Sunday, June 19, 2016

ART BIZ | Eternal Springs Hope

Frank Sofo, "Bicycle at Main Beach," East Hampton.
Photo by JT Marlin, by permission of the artist.
June 19, 2016–Last month's 92nd Street Y exhibit at Ashawagh Hall (in Springs, N.Y.–Town of East Hampton) was a huge success, with one art work selling for $1,800, and one artist selling $3,400 worth of art.

By comparison, the Plein Air Exhibition this weekend was a washout.

Only four items sold out of about 75 on the walls and tables. I was responsible for one of the four purchases. The median price of the three paintings sold was $200.

So red dots were prominently absent, even in the middle of the second day. This commercial failure cannot be sloughed off as resulting from a lack of effort by the artists:
  • The exhibit was kicked off with a big opening party, attracting, says one person who was there, 200 people.
  • The artist collective had 30 participants, allowing for a wide range of landscape interpretations.
  • Organizers sent out press releases and posted notices of the exhibit.
  • It's an annual event, so one would expect repeat interest, which is a big plus.
  • Substantial publicity was focused on the plein air painting of connected artists at Pussy's Pond, the Farmer's Market, the Springs Library, the Blacksmith's Shop, the General Store, Gerard Drive, Maidstone Beach, Home Sweet Home and the Pollock/Krasner House.
  • The show was staffed at all times, and refreshments were on hand.
Frank Sofo, caught in the act of painting outside
Ashawagh Hall, Springs, N.Y.
Yet the total take from the sales of paintings was $550. Ashawagh Hall costs $600 to rent for two days and there were the costs of refreshments and publicity in mounting the show. At most three of the 30 artists covered any of their costs.

I talked about the economics of the exhibit with someone who sold two of the four items that were not homeward bound this weekend–Frank Sofo.

He is a competent artist who has illustrated the covers of a dozen or more reissued Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew books. He has written and illustrated several of his own books for children. His plein air sketch of a bicycle on Main Beach is shown at the top of this post, with Red Dot.

Veronica sees Vincent in the starry sky. Illustration
by Frank Sofo from Vincent & Veronica. Photo
by JT Marlin, by permission of the artist.
He was offering for sale a couple of his books. I bought one about Vincent van Gogh, who is related by marriage to my late artist mother, Hilda van Stockum–Vincent's brother Theo worked for a while at the van Stockum bookstore in the Hague. Sofo's invention is that Vincent had a cat named Veronica who loved her master and when he dies–SPOILER ALERT–is consoled by the fact that she sees his face in the sky.

So why was the 92nd Street Y show so successful in selling while the Plein Air show was not?

I suggested to Sofo these possibilities:
  • The 200 people who came to the opening party maybe didn't suspect that the artists want to sell their art and that's why they were invited?
  • Buyers are timid about buying right away
  • Buyers want to take time to make a decision, and a weekend is too short?
  • It takes more than a weekend to get reviews and then be open for post-review sales?
  • The organizers or beneficiary of the exhibition are entitled to a cut and the artists foolishly decide to avoid paying the cut (or split the difference with the buyer) by selling after the show?
  • The art is over-priced? (Not in this case.)
  • Not enough publicity? (Seems not the case here.)
  • Not enough personal word-of-mouth?
  • Artists are not sending their best work to this exhibit?
I would be interested in what you, dear reader, think might be the explanation.

I understand that some people consider art a hobby and they are happy to exhibit without selling. But art is also a profession and if artists are to be compensated as professionals they need functioning marketplaces. Galleries are great, but artist-organized exhibitions are places where artists can get their work directly in front of the public. If the public doesn't buy, it's just sad.

