Written by Julia Sinn
(More pictures to be added soon)
Due to busy schedules of leadership, some thought the 4-year-old award showcase of Santa Cruz visionaries wouldn’t go on. Thankfully, Matthew Swinnerton stepped up to the helm. The 2014 NEXTies not only went on—it took off, cocktail shrimp and all. Vinocruz brought the bubbly and Stripe decked out The Rio with style.
“Every time I see the lineup [of NEXTies] I get so excited about what people are doing in Santa Cruz,” said Margaret Rosas, head of Customer Support and Community at Looker. “It makes me realize: it truly takes a village. It’s not just one person.”
The crowd displayed a lineup of Santa Cruz’s bold leadership and creativity: Rosas’s fellow TechRaising creator Andrew Mueller, Santa Cruz New Tech Meetup founder Doug Erickson, Bud Colligan Founder and CEO at South Swell Ventures, radio host Neil Pearlberg, Cruzioworks community leaders, Santa Cruz County Supervisor-Elect Ryan Coonerty, even American Idol James Durbin—who’s a sort of honorary NEXTie, a symbol of the talent and success that thrives in Santa Cruz. Oh, and can’t forget – Mariel Hemingway.
“I’m excited to welcome the new NEXTies into the circle,” said Cliff Hodges, founder of Adventure Out and, as Swinnerton deemed him, the Frank Sinatra of the NEXTies Rat Pack. “Whether by chance or by design, all the past winners have formed a community. It’s brought together leaders who wouldn’t otherwise be connected—a network of change-makers.”
Shane Pearlman of Modern Tribe was celebrating five people who are having an impact by acting intentionally for a cause, a moment. “Every once in a while, we can do something that’s meaningful,” Pearlman said. “Most of us are just trying to get by. If we can do one great thing, we can have an impact.”
“It’s cool,” James Durbin told me of his rise to fame, “because I’m glad I’ve stayed true to my roots.” Durbin played a soulful set that included an unreleased, crowd-pleasing, and totally rocking song Santa Cruz. Local singer/songwriter Ian Bell also performed one (as always) stunning song, The Tide is Coming In.
A gorgeously-produced 2-minute video (the top-notch work of Ridemade Productions) introduced each winner, with inspiring voiceover of the NEXTies sharing their visions that stoked the auditorium’s energy. Then a former NEXTies winner welcomed each inductee into what Analicia Cube called the “dysfunctional NEXTies family.”
The first honoree was Lindsey Chester, Artistic Director of All About Theater, for her work involving Santa Cruz’s kids in the performing arts. “If we can educate them, then we can educate our whole society,” her voiceover said.
Analicia Cube, president of Take Back Santa Cruz and 2011 NEXTie, introduced Chester. “We need to have a place for our kids to go and be, and Lindsey is that place, All About Theater is that place,” Cube said.
Chester began with a shoutout to (our fearless leader!) Matthew Swinnerton for “bringing it all together today—bringing together all these innovators.”
“We all have big dreams,” Chester said. “The quest that we’re all on is different in our own way, but it’s about purpose, and about fulfillment, and about really giving to the next generation.”
“The transformative power of theater goes far beyond, just—can you do jazz hands and can you sing and can dance.” It’s a medium, Chester said, that “allows kids to truly be themselves, explore what that is.”
From a vision of Santa Cruz’s children’s future to big-wave surfing: on The Rio’s huge movie screen, Santa Cruz Waves founder Tyler Fox pulled on his wetsuit and carved at Mavericks, to a chorus of whistles and yelps from the audience.
“The reason why I surf big waves is because it gives me the feeling more than anything else that I’m truly living life.”
Danny Keith of Grind Out Hunger, a 2010 NEXTie winner, introduced Fox. “When you’re a surfer,” Keith said, “you really don’t look as society as part of your clique,” Keith said. He remembered seeing Tyler Fox as a teenager on local surf teams and having an instinct that “that kid’s gonna do something.” Tyler Fox started SantaCruzWaves.com as a platform to showcase the talent he saw growing up in Santa Cruz.
“It is absolutely stunning how much talent we have in this one small community,” Fox said. “I felt like there really wasn’t a platform to showcase that all. Through Santa Cruz Waves I think we’re starting to achieve a platform for bringing the community together. We all have a voice and we all have power to make change here in this community.”
To Fox, Santa Cruz Waves is also about preserving our community’s culture and showcasing Santa Cruz’s beauty. “We have a treasure here and it’s our responsibility to team up and work together to preserve that treasure.”
Megan Joseph, Director of Community Giving at United Way, introduced 2014 NEXTie Consuelo Alba, co-founder of the Watsonville Film Festival.
“I stand for equity,” Alba began. “And I believe that art and culture offer powerful ways to engage people, shift conversations, and transform communities.”
A native of Mexico City, Alba remembered her surprise upon arriving in the US, seeing so many Mexican yet so little representations of rich Mexican culture.
“I feel I have the responsibility to give voice to people who might not be able to express themselves.” Her vision was to help tell stories of a marginalized community. She worked as a long-time journalist and translator, then opened Alma, a Latin American arts and crafts store in the Westside, and a cultural meeting place.
In 2009, she and her husband John Speyer created Veremos Productions. “Veremos means ‘we’ll see,’” Alba said, “as in: we’ll see what possible.” Starting with no filmmaking experience, they pushed themselves to learn quickly. Their first film, El Andalón (The Healer), has been in 30 film festivals internationally, received 7 awards, and has been broadcasted on Mexican public television.
