Vienna and Rome – Music and Gifts


I am writing this feeling very refreshed and optimistic. Maybe shocking, considering circumstances around the world. And this doesn’t mean that I’m not taking very seriously the grave injustices and tragedies occurring at the moment. On the contrary, it’s because I take them so seriously that I go to gatherings like Giftival, which just took place in Rome last week.

But first, Vienna…

Pinacoteca_release_door-picOnce I learned that I’d be traveling overseas, when I’d accepted the invitation to Giftival, I decided to see what else I could do while across the ocean. I asked my good friend and music producer, Ed Reardon, if he would want to schedule a show for me in Vienna where he’s lived for the last year, and where he produced my new CD ‘every thing everything.’

Ed booked a show for me, with him as a very special guest on guitar for 4 songs, at his friend Claudia’s art gallery, Pinacoteca. This was a show to celebrate the release of ‘every thing everything.’ And it was quite a celebration! The venue was small, lovely, old and intimate and was full of very attentive and enthusiastic people. What a treat! Vienna is my new favorite place to play. :) I suppose its distance will cause it to remain a rare and special treat.

photo 3

my lovely hosts, Ed and Astrid

Another rare and special treat about Vienna (among many) is its embrace of arts and intellectual photo 5-11culture, and its devotion to leisure. My friends referred to it as the Viennese Lifestyle, and I enjoy it quite a lot! One factor that helps create this condition is that their government supports the arts. And helps make art and culture available to everyone in a way that’s unpretentious and doesn’t require people to have to ask for special help based on need.

photo 4-3

the salon at the studio

photo 3-11

improv at Celeste

For example, the rent for art studios and galleries is paid by the government, so the tenants don’t have to rely on selling enough work to make rent plus try to be paid for their time, not to mention other expenses like supplies, events, publicity… The Vienna Opera has a huge projection screen on its outside wall and anyone can watch the opera for free, and can reserve an outdoor seat for 2 euro. And on and on. The stars on the sidewalks are of renowned composers. My friends host a monthly salon/lecture series where everyone shows up to hear a talk, drink beer and smoke cigarettes (lots of smoking, maybe one downside but I can’t argue with its ability to create a great atmosphere for lingering and chatting) in an artist’s studio. Free jazz improv at Celeste is another impetus for a regular night out. The Naschmarkt outdoor market is always full of people with plenty of time to sit outside and drink at its outdoor cafes. (And one of the neighbors in a swank building across the street has posted, in one big letter per window – ‘STOP DRINKING’)

Vienna was a lovely break, just playing music and spending time with old and new friends. It was really good for me to get away, as the last months at home have been very full of work and lots of difficult situations and tensions around the police shooting of Tony Robinson, an unarmed bi-racial teen, in my neighborhood. There is a lot to say about that shooting and conditions that led to it, but I won’t say it here at this time. Instead I’m moving on to Giftival in Rome.

Giftival was a continuation of the amorphous group process begun in Istanbul October 2013, one of the loveliest times I’ve ever had. This Giftival took place in Rome with many of the same people as in Istanbul, along with many new people. Here is a near-complete list of this year’s participants.

I’m not going to write a lot of detail about what happened, I’ll just focus more on larger impressions.

The first 3 days we spent at the Maternal Roots of the Gift Economy conference, where I learned a lot but yearned to spend more time with some of the presenters, each of whom had only 15 minutes to present with no workshop time or space. But it was enough to gain some tremendous insights along with a thirst for more, and ways to go more in-depth later. The highlights for me were reports from indigenous people of the Americas and Africa, about their own matrifocal and gift cultures.

Giftival occurred over the subsequent three days, which had its pros and cons. A pro was that we had just been immersed in ideas about the topic we were there to explore. A con was that many of our brains and bodies were somewhat exhausted by the time we began.

Giftival is a hard thing to explain. It’s quite amorphous in the agenda, again with pros and cons. On the whole we had lots of magical, high quality time together.

Here are some highlights:

photo 4-1photo 3-8Rome.   photo 5-7

photo 2-9Also – We got to know each other deeply, partly through dancing, singing and playing. We shared practices and tools in several open space sessions. We mapped our various projects and photo 3-4added offers and needs, to begin identifying ways to collaborate. We visited photo 4-5some agiftival_project_mapmazing sites in Rome, including the Pantheon where we had a tour from our friend and archaeologist Marie Goodwin. Then we made a human circle around the floor under the Oculus, joined by new friends who helped us complete it, and then created a beautiful sound. And that night started a photo 5-4big dance party on the square where Giordano photo 4Bruno was burned at the stake, near the monument commemorating him. A tribute. Pat McCabe – Lakota name translating to Woman Stands Shining – led us in an incredibly moving healing ceremony, where she invited the holy people from around the world and we asked them for help. We certainly need it. And I left feeling it will be provided.

And for me the most wonderfully valuable thing about this gathering was of course the people I met. I’ve found some very remarkable new collaborators to work with on Mutual Aid Networks, including more people who have come up with nearly the same vision and are creating beautiful complementary pieces that will help create it. Super exciting!

