Let’s Turn this Old Barn into a Theater! (Part III of III)


Big Car in Indianapolis, IN is a former auto service center.

Dear Reader, About a year ago the Naturally Occurring Cultural Districts (NOCD) working group asked your Man About Town to write a nice, juicy case study about what happens when cultural organizations buy non-cultural facilities and fix them up.  This three part series details my findings, although it’s well worth checking out the original report to see case studies from nearly a dozen cultural organizations across the country.  You can also read Part I and Part II of this series to learn more about the unique opportunities and challenges of adaptive reuse. Continue reading

Let’s Turn this Old Barn into a Theater! (Part II of III)


Grange halls make badass theater spaces.

Dear Reader, About a year ago the Naturally Occurring Cultural Districts (NOCD) working group asked your Man About Town to write a nice, juicy case study about what happens when cultural organizations buy non-cultural facilities and fix them up.  This three part series details my findings, although it’s well worth checking out the original report to see case studies from nearly a dozen cultural organizations across the country.  Check out Part I of this series to learn more about the unique opportunities and challenges of adaptive reuse. Continue reading

Let’s Turn this Old Barn into a Theater! (Part I of III)


Scrappy, but lovable: the irrepressible arts.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago the Naturally Occurring Cultural Districts (NOCD) working group asked your Man About Town to write a nice, juicy case study about what happens when cultural organizations buy non-cultural facilities and fix them up.  This three part series details my findings, although it’s well worth checking out the original report to see case studies from nearly a dozen cultural organizations across the country. Continue reading

What do LISC, Enterprise, NFF and CSH Have in Common with the Dodo? Nothing. (Part IV of VI)


The Dodo hangs with Alice in Wonderland. LISC, Enterprise, CSH and NFF are not building affordable housing there.

Dear reader, as part of a special report for Shelterforce I sat down with the heads of four of the largest community development intermediaries in the country and asked a simple question:  Are you still relevant?

This six part series looks at the evolution of their role in the community development sector and their strategies for the future.

To binge-read the full reportclick here.

Click on the following links to read Part IPart II or Part III. 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

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

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

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).
Continue reading