August 29, 2014

Grub Street Saved from Gentrification!

As we reported in our previous post, a cash-strapped Grub Street writing center has told the world that it is barely holding on in the midst of a furious storm of gentrifying downtown development. But before it would be forced to relocate to some strip mall outside Route 128, come hell or high water it was going to establish the Literary Cultural District, which will safeguard both Boston's literary heritage as the "Athens of America" (because one good slaveholding democracy deserves another) and the city's current and much-remarked "literary renaissance." 

Well, now we don't have to worry any more – a source of funds has been found which will allow Grub Street to remain downtown in the Steinway Building, or at least somewhere else within our new Literary Cultural District: Eve Bridburg's salary.

(I've blurred out information on individuals who don't concern us here)

Yes, publicly-available tax documents obtained by this blog reveal that Grub Street's Founder and Executive Director earned a remarkable $104,020 in 2012. That's 3 times the median per capita income of the city, $33,000 a year.

Also impressive is the steep rise her salary has undergone in the last few years, from 60 grand in 2010 to 95 grand in 2011 – a raise of 35 thousand dollars in a single year, followed next year by another bump of 10 grand! And at that rate, who knows what her raise for 2013 might've been? 

All Ms. Bridburg has to do is return to her 2010 salary – still almost twice as much as the median Boston per capita income – and Grub will be flush enough to remain the stout tentpole of the Literary Cultural District.

And don't worry too much about our Executive Director: Her spouse is an extremely well-remunerated doctor with his own lab in the Longwood Medical District, so this great gift she is giving won’t pinch her family too much. This is an era in which we're all being forced to tighten our belts, and pull ourselves up by our own bootraps or be hoisted upon our petards or whatever, so it only stands to reason that the Great Mother of our Literary Renaissance will do her part, too.

August 26, 2014

Eve Bridburg Finds the Gentrification-Spot!

G marks the spot!

On August 19, the Massachusetts Cultural Council approved the “Literary Cultural District” application submitted by GrubStreet writing center and a raft of other Boston literary organizations. The approval was punctuated by the usual round of media flatulence, including this offering by BostInno dudebro Nick DeLuca: “It marks the second state-designated area of this kind – the first, also in Boston, being the Fenway Cultural District – and the inaugural in the nation being of the literary variety.” This marks the fifth article on the LCD by DeLuca being of the illiterate variety.

But in the midst of all the triumphalism an uncharacteristic note of caution sounded from the van of the parade. Consider the following quote in the same article from none other than GrubStreet founder and director Eve Bridburg:

Areas like Fort Point channel have seen their artistic communities pushed out due to rising costs, and GrubStreet faces a similar challenge as our building is being sold and we too are being forced to consider options outside of the city. The approval of the creation of a literary cultural district in downtown Boston is an important milestone for a city that is trying hard to maintain its cultural heart. With an intentional, coherent approach to our collective work as literary organizations, publications and endeavors, we will put Boston on the map as a literary center and destination.

I had to rub my eyes and even walk around the block when I read this: Eve Bridburg talking about . . . gentrification? Who said anything about gentrification? How did this notion even enter the conversation? When in the year-long public history of this project have its organizers, spokespersons, and media shills expressed the least syllable of concern about the g-word?

That Gioconda smile can only mean one thing!

While we’re pondering that question (or alternately savoring the cheeky humor behind the assertion that the city is “trying hard to maintain its cultural heart”), let’s spice it up with two additional ironies:

1) Bridburg and Co. have waited until the district is a done deal to say anything about gentrification. I’ve been watching this process unfold for a year now, thinking hard about it and doing the homework about cultural districts and gentrification that the LCD's supporters don’t seem to be interested in. And during that time, there’ve been some things that have struck me – as they would any honest observer – as deeply manipulative and dishonest, including the obvious conflicts of interest (Ayanna Pressley’s seat on GrubStreet’s “Literary Council” and Grub board member and donor Laura Debonis’s boasted residence “in the literary cultural district”), the deliberate deception about the openness of the project (no substantive attempt to rally people to the “public” hearings), and the egregious corruptions of language from people professing to be writers or book lovers (“literary renaissance,” “branding,” and the serial abuse of “community”, etc.). But so far nothing beats this for sheer cynicism.

Because Eve Bridburg herself has just admitted that concerns about gentrification are relevant to this process. In fact they are so relevant that the very first public words out of her mouth after the district’s final approval address this very topic. Yet concerns about gentrification could’ve been addressed at any time along the way. Waiting until this moment gives the impression that the organizers failed to bring it up because they knew that due diligence and genuine democratic participation and accountability might cause problems or slow the process. Instead, they kept their mouths shut and rushed the process as much as possible.

By waiting until now, Eve Bridburg couldn’t have admitted more loudly that gentrification is a legitimate concern when it comes to the literary cultural district – and she couldn’t have added any louder that she doesn’t give a shit.

2) Bridburg’s statement suggests that LCD status will somehow actually help with the problems posed by gentrification. This is of a piece with other vague assurances such as the repeated assertions that the LCD will “help writers” by “raising their profiles” or whatever other “branding” bullshit is on offer. But in real terms it’s a non sequitur (as well as a plain old lie), because cultural districts, as I’ve shown in previous posts, were developed for the very purpose of bringing up property values. The same sleazy rhetorical move is on display at the end of an unsigned Boston Globe editorial that appeared several days after Bridburg's statement:

Here, too, gentrification is acknowledged as a problem, but here as well the district is rhetorically positioned as some kind of vague potential solution rather than what it in hard fact is: an aggravating factor. The idea that GrubStreet itself might be gentrified out the area by the sale of the Steinway building is nothing but a bit of “poor me” misdirection – loyal Grubbies have nothing to worry about when it comes to the tentpole status of their favorite cultural arbiter. A glimpse at the overlapping personnel among GrubStreet’s board of directors and their donors make it clear that the writing center has been steadily pimping its Muse to bigger and bigger players in the Marketplace and will do just fine in the “creative economy” of Boston’s future.

At least the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency, feels constrained in its own announcement to be more forthright about the purpose of cultural districts:

Take note of a couple of points in particular. The MCC reports that, "the Cultural Districts Initiative grew out of an economic stimulus bill" – an ECONOMIC STIMULUS BILL, not some kind of fairy-tale, feel-good "cultural stimulus bill"! The language of the third paragraph drives the point home: to "encourage business," "expand tourism," and "enhance property values." Could it be any clearer?  

Now, someone might logically point out that there are one or two points about art and culture in the description, such as "attract[ing] artists and cultural enterprises" and "foster[ing] local cultural development" – shouldn't that count for something? And of course it does: it counts for the kind of art that can "encourage business"; it counts for the kind of culture that will "expand tourism"; it counts for the type of creativity that will "enhance property values." This is a recipe for gentrification.

So to sum up, here’s what Eve Bridburg and GrubStreet and the other “Executive Partners” in the LCD coalition (Deborah Porter of the Boston Book Festival, Henriette Lazaridis Power of The Drum litmag, plus Suffolk University, Emerson College, the Boston Athenaeum, and Boston Public Library) are telling you:

Gentrification is a real issue here, but the Literary Cultural District will somehow help with that in some unspecified way, even though cultural districts were designed to do just the opposite, and anyway it’s too late because we waited until the LCD was in the bag to mention any of this inconvenient crap.

OK, got it – thanks, GrubStreet!