ideas worth spreading: tedxcle hopes to light a fire under our collective behinds

As TEDxCLE blazes into its fourth year beneath a banner proclaiming "Bonfire//Ignite," Clevelanders are supporting the 2013 event with enthusiasm that has grown like wildfire since 2010.  
"Our first event had about 100 people," says organizer and co-founder Hallie Bram Kogelschatz. "Many in the audience were friends and family and a handful of people that were familiar with TED globally."
Fast-forward to this year's event, which will be staged on Thursday, March 21 in the Gartner Auditorium at the Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA). All 700 tickets sold out in just 24 minutes.
The good news is that the upcoming TEDxCLE talks also will be available online, preserved in perpetuity alongside the three previous annals. Each venerable collection chronicles Cleveland's best and brightest in 15 minutes installments. TEDxCLE 2013 will be no exception.
"This year our theme is collaboration, and how we can all work together to move the area forward rather than breaking off into silos," says Bram Kogelschatz, noting that silo mentality breeds stand-alone efforts within a defined group or organization. "Basically, it's about wanting to break down barriers across organizational lines, across corporate lines, across racial lines, and across socio-economic lines. It's about vibrancy in progress and connectivity and changing the narrative about what it means to be a Clevelander in 2013."
Although the event impacts Northeast Ohio in myriad ways, Kogelschatz and her co-organizer, co-founder (and husband) Eric Kogelschatz strive to keep it "community-centric" by choosing only local speakers, selected from the thousands of nominations they receive each year. As the list of past speakers grows -- and TEDxCLE stretches into the long-term -- Bram Kogelschatz sees the phenomenon coming into its own. She describes each annual event as a snapshot of Cleveland at that moment in time.
Past speakers such as CMA Director David Franklin and David Rabinsky of the Ritz-Carlton give an accessible human facet to their respective grand institutions. Others make a more tangible impact. Case in point: Aaron LaMieux of Tremont Electric, whose nPower PEG personal energy generator has garnered national attention, offered the audience something that was futuristic, ultra-hip and, best of all, "Made in the 216."
The impact of TEDxCLE evidences itself in smaller ways as well. Bram Kogelschatz reports that she and Eric field daily emails from attendees and people who have viewed online TEDxCLE talks and want to participate.
"They're looking to volunteer and get involved," says Bram Kogelschatz. "We do whatever we can to act as that connector and put people in touch."
The diverse 2013 lineup will undoubtedly ignite ideas and spark new relationships. In order to get a jump on the action, Fresh Water tracked down a few of the speakers to find out how they intend to add fuel to this year's TEDxCLE "bonfire."
Brandon Chrostowski, general manager, sommelier and fromager at L'Albatros restaurant strives to fire-up connections where few dare to tread. As founder of EDWINS Leadership & Restaurant Institute, Chrostowski is working towards the admirable goal of offering free restaurant training to underprivileged adults and those reentering society after incarceration.
"The numbers behind this are staggering," explains Chrostowski. "There are six million people in the United States that have been through the system. When it comes to being incarcerated or hiring people who have been incarcerated, it's kind of taboo. People aren't talking about it. No one likes to admit a mistake, but we all make them -- including me. Sometimes that mistake involves jail or probation or parole."
Chrostowski intends to use the TEDxCLE platform to illuminate that tough premise and spread his powerful message: "You can become successful if you're given the right opportunity the second time around." And he should know. "It's my story," he says, in reference to his upcoming talk. "It's as easy as that and it's 100-percent honest."
Scott Simon and Jennifer Margolis kindle the embers that keep all fires burning: the secret to happiness. The two founded Thrive Cleveland in 2012, which is one part "happiness incubator," one part social venture, and all-out local.
"This is completely Cleveland grown," says Simon. "We're Clevelanders focused on Cleveland. I don't think I have seen another model nationwide that looks like what we're doing."
The Thrive team plans eclectic social events -- dubbed "experiences" -- that aim to supercharge peoples' happiness. Past experiences include Dia de Noquis (Day of Gnocchi), healthy noontime raves, happiness workshops, and WTF!? (What's That Food). Nearly all have been sell-outs.
"We've often described what we do as sort of experiential TED talks," says Margolis, who is a self-described TED talk addict along with Simon. Some of their favorite installments include Charlie Todd's Shared Experience of Absurdity, and Jill Bolte Taylor's Stroke of Insight. Their commentary on Bolte Taylor's presentation gives an insight into what they hope to accomplish at this year's TEDxCLE.
"She's brilliant," Margolis says of Bolte Taylor. "You really get the flavor of her experience and who she is. She brings her whole self onto the stage. It's so authentic. I think her closing is a gift. That's really how you feel when you walk away."
"She's a great example of someone who is hitting it on all cylinders," adds Simon. "She's inspirational. She uses great visuals. And there is an aspirational component to her talk."
The duo is thrilled to contribute in an arena they've admired for so long and to be part of the 2013 line-up.
"We feel like this collection of talks is going to be pretty powerful," says Margolis.
Dr. Marilyn Sanders Mobley, Vice President for Inclusion, Diversity and Equal Opportunity at Case Western Reserve University, positively crackles with anticipation over the upcoming event.
"I really want to inspire," says Mobley. "I want an 'A.' I feel the tension in my gut."
As a Toni Morrison scholar, author and decorated English professor, Mobley will embrace the challenges and rewards of diversity in her talk.
"I think the topic of diversity gives people an opportunity to stand toe-to-toe and make a decision," she says. "This can be hard. This can sometimes be uncomfortable. But it's worth it. Our city is worth it. Our communities are worth it. The nation is worth it. The global community is worth it."
She describes the TED format as one that has the permission and authority to go viral and deliver a far-reaching positive impact and meaningful experience.
"I want what I say to be a good example of mindfulness, which is how I try to conduct my life," says Mobley, adding that she hopes to reveal something new about diversity. "I'm not the first word on the subject of diversity, and I certainly won't be the last, but I do have very strong feelings about the topic. I want the audience to think about this subject in ways they haven't thought about it before. I hope the talk inspires some people to engage in a dialogue they may have been avoiding."
Clearly a tall order, but Mobley is up to the task. Her biggest challenge? The same one that each speaker faces.
"I've got to fit what I care about into 15 minutes!"

Read more articles by Erin O'Brien.

Erin O'Brien's eclectic features and essays have appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and others. The sixth generation northeast Ohioan is also author of The Irish Hungarian Guide to the Domestic Arts. Visit for complete profile information.
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