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!


Anonymous said...

All fair points, but why the use of the term G-spot? It feels like you're trying (although perhaps unconsciously) to embarrass Eve by alluding to her sexuality. A knee-jerk tactic commonly used against women in positions of power.

Edmond Caldwell said...

Hi Anonymous, thanks for reading & commenting on the post. If you go next door to my Contra James Wood blog, you can find many instances in which I use sexual innuendo "to embarrass Wood by alluding to his sexuality." He is a person -- a male, as it happens, in a position of cultural power. I supposed I could go glean a couple of instances myself and repost them here, but I'm really tired of people not being willing to do their homework, since I'm very committed to doing mine. So you'll just have to go next door and read the posts yourself (there's a link in the sidebar on your right) or take it on trust. If you look at the history of satire and parody of figures in power, male or female, using their sexuality to embarrass them is quite common from the time of Aristophanes to our own day. Once again, you take this on faith or you can do the homework and immerse yourself in the rich history of parody, satire, invective, jeremiad, flyting, etc., as I have done.

What I find "knee-jerk" is people with opinions who haven't put in the work. What I find sexist is the patronizing attitude that women need a special protection that men don't need. Are you saying that Eve is weak and fragile and can't take the same kind of parodying that I dish out to James Wood, who as a big strong male can take it, or something like that? I find that -- perhaps unconsciously -- rather sexist.

Be well.

Anonymous said...

One hates to gush all over the place, but...

I wonder with this new "ironic" admission of the relationship between the LCD and higher rents for all, if Grub Street's 501(c)-3 status can be challenged...? Clearly they're running offense for the monied real estate interests, which is not a qualifier for tax-exempt status. Or not yet anyway.

Are they operating for the personal private good becomes an interesting question.

Will Grub Street be renting or buying the space for its next offices? And who (which real estate corporations and executives) will be the main contributors to the "cause?"

It's probably worth joining Guidestar to see if there are any big bumps to Eve's salary in the coming years (either in current or deferred compensation), if the line for revenue generated by services dramatically inflates, if contributions last reported at around $400k are significantly increased due to their good works, and if the Land/Building line changes from an NA to an A!

Now that Bridburg's found her G-spot, what's to stop her from going for her very own CUV complex?!


Imagine an America in which anything "cultural" weren't a subset of, or accessory to, everything "financial"... hmmm... can't. I remember my mother occasionally sort of free-associating on the lofty theme of my growing up to be a writer someday, and that memory always seems to revolve around the central (now grainy) film-clip of me buying her a nice house. The connection is so tacit that, it now seems to me, for a 99%-er to become a (working) Artist of any kind, in America, is for that 99%-er to go through a personal process of gentrification that starts with lucky admittance to Art/Film school or an MFA writing course and ends with fitting right in with the horrible shit your post attacks.

How many big-imprint-published writers, or big ticket Artists, are raising objections to this? How many would want to? Which takes us right back to "Ressentiment" as deployed by your petit bourgeois quarry himself, J "Crew" Wood. This is not only about Who gets to live Where but, ultimately, about Who gets to be called What... and for how much. Fight the good fight, Comrade! (But I guess it means fighting my mother, too...)



PS Speaking of which. Re: that line about the "living as well as the dead" of Boston's "literary scene"... it seems a tad sinister, no? Wouldn't the euphemism "historical" have suited the tonal blandness of this kind of blurb a little better? Or was that a veiled threat? Laugh

Anonymous said...

Mr Caldwell,

Responding to your response about the use of the term G-spot: It's true that I'm not an expert in parody though not because Im unwilling to do my homework. I went straight from high school to the dirty icky obligations of my dirty icky blue collar job without the luxury of further education. Please, forgive me. Forgive me because I am not a vetted intellectual but a mere citizen concerned about affordable housing in his city who saw a blog post about it and took the time to read it and ask a pretty reasonable question.

