Be a a philanthropist this holiday season!

Lights and the Moon

Paris steet decorations, 15eme, 2007

In lieu of showing you a list of all the ridiculous glittery shoes that I dream of and the stupid expensive perfume I want, I thought I would tell you about how you can become a philanthropist, a patron of the arts, and a contributor to social change this holiday season. Instead of being a period of extreme conspicuous consumption, for me the holidays are a time when I really think about how my limited money can really give back to the world and create value that goes beyond its monetary worth. While I contribute to charitable causes here and there throughout the year, the holidays are when I take the chunk of my income that I would usually allot to holiday presents and give it to charities and causes that are close to my ethics, interests and values, as well as those of my family.  Nobody needs more stuff, even stuff that sparkles, and I think my small contributions go a lot further helping these organizations and causes then to buy another glitter goo-gah.

Printemps Lit Up for the Holidays

Printemps dressed up for the holidays, 2010.

On Christmas morning I give my family members small things, like an eco-friendly ornament or some delicious, artisanal snack  produced in Brooklyn (shhh… I’m not telling what I’m giving this year) and a card that tells them about the cause I donated to.

This holiday season, I will be supporting:

The Independent Publishing Resource Center

Located in Portland, Oregon the IPRC has computers, work space, a letter press print shop and library for all things zine and independent comic related that also offers classes and workshops. They do fantastic work around supporting young people, media literary and empowerment and provide an important touch stone for the independent publishing community.


Because this community radio station introduced me to independent music and is a vital source of alternative news, local issues, and music programming in a rural area.

Literacy for Incarcerated Teens

Because everyone deserves access to literature and reading and critical thinking bring hope.

Brooklyn Public Library

Because I use this resource almost every day and I don’t want to be a free rider. They provide vital programming and resources to people of all ages in Brooklyn and have the most dedicated staff of librarians.

Heifer International

Because by giving people living in poverty animals and skills that can help them secure their livelihood they support empowerment, not a cycle of dependency on aid.

The Food Bank for New York City

Because hunger in urban areas in unacceptable in this day and age.

The Good Shepard Food Bank in Maine

Because hunger in rural ares is unacceptable in this day and age.

Full apple boughs

A farm in NY State

Hurricane Irene Relief for Upstate New York Farms

I buy local produce whenever possible and am a member of the Sunset Park CSA. The hurricane left NYC unscathed, but seriously effected our neighbors upstate. It left fields under water during one of the key points in the growing and harvest season, ruining farmers crops and livelihoods. Put your money where your farm to table ethics are.

The Coalition for the Homeless

Because homelessness in NYC is at an all time high of at least 41,000 people and without a secure place to live it is almost impossible to build a secure life.

I will also be looking to donate to the artist projects and organizations on Artspire, the website for the New York Foundation for the Arts’ fiscal sponsorship program (full disclosure, they are my employer and I co-run this program). The great thing about Artspire is you can make a tax deductible donation to an individual artists project. What about this one, which will showcase young dancers and composers and benefit Central Park?   You could also look through the many great projects on RocketHub, Kickstarter and Indie GoGo (though in most cases you can’t get a tax deduction for giving through those sites), like this one supporting 131 Washington, a DIY show and art venue in my hometown of Portland, Maine! Or how about helping out Booklyn, a Brooklyn-based book artists alliance which provides key representation for artist book makers?

Also, this holiday season you can be a patron of the arts by buying handmade products. I know venues like Etsy, the Brooklyn Flea, and the Bust Craftacular (which is this weekend) have popularized this option, so you have many options for discovering the perfect handmade item. What about something like the recently released Remedy Quarterly full of recipes and stories about food and feeling good? Perfect for a cold winter evening. Or how about Alejandra O’Leary’s new CD? Supporting independent musicians is always in style.

Remedy Quarterly by Kelly Carumbula

You can also learn a new skill with a friend. Like beer brewing at Bitter and Esters, a new, friendly brew shop in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. Or what about a membership to your favorite local cultural institution? While the big guys like the Met and the MoMA are always popular, what about something like the Brooklyn Historical Society or the Queens Museum of Art (or you can adopt a building on the NYC panorama, the most affordable NYC real estate you could own!)? Discover an amazing cultural institution you never knew was as cool as it is!

There are just so many ways to contribute your hard-earned catch to holidays gifts that have deep meaning and will be worth the investment. They are so much more gratifying to give then something from a chain store. Giving back is my favorite thing about the holidays, even more then pretty white lights everywhere, and something I look forward to all year.

