First there was Tom and Tom. Then there was Tom and Kate—Tom Scott and Kate Brosnan that is, the co-founders of the Nantucket Project. When Tom and Kate step onstage on September 26 to welcome an esteemed group of thinkers and visionaries to the island for the fourth annual Nantucket Project, it will represent the culmination of an enduring friendship and partnership that spans three decades.
The Nantucket Project has established itself as a top-tier conference on the strength of its program, which includes such notable speakers as Google’s Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, former Secretary of the Treasury Larry Summers, Senator John McCain, and the award-winning playwright Eve Ensler, among many others.
Despite the event’s success, Scott and Brosnan were not satisfied. There was still a strong desire to somehow use media in conjunction with the event to make an even bigger and more significant impact. They’ve made great strides to that end. This year they have announced an editorial and distribution partnership with America’s most iconic news magazine, Time, and they are also producing a series of short films that will carry the messages of the Project’s speakers far beyond the shores of Nantucket.
Scott and Brosnan have both come a long way since they met at the Straight Wharf in 1989. Brosnan, then the restaurant’s manager, hired Scott as a bartender. Brosnan says she found the budding young entrepreneur incredibly engaging and enthusiastic. Bartending by night, Scott and his fellow “Juice Guy,” Tom First, spent their days developing Allserve, the company they would eventually grow into Nantucket Nectars. Brosnan became the head of Juice Guys Care, the company’s philanthropic arm. “Good business meant doing good things,” says Brosnan. “There was a strong sense that the company needed to give back to Nantucket.”
Fast forward to 2004. Scott invited Brosnan to join his next adventure— Plum TV, a local TV network. Scott wanted Kate to serve as the channel’s general manager and on-air host. He envisioned Plum as a celebration of the Nantucket community. “We helped raise awareness for a lot of on-island organizations—the hospital, the library,” Brosnan points out. “We were always really proud of that.” The network eventually grew to eight channels and racked up over fifty Emmy Award nominations for outstanding local programming. As a business, however, Plum proved to be a bruising disappointment. “We were growing a media company at a time of technical and financial upheaval,” Scott says. “While I wasn’t happy with the outcome, I am to this day incredibly proud of the work we did.”
Brosnan says the spirit of Plum lives on in the Nantucket Project in a number of interesting ways. In 2007, Plum and the Atlantic co- produced “Bookmark on the Beach,” a literary event that brought speakers like Christopher Hitchens and the poet Robert Pinsky to Nantucket. “The community really embraced that,” Brosnan says. “It showed there was a real thirst for ideas, so the concept for the Nantucket Project wasn’t far off from that.”
In 2010, Brosnan began pitching the concept to a group of Nantucketers who eventually became the Project’s founding circle. This group includes Steve and Jill Karp, Bob and Jennifer Diamond, Tim and Alicia Mullen, Bill Frist, Wendy Schmidt and Tom Bresette. “The response was beyond my expectations,” Brosnan remembers. “Our founding circle members really moved mountains to make the event happen.” Scott says, “That’s why the support of the community is so vital to our organization. It extends to our advisory board, all the volunteers, and the team Kate and I have assembled.”
No longer just an event business, the Nantucket Project has grown to include TNP Labs, a media and production company Scott says is dedicated to the belief that ideas, when masterfully conveyed, are the greatest tools of mankind. TNP Labs has partnered with BMW as well as joining forces with Harbers Studios, the brain- child of art-world impresario Renee Harbers. Together they’re attempting something truly novel—inviting six of the country’s most accomplished experimental filmmakers to create short films inspired by talks at this year’s event. These innovative films represent the initial entries in the Project’s partnership with Time, a body of work to be called the Encyclopedia of Ideas. This collection will grow to convey the world’s most important contemporary thought.
This year’s TNP theme is art + commerce, which Scott says represents “the new convergence that defines human ingenuity in the 21st century.” In line with this theme, Michael Spalter, Chairman of the Board of Trustees at the Rhode Island School of Design, will kick off the Project’s main event. Spalter has launched the Cultural Entrepreneurship Initiative at Harvard Business School, a major HBS initiative that he says is exactly in keeping with Scott’s thinking. “I think art, design and creativity have never been more important than they are today in the context of modern capitalism,” Spalter says.
“We think we’re really on to something with this theme,” adds Scott, “and that’s what we strive to do every year—explore ideas that are emerging, ideas that can make a difference in the world. That’s also why the setting of Nantucket, with its history of innovative thinking, is ideal for this event.”