March 10, 2003 - Memphis Business Journal: Solomon Islands RPCV Jay Sieleman heads the Blues Foundation

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By Admin1 (admin) on Monday, March 10, 2003 - 10:21 am: Edit Post

Solomon Islands RPCV Jay Sieleman heads the Blues Foundation

Read and comment on this story from the Memphis Business Journal on RPCV Jay Sieleman who taught democracy in the Solomon Islands and has now been chosen to head up the Blues Foundation at:

Seileman arrives with Blues passion, growing money woes*

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Seileman arrives with Blues passion, growing money woes
Tommy Perkins

Jay Sieleman has been a lot of things -- an architect of democracy on the Solomon Islands, a labor negotiator for the U.S. Panama Canal Commission and a late convert to the Blues among them -- but he's no fund-raiser.

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And even though a fund-raiser is precisely what the Blues Foundation has needed for most of its two decades-plus existence, its officials say they've found their man in Sieleman, who began work this week as the Foundation's director of administration.

Sieleman takes the reigns at a critical time for the Foundation. In less than 80 days, the Foundation will put on its highest-profile event, the W.C. Handy Awards, which could net the Foundation $40,685 this year. But the Foundation is still carrying $50,000 in payables it owes to groups such as the Hampton Inn, which put up artists who appeared at the 2002 Handy Awards.

That's one of several red numbers on the Foundation's income statement that Sieleman and Foundation president Kevin Kane will look to resolve in the coming months.

"Our intention is to pay every single bill out there," Kane says. "Yes, some are over 90 days old. We've talked to our vendors and I think they feel confident that they're going to get paid."

Kane says he and the Foundation's board of directors have been meeting with donor groups in the Memphis area and that "there's over $100,000 in potential revenue streams that are pending."

"We may not get all of that, but we haven't had anyone walk in and say, 'This place is mismanaged, discombobulated and there's no hope,'" he says. "They've all said, 'Tell us your story and how we can help.' "

The Memphis City Council's finance committee has approved $25,000 in emergency funding for the Foundation, but that grant must get full approval from the Council, which meets again in two weeks.

Fitting the bill

An Iowa native and a graduate of the University of Iowa's law school, Sieleman served in the Peace Corps from 1983 to 1985, when he lived on Guadalcanal. There, he helped the Solomon Islands, a Pacific nation then newly released from British colonial rule, draft legislation that would serve as the basis for a democratic government.

"To a certain extent, I had more expertise with democracy than their elected leaders," he says. "I'd been living in a democracy for 30 years, so it was very hands-on. They'd had a traditional tribal chief system."

Upon his return, Sieleman worked for one and a half years in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in Atlanta before heading to Panama in 1987.

His initial legal duties addressed labor relations and human resources. Sieleman negotiated with labor unions and advised the Panama Canal Commission on personnel policies. He moved up to become the commission's assistant general counsel, a job that lasted until the U.S. government ceded control of the canal to Panama.

An avid rock 'n' roll fan, Sieleman began to dig into the Blues in the 1990s.

"There came a time in the 1980s that I couldn't find any rock 'n' roll that I liked anymore, so I looked around for something to catch my attention," he says. "I stumbled onto Zydeco at the New Orleans JazzFest and all this other music that isn't mainstream."

He also ran into two friends, who didn't know each other but who both happened to be wearing identical T-shirts that advertised the Ultimate Rhythm and Blues Cruise, a week-long Caribbean cruise for Blues aficionados that features acts such as Taj Mahal, Marsha Ball, Tyrone Davis, Dr. John, Etta James and the Thunderbirds as mainstays.

In 1994, Sieleman took his first cruise, marinating himself in Blues culture and the sounds of Mac 'Guitar' Murphy, Delbert McClinton, Little Ed and others.

"It's total immersion," he says. "Then you start buying CDs, go on the next cruise and go to the Handys. Why did I take it to the next step? Well, that's just my nature."

