NY City Council Testimony on Naturally Occurring Cultural Districts


This past Friday (May 11, 2012)  I had the pleasure of testifying before a joint hearing of the Committee on Small Business, and the Committee on Cultural Affairs, Libraries and International Intergroup Relations of the New York City Council.  The topic?  “New York City’s Cultural Sector and Derivative Small Businesses.”

Hello!  Mouthful!

But I was asked to offer framing comments to complement testimony by my colleagues  from the Naturally Occurring Cultural Districts Working Group.  I’ve skipped the preliminaries (you know, hello and thank you committee Chairperson for this opportunity to yadda yadda) and cut right to the meat and potatoes:   Continue reading

What’s Next in Arts and Economic Development


Reposted from my guest blog on Rooflines.

My latest rock musical: The Bowery Wars (Part II)

There’s something you should know about me:  I’m a professional amateur.  For the past 7 years I’ve been composing and performing music in original theater works with my wife’s company, Downtown Art.  We’ve just opened our latest piece, Bowery Wars (Part 2), a rock musical about the history of the Lower East Side 100 years ago, Tammany Hall politics, gang warfare, and Romeo & Juliet.  It rocks, and yes you should come see it.

But I’m not just here to flog my latest masterpiece.  We professional amateurs are artists who fly under the radar.  We don’t make our livelihood from our art.  We do other things to put bread and butter together.  I happen to be a highly compensated community development consultant, but many of my peers are dog walkers, administrative assistants, massage therapists, and restaurant workers.  (By the way, in another shameless plug, you should check out my brother Dan’s blog on the lives of restaurant workers and artists in Chicago).  I also serve on the Naturally Occurring Cultural Districts Working Group, and I’m currently doing some research for the Municipal Art Society on revenue trends for the nonprofit cultural sector.  In my previous work I ran an “Arts and Economic Development” giving strategy from the Deutsche Bank Americas Foundation along with my colleagues Gary, Alessandra and Sam (hi guys!).

All in all, you might say I have a rather engaged perspective on the question of where arts and economic development intersect, and where they don’t.  There are four major trends right now in NYC. Continue reading

NYC’s Philanthropic Bagel Hole


Reposted from my guest blog on Rooflines.  

New York City has everything, just like this bagel.  Yum!  The secret, as they say, is in the water.  And water, as they say, is life.

But there’s a hole in the bagel, dear Liza, dear Liza.

When I first came to NYC, still wet behind the ears and tasked with helping distribute money from Deutsche Bank’s foundation, I was sent to meetings.  Lots of meetings.  Very interesting meetings, where the community development banking luminaries of the day would hold court:  Carol Parry, Phyllis Rosenbloom, Mark Willis, Marc Jahr, Bob Rosenbloom, Michael Feller, Greg King, Hildy Simmons, Gary Hattem.  Or other meetings, where the United Way, Ford or Rockefeller called the tune, and the jolly members of NYRAG would troop in to talk about the inner workings of domestic microfinance, workforce development, educational reform, financial literacy, homeownership, arts and economic development, you name it.  There was a palpable core of philanthropic leadership really focused on the challenges of the city, and they held significant mass.  Their effect was gravitational: where they led, others followed.  They drove discussion, led thinking, catalyzed partnerships, commanded attention.  You may not have loved what they thought, or how they went about things, but their presence was manifest, and their impact was broad.

New York City still has the strongest and most vibrant philanthropic community in the country.  It’s still provides enormous leadership in social investment strategies, community development finance, building public / private partnerships, and program innovation.  But something has changed.  Over the years, there’s been a growing vacancy in the focus on New York City itself: on its systems, challenges, nonprofit leaders, and neighborhoods.

In short, despite the incredible presence of philanthropic leadership and resource, the attention has moved elsewhere.  I’m not sure that most folks have even noticed.  It’s been a creeping drift, a steady ebb.  A spreading hole in the center of our little everything bagel universe.

