An upbeat, outside-the-box festival explores what it means to be Armenian in the 21st century and celebrates innovation and innovators
LOS ANGELES—On Saturday, September 23, the USC Institute of Armenian Studies presents INNOVATE ARMENIA 2017, a day of discovery, technology, music, food, wine, chess and lively conversation headlined by a pair of celebrity-journalist brothers and two 2016 Pulitzer Prize winners.
The brothers are Washington Post columnist David Ignatius and Harvard Business Review editor Adi Ignatius.
The Pulitzer Prize winners are poet Peter Balakian, of Colgate University, and novelist Viet Thanh Nguyen, a USC professor of English and American studies.
A Vietnamese-born English literature professor headlining an Armenian diaspora festival may seem strange, but it goes to the heart of the USC Institute of Armenian Studies’ outward-looking, internationalist philosophy.
“We take global Armenian questions and explore them as part of big world issues,” says director Salpi Ghazarian. “INNOVATE ARMENIA is the platform where we make the best of scholarship accessible.”
The Armenian diaspora experience has lessons for everyone, according to David Kang, a featured speaker at Innovate Armenia 2016. A professor of international relations, business and East Asian languages, Kang heads USC’s Korean Studies Institute. His presentation last year focused on the fluidity of hybrid identities. “Armenians are going through very similar issues that Koreans have,” he said in his talk.
In a city as multiethnic as Los Angeles, the immigrant experience is something most of us can relate to, Ghazarian says. “Anyone, including those whose ancestors arrived on the Mayflower, will find something to pique their interest at Innovate Armenia.”
Last year’s festival, which focused on digital humanities, drew 3,000 attendees and 20,000 more watched online. This year’s program — with a focus on rethinking, relearning and reimagining identity, language, history and technology —is expected to draw even larger crowds.
Some highlights of the day’s events, starting at 10 am:
• Back-to-back presentations in USC’s Bovard Auditorium include a session on rearing global citizens, featuring the Ignatius brothers—both prominent public intellectuals; and a session on new approaches to teaching the humanities, pairing literary icons Nguyen and Balakian. Other provocative speakers include Hovig Etyemezian, chief of the Mosul operation for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees; Arman Jilavian, CEO of the Armenia-based Aurora Prize, a $1 million award recognizing global humanitarian excellence; and Paul Berberian, CEO of Denver-based Sphero, maker of smartphone-controlled toy robots used in education.
• A panel discussion on teaching excellence features five Luys Scholars, recipients of an Armenian government program which supports the education of students of Armenian descent attending top universities in the United States and around the world. Another panel tackles the education of at-risk and immigrant youth to excel in Southern California schools, and pursue higher education in top universities.
• A speaker stage in Alumni Park hosts fast-paced TED-style talks, with scientists, scholars and educators from across the Armenian diaspora, including Jet Propulsion Lab roboticist Richard Ohanian and Houston-based International Space Safety Foundation president Michael Kezirian.
• More than a dozen exhibitor booths showcase innovators in STEM education, many from Armenia, including: Armath Labs and Real School, programs that bring after-school computer coding classes to youngsters across urban and rural Armenia; ed-tech company Dasaran.com, creator of Armenia’s first comprehensive e-learning portal; SoloLearn, a free, code-teaching app that took the grand prize in the 2017 Facebook Start App of the Year contest. Also attending the festival is the head of the Dilijan campus of United World College, a network of 14 mixed-nationality boarding schools; and teachers from the Yerevan-based Ayb School, who together with other colleagues attending from Armenia, churn out math and science Olympiad winners year after year.
• On the entertainment stage, the music and dancing never stops with performances by eclectic Armenian artists from Beirut, Vanadzor, Philadelphia, Paris, Yerevan and Glendale.
• Interactive experiences include chess games with woman grandmaster Tatev Abrahamyan and international master Andranik Matikozyan; a maker space where scientists and festival-goers can collaborate hands-on to solve or observe engineering challenges; and complimentary tastings hosted by Armenia Wine Company, maker of ancient Armenian wines using 21st-century viniculture techniques.
The festival coincides with “Undeliverable: Postcards and Photos of Lives Interrupted,” a unique installation in Doheny Library of vintage postcards of Armenian life in the pre-genocide years, interlaced with mind-bending contemporary imagery by Brazilian photographer Norair Chahinian. A panel discussion with Chahinian, postcard collector Orlando Carlo Calumeno and exhibition co-curator Narineh Mirzaeian takes place in Bovard Auditorium during INNOVATE ARMENIA.
Armenian fusion delicacies will be available all day.
Innovate Armenia 2017 takes place Saturday, September 23, 10 am to 6 pm in Alumni Park and Bovard Hall on USC’s University Park Campus. Admission is free. All-day parking is easily available for $12 in USC parking structures.
Established in 2005, the USC Institute of Armenian Studies supports multidisciplinary scholarship to re-define, explore and study the complex issues that make up the contemporary Armenian experience—from post-genocide to the developing Republic of Armenia to the evolving diaspora. The institute encourages research, publications and public service, and promotes links among the global academic and Armenian communities.