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The VCFA MFA in Graphic Design Program Blog

Huh #27: An interview with Johnny Linnert of PechaKucha Night

November 1, 2015

Johnny Linnert is the Executive Director of PechaKucha Night, the global event series wherein creatives make presentations using the trademarked PechaKucha formula: speaking about 20 images for 20 seconds each. VCFA MFA in Graphic Design Chair Ian Lynam caught up with his fellow Tokyoite to hear more about what’s been going on behind the scenes with all things PechaKucha.

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How did PechaKucha Night start exactly?
On an mid-winter’s evening nearly thirteen years ago in a great Roppongi event space called SuperDeluxe, the very first PechaKucha Night was held. It was conceived by two architects (my bosses): Mark Dytham and Astrid Klein.

My dad is an architect, and if you’ve ever met one, they can go on for hours about the details of the project they’re working on — these are passionate people. So they needed a way to have architects speak more concisely. Out of this need the PechaKucha 20 images, 20 seconds each format was born.

So on that momentous night, they had 20 architects present to great success. From there the event was held every month, and they began to include designers, artists, and all sorts of creatives. How PechaKucha Nights came to be held in over 800 cities is perhaps a story for another day.

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What was the most memorable PechaKucha presentation that you’ve seen?

Earlier this year a friend of our previous Toronto City Organizer came to Tokyo for a visit. She’s a photographer, her name is Connie Tsang, and she had wanted to share her personal project at PechaKucha Night Tokyo.

As all of us age alongside our parents, we begin to spend less time with them, and each time we see them it’s clear that time has passed.

Connie realized that she wanted to capture the seemingly dull time with her parents as they transitioned into their twilight years. She calls these times “non-moments” because most would think very little of them, but as she says in her presentation, these moments are often the ones we miss the most.

After she had given this presentation, no joke, there wasn’t a dry eye in the whole of SuperDeluxe. It was moving. You can see it here.

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When did you get involved?

About 3 years ago, our previous Executive Director Jean Snow put out a call for someone to assist PechaKucha with their social media and blog. At the time Jean and I spent a lot of time on Twitter and Tumblr — he must’ve felt as though I had a sense for curation and an eye for design, because after that I began helping out at PK. The responsibilities I took on only grew from there!

How does it feel having all of this power now?

Working for an organization connected to over 870 cities may seem like one that would come with a lot of power, but I like to think that the real power comes from the efforts of our City Organizers. They’re the ones who champion the creatives in their cities. We help them bring that creativity to the rest of the world, and give them a place to belong — one big global family.

Carrying out the duties of this position requires buckets full of humility, and a generous helping of empathy. Though we at HQ are the authority on how PechaKucha ought to be ultimately run, we have to take into consideration the cultural and economic concerns of every city we work with, especially since everyone running a PechaKucha Night does this on a volunteer basis.

How do you want to evolve the PechaKucha Night phenomenon?

Twelve years in and we’re really only just getting started. PechaKucha Nights are truly our heart and soul, but they’re also only one piece of the puzzle. Beyond giving creatives a place to speak in their community, and a global megaphone, we want to bring these opportunities to schools, universities, and businesses.
Working with cities in 111 countries also means we touch those who are affected by disasters caused by both nature and humans — most recently Aden (Yemen) and Kathmandu (Nepal). We have the opportunity here to inspire those around the world to come to the assistance of those in dire need, and for those in need to inspire one another. So we’re currently working to build out a response system and platform to empower the affected and those who can help, and we’re calling it PechaKucha INSPIRE.

The PechaKucha INSPIRE Japan channel has become an amazing archive of the recovery process of Japan’s Tohoku region after the 2011 quake. While the media may divert its attention away from crisis after a week at most, the INSPIRE channels serve to update and provide an ongoing timeline as the status of the affected locale.

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If you could reanimate a dozen dead folks and have them each come give PechaKucha presentations, who would you invite?

This is a tough question. In fact, I will sit on this final question alone for 4 months before answering it — that’s how awful I am at answering these sorts of questions.

We’re at a time where our world is changing so rapidly that a lot of what fascinates me about it most likely doesn’t apply to those who lived in the past — but then again I could just as well be ignorant. Buckminster Fuller and Nikola Tesla come to mind as exceptions to that statement.

The purpose of a question like this is typically to pull out famous dead people from the woodwork, but really the best stories told at PechaKucha Nights are those told by someone you’ve never heard of, and that’s the real beauty of it.

Thanks so much for sharing with us, Johnny!

And that sums up this edition of “Huh?”, dear readers—stay tuned for more soon!