February 13, 2011 | 8:50pm
It was nine o'clock on a Thursday night in Fort Lauderdale, where the railroad tracks cross Sistrunk Boulevard and warehouses sit dark and empty, surrounded by chain-link fences, at the north end of FAT Village. But one of the warehouses was filled with light, garage doors open to passing freight trains, with a food cart cooking up tacos by the tracks. Plaid-shirted hipsters chatted up suit-wearing government workers. This was the first night of Ignite FTL at the Collide Factory.
Creative types in Fort Lauderdale like to talk about the problem of "silos" -- the idea that, while there's a small world of like-minded artists, entrepreneurs and thinkers in this town, many of them are isolated from each other, standing alone instead of intermingling.
The partners in charge of the Collide Factory intend to change that.
They took over a large warehouse and turned it into a multi-disciplinary collaborative space. Right now it's open every day to creative and business folks who are interested in a place to work or connect. As its first official event, the Factory hosted the Ignite conference, a worldwide multi-day event that allows people to give short presentations about what they do and how they think.
Each presentation was limited to 20 slides, shown for 15 seconds each, for a five-minute speech. Most of the presenters talked about their own business experiences, and many of the speeches were suffused with an awareness that Fort Lauderdale isn't (yet?) known for being a creative hub.
Travis Webster, the 29-year-old president of the local branch of the American Advertising Federation and head of Collide Brand Partners, introduced the speakers as well as the space: "We're open from nine to five starting tomorrow," he said, encouraging guests to stop by "if you're looking for a home, or somewhere to have coffee during the day and chill."
Presenters ranged from Jose Lopez
, the head of Freedom Art design studio and the curator of Collide's upcoming "For Art's Sake: Typography" show, to James Shermer
, a Broward County official in charge of drafting the county's arts plan for 2020. One of Shermer's 15-second slides showed a chilling comparison: the average U.S. county spends something like $30 per person per year on arts funding. In Broward, it's $2.50.
, a musician and artist from Orlando, gave one of the more energetic speeches of the night, encouraging the audience members to set creative goals and connect with others to achieve them. Stonly Baptiste
gave a surreal presentation
called "A Hacker's Guide to Surviving the High-Tech Apocalypse," in which he envisioned a world without internet or cell phone service. ("What about a zombie apocalypse?" piped up Nesmith from the back.) Collide Factory partner Ryan Alexander played acoustic guitar after the presentations.
Not all of the speeches focused on local issues, and some were more engaging than others, especially given the tendency of the time-limited slides to trip up the presenters. But it was an exciting idea, and there's no doubt that this represented something new for Fort Lauderdale The feeling was somewhere between a name-tag business conference and a backyard hipster barbecue.
The young punks are growing up, and they're refusing to put away their guitars... but they're networking with panache, and threatening to break down the arbitrary divisions that keep people in South Florida from helping each other make friends, money, and art. Let's hope this works.