Mellow Pages Library & The Corporate Funding Paradox
Some weeks ago a strange email appeared in our inbox. The nature of the email, unlikely as it was, seemed positive, honest and well-intentioned. A genuine opportunity. The only problem was the reputation of the sender: ExxonMobil Corporation.
The moral dilemma that played out within our discussions seemed almost too large to handle, and far too private. The details: ExxonMobil offering support to the tune of 10x our recent IndieGoGo campaign’s funds (which was both generous and intuitive in its representation of what our own community could contribute) seemed like a no-brainer offer that most people or small organizations would accept gladly, silently. We weren’t so sure, though.
After much consideration, we decided to let our patrons know what was going on. The responses that flooded our inbox were passionate, intelligent but once again, completely private, even among the members responding. Inspired by their range and clarity, we decided to take the conversation outside a private space and open up the floor for more. So, to get you and our members up to speed, below we have the original email we sent out and the responses that came in thereafter, with some of our commentary mixed in:
You, all of you, are members of our library. We’ve made this place what it is together and we want to keep it that way, always. That’s why, if we can do this sensibly, we want to explain what’s been going on over the last few weeks.
As you know, we put on a fundraiser that ended in mid November. We were shooting to secure a year of ‘stability’ at least in the sense of the rent, and we did well. Very well. But we only got about a quarter of what our goal was. A few weeks after our fundraiser came to a close, ExxonMobil approached us and offered to match each of your donations by 10, which would mean they were securing something close to 3+ years for the library. If you had donated to our fundraiser, you’d be able to go ahead and multiply that number by 10. But we’d like to leave the choice up to you.
We wouldn’t make these kinds of decisions without your support, so we’re asking, essentially: what should we do? We want to stay alive and we want a quality of life for ourselves that is, well, livable. At this point we’re already asking ourselves what we’re going to do come February and after. There are all sorts of moral dilemmas with accepting this money, we know this, and some of you have already expressed some concern and confusion. So we want to ask you first, before we make any kind of decisions: What should we do? We are all the people who made this place ‘be’. And we did that together. We think we can stay the same as ever, in fact make our library better. What do you guys think?
What should we do?
And the responses:
Here is my honest response.
I’ve still never been to Mellow Pages but I wholeheartedly support what you have built, the ethic surrounding it and the atmosphere you have created online. I don’t envy the task that you have taken on, it seems impossible.
There seems to be little place in our world for people who want to make something truly good like you have, let alone maintain it in the long term.
I donated what I could for the IndieGoGo and my heart sank when I saw you didn’t meet your goal.
I’m not sure what the full situation is over there but it seems like basing an entire year’s running budget on a one month fundraiser seems a little hasty, and a little hopeful to me.
Probably the single greatest thing I love about what you guys are doing is that you are so fiercely independent. That you are filling this tiny niche that has so far gone vacant and you are doing it on your own terms. It seems so fundamental to what you are doing and allowing this corporation (one with highly questionable morals and motives) to have a say, let alone a controlling interest in MP seems deeply contradictory.
I immediately got angry when I saw their logo on the twitter page, but I can understand (to a certain extent) the desperation you must be feeling. I guess I have a certain kind of faith that some other sort of funding will come through. Even if it is corporate funding it could be something more in-line with the goals and ideals of MP than a multi-national Petroleum company.
I was super excited when you stocked our zine **** but I would probably feel uncomfortable having the zine distributed by a place ostensibly controlled by one of the institutions the zine is theoretically and ideologically against.
If you must -absolutely MUST- accept their money it seems only appropriate to do it on a donation basis as you would any other donation. You did not advertise the businesses or names of any of your other donors so you should be under no obligation to advertise for EM
If they suggest otherwise go tell them to ACTUALLY fuck themselves.
Not to mention this whole situation sounds like something Dellilo or DFW would come up with in only one of their saddest, saddest, most surreal stories.
Hang in there, guys. It will inevitably be rough but it will be worth it. MP has existed for a year or so but this should not be the answer.
much love from the West Coast
TAKE THE FUCKING MONEY
We are dealing with two very different points on a color spectrum.
Congrats on the Exxon offer. That’s amazing!
I’m just curious: How did Exxon find you? Do they like, go around looking for non profits? Like, the whole process I find very interesting. Plus, the 10X offer is a killer deal.
