Antoine Braxton/Tell-A-Vision Films
Bringing the Grammys back to New York City seemed like an impossible task. But Julie Jacobs Menin ’89 was up for the challenge.
In February 2016, during her first week as head of media and entertainment for NYC, Menin flew to Los Angeles to woo executives from The Recording Academy. After staging the Grammys at the Staples Center for 17 of the last 18 years, the case to move them east was hard to make. It cost an estimated $6 million–$8 million more to run the show in the Big Apple, where there hadn’t always been political support for the event.
Now, for the first time, the music industry had a dedicated advocate within NYC government. When Mayor Bill de Blasio appointed Menin commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment (MOME), he expanded the office’s portfolio to include music, publishing, advertising and digital media, in addition to its longstanding focus on film, theater and television. “To not have the music industry housed in any city agency was problematic,” says Menin, demonstrating the take-charge attitude driving her quest to make NYC the preeminent media and entertainment hub in the country. “We need to cover all the creative sectors. There are a lot of synergies among them.”
For more than a year, Menin showed The Recording Academy that music has a home in NYC. Since the city doesn’t underwrite award shows, she orchestrated complex negotiations among city agencies, Madison Square Garden, labor unions and the academy to defray the event’s costs and rallied a host committee to raise millions of dollars. By May, Menin succeeded — the 60th Annual Grammy Awards will return to Madison Square Garden on January 28, 2018. It is expected to generate $200 million in economic benefit for NYC. “When we talk about affordable housing, parks and schools, this revenue can be a game changer,” she says.
For nearly 20 years, Menin has been a trailblazer. The awards show coup was the latest example of how she facilitates opportunities for New Yorkers.
Growing up in Washington, D.C., Menin was curious about current events. However, the political science major’s interest in government really began at Columbia, thanks to a public policy course taught by Professor Ester Fuchs. “She spoke about the role city government can play in effecting change,” says Menin, and the idea stuck.
Menin earned a law degree from Northwestern in 1992 and practiced regulatory law for eight years. In 1999, ready for a change, she opened Vine, a restaurant and catering business a few blocks from the World Trade Center, despite zero food industry experience. “I wanted to operate a small business in the community where I lived and was going to raise a family,” she says. But her business was destroyed and she was forced to evacuate her home after 9-11.
“September 11 was important in terms of catalyzing Julie’s passion and commitment to New York City,” says Lisa Carnoy ’89, former division executive for the Northeast for U.S. Trust and a Columbia University trustee, who knows Menin professionally and through their work with Columbia College Women and the Columbia College Alumni Association (Menin was a CCAA Board of Directors member 2010–16 and since 2016 has been a Columbia College Board of Visitors member).
As a local business owner and resident, Menin was spurred to act. She founded the nonprofit Wall Street Rising three weeks after 9-11. It assisted more than 600 small businesses by helping them navigate the convoluted world of emergency aid programs, apply for loans and grants, and identify viable real estate for relocation in order to stay in operation. It initiated cultural programs to attract visitors downtown, and Menin worked with Jane Rosenthal and Robert De Niro to launch the first Tribeca Film Festival in 2002.
Antoine Braxton/Tell-A-Vision Films
Menin’s leadership in the resurgence of Lower Manhattan led to her appointment to Manhattan’s Community Board 1, which covers the Financial District, Battery Park City and Tribeca, and which she chaired for seven years. “Thousands of residents left after 9-11 and never came back. Everyone said people weren’t going to live and work there. But we proved them wrong,” she says. In 2014, de Blasio tapped Menin to head the Department of Consumer Affairs, where she fought for worker and consumer protections.
Today, Menin continues to find opportunities to invigorate NYC’s vibrant cultural and economic life. She launched a five-part women’s initiative, including a $5 million grant fund, to increase representation of women in film, television and theater. “Many studies point to the lack of female directors, producers, writers and actors. We’re not seeing or hearing enough women’s voices,” Menin says. Her office also helped create job-training programs for unemployed and underemployed workers, and a virtual reality and augmented reality hub at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, which is expected to create more than 500 jobs in the next 10 years. She even convinced New Yorkers to agree to read the novel Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie together for the “One Book, One New York” program, and is uniting the city this fall around Crooklyn for “One Film, One New York.”
Menin continues to draw energy from NYC, where she lives with her husband and three sons, a 14-year-old and 12-year-old twins. This fall, she’s bringing her passion back to where it started — Columbia. She’s slated to teach “Cities Take the Lead: When Local Officials Fill the Federal Policy Void” at SIPA.
“I’m a firm advocate and believer that government can make a difference in people’s lives,” says Menin. “Being involved in city government is an honor.”
Christine Yu ’99 is a freelance writer who has written for The Washington Post, Outside magazine and espnW, among others.
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