Editor’s Note: The following piece was written by Darby Burn Strong, who attended Portland Creative Conference on Saturday at Newmark Theatre in downtown Portland. The organizers kindly provided a press pass, and gladly honored it when Darby showed up in my place.
PORTLAND—Unlike many conferences, where frenzied “participants” with bloodshot eyes scurry around maze-like super buildings, the Portland Creative Conference happens one presentation at a time, on a single day, on a single stage. This focus helps to create a oneness among the attendees, and a level of attention that’s palpable.
It’s clear that Jelly Helm of Jelly Helm Studio knows what to do with the attention that’s being paid. He turns it right around. Standing front and center on the stage, out in front of the podium with a minimalist slide show displayed behind him, Helm shows a picture of his seven-year old self, telling us that he wants to be that guy again. The photo is of a genuinely happy, fully alive young person.
I did not expect to hear an “ad man” discuss the Zoroastrians and their belief that “humans will one day become so spiritual that we won’t cast shadows.” Helm explains that in the long view that he’s taking (because it’s easier for him to “see 5,000 years from now than it is for him to see next Thursday”), humans will be vessels of light, projecting a one-world identity where everyone experiences a minimum life standard and we recognize abundance instead of scarcity. A love-based economy, Helm calls it. Then, as he realizes that he’s delivering a New-Agey, mystical message, he asks for forgiveness, but admits that it’s what he’s thinking about these days and invites us to check it out.
Helm’s fearless generosity and sincere desire to connect with others on similar wavelengths is real, and also likely why his presentation is magnetic. You can feel the room join his side, and give him the space to be goofy and truly himself. He can feel it, too, and expresses his thanks. It reminds me of walking into the gospel tent at Jazz Fest in New Orleans; you can feel that the experience is going to change you while it’s happening, as the ebb and flow between “act” and “audience” is forever blurred.
The Jelly Helm Studio exists to help brands explore and tell their “deep story,” and that it is precisely at the heart of what drives Helm, too. To illustrate this, he hands out 24 custom-made notebooks and asks that the recipients use the booklet to ponder these questions: What do we love? What do we see that no one else sees? And what do we do to manifest it? Helm’s only request is that we drop him a line and let him know the results of this experiment.
As a recipient of one of Helm’s booklets, I absolutely intend to report back. It’ll be interesting to see what he does with the forthcoming information, and what insights he culls from the experiment.