At this time we have no concrete knowledge as to how or why ExxonMobil could have found us. The mention of our fundraiser appeared in their first email, so it would seem they had either come across it on their own or had been pointed in its direction by someone anonymously. Part of our own conversation is ‘why’ they would have interest in a project such as ours. Their record shows a support of the arts, but mainly on a more visible scale, where their credit is very public, and mostly within the Texan border. Thus far it is clear there are no demands or contracts between the two of us, which actually makes us worry because, you know, who can trust true altruism?
As someone who works in fundraising as a profession, I would say accept it. You didn’t reach out asking ExxonMobil, they reached out to you. Without 501(c)3 tax-free status from the IRS it’s going to be very very difficult to secure donations to keep the space open. I do recognize that it is a compromise of sorts considering where the money is coming from and the past actions of said company but they’re going to give money away somewhere anyway. Just my two-bits.
Thanks to both of you for putting this place together, it made 2013 a personal W for me.
Do it! Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face. Let ExxonMobil match the funds. Everybody wins. We get the library, and Exxonmobil gets to repair a tiny bit of difficult and terrible Karma. Let’s help them repair their karma and reward them for what they’re doing right, instead of punishing them for what they’ve done wrong.
I was in ******** talking to people just a few weeks ago. It got me thinking about what it is that brings money in, and how poets can sustain themselves.
I was thinking that you guys should start holding poetry workshops. Like master class with _____(name of cool poet), and the poet gets a couple glasses of beer or a small honorarium and you take the big cut as the institution who “hosts” so to speak. Then Mellow Pages would/could evolve into something like THE POETRY CLUB HOUSE that is anti-academia.
Or you could start a project w/ NYFA Fiscal Sponsorship.
I’m sure everyone has amazing ideas, but that was just what was on my mind. Go anti-MFA in a very very MFA town. Radical?
hit me up if ya wanna talk more
What a lot of people don’t understand about our grant situation is that it is primarily non-existent. Mellow Pages is not an organization, nor a business, nor a non-profit, nor a verified ‘no-profit’ institution. We have and always would like to be a couple of guys who pay rent for a studio, in which we facilitate a project with no solid distinction. That position gives us power in many ways. For instance, we have nothing to lose. But that position also prevents us from applying to grants, which itself is a punch in our own face. Whether or not the work it would require to become a full-fledged non-profit is worthwhile is something we’ve considered throughout the lifetime of our project. At this point, we’ve hardly got enough time to do our own job correctly and consistently. The constant spectre of imminent closure, which always seems a couple months off, does not allow us to wait and see whether someone is going to give us money six months down the road. Understand that becoming a non-profit can take up to a year, at which point you’re still responsible for finding donors, finding board members, finding an accountant. We haven’t been lucky enough to be ‘looking forward a year’ at any point so far. The only real thing keeping us looking ahead is our members’ memberships: our own obligation to the people who believed and contributed to the project initially. That, and our belief that the project is worth something, that we’re doing something good, is another factor in looking forward.
Depends on what they want in return. I’m guessing they’re looking for some cool cred and you’re the vehicle of choice (or a vehicle of choice) in Brooklyn. But what would they want in return? To shoot some shaky-camera commercial in the space where they’d tout their awesomeness to the world? To write “Exxon Mobil fucking loves the environment and also attractive twentysomethings” in big letters on the wall?
Taking corporate money is always tricky. But getting three years of funding for something you believe in, especially in a chronically underfunded corner of the arts world, is pretty hard to say no to.
Thanks for writing the members with this question. That shows real integrity and speaking for myself, I really appreciate it. For me, the answer to their proposal hinges around what exactly it is they’re looking for in return. Perhaps if you’re able to share that with me I’ll be able to weigh in more meaningfully.
In truth, it positively blows my mind that Big Corporate (Fuel, Pharma, Chemistry, Insurance, Medicine whatever) is so everywhere omnipresent 24/7 always and forever that they’d take interest in a tiny community library/reading room. Of course, if they matched every donation with 10 times the amount, it wouldn’t bust the bank (they did that already).
It is ultimately up to you guys, who started this great idea and turned it into a real-time brick-and-mortar “entity” to decide. But I have one obvious question: what’s in it for ExxonMobil? Do they get to put up a sign, “Mellow Pages, a community library Sponsored by Exxon Mobil” on the door?
