Carlos Disdier, a mental health specialist, and Nairem Morales De Jesus, a student of psychology, like to think of themselves as fans living the groupie’s dream.
Well, maybe a socialist groupie’s dream. Disdier, a Puerto Rican who has lived in the Mission since 2005, and De Jesus, who arrived from the same island a year later, bring local and international folk artists into the performance halls and cafes of the Mission. But they don’t stop there.
Their production company, La Bohemia, is based on a businesses model that encourages big business to give back to the community.
By working directly with nonprofits to produce fundraisers, the two friends and business partners can offer sponsors tax deductions for their contributions.
All the funds donated to the event go straight to the nonprofit, explained Disdier. “We do the fundraising work, produce the concert and promote it, and later, get paid [by the nonprofit] for our work.”
These tax breaks depend on staying away from sponsorships that look more like advertisements. “If the sponsor is getting anything in return, such as advertising, or their logo on display, then they can’t deduct the full contribution,” said Steve Lew, senior project director of CompassPoint, a firm that consults with nonprofits. Lew said these regulations have been tightened over the years.
Oct. 15 at the Brava Theater will be the first test of this fundraising strategy. The live show will feature Cuban folk music greats Gema and Pavel, and represents the kickoff of La Bohemia’s Hope and Healing concert series.
Both Disdier and De Jesus have worked as producers in the past, but this will be the first show that directly benefits a nonprofit.
Instituto Familiar de la Raza, where Disdier works as a mental health specialist, will be the beneficiary.
Although “the nonprofit classification of a business is nontransferable,” said Larry Wright, an IRS spokesman, it is legal for companies sponsoring nonprofit fundraising events to deduct their contribution.
Working without an official office, Disdier and De Jesus plan shows, make calls, and do research at the tables of the Mission’s many cafes.
It was at these local hangouts where they got their start as a struggling production team, making do on what little donations the community could offer and producing shows that highlighted MamaCoAtl, Teresa Perez and Roy Brown, who Disdier considers to be Puerto Rico’s Bob Dylan.
“First it was $50 dollars here, then $75 dollars there. What was so beautiful is that people in the community were giving what they could,” De Jesus said about the shows that kept local artists alive and singing.
“We have a commitment to keep opening spaces to local artists whose message we believe in,” explains Disdier.
On any given day, the two can be found brainstorming over a generous lunch at Red Café, or dessert at Mission Pie. As they talk, they skip nimbly in and out of Spanish, get lost in endless streams of emails, and resurface to laugh and exchange ideas.
On a recent weeknight, the two were working late, pulling together last-minute sponsorships and logistics for the Oct. 15 performance.
De Jesus waves her hands at Disdier, saying “Ay, loco!” Then she raced into her latest plan for social change. Disdier paused before he spoke, smiled and addressed each issue she raised — everything from the quality of the space to standing room to lights.
After the curtains close on the Oct. 15 show, the producers will tally the profits and divide the proceeds in varying percentages between Instituto Familiar, the musicians, the venue, and La Bohemia.
They’re not exactly Robin Hood and Little John, but they’re close, said De Jesus. “We’re strategically linking corporations to the grassroots level of our communities.”
The links are hitting home.
Like other nonprofits suffering from state and city cutbacks, Instituto Familiar de La Raza has seen a 6 to 7 percent reduction in funding this year, according to its fiscal director Benny Ng. Last fiscal year they lost 5 percent. Ng said a few private grants came through to alleviate the brunt of the cuts.
Disdier has watched the impact firsthand.
Most distressing, he said, are cuts made to programs popular among Latino families, including drumming groups, advocacy for incarcerated juveniles, and their program La Cultura Cura, or Culture Heals.
The Gema and Pavel show will refund some of these.
“The funding we get from the state is very restrictive,” said Ingrid Zimmermann de la Torre, Instituto Familiar’s clinic coordinator. “This production partnership allows us to raise funds for more creative programs,” programs that Medi-Cal and state mental services won’t or are no longer able to cover.
There are others in the community working on similar fundraising projects, including No Right Turn Studios, La Peña del Sur, and longtime music producer Bill Martinez.
Chelis Lopez runs No Right Turn Studios, along with artist Carlos Cartajena. She said their work reaches beyond live shows to “promote films, art shows, exhibits, and conferences.”
Their business model is different, however. She said they don’t always have formal sponsors. Instead, they ask for donations at every event they organize.
“We all work together,” said Lopez, alluding to her Mission District counterparts, and echoing the respect De Jesus and Disdier have for the Mission’s production and social activist community.
Bringing good music and a healthy dialogue for social change, however, has not been an easy process, said De Jesus, who tracks down most of the sponsorships.
“I’ve heard as many nos and yeses. But I just keep going out and knocking on doors.”
“We always joke I’m the heart of the business, and Carlos is the brains,” she said. “But the truth is there are many hearts, and many brains, all making this happen.”