There is an undeniable splendor to Nantucket in September. Most seasonal visitors have returned home and the island has returned to its more natural, sequestered origins – with its windblown beaches, idyllic lighthouses, and gently rolling hills.
It’s also the month of The Nantucket Project (TNP), a world-famous speaker showcase that draws nearly 500 visionaries from former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair to Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak to discuss some of the most thought-provoking ideas of our time – and ultimately, to make the world a better place.
Held in a tent overlooking the moored sailboats of Nantucket Harbor, The Nantucket Project – in part sponsored by Tradewind – invites the brightest thinkers and creators to an extraordinary weekend that aims to push the limits of what we know. Famed presenters like TV producer Norman Lear, playwright Eve Ensler, author Deepak Chopra, and actor Paul Giamatti take the stage (or rather, the center of the room, as the gathering is set up in-the-round), and each speaker gives what TNP’s President Scott Williams calls “the talk of their life.”
From technology to politics to psychology, there is no limit to what might become a focus at TNP. But each of the topics are ideas that matter, meant to kindle positive change that will travel far beyond the island after the event – held September 14 – 17 on the lawn of the White Elephant. Through short talks, conversation-style presentations, and films, fresh and original performances resonate with virtually every person in the room, making choosing one that has been most memorable nearly impossible.
“There are – dare I say – so many,” says Williams as he reminisces on the event’s 7-year history, citing talks by former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange (who attended as a hologram), theater and film director Julie Taymor, and singer-songwriter Neil Young in addition to Blair and Wozniak.
These are singular talks that only one person can give, something they are uniquely qualified to share. And the intimate setting – speakers literally walk on stage from the audience, as there is no green room or backstage – creates an atmosphere that heightens the energy between speaker and listeners. “It creates not only a great method for dialogue, but inclusion, because you’re looking through the speaker to other attendees,” says Williams. “And the focus becomes very, very transparent.”
Each of the event’s speakers are invited throughout the previous year, with some coming in as late as days or weeks before the gathering – like Young, who signed on three weeks out in a previous year. But TNP’s reputation and vision are such that attendees don’t need to know who the speakers are before purchasing a ticket. This year, the event sold out before even a single presenter’s name had been released. The first, former President of Mexico Vincente Fox, would be later announced on August 4.
After the event, the talks that TNP wants to share with the world are turned into IdeaFilms, short 2-to-14-minute videos led by renowned directors like Casey Neistat, Megan Mylan, and Oscar Boyson (which have been official selections at festivals such as Tribeca and SXSW). TNP was the inspiration for a film called Acceptance, a powerful story encouraging viewers to accept who they are and embrace their personal history, sexuality, or maladies like facial scarring from an injury or illness. Other features have highlighted the ramifications of population explosions in cities, and this year TNP will premiere films about race in America, the future of labor in America, as well as the award-winning projected Oscar contender, The Illumination, which tells the story of finding a cure for blindness.
“Then, out of that, we take what we call our satellite series, and we go on the road with what matters most to us,” says Williams. “It’s a distillation of our ideas that takes place over a full day or an evening in various cities across the country” – from San Francisco to Cleveland to Los Angeles and in institutions like Brown University. Additionally, TNP runs a nonprofit scholars program to accelerate the bold ideas of innovative minds with a curriculum that encompasses engagement, storytelling, fundraising, and advancement with the help of a network of influential individuals. They support 15 scholars each year.
But it all starts with Nantucket.
The inaugural event was held in the fall of 2011 after being founded by Kate Brosnan and Tom Scott, creator of the local Nantucket Nectars and the HBO series The Neistat Brothers. Now in its seventh year, TNP tackles some of the world’s greatest challenges, and Williams believes that attendees are leaving the world better than they found it.
“I love the vision and mission of changing minds,” he says. “I think the world needs a little more courage, and this is a very courageous group of people who want to change the world through ideas that change people’s minds. And I’m talking about literally changing people’s minds, because you come into the tent one person, and you leave the tent quite another.”
Tickets are no longer available for The Nantucket Project 2017, however tickets for the 2018 gathering will become available in September. Tradewind is an official sponsor of the event and can get you there by way of private charters and regularly scheduled shuttle flights. Click here to reserve your trip.
*Featured Image: The Nantucket Project