Smile Politely

20 seconds and 20 images to tell a great story: PK23

Drawing its name from the Japanese term for “chit chat,” PechaKucha is an international event that has taken communities by storm. The concept of PechaKucha (or PK for short) is simple: presenters have twenty slides and only twenty seconds to talk about each slide. Presenters can present on literally anything. Since 2003 PK has grown into a global phenomenon that brings people, places, and stories together. On Saturday February 11th, PechaKucha Night Champaign Urbana volume 23 is set to add more exciting, thought-provoking, engaging, and heartfelt stories to the PK conversation. 

Hosted by the Champaign Urbana Design Organization (CUDO), PechaKucha Night CU Vol. 23 has ten presenters set to take the stage in the next few days. There is also an emcee for the event. While the Facebook page for PechaKucha Night CU has done a great job of giving short summaries of the presenters and their topics, I wanted to hear from the presenters directly. I asked them two questions:

  1. Can you summarize your presentation’s topic in one to two sentences?
  2. What are you looking forward to the most about presenting your story at PechaKucha?

Without any further ado, let’s see what the presenters have to say for themselves about their presentations.


Isaac Arms is an artist and performer. He also documents the sounds of C-U’s eclectic and diverse musical culture through his project Heirship Records. In summarizing his presentation, Arms says, “For 20 years my head and heart have been wrapped up in music, and the past ten of those years I’ve built my life around it. I’m going to attempt to speak from a position of passion—not authority—about what DIY music culture is and does (in my experience), because as Spoon says, “that’s the way we get by.” His presentation is titled Community & Culture Through Music: What We Find / What We Leave Behind. “I hope to impart to folks a sense of—through recounting my personal education through DIY music culture—the ideals that we share as artists and audience & how we might rally as a community to bring about positive change.”

“My presentation is about finding unexpected business success as an artist in the small town of Tuscola and how other creative entrepreneurs can do it too,” says Ainslie Heilich, co-owner of Vintage Karma. What one has to bare in mind is that Heilich is a tattoo artist specializing in vintage tattoo designs. Through his presentation entitled Living the Tuscola Dream, Heilich hopes to raise “a few eyebrows and [make] people laugh while giving them a different way to look at small town businesses.”

In moving away from businesses to play, the next presenter wondered about a local fixture in every community: the playground. Kelsey Langley explains, “Children need opportunities to engage in self-directed play as a way to find their passions, pursue their interests and make sense of their world. There is a global movement aimed at bringing true, adventurous play opportunities to children and locally, KOOP (Kid Owned & Operated Play) is putting C-U at the forefront of this global play revival.” In Child’s Play, Langley is “most excited to share this amazingly simple idea: kids need play!” She is also excited to share KOOP’s progress over the past two years and how they are making C-U a “more playful community.”

The next presenter continues the thought topic of play, but she explores it in a different way. “Storytelling takes more than a good story,” says Kate McDowell, a storyteller and Associate Professor at the iSchool at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “[Storytelling] requires understanding the complex dynamic between the tale, the teller, and the audience, which is what I call ‘storytelling thinking.’”  McDowell is most excited about presenting Storytelling Thinking for Professionals to an audience at the Virginia Theatre. “I’m an academic so I’m often at conferences in other places, but this will be a good chance to share what I do with my own community.”

From playgrounds and storytelling, the presentations shift to other forms of play. In Ordinary Creatives, David Michael Moore will present on his experience in designing, creating, testing, and playing his own board game. “Three years ago I joined CUDO Plays, a local board game design competition, and was able to make one of my dreams a reality when I completed the 5-month process and turned in my game, The Blob Attacks! I have since joined CUDO and want to empower people to follow their own creative passions, building community around collaborative projects,” explains Moore. “I hope to inspire people to volunteer, maybe step out of their comfort zone and try something new to contribute to the Champaign-Urbana art scene.” Moore was previously interviewed as part of fellow Smile Politely Arts writer Jimena Oliver de la Cruz’s WorkSpace articles. 

Hugh Monahan is a game designer along with being the founder and lead developer at Stellar Jockeys. Through The Empathy of Games, Monahan will talk about “how games, as an interactive medium, are uniquely suited to evoking understanding and [generating] empathy in players.” Monahan continues, “I’m excited to share my passion with others and why I think making games is something worth dedicating one’s life to.”

Along with McDowell, Nicole Musumeci is also excited to be taking the stage at the Virginia Theater and “sharing our story with new faces!” Her talk entitled Growing Community shifts audiences away from play and games to talk about farming. “I plan to share the story of Prosperity Gardens, [a] local nonprofit and urban farm. We empower youth through education and employment opportunities on our urban farm, while strengthening our communities health through our Mobile Market program.” Musumeci is the executive director of Prosperity Gardens so her talk will surely be engaging and enthusiastic.

Continuing the theme of nature and growth, Kirby Pringle focuses on the hard workers making our gardening efforts worthwhile. “My presentation, Habitat for Pollinators, is about creating habitat for bees, butterflies and moths using native tallgrass prairie flowers. Even small patches of native prairie flowers can make a big difference in increasing the population of crucial insect pollinators.” Kirby along with his wife Cindy have been major advocates for bees and monarchs in Central Illinois and the nation. They are also local photographers and owners of Dogtown Artworks. “I’m always happy to spread the word about our work in trying to help increase the population of monarch butterflies and showing others that even small gestures can have a big effect.”

In looping back to children and families, Raising Children in an Interracial Family by Candice Solomon-Strutz will provide a bridge back to the earlier talks. “I will share my experience of being in an interracial marriage and raising biracial children. I’ll briefly share how I address and handle comments and micro-aggressions from strangers, family, and friends,” explains Solomon-Strutz. “Ultimately, I am most looking forward to the opportunity to share my family values of celebrating diversity and appreciation of an upbringing with various cultures in a light and humorous manner.”

Last but not least, Sierra Young is a predoctoral fellow at the University, and her talk is about robots. Her talk also links back to the earlier themes of community, learning through play and storytelling, and technology. In Blow-Up and Robot Stories, Young is looking forward “to showing everyone how much fun [the] field [of] robotics can be!” Sometimes with play, we use trial and error to find out what works and what doesn’t work in the proverbial sandbox. “Small robots allow us to measure variables of interest in the environment in areas that might be too dangerous or difficult for humans. During my time as a graduate student I’ve used ground, water and air robots in some tricky environments, and my presentation will include anecdotes from near-disaster (or full-disaster) experiences using these platforms,” elaborates Young.


Ralph Roether, a local graphic designer and former PK presenter from PechaKucha Night C-U Vol. 9 and Vol. 20. Roether has previously emceed PK and other exciting events so he is sure to keep things lively throughout the night. If you want to know more about him, I recommend reading his previous interviews with SP and the News Gazette.

As you can see, PechaKucha is all encompassing, exciting, and engaging. PechaKucha Night C-U Vol. 23 will be on Saturday February 11th at the Virginia Theatre in Champaign. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. with the show set to start at 8:20 p.m. Tickets are $10 in advance via the Virginia Theatre’s website or $15 at the door. PK is for adult audiences due to mature content.

Sarah Keim is a contributing writer for Smile Politely’s Arts section. She’s a bit of recluse on social media, but you might bump into her out in the wilds of C-U. Frequent sightings occur at movie theaters, Harvest Market’s cafe, and Imbibe Urbana’s First Fridays. 

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