In response to my comments on the exhibition, Frank sent me an email, which I have his permission to quote. He said:
My own feeling about the art market is that since 2008 when the economy crashed the art market was affected badly, and hasn't yet recovered. Buying art has always been a luxury purchase for most people, and in our present economy more so. That of course does not account for the success of the 92nd St NY show. In my own case it has become harder to sell art these days. I was more successful 10 years ago.
It is true that in 2015, world sales of art were down 7 percent from 2014, to $63.8 billion. The number of art transaction decreased to 38.1 million, a 2 percent contraction. Sotheby’s reported a 2015 fourth-quarter loss of $11.2 million and predicted a significant drop in world sales in the first half of 2016.

But in the USA, $27.3 billion of art was sold in 2015, a 4 percent increase over 2014–a smaller increase, certainly, than the 10 percent growth recorded in 2014, but good news given that every other major art center declined. The USA was responsible for a 43 percent share of total sales of art by value in 2015, more than double the share of its next-biggest rival, the UK, where sales contracted by 9 percent to $13.5 billion for a 21 percent stake in the global art trade.

So if the art business seems slow in the USA, don't move somewhere else–because actually the United States is better off than the rest of the world. (And what will happen in the UK if it exits the European Union on Thursday?)

Other ART BIZ stories:
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Thursday, June 16, 2016

FOOD BIZ | Rhinebeck, Gigi Trattoria (Update June 20, 2016)

The GG-7, in Rhinebeck, N.Y. L to R: Alice Tepper Marlin, Jon Jacoby, Amy Lehr, Bennett
Freeman, Paula Luff, Patricia Jurewicz, John Tepper Marlin. Photo by Gigi Trattoria waitstaff.
What a nice evening again with other people attending the program on labor issues in company supply chains, convened by a young company called Skytop Strategies. 

The conference program was well planned and useful; I expect we will hear more from and about Skytop.

We were staying in rooms in the Delamater House complex connected with the Beekman Arms Inn, which claims to be America's oldest continuously operated inn. Maybe so.

There is no dispute over the Beekman Arms being the location of an argument that Alexander Hamilton had with Aaron Burr that led to a duel in which – SPOILER ALERT! – Burr killed Hamilton. 
This is a list of providers of ingredients to Gigi Trattoria food that ought to be imitated by
every restaurant. We consumers want to know!

More cheerfully, that inn is also where FDR–resident of Hyde Park, south of Rhinebeck on the road to Poughkeepsie–formally launched his successful 1932 campaign to be President of the United States.

So we ate out in Rhinebeck and were taken in vans to the conference in the well-designed music center at Bard College.  

The first evening we were at The Local, the second at Gigi Trattoria, on Montgomery St. (phone 845-876-1007).

Laura Pensioro founded and owns Gigi and deserves huge credit for bringing a locavore philosophy and organic food to Rhinebeck. 

(See bottom of the menu, showing the local farms that Gigi buys from, under the heading "DELICIOUSLY LOCAL SINCE 2001".)
Salmon from the Faroe Islands with
"Mediterranean"couscous and fava beans.
Not all so local, but good.

Her example, her writing about the topic of organic and locavore food, and her active interface with the farming community for the last 15 years have inspired other restaurants... not just in Rhinebeck but in the Hudson Valley.

Swimming against the tide, as it were, I selected the salmon. It came all the way from the Faroe Islands, betwixt Norway and Iceland, and at the end of the trip was deposited by the chef on a bed of "Mediterranean" (North African) couscous.

Alas, I forgot to ask for it rare, so I can't complain that to my taste the salmon was a bit overcooked.

I have provided a photo of the salmon dish.

We ate outside in the fresh air, which was a treat because the weather was perfect.

If Alice and I had brought along  our dog Hachikō to Rhinebeck with us, we could have brought our Wookiee with us to dinner.

Apparently dogs are permitted to dine with their owners in any outside dining area in New York State, according to the notice posted by Gigi.

I got a taste of another dish, the gnocchi, and I hereby provide a photo and endorsement of same.