They didn’t stop there: she and Speyer co-founded the Watsonville Film Festival with Jacob Martinez (who received a NEXTie in 2012) to showcase the unheard stories of their community and to promote empowerment, especially among youth. “Leadership isn’t just about getting things done, it’s really about what can you do to raise others and help them see their potential.”
“We have a huge opportunity here to make the Watsonville Film Festival the new Latino Sundance,” Alba said. “We are only 15 miles away from here, but sometimes Watsonville and Santa Cruz seems far apart.” Her dream is to bridge that gap. “At the end of the day, I believe our similarities are greater than our differences.”
The next award went to Greg Pepping, Executive Director of the Coastal Watershed Council, for his work forming the San Lorenzo River Alliance. Under Pepping’s leadership, the San Lorenzo River Alliance, an unprecedented “leveraging force to unify all the do-gooders who are acting to improve the river,” is reconnecting the Santa Cruz community to our river—the largest watershed in the county and the large majority of our city residents’ drinking water.
“We’re restored by nature,” Pepping’s voiceover boomed. “A connection to nature makes us whole again, make us more human, makes us feel better.”
Pepping was welcome by the hilarious Cliff Hodges, another eco-activist, who won a NEXTie in 2011 for his work creating Adventure Out (read more about Cliff in our interview).
“Greg is, at his true inner soul, a believer in the human experience,” Hodges said of his friend. “When Greg goes home to visit his family in Iowa, he takes the train. When Greg follows the Chicago Cubs—poor guy—Greg listens to the radio, because that’s the way America’s pastime is meant to be followed.”
“I feel like I’ve been invited into a prestigious club,” Pepping said. “It’s called the NEXTies, but it might also just as well be called the Badass We’re Gettin’ Stuff Done Club!” The crowd agreed with a roar.
“I accept this award as the community’s recognition that the Coastal Watershed Council, and our board and our staff and our volunteers and our donors, have hit on something with the San Lorenzo River Alliance.”
Pepping lamented the falling-out between Santa Cruz residents and the once-thriving river that runs through the center of our home. The levees, he said, once built for flood protection, have “walled us off from that river – physically and psychologically.” He pointed to urban river revival stories in Chico, Napa, Sacramento, even (“even in!”) Los Angeles.
“We can do a lot better,” Pepping said of Santa Cruz’s treatment of our neglected watershed. “It’s happening now,” Pepping stressed, thanks to the Coastal Watershed Council, the City and County, plus non-profits and individuals; the Santa Cruz community is cleaning up the river, improving water quality, and working to change an ordinance that forbids paddling and kayaking.
“If we connect this community to that river, if we build a constituency that feels a sense of ownership for the San Lorenzo River, our local leaders will listen to us and we will have to change it.” To Pepping, it comes back to that vital relationship with nature. “If we do that, we will have a place to restore ourselves through nature. My hope is that we can change Santa Cruz by reconnecting to the river.”
Finally, Kendra Baker and Zachary Davis accepted a NEXTie in recognition their beloved Santa Cruz eateries: The Penny Ice Creamery, The Picnic Basket, and their new instant classic, Assembly. The pair was introduced by Darrin Caddes of Plantronics (and the 2013 NEXTies), who applauded this year’s recipients for their ability to imagine and create their visions.
Davis jokingly admitted that he and Kendra were slightly confused about their nomination. “We are a business. We are not a non-profit, we’re not a cause. We’re an ice cream shop that decided to ask the question, ‘How can an ice cream shop be more than an ice cream shop?’’”
Baker acknowledged that their intention has always been way more than running a money-making business; they aim to create a place for active, thriving community, a place for Santa Cruz to gather and feel at home—and eat great local food.
“The single most important line [in our business plan] that we come back to time after time is this idea that we have a commitment to create a net regenerative impact on our community,” Baker said. “That’s what we’re trying to do.”
“We want whatever we do here to not just exist in Santa Cruz and be neutral,” Davis said, “but actually…improve the quality of life—for ourselves, for our employees, for our customers, for our community as a whole.”
For Baker, it comes down to supporting a great place to live. “When Zach and I first started the conversation abut going into business together, the conversation wasn’t about what we would sell,” she said, “but more of a conversation about how we wanted our lives to be.
“As we listened to the previous recipients speak,” Davis said, “we realized that getting a NEXTie isn’t really an award. It’s a notice that says, ‘We’re watching you, what are you going to do?’”
Looking at the crew of past and current NEXTies, that much is clear. It’s like a NEXTie award is a shot of rocket fuel that launches recipients into the next level of awesomeness. Appropriately, a video following the awards documented Swinnerton and team packing a baby redwood sapling into a plastic bottle and skyrocketing it (nearly) into space on a weather balloon. A GoPro mounted on the NEXTies aircraft showed the Space Tree’s epic journey from the Santa Cruz harbor to 50 miles up (“near” space, which is near enough!) and back down, splashing into the Monterey Bay, where the NEXTies crew retrieved it.
“This isn’t Santa Cruz telling you you’ve made it,” Cliff Hodges affectionately warned new NEXTies in closing acknowledgements. “This is Santa Cruz telling you they expect a whole lot more.”
“Let this be the conversation,” Hodges said. “We are Santa Cruz—we get to choose the image we put out there. We can tell the rest of California and the rest of the United States and the rest of the world that we have a draught and we have needles on our beach, or we can tell the rest of the world that we have Zach and Kendra and Greg and Tyler and Lindsey and everyone standing up here… And tell them that that’s what Santa Cruz is. Let this be the conversation.”