George W. Bush, Desmond Tutu and Jim Thome have all signed.
Since 1994, each speaker at the City Club of Cleveland has autographed a guestbook to commemorate the event. But not until U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew’s appearance in early May, were any of those shared with the general public.
Lew, whose signature appears on new U.S. currency, caused a bit of a media ruckus for his loopy scrawl after his nomination in January. It made his talk the perfect opportunity for new CEO Dan Moulthrop to offer a behind-the-bell glimpse of the City Club on Instagram, the popular photo-based social network.
It was also a small window into Moulthrop, the former host of WCPN 90.3’s The Sound of Ideas radio show and co-founder of the Civic Commons. In May, Moulthrop, an educator, talk-show host, commentator, entrepreneur and curator of online discussions and communities, replaced Jim Foster, who retired after 20 years as head of the City Club.
“Dan is particularly well-equipped and adept at embracing change and harnessing it,” says board member Hugh McKay.
As Civic Commons co-founder with the title “curator of conversation,” Moulthrop nurtured the online forum and social media environment’s vision to connect citizens with their civic leaders.
The experience may be valuable in moving the City Club forward. “We have to be agile and adapt and be willing to experiment with new things and see if they work,” Moulthrop says.
He acknowledges, for example, the success of TED. Founded in 1984 around the mantra of “ideas worth spreading,” TED now includes the nonprofit’s two annual global conferences, a video site of more than 1500 talks, local TEDx events (including in Cleveland and Akron), a platform for discussing and sharing ideas and more.
“This is basically people talking about ideas,” Moulthrop says. “That’s what we do [at the City Club]. TED does it much better than we do right now.”
It’s a difference of marketing and packaging in Moulthrop’s eyes. He points out that a City Club YouTube video of recent speaker Majora Carter, author of Greening the Ghetto
, has fewer than 100 views. Her TED Talk video that covers inner-city sustainability, the same topic she discussed at the City Club, had 699,000 views as of June 19.
“We have the content and ideas people are hungry for,” Moulthrop says. “It’s an engagement challenge. One that we are definitely up for.”
IB: How will you bring your technology background to the City Club?
We have to jump in and start using these tools, whether we are talking about Civic Commons or Facebook and Twitter. Different ways of streaming like Bambuser, a live streaming app from your phone. You can live stream to the Web and embed it on your Facebook page.
IB: How did you end up moderating the Jacob Lew discussion?
Originally, Russ Mitchell was scheduled to do the event, but he was unavailable because of the Amanda Berry situation. I’ve done that sort of thing at the City Club a million times, but never as the CEO. What that meant was that I cleared my calendar on Tuesday afternoon, so I could brush up on my Lew.
IB: How do your abilities as a moderator and broadcaster change the City Club or your position?
I have this skill that I put to use all over town for lots of different community organizations, and it’s a skill that’s of use for the whole community. Now that I am in this position, does that mean that I keep doing that, I do less of it, I do more of it, I do it for other organizations? We are trying to figure that out.
IB: What’s something new you want to do with the City Club?
The City Club has been doing a lot of cool stuff in the last couple years. In the centennial year, they did the free speech conference at PlayhouseSquare. I thought it was fantastic and can be a model for what we can do in the future. I think it’s the sort of thing that if we do it right, it can actually provide a sense of sustainability for the organization as well.
IB: What’s it like taking over a 100-year-old institution?
To be short, it’s humbling. The day that my appointment was announced was the most incredible thing that I’ve been a part of in terms of the outpouring of support that was directed toward me. My favorite tweet came from my friend Lora DiFranco, who works at LAND Studio. I can’t remember exactly, but it was like, “This is so perfect, I literally can’t stand it.”