Many of them are interested in coming to Madison for MAN Up month this August! So yes, I’ll be pursuing the biggest and most exciting plan that I’ve been wanting to aim for. Stay tuned for details on that.

And I’ll be setting up a few MAN overview and engagement web meetings to get our new friends up to speed, and introduce new participants to those who have already connected. Please sign up here if you want to receive an invitation (and haven’t yet signed up).

If you want to catch up on context read the rest of this blog, where you can also find an overview of Mutual Aid Networks.

Yes, we’re still working toward pulling together our web presence and member policies, but we still expect to soft launch within the month and then be ready for a proper launch during MAN Up month in August – where we’ll offer lots of training and workshops, opportunities to develop collaborations, and tool-building work sprints. Plus a MAN Up simulation game.

And lots more between now and then.

Thanks for reading this long-ass blog, and please stay tuned…


Builders Workshop #22: Making Front Yard Gardens

photo 3We had a great workshop Wednesday! Very informal and very fruitful.

The topic was Making Front Yard Gardens. TimeBank member Christopher Daly offered to create a Front Yard Garden project so we co-led yesterday’s workshop, along with Mary Girard (DCTB Board member) who had organized our previous Garden Projects.

We had around 20 participants representing a wide range of organizations and interest areas.

After introducing ourselves and why we were there, we established our common goals, then did some asset and need mapping. We identified needed roles and functions and made a timeline for the season.

I’ll summarize here:

We started by establishing goals. I’ll list a few highlights here and you can also see them on the whiteboard photo, written in green: Healthy food, sharing food, spreading the joy of gardening, let gardening-haters avoid the misery of gardening, smart food distribution, spaces to swap and share, container gardening, seed and plant exchange, and environmental restoration.

We created the expanded title “Front Yard Gardens: Gardens Everywhere for Everyone”

Then we established a timeline of activities.

First, photo 1we will meet as a small group to create our outreach materials. One to invite individuals to participate by offering land, gardening, other project help, and also to invite them to ShareFest in mid-May, which will be the kick-off of the project. Other materials we will create will be invitations for organizations to partner on the project.

We will spend April doing outreach and preparing, kick off the project publicly at ShareFest in mid-May, hold seed and plant swaps and have crews dig and plant in May and June, hold food swaps and dinners in July and August, host a canning workshop (or more) in September, and have a big harvest party as part of the Dane County TimeBank’s 10th birthday party in October! Whew! This will be a really cool project.

The next Builders Workshop, Wednesday April 22 from 4-6pm at Madison Central Library, will be the next big work and planning session for this. Please come if you’re interested in this! Front Yard Gardens part II.

Yes, Spring is really coming.

Thanks for reading,


Builders Workshop #21: Neighbor-to-Neighbor Care Teams

photo 1On Wednesday Feb. 25 we hosted a Builders Workshop on creating Neighbor-to-Neighbor (N2N) Care Teams. We had a special guest – Kathy Perlow, creator and implementer of the Lehigh Valley Time Exchange, a hospital-based timebank in Pennsylvania. There Kathy piloted N2N Care Teams around hospital patients who needed a hand. Kathy has recently retired and will be creating an even more robust model, based in a health center and in the form of a Mutual Aid Network. She came to Madison to share what she learned and help us create our own system tailored to our local needs.

What is a N2N Care Team?

Neighbor-to-Neighbor Care Teams are simply a more structured, neighborhood-based way to coordinate timebank services. A local N2N Care Team might choose to focus on a few basic services, like transportation,photo 2 home chores, companionship, and food/medicine pick-up. The Care Team Coordinator/s (it can be one person per neighborhood or a whole team, with one person per service type) is responsible for paying attention to who offers a certain service and who needs that service, and helps to connect people appropriately. The Coordinator also takes responsibility for identifying gaps and recruiting people to fill them. In addition, the Coordinator may provide back-up when no other timebank service provider is available.

We decided to form at least three N2N Care Teams, based around people or groups who have interest and need. Ryan suggested his apartment complex in South Madison, where we happen to have another member who could use a hand after breaking a bone. We’re forming another care photo 3team in Sun Prairie, where we have our Capacity Building Initiative working with families and community members with and without disabilities to create more networks of mutual support and engagement. And another around our efforts in central Madison, working to support people who are homeless.

You can read details in the notes from the workshop here.

photo 5The next evening Kathy joined me as we introduced our next steps in building N2N Care Teams in Sunphoto 2-1 Prairie. We have a follow-up next week and will share the steps we take to get started, just in case you’d like to make one in your own community.

Thanks for reading,


Great articles on us, out now! Huffpo and RSF Social Finance

Dane County TimeBank's Annual MeetingYes, I’m posting a lot but this one’s brief.

We’re very happy with these new articles telling the world what we’re all about. And stay tuned for another Huffington Post within the month, on Mutual Aid Networks.

Please pass them on!