What a weird but generous offer. But I would unequivocally say to take the money and run, unless they’re making any uncomfortable demands or stipulations. Better to have Mellow Pages open than to not have it open, and financial stability is nice, I hear. Could free you up to do some cool new things, too.
Wow — good news about ExxonMobil. What are you guys thinking of doing? I mean, are you not sure whether you’re going to take up ExxonMobil on their offer? Or you’re not sure how to best use the funding they give you? If we increase our donations now, does that mean ExxonMobil will also increase by 10, still, according to the second number? So that you could get an even higher total? Or have they already given based on the final number you got at the end of the campaign in November?
Great going either way, congrats!
Sorry you are having such a tough choice.
Ultimately, I feel, dilemma, Schmilemma.
Take the money.
Most corporations, like people, have good and bad aspects.
My plants need a home!!! Stay open by any means necessary until you’re lucky enough to choose your donors.
My very not so humble opinion.
Thanks for this. Wow, Exxon, so weird. What would their interest be in a place like Mellow Pages?
I see the moral dilemma, certainly, but I’d just want to know what the arrangement is. What is Exxon going to require for you guys, or is it just some part of a strategy for philanthropic giving they’ll use to argue they aren’t, in fact, Satan?
I find this hard to believe, but then, why the hell not.
What are the strings? If they are just offering you a grant, say “thanks” and take the money. Why would you do anything else?
There’s this sort of reflexively activist stance you could take where you say “we don’t take money from bloody oil companies!” but I don’t think that will further your ideological goals as much as being stable, well funded, and in a good place to keep expanding your mission.
What I was thinking about this morning was how you mellow dudes have built not just a library, but an entire culture of library-attendees. How much further could you go? I think a lot. I think it’s worth doing. A big tent, by necessity, has a lot of people in it. Even people you don’t agree with.
If some mega corp sees what you’re doing, likes it and wants you to keep doing it, I don’t think that’s a bad thing. It doesn’t mean you have to become apologists for Big Oil; they probably don’t expect that of you anyway.
If they want to use your library and story as some kind of PR thing, that’s a lot to think about. On the one hand, if they are using the story to inspire people to create their own libraries, or just to say something like “americans take action,” and they’re going to stick it in magazines that will be seen by millions of people, that’s kind of cool. It’s a little creepy, inasmuch as it also serves their “we’re just nice regular folks” shtick, but, well, wtf who knows. I think you can’t fix everything at once; mellow pages doesn’t have to fix everything, but if you can actually invite ExxonMobil in to your library to have a conversation, that’s interesting. I’m a free speech/inquiry type; disagree fundamentally with the “shout them down and shut them up” tactics a lot of activists are into.
My $0.02: They don’t own the place, but maybe let them kiss your ass a little.
Take the fucking money for godssakes.
Take the money and build an institution that will last for decades. Pay yourselves a small salary. Invest in broadening the community. Print small runs of books. Host events. This is an incredible opportunity. You could take this money and do amazing things.
And when you run out of the money, come to them and ask for more. Show them all of the amazing and socially beneficial things you have done with it. Show them an expansion plan that would cost five times as much.
These pockets are fucking bottomless bros! You killed it! No joke. Amazed and so happy for you guys.
My 2 cents.
Here is the potential situation, as far as we’ve been told: We never see a check. We never see the ‘lump sum’ represented by the 10x matching donation. We simply do not pay rent; which is what we’ve been doing the whole time, from our own pockets up until the fundraiser and a couple other donations here and there. Matt’s grandma paid for a month, to be completely transparent. With Exxon, each month a payment would be relayed to our landlord. No stipends or overhead or decisions as to ‘how to spend the money’. In a way, this is the best arrangement possible, as it leaves our hands clean. But, it also leaves the two of us in a similar position as far as lifestyles. Two people pulling three years, 7 hours a day, 7 days a week. And on event nights, which sometimes range in the 14-days-straight arena, consider it 12 hours. Whoever is running the library during open hours is therefore not out somewhere else working, making money to live. It’s insanity. No one gets to ‘quit their job’ or ‘pay themselves a salary’ through Exxon’s potential money.
