Monday, July 24, 2006

When is a "Donation" No Longer a Donation?

Gowanus Lounge attended the Park Slope Designer Market at the Old Stone House in J.J. Byrne Park on Saturday. It presented a nice assortment of clothes and accessories created by local designers. The little scene we witnessed at the front desk, though, has had us scratching our heads ever since. We've hestitated even getting into this, because we like the Old Stone House and its director and admire its role in the community, but we helped promote the, here goes:

We arrived around 4 o'clock and noticed that the person at the desk was requesting a "three dollar suggested donation" for admission. (Which is no doubt standard for the facility.) Interesting, in this case, because the show was specifically promoted as being free. In any case, like we said, we like the Old Stone House and didn't have a problem with the three dollars, even though we were on our way to Sunset Park and to Bay Ridge and were only planning to stay for a few minutes. What's three bucks, right? As we entered, we heard the person at the front desk ask a young woman who was clearly under the age of eighteen to see her student ID when she said "I'm a student," in response to the request for "a donation." The young woman looked surprised, but coughed up her student ID.

We looked around the show, and were on our way out when we heard an ugly exchange between the Old Stone House person and two visitors who said they were surprised they'd have to pay admission. They didn't want to see the museum, they said, only the design show. As they continued to balk, they recieved a stern lecture (this is a kind description of the tone we heard) about how "this is our suggested donation" and how "the donation supports the museum and programming at the Old Stone House."

"But we only want to come to the design show," one of the visitors said.

"It's in the Old Stone House and three dollars is our suggested donation," the worker said.

We didn't want to get into the dispute, so we stayed out of it and didn't point out how the promotional material said the show was free. ("Free show," to us, doesn't mean the show is free, but the venue charges you.) Make a long story short, one of the visitors told the worker she could be nicer about it. The worker said the visitors (who were being quite nice) were being nasty "so we're even."

The two visitors left without ever going in, one of them saying, "I don't want to support this place."

So, here's the point of all this: If a donation is an admission price, why hew to this fiction that it's a donation? We understand that we live in an era in which the public sector shortchanges cultural institutions and that our parks are, almost literally, being sold to the highest bidder and that everyone from the Metropolitan Museum of Art on down does it, but why engage in double speak? If you demand it--and do so stridenly--it is only a donation in the sense that a mugger would call the money you give up a "donation"

More to the point, while the likely villain is probably a miscommunication somewhere along the line, is the few hundred dollars the Old Stone House collected on Saturday worth the ill will it generated among people that might have been badly treated by niceness-challenged person who was at the desk in late afternoon? (There are nice ways to tell people to pay up, and there are less nice ways. We only heard less nice ways.)

Again, we like the Old Stone House. It hosts wonderful community events. So does J.J. Byrne Park. We attended the Brooklyn Blogfest there and it was great. We feel awful just pointing this out. But, we feel even worse that we helped promote the designer's show and that some people were taken by surprise by the "donation" and that those that didn't want to "donate"--for whatever reason...cheapness, lack of cash, lack of civic mindedness, whatever--were turned away or, worse, treated badly by the staff.

Yes, this is a dumb little thing, but it's been irritating us ever since we listened to the exchange. We're sorry to the Old Stone House for pointing it out. We're sorry to the people that worked hard to organize the design show. We're sorry to the people who attended and had issues with the admission price.


Anonymous Anonymous said...


1:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was one of the designers at the Old Stone House and I was taken by surprise at the agressiveness of the person at the front desk demanding the "suggested donation of $3".

I am sorry if people felt mislead that it was a free admittance. All of us designers paid a space fee to the Old Stone House for that day. I assumed it was free for people to come in since we paid to rent the space for the day.

1:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree it's a shame that donations feel so obligatory these days but I wish this article had more (or any) emphasis on what wnt on inside that day. So many designers worked very hard and were pleased to have bloggers such as yourself offer press. It sucks that an aggressive Stone House worker and their policies have wrecked the great press those designers should have received for the show itself.

10:42 PM  
Blogger grumpygirl said...

i, too, was one of the designers and was also surprised and disturbed by the attitude of the aforementioned woman.

that's the thing that really bothers me the most, her insistence. places like the met, natural history, brooklyn museum, etc., have "suggested" donations. what that means is that you can pay a quarter and get in. i generally give a buck or two, depending, and have never been greeted with anything but a welcoming smile. if i got attitude, i wouldn't go back to those museums. it's unfortunate that this happened this particular day, when driving rain kept a lot of people away in the first place. also unfortunate that we, as designers, fell victim to it.

and anonymous (the one above my post) really sums up the rest of my feelings. our work was good, really good. and i'm sad that she detracted (distracted?) from it.

12:51 AM  
Blogger rsguskind said...

Guys, you're all correct. To grumpy and anonymous: The designers at the show were all wonderfully friendly and showing excellent examples of their work. I hope you can tell by the tone of the item that I struggled with even running it, but did so in the hope that a future event wouldn't have this sort of distracting background noise. It was not my intent--at any point--to detract from the hard work or the talent of the designers!!!

8:23 AM  
Anonymous Kathy said...

I organized the event and I agreed with what you said, in fact it did my heart good. The director, who was away at the time, and I were able to chat about the events of the day and came away with this:
1) it was unfortunate that an overzealous employee decided to unleash all of that on what should have been a very lovely day, despite the weather
2) perhaps our future markets would be better set in a different sort of venue...
so please! give us another try! Kathy

1:57 PM  
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