Other FOOD BIZ posts: The Local Restaurant, Rhinebeck

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

GUNS | U.S. Gun Homicides Off the Charts

In 2014 I referenced comparative gun homicide rates among different countries and U.S. states, noting that U.S. gun ownership was highest in the world, but that Switzerland had a high gun ownership and low homicide rate for a reason.  An interesting related chart was just published in The New York Times prepared by Kevin Quealy and Margot Sanger-Katz.
The level of U.S. gunshot homicides,8,124 in 2014, according to the FBI, makes the United States an outlier among advanced countries. The homicides include losses from mass shootings as well as more common single-victim killings.
Gun homicides/day vs. GDP per capita
Homicide numbers are adjusted for population
G.D.P. per capita
United States

FOOD BIZ | Rhinebeck, The Local Restaurant (Update June 16, 2016)

Seven locavori at The Local Restaurant in Rhinebeck, N.Y. Clockwise from left: Maureen
Kline, Amy Lehr, Brent Wilton, Ariel Meyerstein, Alice Tepper Marlin, Robert Stumberg,
John Tepper Marlin. Photo by waitstaff of The Local.
June 15, 2016–I am attending a conference at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y.

Last night I was part of a fun evening of conference participants at dinner in Rhinebeck (pop. 2,657 in 2010) at The Local Restaurant on Market Street (phone 845-876-2214).

The Local is rated 4-4.2 out of 5 on Yelp and Google, and has a $$$ out of $$$$ designation on Google, although the price range in food options is wide. (Higher prices, however, dominate the wine list.)

The restaurant is a big winner in both the food and wine categories:
  • Winner in 2015 of Best Chef America.
  • Winner of Vogue Magazine's Virginia Smith's Best Chef, putting Chef Dier among the top 1 percent in America. Luckily, Occupy America has not yet taken over this particular 1 percent–after a brief wait we had a comfortable space for seven people on the second floor.
  • Winner of 2015 Wine Spectator Award of Excellence for having one of the most outstanding restaurant wine lists in the world.
Vino Panache

This locally provenanced and ambitious restaurant offers some hallucinogenic wine pairings.

For example, the strawberries harvested from local farms during the past few days are presented as an interesting $10 "Local Strawberry Trio" along with a suggested wine pairing: a 1908 D'Oliveira Boal Madeira for $75.

That 7.5 to 1 wine-to-food-cost ratio jumped up off the page and glommed on to the fur on my eyeballs. 

But why stop at 7.5? How about some out-of-the-ratio-box thinking here?

Let's take a 2005 Château Pétrus from Pomerol, which could reasonably be priced at $3,950 per bottle; after all, in some years Château Pétrus bottles have sold for $30,000. What entrée could Chef Dier pair with such a bottle, which he could procure on auction for a little over $2,000 for a decent profit?

An up-market Merlot from the legendary Bordeaux vineyard, the Pétrus could be paired with duck or other fowl, or a beef dish–but not a fish or a vegetarian meal.

How about pairing the $4K wine with an appropriately garnished $20 hamburger? That would get the wine-to-food ratio up to 200 and perhaps merit a Guinness Book of Records listing. Or if the competition turns out to be stronger than I think, cut the burger price to $1, offering the burger only in combination with the wine, for a 4,000-to-one ratio and true vino panache.

Update June 16, 2016: The second evening we went with a different group, the GG-7, to Gigi Trattoria.

Friday, June 10, 2016

BLOG VIEWS | 260K – Top Posts

The CityEconomist blog has just passed 260,000 page views. All of my posts as logged in on G+1 have had more than 1.2 million page views.

Thank you for reading.

During the past month, the following 20 posts on were the most-read. One, on the NAACP, dates back to 2009. Two others, about van Gogh and the Dutch Resistance, were posted more than a year ago.