I think this sounds like an incredible opportunity. Making stuff happen in the poetry world is an almost thankless job & I’m glad that somebody with money noticed. It’s not that it’s not complicated, it’s just that everything is complicated. Considering pros and cons, I have to fall on the side of wanting the library to survive.
Thanks for the awesome and open email, and for hosting *****, and for sticking around.
Are you wondering if you should take the money or not? If that’s what you’re wondering, I say do it!
SRSLY Mellow Pages has provided me with some great reading I wouldn’t have otherwise discovered for the past year, so if Exxon wants to contribute to that let em’.
I would love to talk with you guys more about this if you wanted. I think I’d have a lot of good ideas re: the business side of things. I’m a hustler, you should know. I started and ran this business a couple of years ago that got international media attention; check me out on ***.
I think you take the money and you have certain responsibilities towards the investor / donor. Managing the goals and mission of the organization against what they want from you will be a very delicate process.
A friend of mine is one of the editors for ****** ******, who is a good sort of model of a cultural organization that relies on grants and donations but serves art and culture. I could put you in touch with her.
I think you guys have a much better thing than ****** ******, which is too elitist and art-worldy. You have a real community, a real function.
Owning a space would be amazing. That would be an amazing goal for the first five years or something. Increasing membership, visibility, and then owning a space. Keeping ExxonMobil invested and interested in these goals, showing them progress, keeping the money train running.
Do a town-hall style meeting with everyone. I will come. I want to help.
So amped about this, dudes.
Well if you have ExxonMobil looking out for your financial needs and many radical poets/writers hanging around helping with your aesthetic / spiritual needs and a group of people wanting to actively be part of a community within your space, i’d say you’re doing great!
If this is real, take the money. It happens with every generation of writers. Corporate sponsorship. Ask if you can change your name to ExxonMobil Pages.
Guys, it’s a bribe.
What are some possible consequences?
Exxon damages presumptions of objectivity and calls into question the credibility of any writer who is connected to the library. It creates a financial relationship between the corporation and not just you but also any member who benefits from their $. That is so, so massive.
Look at this for what it is: A corporation is seeking to bank favorable press coverage for itself–or else try to leverage any negative coverage—by making nice with New York’s heavy hitting writers. They buy global-warming-denial reports through “sponsorship” of scientific studies. The studies are tainted because the scientists are considered to be biased—because of the money. The money makes anything anyone writes impeachable.
Put another way: the country’s most profitable corporation is attempting to silence independent, dissenting voices. Think of what a threat we must be, for you to get the offer in the first place. This is what they are buying: your independence.
This is not about arts sponsorship. According to Exxon’s website, art sponsorship happens through them matching donations from employees–by the way gay employees there are still discriminated against, except as required by law.
Exxon also just started sponsoring Rachel Maddow and she’s being ridiculed by the press, whatever important ideas and stories she reports are subject to mockery and she is being called a hypocrite. Why? Because everyone knows–once someone takes the money, he/she will no longer be critical/unbiased/objective.
To accept the money is to endorse the company, its values, its disrespect of the environment and citizens. You will not be independent. You will not be independent. You will not be considered independent or treated as an independent or thought of as fostering independent thought, even if you are still just exactly the same cool dudes as always. You will be mistaken for some kind of weird propaganda station/mouthpiece.
How could we disagree with any of this last response? Everything laid out is relevant, in perspective, even if the perspective comes off as slightly radical. What is more radical than the situation we’re talking about? How could we consider taking this money at all? Seeing responses like this really opened our eyes. It changed our decision-making process from one of potentially ‘democratic’ to something entirely different. How could we, as a collection of people, choose to do something offensive if the decision was something that even just one person was against? How much do people ‘count’? There are several people against the idea of us taking the money.
Good on you guys for reaching out to the members. This is indeed a tricky situation, and I imagine you will probably get a 50/50 take it/don’t take it ratio.
This donation is for Exxon’s PR only. Period. Do you have to acknowledge their donation in any way?
******** Press is sponsored by ******; corporate money is endemic and implicit in our culture; we all buy gas, burn coal, use electricity. The only way to escape would be to live in the woods 100% self-sufficiently.
I would also direct your attention to the 30 Rock episode where Liz buys those jeans that make her ass look really good (the episode is called Brooklyn Without Limits, I think). And the Simpsons’ episode “The Old Man and the Lisa”.
But I’ve never had a golden ticket handed to me with metaphysical strings attached.
