We’ve Come a Long Way, Baby (Since 2014)
GrubStreet's Founder and Executive Director, Eve Bridburg, shares an update on Grub’s growth and strategy since 2014.
In the winter of 2015, I spent the holiday break writing a proposal to the Barr Foundation to fund our new strategy. After years of knocking on their doors, we had an opening, and I didn’t want to miss it. But if I’m being honest, I also decided to work through the break because I was worried about Grub’s future. In the years prior, we had grown in leaps and bounds. Like many small arts organizations, our growth had been fueled by passion and extra hours, held together by gum and wizardry. We lacked almost any administrative staffing or structure to support our new size. Moreover, our new strategic plan prioritized removing barriers and including more low-income and marginalized writers in our programs, a decision which would require us to raise significantly more money than we had in the past if we were to achieve any meaningful change.
The Grub office was closed, so it was the perfect time to hunker down. Still, I struggled mightily to write the proposal, paralyzed by knowing just how much was at stake, how much we needed a major capital investment to become more sustainable and to realize our ambitious dreams. Eventually, Kathy Sherbrooke, our board chair, gave me a deadline and much-needed edits and I was finally — after way too many bowls of mint chocolate chip ice cream — able to hit send. I remember dropping to the floor with excitement and relief when, months and many more proposals later, The Barr Foundation awarded us $675,000 over three years, the largest grant we’d received in our history.
At the time, I imagined that the gift would be impactful, but I didn’t quite understand just how profoundly the Barr’s investment in our work and the other funding that followed would transform us. The funding made it possible for us to promote staff and to hire new staff, who along with our talented and dedicated instructors and board of directors, have done stunning work which has far eclipsed our plans.
Now, four and a half years into our five year plan, I wanted to share a big picture snapshot of our progress:
We’ve become a diverse organization. In 2014, before we launched our new mission, our staff and board were almost entirely white, while about 10% of our instructors were people of color. Today, 43% of our staff, 29% of our board, and 39% of our instructors are POC. Our student body is now 25% POC, up from 15% in 2014. Of course, we still have a lot of work to do and representation is only one part of what it means to be inclusive, but we’ve made concrete and measurable strides.
We’re engaging more people through public programming than ever before. In 2014, we served 400 people in public programming. In 2018, that number increased to an astounding 3589 students and audience members of all ages and backgrounds.
We're proud to offer a robust catalog of free classes and events, including:
- Brown Bag Lunch Writing Sessions
- Write Down the Street writing workshops and events in Roxbury, Mattapan, and East Boston
- High school visits all over the city
- Public lectures at the Muse and the Marketplace conference
- Boston Writers of Color events
- Classes and events in partnership with the Brookview House, Sociadad Latina, and other valued community partners
We’re supporting more writers than ever through scholarships and fellowships. In 2014, we supported 55 students with $17,000 in scholarship funds. In 2018, we served 287 students with $125,000 in scholarships funds. In addition, we’ve supported two talented writers a year through our year-long Emerging Writer Fellowships for the last two years.
We’ve significantly increased our investment in the next generation by more than doubling the number of teens we’re serving and by making sure we’re reaching the teens who need us most. In 2018, we reached 675 individual teen writers with nearly 80% of them served through scholarships and fully subsidized programming. About 60% of the teens in our programs are writers of color, and 60% are low-income.
And finally, we’ve managed to become a more sustainable organization by significantly diversifying our funding pools, increasing our reserves, and by adding much-needed capacity on our staff.
There’s no doubt that our growth over these last few years paved the way for our next chapter: building a narrative arts center for Boston in the Seaport. We’ve shown just how dynamic and vibrant Boston’s diverse literary community is. With this move, we look forward to creating more opportunity for writers of all ages and backgrounds to learn, to teach, and to share their stories while also reaching readers and arts audiences. For my part, I can’t wait to see all that our talented staff and instructors will make happen with more classroom space, a bookstore, a cafe, and a stage. If the past four and a half years have taught me anything, it’s that they will make me and our growing community proud.
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