So OK, I'll take it on faith that parody involves a history of shaming people sexually. Fine but it still doesn't answer my question. Why did YOU choose to you use it? Because that's protocol and you always follow writerly protocol, or because you find it effective? Personally I thought it made everything less effective. It came off petty and desperate. I understand that your goal here is to take this person down a peg but it just feels like you distracted from your own points by making that kind of off topic reach. I could be wrong, I know I could be wrong, and that's why I asked about your thought process.

Look obviously you're a much better writer than me. I'm not trying to troll you here and even if I wanted to I know I'd loose that game. But if I can say one more thing it's that I may not be as smart or educated or articulate as you, but my opinions are valid and I can tell when you condescend to me. Go roll your eyes if you want at people who don't have the time to read your blogs all day (some of us have two jobs), but that doesn't mean we're lazy or stupid.

Infact I came ready to find an ally here but the way you talked to me I see that you're just another yuppie spouting off about the trials of the working class and people of color when actually you're only soapboxing to make yourself sound enlightened and superior. What do you intellectuals call that -- exploitation? Cultural appropriation? Oh yeah that's right I HAVE read a book!

So what do you think, why do you care about this thing despite your clear contempt for the real life working class? Ego issues, sour grapes? Don't respond before you thought about it. I'm sure you could piss out a retort that would put me to shame before my points have even made it into your brain. But I dare you to resist that easy out and really think about it instead.

YOU be well, asshole.

Edmond Caldwell said...

Hi Anonymous. Thank you for replying to my reply to your original comment. Forgive me if I don't believe that you came here looking for an ally or however you put it. First you came to bait me as a sexist, and second you came to class-bait me. Rather than discuss the actual issues in the original post (culture & gentrification), you prefer well-worn troll techniques of baiting and soliciting knee-jerk reflexes to your own provocations. Yeah, it's a very lazy mode of argumentation, and now you can go cry about how hard you work at your two or three jobs, which sounds to me like an excuse and most likely a fiction anyway. You know nothing about me -- my job is 24/7, as a stay at home parent of two young children and caretaker of an elderly and ill relative who also lives with us. It's called domestic labor and I do it constantly, unremittingly, day after day, without whining about it on blogs (well, except here, obviously!). So don't cry to me about your credentials as a laborer, unless you are out to derogate domestic labor itself. I'm an asshole? Sure, whatever. I happen to think the willing and conscious tools of the developers and the politicians are the assholes, and right now you sound like one of those who came here pretending to be an ally but intending to troll on behalf of whoever it is you work for. Cheers etc, Edmond


"But if I can say one more thing it's that I may not be as smart or educated or articulate as you, but my opinions are valid and I can tell when you condescend to me"

LOL at the troll's shift in tactics!

Takes me back, this comment-thread psychological warfare... although I don't miss it; constantly putting out the little fires where creeps are trying to sabotage the presentation or the solidarity of the thread. Time-consuming nonsense.

And remember, for many of them, it's a *job*, so they have the upper hand in these rhetorical wars of attrition. You've got to deal with the kids or make sure the beans don't burn or actually try to get a little *sleep* some night and these guys/gals are just typing away, and copying-and-pasting kilometers of shill-screed... exhausting.

I came across the technique this one is using quite often: they affect to agree with your general point while attempting to assassinate your character (which will, they are trained to believe, invalidate your point). It's not a brilliant technique but it hints at something a little more polished/premeditated than what it pretends to be... which means you're striking a serious nerve.

You are, in other words, making some kind of difference!

Which is cool.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes the world is not out to get you....relax!

Psychology Professor said...

I agree that EB didn't bring up gentrification until the LCD had become a reality. But she didn't have to bring it up now. People can have different, conflicting motives. She may needed to push thru the LCD to serve her corporate masters, but she may also want writers and artists to have affordable places to live. But those two desires just can't talk to each other; so the concern about affordable housing came out when it was freer to do so.

Edmond Caldwell said...