What charitable causes and organizations will you be giving to this year?

Galleries Lafayette

Galleries Lafayette, 2010.

Detroit Art City

When I told people that I was traveling to Detroit for the weekend for work the reactions were polarized. I either got, “Detroit, why?” or, ” Detroit, awesome! I’m so jealous!” Sure, Eastern Michigan would not be my number one pick for a winter getaway, but I didn’t quite understand the disdain for the motor city (though I wasn’t sure why people were jealous either). Yes, it’s been through some hard times, but as savvy observers have noted, it’s undergoing a bit of a renaissance as well. So, it was with open minds and open eyes that we headed off.

A piece at the Heidelberg Project, Detroit

The first thing I noticed was the utter lack of density. As we drove around on Sunday morning I felt often like I was driving through the struggling mill towns of Western Maine. “How did this happen?,” I asked one of our hosts. “Poor city planning,” she replied. Basically, the city was designed for masses of people who never came. But Detroit is not an empty wasteland. Far from it. Detroit artists are currently debating whether “ruin porn” is the best way to show the plight of the city (and incite action). I admit that we didn’t leave without seeing the abandoned Michigan Central Station, which has become a symbol for the city’s decline, and, hopefully, will become a symbol for its renewal if it does get restored, perhaps as a hub for high speed rail?

Michigan Central Station

Michigan Central Station, Detroit

Detroit is a hub for art and culture that has been getting a lot of attention lately. We were sure to check out the Heidelberg Project, where the artist Tyree Guyton has decorated an entire street (and surrounding area) and made it into a “folk art” or “outsider art” or “contemporary art” destination instead of a locus of decay and despair. I loved the project for its political nature and also the fact that there was always more to look at – that’s what makes great art, you always see and feel something new as you continue to look.

Heidelberg Street, Sunday Morning

Heidelberg Street, Sunday Morning, Detroit

We spent a whole Saturday afternoon with the Kresge artist fellows, a group of literary and performing artists who have been given a 1-year fellowship by the Kresge foundation. They were an inspiring, diverse group who are deeply invested in their community, have a sharp analysis of Detroit’s history and current events, and are making profoundly challenging work. They included a double bass player from the currently-on-strike Detroit Symphony Orchestra, a female hip-hop artist who wants to set up a foundation for women rappers, an architect and critic writing a history of the idea of the African American Museum on the Washington Mall, and a host of inspiring poets and others. As one of the artists said, “It’s no longer embarrassing to be from Detroit. I used to hide that I’m from here, but now everyone is interested in what we have going on.”  These artists could teach New Yorkers a thing or two!

Our meeting with the artist fellows was held in the Detroit Historical Society, a beautiful building with lots of engaging, interactive exhibits. I kept taking pictures of all the lovely didactics and also got very excited when I saw real cars in the museum illustrating an assembly line in an auto plant. This is what working in a fine arts museum for years will do to you.

Detroit: Arsenal of Democracy

Detroit: Arsenal of Democracy, didactic at the Detroit Historical Society

After our meeting with the artists we all went to Motor City Brewing to partake in locally brewed beers and artisanal pizza. I flinched a little when we ordered the “Ghettoblaster” beer, but wow, the flavor!

Motor City Brewing Menu

Motor City Brewing Menu

We also made it to the Detroit Institute of Arts and took in a photo show of an amazing Hungarian/French/American photographer Andre Kertesz, to the boutique Goods that features lots of hip, Michigan made crafts, and for lunch at Good Girls Go to Paris Crepes.

The Thinker

Detroit Institute of Arts

We missed the Motown Museum (not open on Sundays! Heartbreak!) and Slows Bar BQ. That just means we’ll have to go back. I’m already planning another work trip in the fall.

What does a girl do in Paris that she doesn't do at home?

Poster in Good Girls Go To Paris Creperie's bathroom, Detroit

And despite my parents’ fears I’d be, “sleeping on the floor of a ramshackle motel,” I was, in fact, sleeping in a restored Victorian mansion that comprised the six-house complex of the Inn on Ferry Street. Featuring an incredibly delicious breakfast, working fire places and free New York Times, I can’t recommend this Inn (and Detroit) enough! Please see my Flickr stream for more pictures!

Carriage House

View of the Carriage House at the Inn on Ferry Street