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TEDxOmaha: Q&A with Nancy Kirk, Tri-Faith Initiative

TEDxOmaha 2010 is an independent TED event
Nacy Kirk will be speaking at TEDxOmaha 2010
Published on October 9, 2010

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TED conferences are organized around an elegantly simple principal: "Ideas worth spreading." Speakers get no more than 18 minutes on a usually bare stage to "give the talk of their lives." Who in Omaha is up to the task?

Held first in 1984, and now annually since 1990, the conferences have been a meeting ground for scientists, designers, and technologists, but also artists and intellectuals. The main conference, held first in Monterey and now Long Beach, is famous for its celebrity speakers (Bill Clinton, Jane Goodall, Bill Gates) and astronomical ticket prices ($6,000). It spawned not only an internet phenomenon (the TEDTalks, available for free streaming, have been watched by an estimated 290 million people) but also a series of smaller events.

TEDx OmahaTEDx is "a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience." TEDxOmaha promises to be a dynamic event in the spirit of the larger TED conferences, with a wide range of local speakers, and the live-streaming internet videos TED is famous for.

Our TEDxOmaha Interview Series will highlight speakers at the sold out October 16th event. Check back for more interviews and a chance to win tickets to the sold out TEDxOmaha 2010!

TEDxOmaha Speakers

TEDxOmaha MC - Patrick McNamara of Omaha Community Foundation

Questions with Nancy Kirk of the Tri-Faith Initiative, a speaker at the 2010 TEDxOmaha.

One of the things Omaha struggles with is talent retention: keeping the best and brightest working here. Do you think this perception is reality? If so, what can we do about it?

Nancy KirkNancy Kirk of the Tri-Faith InitiativeOmaha is one of the best places on earth to follow your passions. I am originally from New York City, and grew up in places where, if you had a new idea, there was someone to say “we’ve tried it before and it doesn’t work.”

I came to Omaha in 1975 to work with the state arts council. It was right in the middle of the I-80 sculpture project controversies, and I remember writing back to people in the east how great it was to be in a place where the strongest disagreements were over abstract versus representational art. We were starting a series of new programs in the arts, particularly to bring the arts into the lives of underserved populations, and the most negative response I ever heard was, “I don’t know why you want to do that, but what can I do to help?”

Omaha is not perfect —no place is—but it is a community where one person can make a difference, and a small group of committed people can make a huge difference.

Where do you see your work going? How would you like it to grow? What are you adding to the world that no one else is?

The Tri-Faith Initiative is a great case in point [of committed people making a huge difference]. This will be the first place in the world that we know of where a synagogue, a church, a mosque and an interfaith center will be built on adjoining properties because we want to be neighbors and build deeper relationships among the Abrahamic faiths. No one has tried it before, but in Omaha, we hope to be able to say “we tried it here and it does work.”

How likely is it for someone to turn their passion into a profession? How necessary?

[Omaha is] a city where following your passions is not just for the young. When I turned 60, I made a 44 year plan. I knew I needed to be spending my time speaking, writing and teaching, and for the next ten years I wanted to pursue my interest in the changing role of religion in a pluralistic society. I learned about the Tri-Faith Initiative, was excited that I wouldn’t have to move in order to pursue my passion, and a few months later, when the board decided they needed an executive director, I made a proposal and they accepted it. It has been an amazing journey so far, and if all goes according to schedule we should break ground on the first buildings in 2012.

While we continue to build relationships among the faith partners—Temple Israel, the Episcopal Diocese of Nebraska, and the American Institute of Islamic Studies and Culture— we are also in the visioning process for the Tri-Faith Center which will be the “meeting place.” Some of the possibilities are conferences, workshops, interfaith internships, high tech exhibits that introduce people to the major beliefs and practices of the three Abrahamic faiths and their influences on the world and many more.

Our work is primarily about building bridges between the faiths, based on inclusivity, respect and hospitality. Judaism, Christianity and Islam all call upon believers to care for their neighbors—by building our houses of worship next to each other we are living into a whole new definition of “who is my neighbor.”

To learn more about TEDxOmaha, visit their Facebook page, follow them on Twitter, or visit their website. Thoughts about TEDxOmaha? Comment below.

jordyAn writer since 2008, Jordy freely admits he's waiting for his golden parachute "anxiously." He microblogs @jordyclements + macroblogs