News on the (Seaport) Move
GrubStreet's Founder and Executive Director, Eve Bridburg, shares an update on all the work that's gone into planning our new Seaport home to date.
Dearest fellow grubbies,
Since getting the green light to build a narrative arts center in the Seaport, life has been hectic and adrenaline-filled around our offices. I find myself remembering the river rafting trips I took in my early twenties in California and how I felt both terrified and thrilled in equal measure with each new rapid.
Unsurprisingly, I hear thrill and some terror echoed back to me when talking to our instructors and students about this big leap. So much is thrilling: a large community space in which to write or convene a writing group, our very own stage on which to test and revel in our voices, and a great local bookstore with good coffee in close proximity. What’s a writer not to love? But the joy is often tempered by a dose of worry about what this change might mean for our community. Will we remain true to our values? Grubby? Accessible?
I’ve come to understand that a bit of terror can be a healthy thing. It’s keeping those of us working hard on this project on our toes. It’s helping ensure we’re making every decision with intention and taking nothing for granted. We are constantly asking ourselves: is this grubby? Writerly? Accessible? To that end, we’ve hired a team who understands who we are and what we value. Together, we’ve accomplished quite a bit in just a few short months.
In December, we brought on Peter Nobile of Smith and St. John’s to oversee the project in partnership with our steering committee, a group comprised of four members of our board’s executive committee and three senior staffers. Peter has over 25 years of experience in design and construction. He loves working with mission-driven organizations and understands our values. His first assignment was to lead us through an inclusive and rigorous RFP process to find our architects.
After receiving many proposals and holding interviews with four finalists, I’m pleased to share that Merge Architects emerged (I had to do that) as the best fit for the job. The founder, architect Beth Whittaker, has been recognized both nationally and internationally for her work and the firm has won numerous awards for their design. In addition to their relevant experience, we liked the collaborative nature of their process, their flexibility, sense of fun, and the way they view constraints as opportunities for creativity. They are also scrappy (just like us!), known for sourcing materials at places like Home Depot only to transform them into unique custom-made furniture and fixtures in their own studio. Finally, we like that Merge’s founder is a woman who is leading a diverse team. Moreover, as far as we can tell, she’s one of maybe two women in Boston who have founded and are leading mid-size Boston architectural firms. (If you know of others, please share! I’m very happy to be proven wrong here!)
Since coming on board, Merge has held two community design workshops in our new space, facilitated a staff workshop, and met with many in our community.
In the coming weeks, they will be incorporating our feedback into their thinking as they begin the schematic design phase. This will help give us a better sense how of the new space will look and feel. One thing that’s clear, grubbies want a warm and cozy space over a cold and sleek one.
Meanwhile, we’ve also been busy working with HEART, an edgy marketing firm close by in Chinatown. HEART believes that creative success should come from a process that “speaks truth, is human, is brutally honest and bleeds cultural edge.” We loved the sound of that as a way to keep us honest and innovative as we evolve our brand to encompass the scope of a narrative arts center. The HEART team -- led by Thomas McConnell and Marc d’Amore -- has conducted nearly 30 individual interviews with staff, board, students, and stakeholders so far. They’ve also held 3 focus groups with our adult students, instructors. and teen students. Meetings with the Boston Writers of Color Group, Write Down the Street students, and other stakeholders are in the works.
The HEART team is asking questions to get at our truths about why writing matters, why it matters now, what comes to mind when thinking about GrubStreet, and what our community wants to see in this new space. These focus groups have been a great reminder to me and the team about what matters most in our work. Sitting in on a recent focus group with instructors, I was moved by answers to the question: why does writing matter? They said, among other things: writing moves us from "I to We" (referencing the great Maya Angelou), it’s an art form for everyone given we are all “mucking about with words” on a regular basis and it doesn’t require expensive equipment, and that writing reveals the imagination and perspective of one individual at a time, sometimes profoundly. The best line from our focus groups to date, however, goes to one of our teen students who said: “GrubStreet is like a friend to me. I want to hang out with it.”
There’s bound to be more terror and thrill in the coming months as our new home takes shape. I’m looking forward to every moment of it. We have experts guiding us and helping us make decisions and -- more importantly -- we have this community. Just as you are there for your classmates when they’re trying to tackle the final draft of a novel or find the courage to write about something raw, you are there for us. Your feedback, your wisdom, your inspired and sometimes delightfully wacky ideas, and your participation are making all the difference. The Grub community is giving us just what we need -- rigorous feedback and loving support -- to build our new home as best we can.
Eve Bridburg is the Founder and Executive Director of GrubStreet. Under her leadership, the organization has grown into a national literary powerhouse known for artistic excellence, working to democratize the publishing pipeline and program innovation. An active partner to the Mayor’s Office of Arts and Culture, Eve was the driving force behind establishing the country’s first Literary Cultural District in downtown Boston and securing chapter 91 space in the Seaport to build a creative writing center. The Barr Foundation recently named her a 2019 Barr Fellow in recognition of her leadership. Having graduated from its inaugural class, Eve remains active with the National Arts Strategies Chief Executive Program, a consortium of 200 of the world’s top cultural leaders, which addresses the critical issues that face the arts and cultural sector worldwide. Eve has presented on the future of publishing, what it takes to build a literary arts center, and the intersection of arts and civics at numerous local and national conferences. Her essays and op-eds on publishing, the role of creative writing centers and the importance of the narrative arts have appeared in The Boston Globe, Huffington Post, Cognoscenti, Writer's Digest and TinHouse. Eve serves on the Advisory Board of The Loop Lab, a new Cambridge-based nonprofit dedicated to increasing representation in the Media Arts. Eve worked as a literary agent at The Zachary Shuster Harmsworth Literary Agency for five happy years where she developed, edited, and sold a wide variety of books to major publishers. Before starting GrubStreet, she attended Boston University’s Writing program on a teaching fellowship, farmed in Oregon, and ran an international bookstore in Prague.See other articles by Eve Bridburg