It can be a difficult sell, the notion that spendingall day sitting in a dark theater is good for you. Even more challenging? Telling everybody that it’s work. Even if the theater is an opera house instead of a movie house, and the program a list of respected speakers instead of rom-coms and blockbusters, there remains a challenge to looking your boss in the eye and telling her that you just need to spend the day laughing, learning, being inspired and charmed, doling out the occasional (and, oh, so magnanimous) standing ovation and generally having a good time rubbing shoulders with well-dressed ticketholders, quick-witted speakers and artists who have conquered the world seemingly by accident.

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It’s more than entertainment, you argue; it’s art and culture and science and business and community. In short, it’s humanity—a little slice of species-wide affirmation in conference form, letting us all know that somehow, somewhere, some of our fellow featherless bipeds have figured it out and made this existence worthwhile in a way all their own. And hearing their stories, you can’t help but want to join them. To throw off the shackles of cubicle life, grab hold of what makes you happy and tell the world to get hip or get out of the way.

That’s the promise of PINC Sarasota, that no matter whether it’s a community organizer on stage or an international graphic designer, an Iditarod champion or a wildfire research expert, an innovative educator or an artist obsessed with waves, felt or walking in circles for hundreds of miles to create a monumental work of art that won’t last the night, that there’s no one right way to be passionate, but a million ways to be inspired. “Welcome to the most creative day in Sarasota,” says Anand Pallegar, atLarge founder and director of PINC Conferences. And it’s a miracle people stay in their seats.

One of the many side effects of PINC Sarasota is a temporarily mercurial sense of purpose—whatever is on stage at the moment is, for that moment, the coolest thing in the universe. First, I wanted to be a community organizer. Listening to Meg Daly, who founded Friends of the Underline in order to transform underutilized real estate running beneath the Miami highways into a 10-mile linear park and urban trail, nothing seemed more rewarding than wrangling up a dedicated troop of 800 volunteers to remake their community into something more inclusive, active and alive with human energy. “There’s absolutely no playbook,” says the English teacher turned intrepid local leader, who began with 150 people in a meeting eating cookies and drinking water and now helms the fastest moving project of its scope in the United States. “Be comfortable with being uncomfortable.” Building bike paths, playgrounds and communal spaces of all kinds, Daly’s self-professed “crazy idea” is on the verge of affecting daily life for 107,000 residents, and 10,000 businesses.

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Five minutes later, I want to be a metal sculptor, as artist Reuben Margolin takes the stage to talk about the meditative wonder of his mammoth kinetic sculptures, each inspired by the artist’s obsession with wave-like motion. An obsession born from observing the crawl of the inchworm, Margolin spent three years trying to create a mechanical sculpture to match the little bug’s fluidity and “sensuousness.” It moved about three feet before catching fire. But they beauty lies not only in the product, but the process. Margolin shows a video of him drilling holes in his workshop. And drilling more holes. And more holes. “This goes on for a little more than 20 minutes,” he says. “No really.” Standing to the side, fidgeting as the audience stirs and then slowly begins to laugh, it’s a strangely Kaufman-esque moment. But none of the time is wasted, on the stage at PINC or in the workshop. And not just because Margolin’s 100-foot-long, 16,000 pound sculptures end up being commissioned around the world, but because Margolin clearly enjoys every minute.

Social capital expert Marlowe Stoudamire takes the stage next to represent “The D”—Detroit—and I’m left wondering why I was born in Houston and raised in Kentucky. Is it too late to move to Detroit? “It’s always been Detroit versus everybody,” Stoudamire booms in response, and no matter that the Motor City birthed Motown, all anyone talks about are bad schools and bankruptcy. Now people say Detroit is a blank canvas ready for a fresh start. “It never was and it isn’t today,” says Stoudamire, who works with the Detroit 67 Project (named for the infamous 1967 Detroit riot/rebellion) to help educate the city, its people and the country on Detroit’s past and identity. “To understand Detroit together, so we can build together,” he says. Claire Elsdon, soft-spoken following Stoudamire, tells the personal journey of a young woman who leaves her job in finance to ride her motorbike from England to South Africa, and ends up finding her humanitarian calling in motorbike maintenance. Beginning in Tanzania, repairing motorbike ambulances so that life-saving services could be restored to rural areas, Elsdon has since founded her own company, Pikilily (from the Kiswahili for motorcycle—piki piki—and the lily flower), hiring and training local women in the Ivory Coast, Mali and the Congo to do the same. “We have the ability to do something,” she says. “We can make the change.” Somehow, I believe her.

