Street artist JR at TED Confernce talking about his projects and accepting the TED Prize.

Photos by from JR and protrait of JR by Christopher Shay

The TED Conference in Long Beach, CA, has quickly become one of the most coveted and inspiring conferences in the world, with a variety of speakers delivering at a maximum, 18-minute talks ranging from Al Gore to Jane Goodall, Bill Gates to Bono. The TED concept of “Ideas worth spreading” has created a movement around the world with grassroots organizers, or TEDsters, creating their own gatherings with the spirit of TED called TEDx.

Last Wednesday, March 2, 2011, Label Networks was invited to a TEDX event at the Downtown Independent in Los Angeles, hosted by Goldstar -which in a way is like TED with their concept of “spreading fun ideas” through discounted tickets, cool event listings, member reviews, and events. For one day, this invite-only group of influencers from LA was able to watch the live stream of what was taking place on stage in Long Beach during the TED Conference. In between sessions, we got a chance to network with each other, which as Goldstar CEO Jim McCarthy pointed out, “is just as important as the person on the screen.” Bento boxed lunches on the roof with a DJ, and loads of great snacks, drinks and even the Cool Haus ice cream truck made for an inspiring day.

JR%uFFFDs latest work, The Wrinkles of the City” in downtown Los Angeles.

Speakers that day at TED covered a wide range, from Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio talking about “Deep Mystery,” to Julie Taymor, best known for directing and designing the Lion King and Spiderman in the session themed “World’s Imagined,” to Bill Ford warning about the obstacles of global gridlock and transportation solutions for 2040.

From a youth culture perspective, one of the most anticipated presentations was French street artist JR, and his “wish” to change the world as this year’s winner of the TED Prize–$100,000 and the opportunity to inspire TED audiences around the world to assist with his idea.

At Label Networks, we’ve covered JR many times before for his projects such as Women Are Heroes and others whereby he uses giant black and white photos made into posters of people to create art in some of the most run-down places in the world -all towards bringing attention to people’s stories, the locations, and creating change.

As part of a growing movement where graffiti and street artists are getting recognized for their work (and often hired by brands to help create credibility towards connecting with youth culture), it was a pleasure to see a street artist, who like many others, has for most of their career, had to hide their identity and work in way less than optimal conditions to create their art in public spaces. With the TED Prize (who’s former recipients include Bono and Bill Clinton), JR achieved international recognition, which also elevates street art to new levels. It also goes to show how open-minded TED is to have seen street art as a vehicle for change -an idea worth spreading.

JR gave an excellent speech about his work, and with his TED Prize, asked: “I wish for you to stand up for what you care about by participating in a global art project, and together we%uFFFDll turn the world…INSIDE OUT.”

The concept is a global project intended to transform messages of personal identity into pieces of artistic work -like a global collage of street art of people’s faces. People are challenged to take black and white photos, which JR and his team will turn into posters at, which will then be sent back to the person for them to post outside in their own communities. These exhibitions will be documented and archived and viewable virtually, as well as made into a documentary.

“Posters can be placed anywhere, from a solitary image in an office window to a wall of portraits on an abandoned building or a full stadium,” said JR. Within less than an hour, the project’s site already had 500 uploaded photographs. JR said the goal is to transform “messages of personal identity into pieces of artistic work.”

“Everyone is challenged to use black-and-white photographic portraits to discover, reveal and share the untold stories and images of people around the world,” he said.

As soon as he finished, an amazing thing happened in the audience as influencers who had gathered at the TED conference started to pony-up their wares. For example, a director from Google Earth offered to map the project; directors from the Sundance Institute offered funding for the documentary, and several commercial property owners offered empty building spaces for JR’s work. One wealthy entrepreneur offered to buy 250 of the $20-picture fees (to be turned into posters) for people who wanted to participate but couldn’t afford the cost in order to get more people involved. A team from Pakistan and another from troubled areas in Northern Mexico all offered to host this project in their own locations to help spread JR’s message of Inside Out.

In the end, which was actually just the beginning, a global art project was created that proved to live up to that night’s theme of a “Radical Collaboration.”

Check out JR’s talk here: