TED talks have a reputation for being thought-provoking, but Irene Tsouprake’s ambitions for the TEDxSantaCruz conference aim a lot higher than that.

“People can expect to have their minds and hearts blown,” says Tsouprake, the co-organizer/speaker curator for the conference, which comes to Hotel Paradox on Saturday. “Be prepared—it’s not like any conference you have attended before.”

She explains that while this weekend’s talks are eclectic and address different disciplines, they resonate with each other. Art, music and poetry are woven throughout the day to prevent overload and keep the audience engaged.

“There’s a density of thought and emotion,” she says, “and the audience is as important as who’s speaking on stage.”

Now in its third year, TEDxSantaCruz is wrapping up what Tsouprake calls a three-year arc focused on getting the community invested and involved in the conference. The theme of the first TEDxSantaCruz was “Engage,” with the intent simply to “introduce people to TED and each other.” Last year, the theme was “Open,” and the goal, according to Tsouprake, was to “open people’s hearts and minds to deeper engagement.”

“We explored every avenue of open that we could,” she says. “We talked about vulnerability, we talked about open government, we talked about open source software, we talked about the Internet and we talked about privacy.”

This year’s theme is “Activate.” Tsouprake says the question that drove organizers for this event was: How do we move beyond the conversation about great ideas, and get moved to act?

“We asked ourselves,” she says, “how do we inspire action in our own community, whether in terms of policy or on a personal level?”

The TEDxSantaCruz team, which is all-volunteer, sorted through 150 nominations for presenters and whittled it down to 20. Among those chosen were urban design activist Mark Lakeman; consciousness technologist Mikey Siegel; play-based learning designer Aliza Weller; microbiologist Katherine L. Reid; painter Andrew Purchin; scientist, activist and community organizer Wallace J. Nichols; and Captain Wayne Porter of the U.S. Navy.

Tsouprake is particularly moved by Captain Porter’s talk, titled “A National Strategic Narrative and the Role of American Communities.”

“You might think that [national strategy] involves where you move your ships,” she says, “but it’s mind-blowing, that narrative.”

According to Tsouprake, the strategy addresses spending more on youth and education and strengthening communities by localizing ownership of food and water. She calls the talk stunning and says it “sets the table for the day.”

Talking Points

At this point, most anyone who spends even a little bit of time on the Internet has come across a TED talk. One part STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) policy, one part visionary thinking and one part random inspiration, TED—an acronym for technology, engineering, design—originated in 1984 as a one-off conference in Monterey. It’s since grown into a worldwide event series. The official tagline is “Ideas worth spreading.” But, TED attendance comes with a hefty price tag. A ticket to the upcoming annual conference in Vancouver, which you couldn’t get anyway because it’s sold out, would run you $7,500.

Enter TEDx. A series of independently produced programs, TEDx brings “TED-like experiences” to a local, more affordable level. There are currently over 1000 TEDx events, including ones in Antarctica, Sioux Falls, Bangalore, Guadalajara, Beijing, Chattanooga, Dubai and, of course, our own in Santa Cruz.

Tsouprake hopes that you can’t walk out of TEDxSantaCruz and not be changed in some way.

“You’re either going to look around and go, ‘Holy cow, this is the community I live in,’” she says, “or you’re going to look around and go, ‘Wow, I can’t believe that one person did so much.’ Or you’re going to be moved to get involved.”

Looking forward, Tsouprake isn’t sure what’s next for TEDxSantaCruz. They are discussing possibilities such as broadcasting primary TED talks live, and small salon events to discuss local issues like healthcare and education. From her perspective, TED has ignited something that is critical for community.

“We have to have a conversation about the future,” she says. “The population is exploding, we have limited resources—this is not a conversation that can wait. Our goal is to facilitate that conversation.”

TEDxSantaCruz 2014 will be held at Hotel Paradox in Santa Cruz on Sat March 8, from 9am-5pm; $75.