Ambitious Thinklandia is full of big ideas

What: Thinklandia featuring Laura Jane Grace, DJ Spooky, Kim Gordon, Dr. Mike North and Damian Abraham, among others
When: Friday through Tuesday
Where: Dockside Green, 353 Tyee Rd.
Tickets: $22.50 daily ($52.50 for festival pass; $75 for festival VIP pass) at ticketfly.com

With an expanded scope and vision for its fourth edition, the Thinklandia festival has grown from a small, local guest-speaker series into a broad, creative event with grand ambitions.

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Planning it isn’t easy, of course. With a schedule that includes everything from musicians to scientists, the ideas being presented are big and bold, and somewhat hard to market. “It’s a tricky format,” said Joey MacDonald, director of the non-profit collective InterArts Centre, which produces the event.

“There’s not an existing market for it in Victoria. Every year feels like the first festival because every year we do something new.”

Thinklandia has secured a wide array of speakers for this year’s event, which starts Friday at the Dockside Green site on Tyee Road. White House senior science adviser Knatokie Ford, Laura Jane Grace of American punk band Against Me!, skateboarder Rodney Mullen, composer DJ Spooky, F--d Up singer Damian Abraham, Wired editor Mark Frauenfelder, poet D’bi Young, Discovery Channel host Dr. Mike North, author Sam Sutherland and astrophysicist Gwendolyn Eadie are among those booked to appear.

The five-day festival will include the 2016 Mayor’s Medal Awards, honouring six community builders in Victoria on Sunday. In addition, several art installations will be in play during the festival, including the popular glow-in-the-dark ThinkCubes and a 9.5-metre LED rainbow.

“Most of what we do doesn’t show up on paper because most of what we do sounds impossible to begin with,” MacDonald said with a laugh. “We make it unnecessarily hard on ourselves by not just sticking to one format.”

Thinklandia begins Friday with a panel that includes Mullen, filmmaker Brett Gaylor and Stocksy United CEO Brianna Wettlaufer. It concludes on Tuesday with a discussion that includes Frauenfelder, Young, North and Eadie. What happens in between — conversations and collaborations — is a big part of Thinklandia’s appeal. Even the site itself will be a talking point, MacDonald said.

“The speaking events are fantastic because that sells the rest of the work. But the rest of the work is really why we do it.”

That includes building permanent structures at Dockside Green for Thinklandia. MacDonald expects 500 to 600 people to take in each day of the event, but many thousands more will enjoy its benefits in years to come. MacDonald credits some of that vision to the team at Dockside Green, an in-progress, mixed-use urban development site.

“They have been really supportive, and want to see this interim construction site activated in a big and bright way. We remediated the site and have brought in shipping containers — lots of industrial materials are being used. It’s a big gravel pit we get to use in a capacity that has not been done before.”

After Thinklandia wraps, it is Macdonald’s dream to see elements of the site used as an outdoor venue, something Greater Victoria sorely lacks, he said. “It will be an open public art space, basically. With all the energy that goes into these festivals, the ability for us to carry it forward and make it more permanent relies on partners like Dockside, who are willing to participate.”

Thinklandia is produced in tandem with the City of Victoria and the Rifflandia Festival. MacDonald, a longtime community booster and arts champion, believes long-term partnerships are key, as evidenced by last year’s decision to stage the festival atop the Yates Street Parkade.

He hopes to garner the same buzz with the help of Dockside Green this year.

“The logistics of the lineup, the logistics of the site, just about every single aspect of this is brand new — not just to us, it’s new to Dockside, it’s new to a lot of these speakers. But it’s definitely time for a lot more permanent, creative, cultural infrastructure in Victoria.

“We’re trying to demonstrate what can happen when you give people space and permission and a bit of money and a few shipping containers.”

mdevlin@timescolonist.com

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