Madison MAN pilot brainstorming meeting – summary and notes


As I mentioned in my last post, this is a big week jam-packed with events to take advantage of the presence of the fabulous Kathy Perlow, founder of the Neighbor-to-Neighbor Care Team model of timebanking that we’re starting to adopt here.

So my reports for each event might be a little bit cursory, because I’m trying to get them all done before I take a much-needed mini-vacation (Sat to Wed, so leave me alone! ;)

This is the report from the meeting I was most excited about, a brainstorm about how we could MAN up in a very cool way right in my own neighborhood!

We met at the Social Justice Center (SJC),  the collaboratively-run home of several non-profits (including Dane County Timebank). It’s two blocks from my house, and the former site of the great Willy Street Coop (which moved across the street when they needed to expand).

The building has been undergoing some turnover and there are a few vacancies that make it a great time to revisit how we use the space.
Could be a great opportunity to MAN up in some interesting ways…

We began a few threads of discussion, including:

How we can change the space (even without any changes in ownership structure) to make it more publicly used

How we could create a MAN cooperative with savings/investment pools that can be used for collective reserves, admin costs, etc for the partner organizations of SJC

How we could engage the community in the development of new visions for the space

How we might partner with other Madison neighborhoods (Allied Community Coop as an obvious choice if they want to, possibly Darbo neighborhood which is nearby and looking into similar organizing efforts)..

The room was full of very interesting people – you can read the notes here to see who was represented and more detail about what we discussed.

Also, I’m attaching a picture of the whiteboard where I took notes (a mess as usual) – the green items are assets at our disposal, the red are needs. Like I said, a mess.SJC-MANwhiteboard

Today I’ll speak with the rest of the SJC Board to see what our next steps will be as an organization.

And right now is the lovely golden hour when all possibilities are open…

More on the rest of the week’s events in other posts.
Thanks for reading!

Upcoming week – Mutual Aid Network and TimeBank Care Team workshops


In my last post I mentioned we have a big week coming up.

That’s because Kathy Perlow is coming to visit us!

From Lehigh Valley Pennsylvania, Kathy is the developer of the Neighbor-to-Neighbor (N2N) Care Team model of timebanking. Kathy has recently retired from a 13-year career developing and running an award-winning hospital-based timebank that connects patients and their families with other community members who can reliably contribute to their network of informal support and care. Now she is beginning a project to develop a community-based timebank and wellness cooperative (MAN) to take that model even further.

Kathy will be in Madison to train DCTB staff and community members how to start and run Neighbor-to-Neighbor Care Teams. We will also work together to explore how to take health and wellness-oriented timebanking to a new level of effectiveness.

On Tuesday we have two brainstorming sessions with potential pilot project organizers and supporters here in Madison.

Wednesday we’ll run a Builders Workshop on how to create Neighbor-to-Neighbor Care teams, and how to build more impactful systems with Mutual Aid Networks. This one you can join online if you like, on the web meeting we use for Mutual Aid Network gatherings. Email steph[at] if you’d like the access information to join.

Thursday Kathy will train the families in our Sun Prairie Capacity Building Initiative (engaging people with disabilities and their families in networks of community support), to create our first N2N Care Team in and for their community.

Looking forward to working with Kathy and other partners around the world to take all this to the next level.

Feel free to join us if you’re able!


MAN weeks in review – local + global


Things are cranking here with Mutual Aid Network development and Dane County TimeBank.

Over the last couple weeks we have held several Main MAN work group meetings and a board meeting and have created our road map toward opening for membership by mid-April. The Main MAN is the Mutual Aid Network Cooperative we have incorporated here in Wisconsin (so it’s officially the WI-MAN) to be the global umbrella coop for the various MAN projects and supporters. Stay tuned to learn how you can join this Spring…

The Allied Community Coop, first local Mutual Aid Network prototype (I’m a board member representing DCTB, with 9 neighborhood residents and organization reps) is also cranking up. Our first order of business is to respond to the food access emergency in the neighborhood. The city is awarding $15K for transportation relief and we’re applying for that and other funds. And we are receiving between $15 and $20K from a grant that the Capital Area Regional Plan Commission wrote us into, so we’re getting ready to move a little faster. Today is another of our monthly Town Hall meetings to organize all this work.

And we were graced here in Madison with a visit from the wonderful Michel Bauwens, founder of the P2P Foundation. Michel Bauwens is now the newest esteemed member of the Main MAN Advisory Board! And he also helped us make some excellent new connections with other cooperative economy-builders, including Erik Olin Wright who’s right here at UW (it’s a big school, so although we work closely with a couple faculty there are big parts of the University we tend not to have contact with). One highlight for me was when Michel asked Preston Austin (my founding partner in Time For the World, now helping as a consultant) if he knew about Michel’s work, and Preston said something like “I consider you the curator of Western civilization.” (not sure if I got the quote totally accurate but that was the gist, and it made me smile)

And exciting stuff coming up next week! I’ll make a separate post so you don’t miss any of it…

Thanks for reading


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