The art of conversation, at Morris Arts gala

Jazz singer Antoinette Montague and Army Lt. Col. Ingrid Parker of Picatinny Arsenal with Morris Arts trustee Tara Skirzenski, at Great Conversations 2015. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Jazz singer Antoinette Montague and Army Lt. Col. Ingrid Parker of Picatinny Arsenal with Morris Arts trustee Tara Skirzenski, at Great Conversations 2015. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
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Casually mention “art,” and someone might think of painting or music or dance.

But there is an art to casual conversation, too, and it was on display Thursday at the seventh annual Great Conversations.

Jazz singer Antoinette Montague and Army Lt. Col. Ingrid Parker of Picatinny Arsenal with Morris Arts trustee Tara Skirzenski, at Great Conversations 2015. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Jazz singer Antoinette Montague and Army Lt. Col. Ingrid Parker of Picatinny Arsenal with Morris Arts trustee Tara Skirzenski, at Great Conversations 2015. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Some 270 people packed the banquet room of the Madison Hotel for an evening of animated chit-chat over dinner with 30 luminaries from the worlds of business, entertainment, medicine, science and sports.

Guests paid $225 a plate for the privilege, which was expected to net about $150,000 to support programs of Morris Arts, said Tom Werder, executive director of the nonprofit.

“People are realizing that this is a great place for corporate folks to spread out and meet people from other industries…There’s something for everybody here,” Werder said of the gala.

It was impossible not to bump into fascinating personalities.

Dr. Kathleen Ruddy, a surgeon, is publishing a book next month about a virus linked to breast cancer.

Robert Socolow, an expert on energy and climate change, has advocated capturing and burying carbon dioxide emitted by fossil fuels–“carbon sequestration”–to slow human-induced changes to the atmosphere. For awhile, he said, people downplayed the need to pursue that course, because fossil fuels eventually would run out. But fracking has tapped vast new sources of these carbon-rich energy sources.

“Now we’re realizing we’re not going to run out of fossil fuels, and carbon capture and storage is more important than ever,” Socolow said.

Scenes from Great Conversations 2015. Please click icon below for captions

Kimberly McCreight, author of Reconstructing Amelia and the newly released Where They Found Her, shelved her University of Pennsylvania law degree a decade ago to try her hand at writing.

“You’ve got one life to live,” said McCreight, asserting that enduring rejections from publishers was better than spending a lifetime wondering what if?

“There will be value following your dream, whether you actually get there or not,” she said, joking that her next murder mystery will be based on the people seated at her table for Great Conversations.  In fact, she said, she met a neurosurgeon who she intends to quiz for technical material.

Morristown town planner Phil Abramson spoke about the intricate negotiations that strive to create win-win results for developers and the town.

Jazz singer Antoinette Montague said she was delighted by the curiosity of her table mates — and thrilled that they were willing to support the arts so generously.

“We refine the world when it’s a crazy place,” she said of artists and musicians. “In light of what happened in Maryland this week [violent protests in Baltimore after the death of Freddie Gray,  a black man, in police custody], it’s important to find creative ways to express frustration.”

Another featured guest, Army Lt. Col. Ingrid Parker, also was grateful for feedback from her table mates.

“So many people appreciate our service to the nation,” said the garrison commander of Picatinny Arsenal. “.I’m always humbled by that. It brings meaning to a challenging career.”

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