Bed Stuy/ Bushwick

Mellow Pages turns down ExxonMobil’s sponsorship offer. Would you? [UPDATE]

mellow pages library
Mellow Pages: Not covered in oil, but still poor. via Facebook

[UPDATE: Here’s the strange story of how this went down]

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.


  1. Guest

    I don’t think deep corporate pockets caused the uproar. I think it is the fact that the deep pockets were EXXON MOBILE’S deep pockets. At some point, artists must also be good business people to survive. You do not want to rely on too much government money (too many regulations), but at the same time, you do not want to rely too much on corporate money (you can lose artistic control). Then, there are grants from nonprofits (but these are often tied to federal and state money, and even then, are not enough to help an entire organization pay its bills). The key is that if, to survive, you must take corporate money: (a) only take it from a SOCIALLY RESPONSIBLE corporation (no corporation is perfect, but there are plenty that are better than the Exxons out there) and (b) to make sure you have a clear CONTRACT that makes it clear that you, the artist, maintain complete and absolute creative control.

    If the corporation refuses to allow for creative control in the absolute, walk away. You may have to agree not to disparage the corporation while under the contract, but if it is a socially responsible corporation, I think that should not be an issue. There are plenty other corporations to disparage.

    There are plenty of public interest attorneys who work hard to help art organizations like these. The art organization just has to have the business mind and will to survive. Involving an attorney and an accountant is not taboo. Involving a socially irresponsible corporation is.

Leave a Reply