On Whiteness


Good solid two feet of snow last week in Brooklyn, Dear Reader, and it’s gotten me thinking about whiteness.

I mean, I’ve been thinking about whiteness for some time, but it’s a very quiet early morning at the Man About Town Brooklyn redoubt, with only the whistling of the radiators and the desultory, distant scraping of cars being dug out to break the silence.  It’s a good time for a blog post.

And I’m white.  This will not come as a surprise to any of you who’ve met me, and probably to most of you who haven’t.  I’m white, and I try very hard to think about the impacts of race and racism on my life, on the lives of my friends and colleagues, on the lives of the people I work to support through my job, and on the society as a whole.  At the risk of wearing my political correctness like a suicide vest, I feel very compelled to talk a little bit about the popular demagoguery of The Donald. Continue reading

The Great Struggle for Cheap Meat


The Great Struggle for Cheap Meat (Downtown Art) – Photo R Gilliam

Just about 110 years ago, the price of kosher meat pretty much doubled overnight.  If you were a Jewish homemaker who had to make every penny count in order to keep your family fed, this wasn’t just an inconvenience:  it was a serious threat to your economic stability.  What’s more, it smacked of racketeering by wholesalers who had a captive market of consumers for kosher foods, and recalled anti-Jewish oppression levied through taxes on Kosher foods in other countries.

Jewish women fought back.  They organized a massive boycott of butchers and meat wholesalers that not only succeeded in bringing the prices back down, but became a seminal act of defiance in community organizing and paved the way for major rent and labor strikes to come (including the 1907 Rent Strike and the Uprising of the 20,000).

We’ve made it into a rock musical.  And it opens tomorrow, so buy your tickets here.    Continue reading

Guns, Murder, Insanity and Men


Bushmaster .223 M4 carbine – model used in the Connecticut shooting. Why in the hell is this gun legal?

Mass shootings are horrifying, terrible, heartbreaking, enraging.  For me, as for many, the most recent mass shooting at a public elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut has been particularly painful.  Its pall clings to me, and I suspect I’m writing this blog in part to attempt some diminishment of its effect, some exorcism.

The powerlessness of bearing witness, even through the distorted lens of modern media, leaves me enervated.  I have only the meager power of writing to fight back, but it’s better than remaining voiceless.  And I’ve got something to say.

We don’t just have a gun problem in the good ol’ USofA, we’ve got a problem with mad men – and we’re not talking about it.
Continue reading

Disaster and Recovery – Part II


The Great Wave off Kanagawa: Katsushika Hokusai

The Great Wave off Kanagawa: Katsushika Hokusai

Shortly after hurricanes Katrina and Rita in the Gulf Coast, I was dispatched to New Orleans by the corporate foundation that I worked for to figure out how to deploy our philanthropic disaster recovery commitment.  It was a heartbreaking experience, compounded and complicated by the entrenched challenges New Orleans had struggled with for many years.

As with all natural disasters, the poorest suffered most in the immediate aftermath.  What I, in my ignorance, learned for the first time was how the vulnerable continue to suffer long after the initial damage: tucked away for too long FEMA trailers, or separated from family, friends and vital supports, unable to access medical care, or shuttled from one temporary shelter situation to the next.  Over the weeks, months and years following the storm there were dramatic and terrible increases in elder mortality, child poverty, murder, and mental illness.

Compared to the process of recovery in the Gulf Coast, and in spite of the many frustrations we feel with its pace in our region, New York City, New Jersey and Long Island have done remarkably well.  For most of us, life is essentially back to normal:  the kids are in school, we’re back at work, our homes have power, heat and hot water, and holiday shopping is underway.

But there remains a grave and nearly inevitable danger, as in all natural disasters, that we will “move on” without fully resolving the impacts on those most vulnerable, and inflict the mistakes of the past on our neighbors and fellow citizens tomorrow.  Continue reading

Disaster and Recovery


Lower Manhattan Post Sandy Blackout – Catsonholiday / Instagram

Dear Reader, I’m writing to you from Man About Town’s Brooklyn redoubt – where we have been spared from the very worst of hurricane Sandy.  We never flooded, and we never lost power.  Like so many of you, Mrs. Man About Town and I have been glued to Twitter, NY1, WNYC, the NY Times, and a host of other news sources trying to grapple with the scale of the devastation caused by surging storm waters and wind.  And, like many of you, we’ve wept over the terrible loss of life, and been inspired by the ingenuity and dedication of emergency personnel, public leaders, and generous neighbors.