Within two years, Sieleman attended his first Handy Awards and became a lifetime VIP member of the Blues Foundation. At the Handys, Sieleman sought out the Blues Foundation's then executive director, Howard Stovall, to find out how he could help the Foundation. After the two developed a rapport, Sieleman joined the foundation's advisory board in 1999.

"When Howard Stovall resigned, Jay was his immediate recommendation," Kane says. "At the end of the day, when we talked to Jay we would feel a passion and enthusiasm that you can't measure on a resume or through experience."

Footing the bill

But in between, Kane and the Foundation's search committee were under demands from the Foundation's 30-member board to replace Stovall with someone who could bring in the donations.

Sponsorships, which shouldered nearly 78% of the Handys' costs in 2001 and nearly 62% in 2002, are expected to continue a steep decline from two years ago.

Rocked by Sept. 11, big givers such as Northwest Airlines have backed off entirely, paring total sponsorships from $150,000 in 2001 to a projected $115,000 for 2003. Northwest's departure was particularly painful because the loss of Northwest credits will add more than $8,000 in travel costs to the Handys' expenses.

The Foundation is budgeting for $25,000 in donations, down from 2002's actual of $40,633. In December, the Hyde Family Foundations pledged $50,000, which was split evenly in two installments.

"For 20 years, this organization is has been struggling with fund-raising," Kane says. "The mandate was, 'By God, let's go out and hire a proven fund-raiser.' "

The Foundation budgeted $60,000 for such an executive director, but when the search committee narrowed its list of candidates to five, the two proven fund-raisers proved to be out of the Foundation's price range.

Meanwhile, Sieleman had returned to the United States and was back home in Iowa, looking after his ailing father, auditing non-profit law courses at the University of Iowa and reading related journals and books on non-profit law.

"He went back and got a specialization in non-profit law," Kane says. "How convenient was that for us?"

Impressed by Sieleman's passion for the music and figuring that he would be well-versed in writing grant proposals, Kane and the search committee set about retooling the job to fit Sieleman's strengths, changing the title from executive director to director of administration.

"Jay's in charge," Kane says. "There's not this vacancy for executive director that we're trying to fill."

For now, Sieleman says his primary focus is pulling off the Handys, although he acknowledges that he'll have to come up with ways to stabilize some of the Foundation's escalating expenses.

The Foundation's $3,721 monthly rent at 49 Union is largely borne by Beale Street Caravan, a non-profit blues radio program that pays the Foundation $2,375 to share its offices. The Foundation also receives a $1,400 monthly rent return from its landlord, a limited liability corporation whose partners include Kane and Ticketmaster general manager Charlie Ryan.

Kane says that his LLC does not receive a tax write-off for the rent return. Sieleman, who once served as ethics adviser on the Panama Canal Commission, says the arrangement does not present an ethical conflict because it has been "fully disclosed" and there is no "inappropriate profit."

"As a landlord, I'd be better off if they moved out," Kane says.

Instead, BSC is expected to move out this month, which would cause the Blues Foundation's occupancy costs to jump from essentially rent-free to $2,321 a month. Annual rent for the space has jumped from $12,170 in 1997 to $44,652 in 2003.

CONTACT staff writer Tommy Perkins at 259-1727 or

© 2003 American City Business Journals Inc.

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This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Solomon Island; Music



By Charles J. Sellens ( - on Sunday, February 03, 2008 - 1:10 pm: Edit Post

I am sending this email to begin discussions about the possibility of my company, International Education Services, Inc. (IES, Inc.) applying for US 501 (c) (3) foundation grants on behalf of development organizations in the South Pacific. IES, Inc. is currently working with a 501 (c) (3) foundation in the Philippines and would like to expand our efforts into other island countries.

My wife and I served as Community Development Workers in the Solomon Island Peace Corps from 1990 1992. I then worked for Japan International Cooperation Agency in Japan for 13 years training JOCVs for volunteer service in the South Pacific.

IES, Inc. is a for profit Kansas company and we would receive payment for our work in grants only after our applications resulted in funds for your development organization. If you are interested in further discussions, please respond at your convenience. Thank you for your consideration. Charles J. Sellens

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