So there’s that. I don’t envy your decision.
Saying no could generate even more publicity, and maybe money from a less nefarious source, like Ben from Ben and Jerry’s (I know a guy who know’s him, haha). I’m sure this story could be an op-ed in the NYT.
To what extent have the arts always been sponsored?
In any case, you guys have built something truly amazing and should be proud.
Definitely take up their offer as long as it doesn’t relinquish ownership of the library and brand. If this is a sort of “buyout,” wherein ExxonMobil will be able to make decisions, you should reconsider whether or not their motivations are justified and, well, for the good of the library.
Not all money is evil. If you turn them down, there will be another way. Gather an advisory board for the library and put people on it who can help you navigate the options. Hold focused meetings to get 20 people assigned to fundraising projects if need be. Operate like a co-op and spread around the burden. You work really hard, let the community pitch in, too. There are ways to stay independent. Independent is so, so, so important. Independence is the source of your integrity. Integrity is a beautiful and essential piece of a writing life. There is a way. The library is a very good thing and there is money out there and in the big picture you do not need very much of it. There are other sponsors out there with arts programs whose missions you can believe in, and instead of feeling lucky to get the money, you will feel proud to stand next to them. Here is a list of grants & etc. that i came across this week, i don’t even know where i found it:
PS Please don’t do anything without an attorney, or two. You can contact ***** for advice or a recommendation or to explain the legality or strings attached to anything that is offered to you: ******@*******.***
This is the view of a capitalist but I think you should take this donation. If you’re concerned about who Exxon is as a company offset it by doing something positive for the community especially those displaced by gentrification. There are so many teens in this area that could benefit from being around writers and readers and artists and maybe even a capitalist or two.
Life is about negotiation not absolutes. My best wishes to you for the new year.
Black gold mothafuckas! This is insane. I mean, that’s serious money, hard to refuse. You guys have dedicated your lives over the last year and created Mellow Pages on your own dime and time. I think it should be up to you. But a lot of people are probably wondering how ExxonMobil heard of it? Are there any stipulations?
Congratulations on the successful fundraiser.
I think the Mellow Pages should take Exxon’s money as long as Exxon agrees that they have no influence over the management and programming of the library. If Exxon is donating a large amount of money and it isn’t absolutely clear if strings are attached or not, the Mellow Pages should get a lawyer to make sure everything is cool.
I also think that the Mellow Pages should use some of the money to buy a barrel of crude oil with a big Exxon logo on it and keep it in the library as a symbol to represent the reality of the modern economy. Even if we don’t like fossil fuels, we all still need to use and benefit from them until we figure out how to make our economy self-sustaining with renewable resources. Maybe the barrel of crude oil will inspire people to donate books about alternative energy technology?
DO IT! (I mean, why the hell are they giving you money? That’s weird. But still, who cares? If you get enough to stay open for three years, then that’s GREAT.)
I adore you both, the library, and this email.
I think you should take the money.
My thoughts: yeah, it maybe makes you feel icky… like crude oil spilled into the ocean, but honestly… Go on, take the money and run.
If Exxon wants to essentially pay your rent, and this still allows for the complete autonomy of the library. Do it. Don’t feel guilty and icky. Do it.
If Exxon wants you to be pro-Exxon and start supporting them in your little social media posts then that makes me feel like the spirit of MP is compromised. But if not, you can take that money, build a secure place for books and writers and launch a campaign to educate others on clean energy…Or whatever. Use their money and actually do what they want it to do: Make up for some of the terrible crap Exxon does.
I’ve worked in and with non-profit development offices for almost three years and the money always comes from somewhere you’d rather not look too closely at. But look closely (!) and find a way to be respectful of your patron, and also shift the system a bit.
Wouldn’t we all rather have a library as cool as Mellow Pages in this world to foster the questioning of the status-quo, gathering writers who think on things like …DOES taking money from a capitalist monster dirty our artistic waters or not? …rather than no Mellow Pages while Exxon continues to crude-up the environment?
I say do it.
Huh, what does one of the most notoriously evil corporations in the world want in return for their support. They just emailed you guys out of the blue? I’m not one to believe that “bad” people can be totally separated from the “good” people in the world of money and it sounds hard to pass up but I am curious what they are getting out of it. Are they going to fuck you? They tend to fuck people.
