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 New Dawn of the Nonprofit Merger


best-merge

Mergers – never easy.

It used to be that the idea of one nonprofit taking over another was simply anathema.  Nonprofits didn’t, you know, do that to one another. Mergers and acquisitions were the territory of national banks, energy companies and pharmaceutical giants with oversized ambitions and possibly malevolent intent. Nonprofits weren’t motivated by “creating efficiencies,” particularly at the expense of their own staff members – many of whom came from the very low-income communities those same nonprofits were seeking to serve.

But, oh, the times they are a-changin’. Nonprofit mergers are on the rise in NYC, and we’re going to see many more of them. Whether you like the reasons or not, you’d better know what they are because this, my friend, could happen to you.
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The Snow Queen (Coming Out As An Artist)


Mike Piemaker Guitar.solo

Man About Town Bares All

There’s something I have to tell you, Dear Reader.  I have a secret life.

I’ve known this about myself since I was 14 years old.  I experimented with this part of who I was a lot while I was in college, but eventually I moved on and settled into a more traditional lifestyle and quietly tucked this side of myself away.  I lived like this for years.

But that’s been changing.  It all started shortly after my first marriage ended, when I was looking for something to take me back out into the world.  Suddenly, this other side of me seemed unavoidable – I felt so compelled to show who I really was, to do it again and again.  I worked on Wall Street at the time, and suddenly it seemed people like me were everywhere and I had never noticed before: hanging out in seedy bars with late night open mics, or sneaking out during our lunch breaks to a quick session in a rented room nearby.  We led a second life complete with different friends, different clothes, different mannerisms, but more fully ourselves.

And then I met my current partner, Ryan.  Unlike me, Ryan had never hid behind another identity.  Ryan is proud, fearless, open, visible.  When, during one of our first dates, Ryan suggested we write a musical together, I knew I could no longer hide who I was.

I am, Dear Reader, a musician. Continue reading

The (In)Efficiencies of Scale


When scale goes wrong. Catsonholiday / Instagram

ArtsBlog (the blog of Americans for the Arts) recently hosted a forum called:  “So, Does Size Matter?”  The short answer is hell yes it does, but I disagree with most of the writers about why.  I found the best piece in the series was penned by the whip-smart Ian David Moss (Economies and Diseconomies of Scale in the Arts – Take Two), and it was his post that inspired both me to both write an initial comment, and then to take on the subject more fully below.

You see, Dear Reader, like many of my fellow funders and financiers I’ve often touted the benefits of moving toward greater scale:  improved operational efficiencies, greater programmatic reach, increased access to resources, heavier political punch.  But I’ve also struggled with the oft recognized but seldom addressed reality that scale is not an answer in and of itself, and that sometimes scaled solutions leave even larger problems in their wake.  Thanks to Ian, I think I got the mental kick in the epiphany I needed.

And here’s why I think scale sometimes, well, stinks up the joint.  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.
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Report Back: NY Grantmakers in the Arts “Creative Placemaking” Panel


Funders, Speakers and your Man About Town walking to the Queens Museum from the Mets-Willets Point 7 Train – Man About Town / Tumblr

Your Man About Town’s middle name is Moderation, Dear Reader; and although it is a somewhat awkward locution when making a full introduction, it nonetheless conveys the important fact that your Man About Town’s middle name is not Tom, Dick or Harry.  I moderate.  I facilitate.  I have even been known, at times, to adjudicate.

So when the New York Chapter of the Grantmakers in the Arts asked if I wouldn’t mind moderating a panel on creative placemaking at the Queens Museum of Art earlier this month, I could no more deny them than I could my very nature.  Or at least, the very nature of my personal brand. 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

Man About Town – Newsletter #1


I love my name tag. Thanks Federal Reserve Bank of NY!

Dear reader,

It’s been a year since I hung out a shingle and joined the independent workforce, and a very interesting year indeed.  Your Man About Town has been busy moving the needle on mission related investment, geeking out on data, pursuing my ongoing passion for the arts, and assembling public / private partnerships out of thin air.

Frequently my job as a consultant is simply to help my clients think things they haven’t thoughtmeet people they haven’t met, and do things they haven’t done.   In this inaugural newsletter, I’m pleased to share a bit about what I’ve been up to.

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

Mission Related Investment

Mission related investment (MRI) can be a powerful tool, but as a sector we still have much to learn.  Man About Town has been fortunate to work with Contact Fund, expanding deal flow and advising on strategic development. Man About Town also stepped in to help the Altman Foundation underwrite a Program Related Investment to LISC.  And whenServices for the UnderServed asked Man About Town to help them train their board on innovation in MRI and the needs of complex nonprofits, it just seemed like the right thing to do.  Now, Man About Town and SUS have joined forces to convene a Social Impact Investment Conference in NYC.  Our Advisory Committee includes Antony Bugg-LevineDeb De SantisAlice KorngoldTerri LudwigBrandee McHale and Michael Rubinger.  Just getting warmed up folks!  Coming April 2013!

Related posts:

MAS NYC Arts Digest 2012

Arts & Economic Development

This past spring, the Municipal Art Society invited Man About Town to come on board as a research fellow, analyzing economic trends in the nonprofit cultural sector through the Cultural Data Project.  Data geek that I am, how could Man About Town say no?  The result is the Arts Digest 2012, including my section entitled “Who Pays for the Arts?”  And Man About Town has been busy applying all I’ve learned as a member of the Naturally Occurring Cultural Districts Working Group, including a new case study onadaptive re-use in creating new cultural facilities – due out this November!

Related posts:

Civic Consulting Alliance

Introducing Civic Consulting NYC

Last fall, Neil Kleiman introduced Man About Town to Chicago’s Civic Consulting Alliance. Civic Consulting aggregates high-level pro bono corporate capacity and provides it to the public sector – a national model for innovation in public/private partnerships.  I fell in love.  Man About Town has been building Civic Consulting’s NYC affiliate, and on September 13th we hosted a launch event with the Ford FoundationLiving Cities and special guest Deputy Mayor Linda Gibbs for the local philanthropic and corporate community.  It was a smashing good time, and you’ll be hearing a lot more about Civic Consulting NYC!

Related posts:

In short, life is good…  

…thanks to all of you and your brilliant thinking, passionate commitment, and energetic leadership.  I hope to see some of you at the Grantmakers in the Arts convening on November 15th at the Queens Museum, where Man About Town will moderate the morning’s panel discussion.  And stay tuned for a major article in Shelterforce Magazine on the evolving role of community development intermediaries in today’s complex environment.

Until then, I remain your most humble servant,

Your Man About Town

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).
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