For all the redevelopment and investment of resources he has heaped upon Downtown Las Vegas, Tony Hseih has sought to "make Downtown smarter.” That’s what he told Amanda Slavin in the spring of 2012.
“Tony had this vision, and we met Rehan Choudhry at about that time, and the idea was to create this entire festival that would make an impact even after the festival was over,” says Slavin, founder and CEO of CatalystCreativ, which was formed in 2012 with Hseih’s Downtown Project. Slavin’s operation is best known for staging Catalyst Week speaker events Downtown, drawing accomplished and influential individuals to share their experiences and insight each month with the local community.
Teaming with her company’s chief operating and financial officer, Staci Perkins, Slavin has arranged Catalyst Week-style speakers for this weekend’s Life Is Beautiful Learning program. Staged Saturday and Sunday and alternating between Triple B and Fremont Country Club, these open discussions are hosted by an array of achievers from cultures as diverse as Intel and Cirque du Soleil.
“This is an actual, individual, grass-roots effort, where anyone who is attending LIB would stumble upon learning,” Slavin says. “We are pushing the concept that being in Downtown Las Vegas makes you smarter, and I would say that is the foundation. These talks are all about how these people got to where they are, and why life is beautiful for them. So they have a natural appeal to anyone attending the festival.”
Among those hand-picked to lead discussions during LIB are former Apple marketing executive and current Intel TV exec Courtnee LeClaire Westendorff, who has worked on the launches of the iPod and iPhone; Glee’s Harry Shum Jr. (who has appeared during Catalyst Week); the cast of the MTV series The Buried Life, who will talk about prioritizing what to achieve or experience before you die; therapist and author Dr. Sean Stephenson, who was born with osteogenesis imperfecta and who Slavin says is “one of the most inspiring people I have met in my life”; and cast members of Cirque productions in Las Vegas, along with Hsieh and Choundry.
“These people often seem unreachable,” Slavin says. “This is a way to bring them to an audience, connect to a level that we can all relate to, and get an understanding that we are not that different.”
A fourth-generation New Yorker, Slavin says she was emboldened personally and professionally after attending a Summit Series networking event, an invitation-only conference filled with entrepreneurs, artists and activists. There, she met organizer Bobby Bailey, who wound up hosting a Catalyst Week presentation. Slavin also met with Hugh Evans, organizer of the Global Festival charity concert in Central Park. “Watching them create this vision, from a power-point presentation to a festival in Central park for 60,000 people, really opened me up to what is possible,” Slavin says.
As Slavin’s partner in the Learning program, Perkins refers to herself as a “field commander.”
“We start by asking, ‘Why is your life beautiful?’ And we built the platform that way,” Perkins says. “Most of these talks are 15 minutes long and staged in a pretty simple presentation.”
Perkins studied retail merchandizing at the University of Texas in Austin before ever considering event planning. That changed when she took part in a crafts fair in Austin as part of a senior study project.
“It’s funny, until mid-December I’d never been to Las Vegas in my life,” she says. “But now I’m living in the Ogden, and Downtown looks exactly like Austin did 10 years go. So, yeah, Las Vegas is home.”