After Being Called 'Elitist,' TEDxHarlem Conference Lowers Fee

By Jeff Mays on March 26, 2012 8:53pm 

TEDxHarlem Executive Director Imari Oliver in front of a statue of Adam Clayton Powell Jr. on 125th Street.
TEDxHarlem Executive Director Imari Oliver in front of a statue of Adam Clayton Powell Jr. on 125th Street.
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DNAinfo/Jeff Mays

HARLEM—In the wake of criticism that the inaugural TEDxHarlem conference conference was "elitist" and that its $116 ticket price was out of reach of the average Harlem resident, organizers have created a reduced price ticket and changed the venue.

Tuesday's conference — the local version of TED, a group of global conferences designed to generate ideas — has been moved from the famed Apollo Theater to a more affordable space at Riverside Church.

The one-day conference, which kicks off at 8 a.m. Tuesday, features a series of speakers who will discuss topics that are relevant to the neighborhood and its growth.

In addition to the move, the price of general admission tickets was slashed to $20, said Marcus Glover, organizer of the inaugural conference.

"We heard the cries and the concern and it is important for us to give wide access," Glover said of the changes. "We felt like we wanted the inaugural TED event to be received with good will and give wide access at a time when people need exposure to ideas."

Tickets at the original price, which will also be available Tuesday, will give participants access to a private lunch and a question and answer session with some of the speakers.

Those who are unhappy with their purchase can go to Ticketmaster for a refund, according to organizers.

Community organizers and activists had criticized the event and the motives of its organizers. Pointing to the cost of the ticket and the speaker list, they were concerned the event was designed for black elitists and white outsiders.

Activist Francine Brown said she was glad to hear about the changes.

"It's more affordable and makes it more accessible to regular folks. It's good that they have listened and put some thought into how their approach appears to the community," said Brown.

"I think it's a positive thing because they look like they want to work with the community and appeal to a wider range of people. I hope they have some success and invite them to join with existing community groups," she added.

Celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson, who runs the popular Red Rooster Harlem — and is one of the event's speakers — also weighed in.

"Psyched about @tedxharlem tomorrow! Don't forget that it's now at Riverside Church and tix are only $20!," he tweeted.

Glover, an advertising executive, said the criticisms levied couldn't have been further from his goals.

He said all of the ticket proceeds went into producing the conference and that TED does not permit conference organizers to make a profit. In addition, he has given away hundreds of tickets to local schools so that they can participate in the event.

"We are about taking ideas to the grassroots and giving ideas to people who can transform those ideas and use it to give them possibilities," said Glover.

Other speakers at Tuesday's event at Riverside Church include Grant McCracken, an author and professor at MIT; Seth Andrew, founder and superintendent of Democracy Prep; John Fetterman, the mayor of Braddock, Pa.; Peggy Shepard, co-founder and executive director of WE ACT for Environmental Justice; Robin Chase, co-founder and former CEO of Zipcar; and Thelma Golden, director and chief curator of the Studio Museum in Harlem.

"To be in a cherished institution where Dr. King gave his famous speech against the war in Vietnam is the best of all possible outcomes," said Glover, referring to Riverside Church.

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