The Tesla electric cars arrived before the guests, tires squeaking over the grass of the Nicollet Island Pavilion louder than the whisper quiet motors. During the Great Plains Institute’s inaugural Energy Innovation Celebration, the Teslas were a symbol of progress, but also of the distance left to travel.

Having started working as a Communications Fellow at the Great Plains Institute a mere ten days before the event, I was asked to focus on event photography.  I invited guests and sponsors to “Imagine a World…” by writing their game-changing ideas on a chalkboard and then posing for a photo. At first, camera reluctance dominated, but soon a line formed next to the chalkboard.

As guests migrated indoors for dinner and speakers, I settled at a table in the back of the room. In the calmer environment, I saw the vast scope of personalities and interests within the room. Representatives from Celebration sponsors, including Great River Energy, Xcel Energy, Iberdrola Renewables, McGough Construction, and The McKnight Foundation, as well as energy innovators, movers and shakers, and representatives of local, state, and the federal government all sat in attendance.

To begin the program, GPI President and CEO Rolf Nordstrom stood at the podium. First, he thanked guests and sponsors, and then he asked a question: “What does the Great Plains Institute do?” Admittedly, I was anxious for his answer, because even though I knew the Institute’s seven program areas, I still had trouble easily explaining my new job to friends and family. The ensuing video described GPI’s values and mission: collaboration, intellectual honesty and consensus – and I saw those values reflected around the room. 

My last photo of the night was taken of a gentleman named Don Shelby, a retired Minnesota news anchor and member of the GPI Executive Advisory Council. On our chalkboard he wrote, “Imagine a world with happiness for all people and the planet.” Fulfilling Shelby’s dream requires commitment, but seeing all of the guests, partners, and supporters at the Energy Innovation Celebration tells me we are on the right path.  

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