How I Learned to Love Schnaps: A Brief History of me Convention

In early 2017, I had just established my own cultural production company, Out-Of-Office, and was preparing to set up shop in Amsterdam. Shortly before I moved, SXSW got in touch to say they were exploring an opportunity to work with Mercedes-Benz, who wanted to begin a future-focused dialogue with the creative industries in their effort to think beyond mobility as we know it today.

The vision for this new event was clear and ambitious, aiming to generate an international, participatory and critical conversation, while also being solutions-oriented. The themes were closely aligned with my experience as Executive Producer of SXSW Eco and creating the SXSW Art Program, and since I love the challenge of developing new programs, I signed on to be a producer and curator.

How me Convention was born

Two weeks later I was on a flight to Germany to meet the crew at Daimler and the creative agency Liganova. We toured Frankfurt where the event would be held, and even the Mercedes-Benz test track (I felt the G Force in a 50 passenger van!). Heading to Stuttgart, it was refreshing to see a new part of the country where life is a little slower nestled in the valley. After many workshops and long distance calls ironing out the details, (and almost as many varieties of Schwabian schnaps), me Convention was born.

The collaboration between Daimler, a 280,000+ person publicly-traded company, and SXSW, a DIY company with international acclaim, was new territory; we worked closely with the SXSW staff in Austin, and spent countless hours finalizing our themes, researching experts and uncovering their interests. Our goal was to host leaders who could share lessons from the past, as well as highlight new voices and bold ideas.

Me and my colleagues – always busy

Buzz Aldrin: A life-long memory

It was fitting then that our first secured speaker was Buzz Aldrin – a man who made history going to the moon, and yet at 88 is motivated and driven by his plan to go to Mars. I couldn’t have predicted that one of my favorite moments would be facilitating a meeting between this icon and a five-year old girl whose mother drove her in from Poland to meet her hero. She gave him a hand drawn book about her plan to go to space and he told her she was a star. Witnessing a life-long memory in the making makes everything worthwhile.

Icon Buzz Aldrin and a five-year old girl who wants to go to space

And so, thankful for summer’s white nights and havermilk lattes, we created a program that offered a wide survey of important issues – from neurocapitalism to the ethical and artistic use of biometric data, from rapid prototyping machines to trust in the internet era, quantum computing to brain-computer interfaces. We discussed the promise of bacteria, the science of cultured meat, design justice in our cities and spaces that perform themselves.

A few macro-themes emerged, from the value of art in shaping social change to the importance of play eloquently argued by John Cohn, our unanimous speaker MVP from IBM, to taking risks, whether that meant microdosing, exploring polyamory, or actual mountain climbing expeditions. And finally, winding down with a program of amazing musicians in iconic clubs was the perfect way to close each night.

me Convention 2018 in Stockholm

And so – one year later – how does me Convention evolve? Following a successful pop up at SXSW 2018, we are bringing it to an entirely new context – instead of the localized Bahnhofsviertel, we will host events in Stockholm from Nacka to Norrmalm, showcasing everything this intriguing city has to offer.

We will focus on how technologies are reshaping society, how the arts can create change, and how to adapt to our rapidly changing environment. You can expect tough questions and speculative visions in an evolution of last year’s conversations – in Frankfurt we talked about imprinting music through Augmented Reality, in Stockholm we take it further with imprinting music on DNA. From NASA imagery to NASA’s VR symphony, and from the designer of the Macbook to the designer of Snapchat Glass, we love to mix the established icons with emerging projects.

Personally, I’m excited about the tour of Moderna Museet, the lovely Fotografiska, and our party at Södra Teatern featuring DJ sets from Annie Clark and Kornél Kovács. I can’t wait to hear from Broad Band author Claire Evans, human rights lawyer Renata Avila, Creative Director Armina Mussa, and Alex Cornelissen of Sea Shepherd, whose work I sincerely admire.

Some under the radar projects that stand out to me are by The Kissinger Twins, From Later, and The Disconnect, as well as Symbiosity of Creation, the truly unusual yet captivating installation about post-human cultures by Elvin Flamingo. And don’t miss keynote Björn Ulvaeus of ABBA, who fit the theme as the group constantly evolves to create something new.

A strange and beautiful place

From facial recognition and longevity research to universal basic assets, the world of compersia and the role of art in outer space, this project has allowed me to explore so many fascinating topics. I’ve also learned to appreciate the differences between American and German work culture, the perils of being a #digitalnomad in Venice, google translating dad jokes, and just what is possible working with a dedicated, tenacious and creative team from Stuttgart.

Me and my German Daimler colleague Theresa

After all, that’s what ties it all together – the community. It’s a term thrown around too often, but I found something original here – never have I seen 30 speakers organize their own whatsapp group, or our keynotes taking so much time to meet the other speakers. It’s a cliche that you never know who you’ll meet, but it’s also true. And it’s why events still matter in an age where you can learn everything online.

I didn’t expect to make a lifelong friend over a mysterious, flauschig white rabbit, deliver a fake-birthday cake to a renowned art curator, or talk synthetic biology with a hip hop icon, but that is the magic of me Convention. It’s a strange and beautiful place.

Morgan Catalina was Executive Producer of SXSW Eco and is now a producer and curator of me Convention. She loves the challenge of developing new programs, and while her stay in Stuttgart she also learned to love Schnaps.