Top 20 Most-Read Posts in May-June 2016
ART BIZ | Hot Dots and Collage Credit (Updated May...
May 22, 2016, 1 comment
ART BIZ | Did Van Gogh Sell Just One Painting? (Up...
Mar 16, 2015, 2 comments
NASDAQ-100 | Still Under Water Since 1Q2000
May 13, 2016, 1 comment
PIGOU TAX | Good Tax on Sugary Soda (Updated May 2...
May 25, 2016, 1 comment
STAGE BIZ | Producer-Playwright Contract
Jun 9, 2016, 1 comment
JOB | Chief Economist, NYC
Jun 8, 2016, 1 comment
WW2 | 6. Armed Resistance: Jan Canada and Sons (Up...
Jan 29, 2015, 3 comments
NAACP | Happy 100th Birthday (Updated June 8, 2016...
Feb 12, 2009, 0 comments
R.I.P. | April 7–Lazăr Edeleanu, 75 Years Ago (Upd...
Feb 13, 2016, 1 comment
R.I.P. | May 8–Len Mancusi, former Comptroller's O...
May 10, 2016, 1 comment

Thursday, June 9, 2016

SHOW BIZ | Producer-Playwright Contract (Updated June 16)

Poster for the Meadowmount pageant
in Lewis, N.Y., 1924. The portrait
(artist unknown) is owned by the Sewall-
Belmont House in Washington.

June 9, 2016 (Updated June 16)–I wrote a play built around Inez Milholland, a suffragette (as she described herself) leader from New York who shocked her friends by getting married.

Especially surprised was her Presbyterian father, who first learned from the front page in The New York Times that she was marrying a free-thinking Dutchman, Eugen Boissevain (my mother's uncle).

Geva Theater, Rochester, 1998

The play was produced as a staged reading at the Geva Theater in Rochester in 1998 to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Seneca Falls Convention, which Hillary Rodham Clinton referred to yesterday in celebrating her status as the first woman to be the presumptive presidential candidate of a major U.S. political party.

It was a good production (thank you, Rochester, including the Mayor himself, and thank you to all the many other people who participated), complete with the AKOMA gospel choir. The 550-seat theater was filled and at the end of the play the audience was on its feet. I heard calls for "Author, author!"– but I was videotaping the show and I didn't leave the camera. I would today make a different decision.

Afterwards I got releases for the resulting video from all but one of the participants. It was a one-hour show that I edited down to half an hour. The agent for one of the actors wanted a percentage of the revenues. This raised bookkeeping and other issues and chilled the project. I never offered the video for sale, which I am sorry about. The copyrighted script of the video is here.

Five More Shows

From there I rewrote the play three more times and there were five more staged readings – in East Hampton, N.Y. twice; at City Hall, N.Y. twice, under the auspices of the New York City Comptroller (in the Blue Room, which Mayor Bloomberg later took over for his open office); and at the church where Inez is buried, in Lewis, N.Y.

I lost money on every production, but made up for it with the large number of shows (joke).

With the primary elections having put Hillary Clinton over the top as the likely Democratic nominee for President of the United States, there is new interest in the history of votes for women and the rights of women and my play is being looked at again.

Looking for a Production Contract

So I am revising the script, which has been tested with multiple and diverse audiences. I am working harder this time round on the business side, to generate some money for a worthy cause and also not leave me out of pocket at the end. I was employed most of my life as an economist, so I am comfortable working on the business side of the stage.

First I tried to find a production contract on Google. The Dramatists Guild of America announces on its colorful web site that it has several, but they are stored behind a membership pay wall. So I
  • Sent an email to the Guild to join (I used them 20 years ago to file copies of my scripts), and 
  • Sent another email to beg for a copy of the producer-playwright contract.
For several days, there was no word back from the Guild. [Update June 14–I have received my membership packet in the mail. Update June 16–I have heard back about my request for a contract and I have provided details about the proposed production. It seems that my best bet is a Showcase Production Contract.] After several days of not having heard back from the Dramatists Guild, I found a contract  through Grandma Google, the ALAP (Alliance for Los Angeles Playwrights) contract between a Playwright and a Theatre. I amended it, using a global FIND for Theatre and REPLACE with Producer, and similarly changing the governing law from California to New York. I used that to stake out an initial agreement with a producer, pending word from the Dramatists Guild.