Continue reading

Building a Healthy Nonprofit Ecosystem


Hurricane flooded I-10/I-610 interchange, New Orleans, LA

Reposted from my guest blog on Rooflines:  In the halcyon days of my youth, way back in 2006, I went to New Orleans.  I traveled there at the behest of the corporation that I worked for at the time, as we had made a $2 million disaster recovery commitment to the city, and we were trying to figure out how to spend it.

Now, there’s two things you need to know about spending $2 million: (1) that’s a lot of money, and (2) it’s really not very much money at all.  When you get right down to it, in dealing with a post-crisis situation of the scale of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in the troubled city of New Orleans, spending that kind of money in a way that was both responsible and impactful was a damned hard thing to do.

So there I am, the well-meaning Yankee, fresh off the plane in my shiny city slicker best, traipsing through the Lower 9th Ward.  I was there several months after the floods had receded, but it was still a silent, mud-stained, wracked and ruined wasteland.  I remember picking up a dirty and detached doll’s head (Woody, from Toy Story – a memento I’ve kept with me always.  He’s staring at me as I write this now), and thinking, well, I’ve got to start somewhere.

Continue reading

Why Leadership Pay$


Reposted from my guest blog on Rooflines.
In previous blog posts (Why Evaluation Stinks), I’ve discussed how the fragmented nature of the nonprofit sector makes it very difficult to impose top-down, comprehensive evaluative frameworks.  The primary problem is that even if you have two nonprofit organizations, each working with similar clients and conducting similar programs, the mix of supports from philanthropy, contracts and earned revenues will be such that the way they achieve their results will be unique.  The nonprofit sector, operating as it does on the margins of the market economy, is forced to pull together resources higgledy-piggledy, and this mix varies so substantially for each nonprofit (and indeed for each year of its operations), that you really can’t draw comparisons easily between two otherwise similar service activities.In short, our twinkling field of a thousand lights are all very different.There is, however, an upside to this.  Each organization cuts its own path to achieving its mission, providing us with a diversity of models and strategies.  Some succeed by focusing on a specific, artisanal niche where they excel, while others grow through horizontal or vertical expansion.  But there’s one thing that all successful organizations have in common:  they exhibit strong leadership.  And when I say leadership, what I mean is that the manager or managers of the organization are considered trustworthy, intelligent, passionate and capable.  They may also be considered tyrannical, obtuse, plodding, or distraught, but in their own way they get the job done and they get it done well.

As you well know, measuring leadership is a damned hard thing to do.  There are no leadership widgets produced as such.  Or are there? Continue reading

Dear Mom, Here’s What Crashed the Economy (Part III) – And How to Fix It


Reposted from my guest blog on Rooflines

Mom at the Darke County Fair, Greenville, Ohio

Happy New Year!  And what better time to talk about my favorite ideas for getting us out of this fine mess of an economic jim jam we’re all bunched up in.  But first, a recap of my previous two posts:

  • In Dear Mom (Part I) I talked about the absolutely bizarre and vitriolic discussion around what role US federal housing policy played in the collapse of the global economy.  Basically, it played a very minor role, in spite of lingering (or, should I say, malingering) opinions to the contrary.  When even the industry publication American Banker weighs with a super geeky online commentary saying pretty much what I already said in my blog post, I think we can all put this bugbear to bed.
  • In Dear Mom (Part II) I took a pretty heady Wall St Journal editorial by Republican dissenters to the Federal Crisis Inquiry Commission and broke down their top ten reasons for the economic collapse into plain English.  I’m proud of this blog post, really.  It works.  And my mom says you should read it because it’s good for you.
But now that I’ve debunked the junk and laid down the ground, I owe it Mom and to you, dear reader, to put my money where my mouth is and talk about what my favorite fixes include.  So to begin. Continue reading

Brooklyn’s Participatory Budgeting Process


NYC Council Member Brad Lander

Just a very brief posting to share with you all a nice blog written about Brooklyn Council Member Brad Lander’s Participatory Budgeting process.  Council Member Lander has turned over the decision-making process for spending $1 million in city capital funds for his district to the residents themselves.  JC does a nice job of capturing both the challenges and the enthusiasm for the effort.