***** and I totally understand why you’re having a hard time deciding on this. ExxonMobil does horrible things that negatively impact the environment on a daily basis. But here’s the thing – if you don’t take their money, they’ll put it towards something much less deserving than Mellow Pages.
So the real question is this: Will they have any influence over how you run your business or have the power to make demands in any way, shape, or form down the road? My instinct is that no matter what ExxonMobil’s greater impact upon the world may be, this offer comes from the department that seeks to make the company look good from a PR perspective (i.e. charitable outreach).
If you’ll still be able to stay true to your mission, I’d say move forward with accepting the donation. I’m thrilled to hear of this opportunity for you guys and hope that the best times for Mellow Pages still lie ahead.
All best, and have a great new year’s celebration. I look forward to hearing your decision.
Honestly, I think this is a great thing. While the source is questionable, the truth is that most major corporations are awful. Everyone has blood on their hands in one way or another. The world is fucked. So when there are a few good people tucked away somewhere who want to take the opportunity to direct corporate funds for good, that’s then doing their best to cheat the system. That’s a really great thing.
Mellow Pages isn’t in the same industry of course, but you’re also not an obvious charity. They’re not going to be able to get glamor shots of starving children or baby pandas. I think it will be important to learn more about their intentions here. Are they supporting a range of literacy related projects and charities? Are they trying to have a unique impact on trending communities? How will this be packaged and how will you be required to cooperate with whatever media they intend to create and distribute surrounding this contribution?
For the sake of Mellow Pages itself, and the hard work you’ve both done already, I think money is money and you deserve to be rewarded with stability. Just find out how you’ll be paying it back and make the decision that way. If, like I assume, the right people are involved here, just trying to do some unique good with resources at their disposal, there’s no reason to not accept.
I think a lot of people get very wrapped in false morality and judgements about selling out or something, but ultimately those are easy questions to ask when you’re not working to make rent. I can only imagine the good you’ll do with the basics handled for literal years to come.
I am proud of you, this is a good thing.
Money is money, and it doesn’t come by often in the art world. Take it and run.
well, since you ask, here’s what I think:
you guys are doing amazing, improbable work, and I have great admiration. Jake, I remember you telling me that MP did not want to incorporate as a 501c(3), and I found that resistance bracing & tough & terrific.
I think money is important, hard to get, & always tempting. I won’t lose respect for you if you decide to take it. but I do think the contemplation of who you’d be in bed with is worth its cost in discomfort. exxon is a particularly vile corporation — this isn’t the lannan foundation we’re talking about — and, personally, I think the financial security may be worth less than the distance your current arrangement affords you from ethical turpitudes. easy for me to say, obvi. exxon would throw MP in a fire, books & humans alike, as readily as they’d sustain you, & that can destabilize an organization in subtle, slow-acting, & irreveresible ways.
anyhow, just a perspective. wishing you guys well in 2014 & always. we came by, btw, with some donations the other week, surprised to find you closed & will have to try back when the syzygy strikes.
Is this for real? If so, say no to Exxon. They will not make things better for you.
Do it. Take the $$ and run as much as you can…
So while life and work has kept me away for SO LONG, I wanted to share some thoughts with you both on my take.
Let me begin by saying I cannot account for personal ethics etc. when it comes to my points. I will simply be looking at it from the standpoint of keeping the library and what that does going.
There are two fundamental points of consideration in my mind:
- Are you both able to maintain control or the image and operation of Mellow Pages even is ExxonMobil comes on board?
- Will the damage (if any) to the reputation and image of the brand Mellow Pages far outweigh the benefits of taking the funding.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I share the same qualms about taking money from Big Oil and I am sure the are people within the membership and the local community who will not be happy about it.
HOWEVER, I also think the primary mission of Mellow Pages is to KEEP GOING. The tension between art and commerce is an eternal one. Typically commerce has always buggered art simply because us creatives etc. choose not to be savvy about the commerce side as well.
My take is, if Mellow Pages can make sure that they protect themselves, the brand and maintain control, and that ExxonMobil is clear that this is how it goes and that is put in writing, then it is only a good thing. Surely keeping the library going is paramount and I think real, cogent supporters and members will see this. The truth of the matter, most endeavors like these are in the end funded by big corporations.
