Night of Ideas sparks insightful debate


Aylin Salahifar

A vibrant contortionist positions herself elegantly as Night of Ideas attendees observe in awe.

Through a seven-hour program of debate, performances, dance, and music, the 2020 SF Night of Ideas encouraged diverse members of the community to participate in difficult conversations surrounding the future of the planet.

As a collaboration between the French Consulate in San Francisco, KQED, and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), the event was hosted at the San Francisco Public Library, with each of its floors devoted to a specific theme of discussion. These themes included chaos versus creation, wonder versus worry, and exclusion versus belonging.

The Night of Ideas was held not only in San Francisco but in over 150 cities across the globe.

“Our goal was to create an atmosphere that embodies the freedom of speech. The fact that this event is free and has an informal nature creates inclusivity for people of all socioeconomic backgrounds,” Emily Passerieux said.

Passerieux, a program manager for the cultural projects of the French Consulate, believes that it can often be difficult to create an environment where people from all sorts of backgrounds feel comfortable voicing their opinions.

Although it is challenging, she views this as vital to finding solutions to the obstacles facing our world.

As the controversy over topics such as immigration, climate change, and poverty divides nations, the Night of Ideas was designed as a global event to spur dialogue between those who share differing viewpoints.

With over 6,000 participants, the SF Night of Ideas had a schedule packed with experts, activists, and influencers to encourage attendees to become invested in solving the problems that face our world.

Isha Clarke, a climate change activist, presented a panel about the importance of preserving our environment. Although only a senior at MetWest High School, Clarke captivated the audience with her eloquence and confidence.

“Events like the Night of Ideas are incredibly important because they unite all different types of people into one community. The most vulnerable conversations happen in places like these,” Clarke said.

Joti Singh, leader of Duniya Dance and Drum Group, shared similar views to Clarke. While she and her dance group captivated the audience with their powerful moves and colorful costumes, their motivation for performing at the Night of Ideas surpassed showing off their exciting dances.

“A community celebration of ideas appealed to us because as a group, we represent the populations within the U.S. that are typically marginalized, such as people of color. This event was an opportunity to bring visibility to specific issues that we really care about,” Singh said.

Despite the differing viewpoints that circulated the building, the consensus of the night was that the world is divided on issues that people must now unite in order to solve.

In the future, attendees, panelists, and organizers alike hope to see the spread of events similar to the Night of Ideas to more public spaces.

“We can’t sit back and allow our world to be overwhelmed by the challenges that face it. We have to keep pushing the boundaries and being the leaders of change,” Singh said.