tucson culture. It's about people crossing paths.
"Creating a really rich community with lots of opportunity and great paying jobs, involves crossing paths between entrepreneurs and artists," Shockley said. "Artists working with community leaders, and taste makers working with businesses—it's really a collective effort."
The organizers are encouraging festival goers to pick a few talks outside of their normal realm and experience new things.
"People should break out of their comfort zones, meet new people and get connected to a broader community," Walker said.
The number of local technology-based startups is increasing, said Howard Bisgeier, who's heading the TENWEST technology-path and has been involved in local tech businesses for about 25 years.
"In emerging businesses, regardless of what your area of expertise is, technology is used to accomplish more with less," he said.
"How 3-D Printing is Changing the Way We See (and Create) Our World," is a talk at the festival that highlights an avenue where technology, business and art meet. For example, one panelist is an architect who will talk about 3-D printing changing the business.
More artists are creating works electronically or using digital media as part of the design process, Bisgeier said.
"The architect no longer really sits at a drawing table," he said. "So much of what they're doing is on the computer."
Bisgeier also curated the session "Community Planning: Exploring Drones and Ways to Use Them," where speakers will talk about community planning using drones to survey land. Other presenters will talk about using drones for aerial photography and gaming.
As technology progresses, the question of humans becoming obsolete in the work force persists. The talk "How do we create new jobs that need humans?" addresses this issue, which speaker Nirav Merchant calls "work-force development for the next generation."
Merchant, director at Information Technology-Arizona Research Labs, builds technology to make human labor more efficient.
"We are not doing enough to train people to find new avenues to engage more human beings," he said. "What is it that we should be doing so that the next generation has enough jobs that are meaningful and useful?"
In his talk, Merchant will facilitate an exchange of ideas on how to help humans thrive in a computer-based world.
"There isn't an easy, straightforward answer," he said. "It has more to do with how we solve problems than what value we place on human experience."
Tucson, with its culture, quality of life and surroundings, is ripe for technology-based businesses, which often employ working remotely. If you can live anywhere and do meaningful work, Tucson's a pretty good destination, Merchant said.
"Tucson needs events like these to show the community what is happening here," he said. "There's a lot happening in Tucson, and there's a lot of potential."
The Monday evening keynote, "A Community Committed to Space," will discuss Tucson's contribution to space exploration. Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry will discuss his insights on Spaceport Tucson.
There will also be presenters from World View Enterprises, the company that will use the spaceport to embark on tourism and exploration in high-altitude balloons, and there will be speakers from the OSIRIS-REx team.
Tucson is abundant in artists, but the path from talent and sweat to earning a living has long eluded many desert artisans. One of TENWEST's missions is to facilitate connections that support the arts that essentially give life to Tucson's downtown, culture and history.
The Arts Foundation for Tucson and Southern Arizona chose presenters for TENWEST's art path who have knowledge, new ideas and a passion for the local community, said Linda Rico, Arts Foundation digital media marketing and communications manager.
"A Room of One's Own: New Models for Community Spaces" will feature five panelists talking about creating and maintaining space where creativity can happen.
Art needs to be celebrated for the economic driver that it is, said panelist Logan Phillips, co-director for the youth-centered arts and social justice organization Spoken Futures, Inc.
"It's critical to bridge the false dichotomy between art and business," he said, adding that creativity is that bridge.
Technology wouldn't exist without creativity, said Carrie Seid, artist and creativity business-coach, who will be breaking stereotypes at "Myths of Creativity and New Ways to Approach Creative Thinking."
"Creativity is our birthright," she said. "It's about being flexible and open to the possibilities of a given moment."
A lot of artists and entrepreneurs work in their homes, under isolated circumstances, Seid said, and for this reason, she thinks the opportunity presented by the festival is fantastic.
"It benefits all of us to co-mingle and get to know what else is going on in town," she said.
Tuesday evening's keynote, "The Artistic Economy" is a showcase of businesses that are artisan or craft based. Panelists will talk about ways people can use their various fortes to support creativity, whether they be in the role of facilitator, investor or creator.
Last December, Tucson became the first city in the U.S. to receive the title World City of Gastronomy by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, choosing Tucson for its diverse cuisine heritage and tradition.
Wednesday's keynote panel will discuss what it took to get this designation and what it means for the future of Tucson tourism and the community.
Another community event is the TENWEST Homecoming Concert with music from the bands Charming Lairs and Jane N' The Jungle, the evening of Oct. 28, on Tyndall Avenue between University Boulevard and the Park Student Union.
Also that evening is TEDxTucson at the Rialto, where musicians John Coinman, Howe Gelb, Roger Clyne and Drew Cooper will be exploring the topic, "listening to the Tucson sound."
TEDx organizer Mary Reed noticed the "Tucson sound" at different times in her life. It began when her daughter was homesick abroad and found comfort by going to a show headlining the Tucson-born band Calexico.
"There's some sort of juices happening, and it crosses genres, and it crosses musical style," Reed said. "But we all know it when we hear it."
Some of the TEDx speakers will also play music. This event is partnering with the festival, and TENWEST passport-holders can pay a discounted entry of $5.
"What we're trying to do at TEDxTucson is develop a community of people who want to discuss ideas—that want to spread ideas," Reed said. "We're working to create a community of people that have that passion."
The goal for the entrepreneurial track was to bring in speakers that deliver great content and tie in the theme of art, technology and community, said Aaron Gopp, heading the path. He sees startups and entrepreneurship as catalysts to change the world, and that Tucson is in the position to be a hub for that change.
For all entrepreneurs at TENWEST, seasoned or just beginning, Thursday, Oct. 27, is the day.
"It's a full day of everything you would ever want to know about operating as an entrepreneur," said Walker, the festival organizer. "From marketing to refining your idea, from pitching your idea to any skill you would need as an owner or a person thinking about starting a company."
The day of business-oriented talks will take place at Tucson Electric Power Headquarters at 88 E. Broadway Blvd. An after party, at 8 p.m., hosted by the Consulate of Mexico in Tucson, will feature the music of CAST, at 191 Toole.
The day's sessions end with a pitch competition, sponsored by Cox Business, where participants will receive over $50,000 in prizes.
Anyone can enter the competition by Oct. 17, and judges will choose eight semi-finalists. The grand prize for the best pitch is $25,000, a year of free Cox internet service and a profile in Ink Magazine. Second place is $5,000, and there will also be a $5,000 prize, sponsored by United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona, for the pitch with the greatest potential for social impact.
In the Monday presentation "I have an idea... Now what?" Aaron Eden will talk about how entrepreneurs can find important problems that need solutions and how to know their customer base. People should come to the talk with ideas, and Eden will show people how to identify and attract paying customers.
There are more entrepreneurial talks like Eden's sprinkled throughout the first half of the festival.
TENWEST is also partnering with Tucson Young Professionals for their second annual ignite520 summit, on Oct. 21 and 22. TENWEST goers can attend for a discounted entry of $35.vav