Two days ago we told went over the story of ExxonMobil offering Bushwick’s Mellow Pages Library a no-strings attached sponsorship that cold have kept the library open for three years. Founders Jacob Perkins and Matt Nelson turned the question over to their members, who sent impassioned emails advising them one way or the other, but the two still said they would make the ultimate decision. Late yesterday, in an email sent to members and later posted to Facebook, the two revealed their decision after a long explanation: “We sure as hell aren’t taking this money.” It’s not altogether surprising, but it raises a great question: would you do it?
Perkins and Nelson rejected the money because of the message it could send to other people trying to do projects like theirs. They tied their rejection of the money to their philosophy of the library as a community space, which necessitates looking beyond one big check, in their eyes. “What would taking the money mean to all the future Mellow Pages Juniors?” they asked. “Get enough press and hold out until you get bailed out by some magical deep-pocketed source?”
It’s a question that’s bedeviled Nirvana and Kevin Smith, Jawbreaker and Jimmy Eat World (seriously, Jimmy Eat World). It’s easy, like I suggested previously, to take the money and then thumb your nose at your benefactor. But in ensuring they don’t take the easy way out, there’s a chance there won’t be a Mellow Pages this time next year.
That, and the other question they asked, “If we let someone else figure out these problems for us, what is our purpose? What’s our role?” are at the heart of the struggle for any independent operator that gets attention from the mainstream. But what would you do, if tempted by Big Oil, or a similarly evil-ish benefactor with unclear intentions? Would you rather see your passion project survive at all costs, or sink under the weight of its integrity. It’s a question with no right answer, which is why we may as well argue about it and call each other names in the comments.