The point is simply to make sure Mellow Pages is protected and the terms clear before a single cent is taken.
I wish you both well and hope to see big things come 2014.
No strings attached to the money from the dark side? Take the money and RUN with it. And never ever buy gas from them and never let your near and dear ones buy gas from them either. We’ve seen their blatant disregards for basic human values and, in my view, with no restrictions on use of the money and no oversight, we can build our force of good and intellectual freedom.
are they going to demand any kind of creative control? or make you put big signs about them everywhere?
if so, i would say maybe not.
but if not, then you should definitely go for it. that company is going to have hell of money no matter what, so you might as well have some of it, too. you can get some new anti-capitalist literature or something.
Hey Guys I think you should go ahead and do this ONLY AFTER YOU TALKED TO MY FRIEND ***** a great lawyer- and get Exxon to pick up his bill. That way you are protected. Let’s talk. Good for you. happy new year fuckers
What the hell are you waiting for
Ouch, thats a tough one!
I think my first question is, why is ExxonMobil offering this? What are their goals in doing this? Do they want some sort of control over the library? If they have power over the library through the offer of money, it seems like a deal breaker (ladies). Frankly, I’m not into it. You will in essence be working for ExxonMobil, they will be paying you to work for Mellow pages. I could be wrong, but it seems like working for ExxonMobil will be compromising your values, and the values of Mellow pages, but of course I may be projecting, maybe you guys love cuddly little gas guys!
This reminds me of many situations I would see with the Kansas City gov. The City would always be seduced by offer of “jobs” to the city from some slimy company, and in turn, the city would have to bend over backward offering that company tax breaks and in the end, the city is no better off – a dozen people get jobs but the city cant afford to pick up the garbage. Offering tax breaks is not a sustainable way to operate a city, there has to be a real plan to be providing services in a long lasting way. Every time I would think “why doesn’t the City have some self confidence?!!?” They shouldn’t have compromised their values in order to get the promise of jobs. Beyond the ick-factor, getting money in this way is not sustainable – where does the money come from after that?
During the fundraiser, I was a little irked that more people didn’t contribute. So many people go to Mellow pages, “why aren’t those f-ers contributing to such a great resource!?!” were my thoughts. That might mean that people should contribute in a use-based way – people pay to host events or pay five bucks to attend, etc. This should have been the most financially successful year for Mellow pages -why wasn’t it? Its expensive to rent a space, and people aren’t contributing (or arent realizing) that.
This seems similar to Sunday Dinner (what isnt!?!) in that its important for everyone to contribute so that its sustainable. I am not going to break the bank to pay for dinner for 20 people every week – people have to bring something and help out in order to for the model to be sustainable. In turn, its everyone’s Sunday Dinner. (Of course Sunday Dinner expenses are much smaller).
The space for Mellow pages is beautiful and great, but if its killing you and Mellow pages, its not so hot. Why not live at Mellow pages – at the current space or a new local? Or just move somewhere cheaper?
Just please don’t take that money, I just don’t trust it!
I know this a real tough one
The counter argument for ways around money from outside sources is to share the workload, get some volunteers or interns. “Plenty of people would be willing to help out.” This is true. We tried that during the summer and the problem is we’re not ready. We haven’t thought about it enough. There are issues of accountability, consistency in terms of knowledge and curation techniques. The library needs people who understand the ins and outs on a deep level, which is a larger commitment than most think. Even though sharing or splitting the workload sounds good, if it is not thoughtfully divided, potential problems due to confusion or unwitting misrepresentation would end up creating more work. Mellow Pages has a very specific aesthetic that we understand purely because we have been Mellow Pages, in its entirety, for close to a year now.
I think that although it would be noble to reject ExxonMobil’s cash, I think that it would be counterproductive. Of course you want the library to continue, but without their donations what other model is sustainable? Enforcing annual subscriptions on members? Selling tickets to readings?
The only thing I would suggest cheekily, is ask for more money. Hell, if you’re going to “sell-out”, put a high price on it! $40k to them is nothing, and only 3 years of rent for Mellow Pages. Surely it needs to go for longer than that if you two are to continue to put in the effort. And what about the books? The coffee? The printing press? Not to mention a paid job for me when I return to New York? All these things, especially the latter, need to be taken into consideration when thinking about the future.
Take the money, but take more of it!