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Excepting a handful of breaks for coffee, lunch and tea respectively, the day continues in this whirlwind fashion, as one speaker after the next sucks the audience into their personal vortex, only to spit them back out twenty minutes later, blinking in the light and certain that just a moment ago they understood their destiny. Even if just for a moment. The artist Lucy Sparrow appears on stage, dwarfed by the blackness of the backdrop, dressed in a convenience store costume and carrying a plush banana named Basil. She appears childlike, until she opens her mouth to talk about taking the art world by storm with felt installations that mirror real-world locations. From corner grocers to sex shops, Sparrow fills the shelves with felt versions of everything from produce to produce-shaped things that do other things instead. For her first installation, she hand-sewed 4,000 items, sold them all and hasn’t looked back. “Who doesn’t like a cuddly jar of peanut butter?” she asks. Next is Manal Rachdi, the French architect aiming for sustainability in all his projects. Looking to add a bit of green to the Parisian skyline with his Thousand Trees project, he envisions a village based on an inverted pyramid, with houses and trees and a park on top, and offices and other resources hidden within. “Surrounded by nature, we feel better,” he says. “We live better.” And when Mark Finney takes the stage to talk about the study of wildfires—how they grow and spread—you feel a ripple in the audience as the unspoken question lingers: when was the last time I, as a human being, grew or expanded? (Not counting the waistline.) But hearing Tim Dodd talk about his journey from wedding photographer with a secret space fetish to unofficial social media spokesman for NASA—and all on the back of an old Russian high-altitude survival suit (read: spacesuit) and some creative elbow grease (read: Photoshop)—the audience breathes easy again. It’s the fire inside that matters, and feeding it the fuel it needs to grow into a passion.

Not to be left out, some of Sarasota’s own take the stage throughout the day, including Ringling College of Art and Design President Dr. Larry S. Thompson. Known as a driving force for artistic growth in the region, now he’s known as a helluva dancer, emerging on stage to the sounds of Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk” and getting the audience clapping on their feet as he bopped and boogied with the best of them. Taking the podium after, he has a simple message for the region looking to brand itself as the Creative Coast: “We can own it.” You just have to get out there and boogie.

But the question remains: own what? Can I become an innovative educator like Michael Bonner, who uses music and a little extra heart to engage his second graders (“little boogers”) in a quality education? But now I want to walk for miles, making circles in the desert to create the largest piece of art in the world, like Jim Denevan. Even if only to sport a cowboy hat and pair of boots like that. And how could anyone live up to Jaha Dukureh, who led successful campaigns in both the United States and her home country of the Gambia to combat female genital mutilation (FGM)? Because of her work, Then-President Barack Obama ordered the CDC to study the issue and Congress passed a law banning the transportation of young women out of the United States for FGM. She followed Gambian President Yahya Jammeh on his campaign across the country, demanding action be taken about FGM in the Gambia. After a face-to-face meeting, it was. It may seem an impossible feat to live up to, but leave it to Mr. Bonner to pick the audience up. “You don’t have to be the best to make something magical happen,” he says. And PINC isn’t about being the best; it’s about being passionate. And Dukureh is passionate. “I would either end up dead,” she says of her campaign in the Gambia, “or I would get what I wanted.”

Breaking up the day, entrepreneurs and artists from the Sarasota-Bradenton region continue to remind the area’s esteemed guests that the passion of PINC lives on the Suncoast year-round. The performers of Sarasota Contemporary Dance take the stage after Jim Denevan, commanding a stone-silent audience enthralled by the noir-ish display from a fedora-ed horn player and lone woman dancer. The Gratton twins, Blake and Brock, shared the entrepreneurial journey that led them down an unexpected path to JellyTank—their own redesigned jellyfish aquarium, propelled by concerns for jellyfish safety but designed to new aesthetic heights—trading stories with Pallegar, one of their many early supporters. And Sam Woolf, the Bradenton-based musician who gave contestants a run for their money on American Idol, finishing fifth, slowed things down a bit with an original composition and a heartfelt tribute to Tom Petty. Like the other presenters on stage, each got there through following their passion, no matter the competition or complication.

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(Unfortunately, sometimes passion isn’t quite enough to make it to the stage. Christiaan Triebert, an award-winning journalist and researcher often associated with Bellingcat, was supposed to present at this year’s conference and talk about digital forensics and citizen journalism. However, due to the current travel ban, and the nature of Triebert’s work bringing him into conflict zones, the journalist was denied entry into the United States. The poet Michael Ellison stepped up at the last minute to help complete the conference.)

But sometimes passion results in being the best. Just ask graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister, who took time out of winning Grammys and designing record covers and prints for bands like The Rolling Stones and Aerosmith to defend the concept of objective beauty for the PINC audience. “The ugliest shape in the world is the brown rectangle,” he half-jokes from the stage. “And what does architecture have to say about this?” he asks, before showing picture after picture of brown rectangular buildings that excite precisely nobody in the crowd with their “psychotic sameness.” Even Sarasota gets dragged into the debate, chided for abandoning the Florida Cracker style in favor of the tyranny of the International Style. And if not the best in your field, passion can make you the best you. Just ask Michael Ellison, a poet born in Ethiopia, raised in Virginia and “transformed” in Detroit, where he awoke from his “creative coma.” His journey took him home to Ethiopia and back again, a stronger person and ready to inspire others. And some, like Iditarod champion Dallas Seavey, manage both, finding the best in themselves as they sacrifice for their team (sled dogs or no) and becoming the best in the eyes of the world as well.

So when Daly begins the day with the familiar Margaret Mead quote—“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has”—the cynical part of you rolls its eyes at the cliché. But the other part of you, the PINC part, looks around at the people sitting nearby and says, “This is a small group of thoughtful citizens . . .”