Dominika Wolski emulates TED Talks with social issue salons in Santa Monica that play to the Silicon Beach crowd
By Michael Aushenker
To an upbeat soundtrack of 1980s pop, a youthful and sharply dressed crowd about 150 strong — Scandinavian glamour boys and Thai models among them — socializes on the packed patio of the 41 Ocean Club across from Santa Monica Pier, where FAIR Quinoa Vodka representative Zachariah Nichols oversees the bar as the late afternoon sun fades.
About two hours into the mixer, everyone gathers in one of the restaurant’s larger rooms. Following a brief fashion show showcasing the Moods of Norway fall collection and a musical number by Norwegians Brita Tastad and Tristan Hurd, the hostess takes the mic. Dominika Wolski, a platinum-blond actress whose credits include eight TV movies, introduces two of the evening’s speakers: social media ambassadors Catherine Lyons and Brenna Harwell.
Lyons heads the Los Angeles branch of fwd.us, an immigration reform program started by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg; Harwell works at Enplug, a three-year-old app amalgamating various social media on flat screen TVs.
The evening’s topic: immigration.
Welcome to the world of PROVOKE, invitation-only salons that play to a decidedly Silicon Beach crowd as they explore complex, topic-specific themes.
PROVOKE is the brainchild of Wolski, a Polish émigré by way of Vancouver who now lives in Venice.
“I grew up with an aunt and uncle neurosurgeon who, in my childhood, often hosted dinner parties in Eastern Europe filled with an incredible mix of people: the local priest, baker, seamstress, aristocracy, university professor of ethics, symphony conductor. I witnessed some of the most beautiful ideas expressed,” Wolski said of her inspiration for the gatherings.
Wolski thrives on contradiction, oxymoron and strange bedfellows, so through PROVOKE she hopes to unite “the nerd and the supermodel, the dreamer and the pragmatist, the fashionista and the engineer,” she said.
Megan Prichard, Wolski’s partner in the enterprise, offers a much simpler description: “a younger, more fashionable version of TED Talks,” she said.
So far, PROVOKE appears to be thriving. Wolski and Prichard have held five gatherings, each attracting more than 100 people. Grammy-winning producer Wayne Native Jobson (Gwen Stefani, Keith Richards), former CEO of Spelling Entertainment Jules Haimovitz and Hyatt Hotel heir Anthony Pritzker and wife Jeanne were all spotted at the Oct. 9 immigration salon.
RYOT News CEO Molly Svenson, Facebook National Director Mark Wallrup, Comstock Director John Winfield and Lourdes Foundation’s Sean Lourdes have also attended PROVOKE gatherings, Wolski said.
Prichard, who works in management consulting and recently returned to Venice after living in Sao Paulo for three years, said the goal is to “push the concept of lifestyles as a platform to be creating the type of world you want to see around you.”
Wolski said she aims “to create unforgettable human experiences and use technology to share them with one goal: to change awareness into actionable change.”
While she credits documentaries such as “An Inconvenient Truth” and “The 11th Hour” as informative, Wolski wants more. “The point of imparting a message,” she said, is “that is when your audience is most open to an immediate repeatable action.”
At the Oct. 9 engagement, Lyons addressed the power of maintaining an international workforce while Harwell recounted her own journey to America.
“The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 2” actor Amadou Ly, 26, shared his immigration story: arriving in New York City from Senegal on Sept. 10, 2001, and witnessing how quickly anti-immigrant sentiment arose after the terrorist attacks.
That unfortunate arc — “it’s everyone’s story, to be quite frank,” said Ly.
Prichard hopes to soon hold PROVOKE salons on a monthly basis and add quarterly parlors at private homes in order to open up these events beyond the word-of-mouth crowd.
Wolski said PROVOKE is not intended to be so exclusive.
“There is always room on my invite list for people who take time to write to me because they are inspired and passionate about being an active contributor to the dialogue,” Wolski said. “That is the most important factor: not only people who are interesting, but those who are interested.”
When you strip away the techie-world window dressing, the subtext of the salons is very simple, Wolski said.
“As we get more immersive technology, the need is greater for us to create excellent human experience that reminds us why we, at our purest form, are the source of all the inspiration for these ideas,” she said.
For information and to see video from past PROVOKE events, visit provoketheworld.com.