We will never be the same. Continue reading

The Art$ – Part III (Some Easy Fixes)


Art – it makes life more funner.

In my earlier posts on this subject, dear reader, I first endeavored to put a finer point on the more than thousand-fold revenue variation between the largest cultural organizations in NYC, and the median cultural organization. Holy stromboli you say? Yes! While the very largest nonprofit culturals have revenues of more than $300 million annually, more than half the groups in my most recent study had revenues of less than $250 thousand. What’s more, the top five very largest organizations received nearly half of all city funding (their share being a whopping $133 million).
Continue reading

The Art$, Small Business, and Community Development


Just testifying for the arts, people.

Dear Reader, below you will find testimony that I presented recently before a joint hearing of the New York City Council on the impact of the arts on small businesses and community economic vitality.  You may very well be interested in two previous posts on this subject:  The Art$ (wherein I discuss the economic realities of very small versus very large nonprofit culturals in NYC), and The Art$ – Part II (wherein I dig deeper into how very large nonprofit culturals make their money compared to how small nonprofit culturals do). Continue reading

The Art$


It was weird.

Dear reader, your Man About Town has been to the very precipice, where I stood and looked down.  It was weird.

You see, it all started when some of the lovely folks over at the Municipal Art Society (Hi Mary! Hi Anne!  Hello Vin!), invited me to come and do a research project for them called “Who Pays for the Arts.”  The job was to tool through data provided by the Cultural Data Project (CDP) and better understand how arts organizations in NYC make their money.  To whit:  in order to apply for public funding in NYC, you have to submit, like, a gajillion data points to CDP.

Exciting!  Data geek that I am my little heart just fluttered with glee.  Numbers!  Charts!  Oh yeah!  Uh huh!  That’s right!

So I started digging through the data and the very first question I asked was, you know, what does the distribution curve look like?  Given that I’m looking at total 2010 revenues for 723 organizations, and that the whole group all mushed together made $2.5 billion, how many groups are on the high end, how many in the middle, and how many on the low end?

And this is what I found: Continue reading

It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! It’s… What the Hell Is That?


Also posted in my guest blog on Rooflines.

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s… What the hell is that?

In my last blog post I spent a good chunk of time talking about the trend toward “complexification” in the nonprofit sector.  There are plenty of small, scrappy, neighborhood based nonprofits around (as a matter of fact, that number continues to grow), but we’ve also seen the emergence of nonprofits with $100 million plus in annual revenues, hundreds of staff, sophisticated operational structures, and highly complex financial instruments built to conduct their business.

I argued that we’re past due in borrowing some tools from our for-profit colleagues, including stronger staff development and retention regimens, the ability to access substantial capital for opportunistic growth, shaping board relationships that focus on organizational development and not just fiduciary oversight, and developing a nonprofit sector trade association to lobby on the collective needs and issues of our sector.

We’re clearly entering a new era that will continue to blur the lines between for-profit and nonprofit.  And let’s be honest:  it’s a little scary.  Why?  Because we’re all very worried that we might somehow become like, you know, them.

Continue reading

It Came from Chicago


Reposted from by guest blog on Rooflines.

It Came from Chicago

Let’s just come right out and say it:  New York City is the best.  At everything.  We are the smartest, the hardest working, the most creative, and the best-looking.  If you trace every social innovation of the past century back to its roots, you’ll find some determined, no-nonsense, big-hearted denizen of the Big Apple looking up from their work with a twinkle in their eye.  The settlement house movement?  Yo!  The community development corporation?  Booyah!  The artisanal industry incubator?  Hoo hoo hoo!

Pro bono service provision to the public sector?  Oops, wait.

Chicago’s better at it.  And it’s coming to town. Continue reading