Tech it out at Pygmalion

By Frances Welch

Eleven years ago, the Pygmalion festival began with 12 headliners, featuring local and national touring bands, gaining momentum over the years of building a festival that brings some of the most relevant names in music. Now, Pygmalion has expanded to not only attract fans of live music, but a festival that is held in conjunction with both the Lit Fest, the bookish arm of Pygmalion, and the Made Fest, a market of handmade and vintage vendors.

Continuing its innovation, Pygmalion presents the birth of an entire new component: the Tech Fest. Taking place Thursday through Saturday, the fest incorporates a set of panelists, speakers, demonstrations, interactive opportunities and a chance for students to integrate their learning experiences with recruiting professionals. For an added perk, Illinois students get in free with their I-cards.

“(The Tech component) features dozens of guests who will showcase their expertise in tech, media, design and more throughout the festival,” said Patrick Singer, director of development at the Pygmalion Festival. “There’s a Tech Crawl showcasing some tech companies in downtown Urbana, a full day at Research Park with panels and a tour of Blue Waters Supercomputer, a keynote, Demo Day (virtual reality demonstrations), and panels at Krannert Center on Friday and a few discussions in downtown Champaign on Saturday.”

According to Singer, the entirety of the Tech portion came up as an idea during last year’s SXSW, an Austin-based music festival similar to Pygmalion. He said that it wasn’t until after SXSW that it became a serious idea, one that seemed to be a perfect addition, considering the amount of growth and success at Research Park.

“A lot of other cities could try to implement a tech conference or component similarly to us,” Singer said. “But it probably wouldn’t be as probable as putting something together with the stellar reputation of a world-class university like the University of Illinois, and all the brilliance that has been produced from the humans that have spent time here.”

And of those humans are individuals like Stephen Wolfram, of Wolfram Research, Tommy Craggs, former Deadspin editor, Steve LaValle, former principal scientist at Oculus VR Inc. and Will Leitch, founding editor of Deadspin; all of whom are contributing panelists and University affiliates or Champaign-Urbana natives.

“The idea of the tech conference is to showcase what’s happening in Champaign-Urbana as it relates to tech innovation, and (Research Park) is probably the hub of that. A lot of what the panels are about, reflects the topics that (Research Park’s) clients and community are interested in,” said Laura Bleill, associate director of Research Park. “Student employment, tech innovation strategies and tech-talent. We want to utilize this opportunity to get our messages out there, but to also showcase what’s happening in tech in our community and some of the challenges and opportunities that exist for others to get involved.”

There are over 90 companies in Research Park, like Caterpillar, State Farm and Yahoo, many of which will be represented in panels at the festival.

Essentially, Pygmalion’s Tech Fest is a tech conference, but with a unique twist, according to Carly McCrory, communications director of the Economic Development Corporation, one of the sponsors of the festival.

“(The Tech portion) is really exciting because it brings a lot more activity to the festival as a whole, and it also brings a lot more people,” McCrory said. “A lot of these people go to several conferences throughout the year, but this one is great because it is very nontraditional and it brings this whole new perspective of what could be, and that’s really exciting.”

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In a previous version of this article, it stated that the Pygmalion Festival began with a 12-band lineup. The article has been corrected to state that it wasn’t just a 12-band lineup, those 12 bands were headliners. The Daily Illini regrets the error.