As an Alaskan Commercial fisherman who got totally screwed by Exxon….who….amongst the largest lawsuit in history….was able to merge with Mobil….a total conflict of interest which would never have been allowed previously in the midst of the largest settlement in history, I cannot in full faith of your intelligent followers express myself verbally. The Ninth District Court of Appeals sided with ExxonMobil and awarded us less than ten percent of our jury awarded settlement over twenty years after the settlement. No interest… no nothing. After twenty years had passed over a third of the litigants were deceased and the pittance of an award was fought amongst the wolves. The moral to the story is: if you fight big money…. you may get compensation….but not in your lifetime.
I do not want Mellow Pages to take the money. Exxon’s interest here is probably to prevent you as an organization with a growing following and media presence from drawing attention to Exxon’s misdeeds. Do not doubt for one second that Exxon doesn’t have a file on every victim of the oil spill and that the information is used to control the victims, not to help them. Jacob, Exxon has probably been following you and they do not want to help you.
However, if you do decide to take the money you must talk to a lawyer. You can start with Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts. Also the New York Bar Association offers pro bono art and nonprofit legal assistance.
Taking this money involves the law. Do not take it without first talking to an art or non-profit lawyer. In order for Exxon to donate money to your organization you must be registered as a non-profit and you must file taxes. If Exxon donates to you and then later finds out that you aren’t registered as a non-profit they will view your conduct as fraud and they will sue you for what they anticipated would be a tax credit. They will win.
I would hate for Mellow Pages to go under because of this. It is such a cool organization. Please do not compromise the future of Mellow Pages by not first consulting with a lawyer.
Dear Matt and Jacob,
As someone who has only visited the library a handful of times, I’m not sure that my opinion holds much weight; however, I wanted to voice my opinion that Mellow Pages refuse the offer from ExxonMobil. When I first read the announcement, I assumed it was a joke. Even as I’m writing this, I still find it incredibly hard to believe. (If you’re playing me, well done. Well done indeed. Print out this email and hang it on the wall for your own amusement.)
ExxonMobil is not just some small company that happens to like books. They are a major oil company with seedy ethics. They are responsible for 5% of world CO2 emissions. There’s also this.
Mellow Pages, on the other hand, is everything good and beautiful about the world — it’s knowledge for the sake of knowledge, beauty for the sake of beauty, a grassroots literary effort that writers and readers from all over Brooklyn turn to for inspiration and community. The first time I went to a reading at Mellow Pages, there was this amazing energy like nothing else, something powerful, unique, and real. I imagine that Mellow Pages, and Bushwick itself, will one day be remembered for as a cornerstone of our literary history, just as Greenwich Village was for the beat generation.
Please, please don’t let that go.
I would be devastated if Mellow Pages were to fail without the funding from ExxonMobil, but I know that it won’t. The problem is not a lack of funding, but developing a sustainable business model. I think the challenges of financial backing are an opportunity to grow. All we need are some fresh ideas. What about selling books from local authors? Getting well-known writers to help design t-shirts? Selling coffee and beer for slightly higher prices, instead of giving them away for free? Even a membership fee might help. I would be more than willing to pay an annual membership fee if it would prevent funding from ExxonMobil. I think that many other people would be willing to make the same commitment if you stay true to your ideals.
If you hold out — just a few more months — I believe an alternative solution will arise. Maybe funding from another source. Maybe a fundraising event. By resisting this deal, the community that Mellow Pages has built will grow even stronger. If Mellow Pages is funded by ExxonMobil, yes, I will continue to be a member, but sadly, I don’t think it will ever be the same. Please don’t do that to us. Don’t sacrifice what you have built just because this seems like an easy way out.
At best, we’re in the exact same place we started: nothing is clear, nothing is either “right” or “wrong”. An ethical paradox. There are serious and credible positions to be taken in the conversation, ones that we’re still mulling over. Ultimately it boils down to our own personal opinion, as purveyors of the project that is Mellow Pages Library and its continuation. The money comes from a questionable source, sure, but what it would allow us to do over the next 3+ years is significant, and worth talking about. These are conversations that usually take place behind closed doors, but they are taking place all the time. We want to talk about it. Where do we stand on corporate funding in the arts? What about corporate funding in the ‘independent’ sector? These are the definitions we need to agree upon, or at least debate.