Teri Orr is the director of the Park City Institute, where she worked since 1996, before the Eccles Center in Park Center was built in 1998. But she is also a journalist, having served as an award-winning, former editor of the Park Record newspaper where she remains a columnist today. After hearing Edward Snowden speak at the 2014 TED conference via live stream, she had the idea to bring the infamous leaker of government confidential data to Utah. "I came into that experience neutral and left feeling I needed to understand more about the National Security Agency and how whistleblowers are treated," she writes in an email. "The entire freedom-of-the-press issue hit me in the gut. And I understand in a new way, nothing electronic is private, anymore." Her idea will become a reality this Saturday, Dec. 5, at 7:30 p.m., the Eccles Center in Park City will host Edward Snowden streamed live from Russia (see City Weekly's Entertainment Picks for more information).
After hearing Edward Snowden talk at the Ted Conference, how did you come to view him—a patriotic whistle blower or a traitor who former CIA director James Woolsey claims has blood on his hands for the recent Paris attacks?
The more you study Edward Snowden—what he actually did and did not do, and his concerns for our country—you have to admire his bravery. If you saw the Oscar award-winning documentary, CitizenFour, you understand the enormous sacrifice and risk. When you understand his military family background and his own military service, you shift again. And when you see his Twitter feeds, you understand he also has a quick sense of humor. I think we will come to view Edward Snowden as we once did Deep Throat or Daniel Ellsberg. We will discover we initially misjudged him and come to understand him as a remarkable patriot. He deserves amnesty and a return to the United States and there are increasing calls for this to happen from New York Times editorials to former Attorney General Eric Holder suggesting we re-consider bringing him home and suggesting to make a deal to do so.
How did you feel about James Woolsey’s statement that Snowden should be hung for leaking America’s secrets?
I felt it is was a lot of what happens now, knee jerk reactions, in the face of horrific tragedy—a quick rush to blame something/someone you already disagree with, before the facts are known. Reasoned, thoughtful, researched journalism is rare now. And Edward Snowden’s story is, at its core, a story of freedom of the press. The 2014 Pulitzer Prize was awarded to The Guardian and The Washington Post jointly for work based on the information Snowden shared with them. It is also important to note that European Union recently granted him amnesty.
How does bringing in a figure like Edward Snowden fit the Eccles Center’s arts mission?
Since we opened the center in 1998, we have presented speakers and authors and, more recently, technology experts. Our mission statement was modified a few years back to better reflect our trajectory in presenting—we "entertain, educate and illuminate." That gives us more latitude than just offering traditional performing arts. Presenting Edward Snowden is an example of those three goals.
Has there been any fallout with your board, sponsors and supporters for your choice?
The board of the Park City Institute was unanimous in their support of presenting Snowden—though they all hold varying political beliefs. They felt it was a rare opportunity. We have had a few ticket buyers share with us this was a show they would not attend and wish we hadn’t booked. There have been some minor Internet trolls. Our sponsors and donors have come to expect us to present edgy, provocative shows. They continue to support us. Our sponsorship and donations are up, since announcing this ambitious season that includes other speakers and remarkable dance companies and Grammy award-winning musicians.
How does one go about arranging such a talk with Edward Snowden?
Edward Snowden is represented by All American Speakers Bureau. They were just given that opportunity this summer. Because of a longstanding relationship with an agent there, we were given the first opportunity to present Snowden. We remain the only public event he has booked—he has done several closed circuit events-Princeton, Harvard, Hong Kong—but we are the only ticketed event to date. I have not yet spoken to Edward Snowden but I look to doing so, this week, as we prepare for the evening.
Some of Edward Snowden’s videos apparently have been blacked out, or banned from You Tube, and there have been requests that his Twitter account, for example, be banned. Are you concerned his Park City live-stream could be muted or even blacked-out?
In the world of presenting, we try to anticipate all kinds of hiccups—from sound and lights to rain, when we are performing outdoors. As the anchor facility of the Sundance Film Festival, we have experienced unique opportunities to fine-tune our "what if" scenarios. We know anything can happen and are prepared with some alternatives.
Why do you think Snowden is willing to speak at the Eccles Center? Does he have any ties to or interest in Utah?
I think Snowden welcomes opportunities to tell his story, to answer provocative questions, to engage in a healthy dialogue about world affairs. To my knowledge he has no ties to Utah. The NSA being here was, maybe, just a bonus.
Are tickets still available?
The price range of tickets is $50 to $150. Because of this unique, unprecedented opportunity for a public event, the institute is using this as a fundraiser. Snowden’s fee is paid directly to the speakers bureau. A large portion of the fee is then sent to the Freedom of the Press Foundation—Snowden received an award from them last year. The rest is taxable income that Snowden, who still considers himself an American citizen, pays taxes on.
If the event sells out, will it be possible to see a re-broadcast of the event?
Our partners, KUER 90.1, will be presenting a radio re-broadcast, I believe the following Monday. There are no plans at this time for a video re-broadcast.