In middle school, “nerd” was a derogatory term. These days, especially in Detroit, that same word signals a night where extremes are celebrated, community is revered and the city/suburb debate is demolished.
On Thursday, the second “Nerd Nite” will unfold at the Tangent Gallery, bringing together three speakers who will opine passionately about three random yet supremely important (to them) topics. There will be drinking. There will be conversation. And there will be yet another moment when “mutual elevation” takes place.
That clever phrasing comes from Liz Lamoste, one of the four co-bosses who organize Detroit’s Nerd Nite.
“Nerd Nite gives us carte blanche to ask anyone to teach us anything they want,” Lamoste said. “There are no disciplinary restrictions.”
Background: Nerd Nite is a national phenom. Our version popped up for the first time in March; Ann Arbor has had a similar event since January. The A2 event is run by Lamoste, Hadley Lord and Amber Conville. Lamoste and Conville join Nathan Hughes and Josh Diskin to run Detroit’s Nite.
The whole crazy thing got started in 2003 with a motor-mouthed Harvard student. Three years later, a formal organization was born in Brooklyn, setting up the format of about three speakers per night. Each one receives about 20 minutes to talk about whatever moves them, whether it is acrobatics, finches or nanoparticles. Nerd Nite is now in 50 cities internationally.
Detroit’s first Nerd Nite was an amazing success, Diskin said. Its host site, Great Lakes Coffee Roasting Co., had to shut its doors to additional patrons. All in all, some 30 people had to be turned away because the room was packed.
“The number one thing that we learned from last month is there definitely is a need for events like this. Detroit is itching for communal gatherings,” Diskin said. “I was absolutely shocked by the turnout we had for the first one.”
The best thing about such a sizable turnout is that more people heard about the event, and their friends heard about the event, Lamoste said. As a result, folks come forward to take pictures, videotape the goings on, offered up ideas for future speakers and spread the word about the event to everyone they knew.
“As we as an institution become more embedded in the city, we expect and we hope to get more feedback like that and suggestions,” Lamoste said. “We want people to feel like it is their event, that they’re contributing. … We want the neighborhoods to come. We want the tri-county area to come. There’s an opportunity here to build Detroit as a city and as a region.”
That’s where the bosses come in. Yes, they technically set up the speakers. But with no restrictions on topics, there also are no restrictions on where the speakers originate. You can put city with the suburbs and everyone learns. All parties want to be an active participant in the rebuilding process that is Detroit – they are there not only to consume the information, but to help out as much as they can, noted Diskin.
Had Nerd Nite come around five years ago, Diskin and Lamoste wonder if it would have had such an initial splash. Ann Arbor’s version is successful and feels like a comfortable place to hang out. Yet the Detroit event has an energy, feeling of largess. So the launch and subsequent meetings seem like they’re adding to the city’s momentum, adding to the happy state of critical mass (Creating Mornings Detroit, Free Lunch Friday, Culture Lab Detroit) that’s happening.
“It’s really about promoting people with really cool hobbies but don’t have a venue to share it in yet,” Lamoste said. “When we connect with these people, it turns into community building. That leads to the mutual elevation of every person who is present.”
Maybe it’s just a great night out. Maybe it’s just an excuse to stand around and chat. All I know is that I’m happy to be there, and I’m excited to see what’s next. This month’s theme is “Level Up,” and the speakers include Charlie Wollborg, owner of Curve Detroit Marketing Strategy & Creative Design, and Helen Stockton, owner of Mother Earth Midwifery, a certified Professional Midwife specializing in homebirth and natural pregnancy care.
Wollborg, the brains behind this year’s Twitter bomb known as 313Love, will talk about how Dr. Suess can teach you more about business than Harvard. And Stockton will talk about the birth process and how we think about our welcome to the world.
That third speaker? Well, it’s a surprise. All you get is one word, Lamoste and Diskin said. And it is: IMPROV.
So maybe you too will need to show up to find out more.