Then I went over to the Drama Book Shop at 250 West 40th Street near the New York Times, thinking  they might have a book of contracts with which to evaluate the ALAP contract and maybe provide a better one. No such luck. The best that the highly knowledgable staff (Bravi!) at the bookstore could find for me was Stage Writers Handbook: A Complete Business Guide for Playwrights, Composers, Lyricists and Librettists, by Dana Singer. It was published in 1997, nearly 20 years ago, and my copy was from the fourth printing (2007). It is published by Theatre Communications Group, was supported by the NY State Council on the Arts and seems from the reviews on Amazon to be the best book available on the subject.

Now I seem to be cooking with gas, as some relatives who have passed on used to say. After a term- sheet agreement with a producer, I am immersed in fine-tuning the ALAP contract with the producer and I am familiarizing myself with the parts of the stage business with which I am unfamiliar. [Meanwhile, I am looking at the concept of the Showcase Production.]

Business-Related Topics for a Playwright

Here are the chapter headings of the Stage Writers Handbook, to give neophytes an idea of the business aspects of putting on a serious stage production:
  1. Copyright
  2. Collaboration
  3. Underlying Rights
  4. Marketing and Self-Promotion
  5. Production
  6. Representation: Agents and Lawyers
  7. Publishers
  8. Developing Areas (including Electronic Rights).
(More to come.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

JOB | Chief Economist, NYC


Title: Chief Economist

$130,000 - $160,000

Bureau/ Division: Budget / Economics and Revenue

Period: June 6, 2016 Until Filled

The New York City Comptroller, an independently elected official, is the Chief Financial Officer of the City of New York. The mission of the office is to ensure the financial health of New York City by advising the Mayor, the City Council, and the public of the City’s financial condition. The Comptroller also makes recommendations on City programs and operations, fiscal policies, and financial transactions.
Under the leadership of the Deputy Comptroller for Budget, the Chief Economist’s responsibilities include, but are not limited to, the following:
  • - Managing and providing leadership to staff of about six professional analysts/economists within in the Economics and Revenue Unit engaged in analysis of local economic trends, including developments in labor, real estate and financial markets;
  • -  Leading the development of local economic indicators, such as Gross City Product, other economic projections; and periodic reports to the public on the local economy;
  • -  Managing and leading in-depth research on a range of economic issues; analysis and projection of trends in NYC tax revenue; evaluation of impacts of tax policy changes on local economy and tax revenues;
  • -  Working in collaboration with the Budget staff in the analysis of NYC budget proposals and preparation of budget reports; and other divisions within the Comptroller’s office on various projects and policy analysis as necessary;
  • -  Responding to press inquiries; providing timely briefings to the Deputy Comptroller on economic and fiscal developments;
  • -  Developing policy-relevant research topics; and overseeing production of reports, policy briefs, white papers written by the unit;
  • -  Recommending positions on legislative, regulatory and other initiatives; and acting as a liaison to internal and external stakeholders on policy issues; and
  • -  Performing related assignments and special projects as required. 

  • -  A Ph.D. in Economics from an accredited university and seven (7) or more years of progressively responsible full-time experience in applied economic analysis. 

  • -  Concentration in relevant areas (e.g. public economics, regional economics, labor markets), but interest in a wide-range of micro and macroeconomic policy issues is a must.
  • -  Successful candidate will be able to exploit variety of data sources to generate policy- relevant research; and possess excellent quantitative and analytical skills, including experience working with SAS or Stata;
  • -  Familiarity with New York City government; and knowledge of New York City economy preferred.
  • -  Excellent communication and research report writing skills which display a sophisticated understanding of public policy issues expected.

    TO APPLY, GO TO: Employment Opportunities at
    Certain residency requirements may apply. We appreciate every applicant’s interest;
    however, only those under consideration will be contacted.
    : Vacancy notices listed as “Until Filled” will be posted for at least five work days.
    The NYC Comptroller’s Office is an Equal Opportunity Employer.