This is a response to the excellent & useful comment left by the NON-Troll Anonymous:

Hi & thanks for the link to the GrubStreet report @ Guidestar! This is an excellent route that I've taken in the past for investigating another "non-profit" (the BBF) but hadn't for some reason thought of for Grub. I'll be combing it closely, for certain, and comparing with future reports.

When it comes to the "nonprofit-industrial complex," well, I always just had the impression that nonprofits *tended* (some more than others, larger more than small, etc) to serve corporate or gov't masters before they served actual community interests, just as long as certain legal formalities were observed and certain obvious lines weren't crossed. For example I've read -- with the little time I have available for such things -- a number of articles about how the big environmental/conservation nonprofits (Sierra Club, League of Conservation Voters, etc), are essentially in the business of "greenwashing" policies that will ultimately serve the polluters. And there's a very useful book, The Revolution Will Not Be Funded, about how the so-called social justice nonprofits serve to defuse actual mass movements and steer legitimate social & economic grievances & protest into channels acceptable to the plutocratic status quo. Cultural nonprofits (there's a whole ecosystem of them) would obviously not be immune to these same pressures, and there's a literature about that as well, often focusing on museums and how they are funded (as well as the work of "institutional critique" artists from Hans Haacke to Andrea Fraser).

But I still need to go from there to the nuts & bolts details of nonprofit functioning in order to make more precise analyses the way our own local nonprofit ecosystem serves dominant interests, and you have helped set me forth with some excellent and useful questions and tips.

Again I thank you for reading & for commenting!

Edmond Caldwell said...

Cornelius Starship! I remember when you were Cornelius Airplane! I bet you get that all time, sorry.

I'd pretty much outed the troll as a fake but I went to my little site meter to see what I could glean there. S/he lives in the deeply working-class town of Cambridge and s/he came to my blog through a Facebook post even though making it sound like they just "saw" my blog post . . . somehow or other . . . in the little time they had between their second and third latté, er, I mean JOB.

Also: It's funny because I was realizing the very same day (yesterday) that you wrote your comment that you in fact aren't to be seen in the comment-war trenches like you used to. I was reading some posts @ Chauncey de Vega's blog, which I discovered some time in the past year, and saw you in some earlier threads but alas not more recently. He's so spot on so much of the time but with such blinders re: electoral politics & 'the system' generally that it can be frustrating...


1) Key-rist, now you have me hearing "We Built This City"... the only real cure for that ("Me and You and a Dog Named Boo") is more painful than the disease
2) Facebook: that fuzzy aggregation of third cousins, people we haven't seen in thirty years and total strangers... who we call "Friends". I recently "friended" a woman I had an affair with in 1999 and suddenly found myself the beneficiary of a thick stream of crudely-drawn right-wing cartoons, from all over the Net, in my "news feed". Lesson learned.
3) I still comment, publicly, with some regularity (I believe that civilization is built on rational adult conversation) but there's very little traffic where my interests most often lead me; eg: I commented on a post about Pushkin, yesterday... as of this morning it's still the only comment there! Laugh

Twitter is probably where the real action is these days but I refuse to spend any given morning sending and responding to "post cards"...

4) I thought I recognized the rhythm/diction of The Good Anonymous, up-thread, from the grand old days of TRE... is he/she an alumnus?

davidly said...

@ Anon, August 27, 2014 at 1:27 PM:
It is time that we differentiate between using someone's sexuality to shame them, and employing elements of the sexuality to satirize someone's otherwise nefarious behavior. You know, like a metaphor?

There is no one being shamed sexually here, unless we count your shaming of sexuality itself, the very mention of which you seem to find shameful.

On the whole, I find your concern trolling the uneducated working class meme to be pretty tasteless with its implications.

@Psychology Professor:
It is even worse that she only mentions it after the fact; any notion that she might want writers and artists to have affordable places to live is subordinated by the fact that, not only can those two desires not talk to each other, they are two conflicting modes of possibility, two irreconcilable realities. As a psych professor, you must know what that means.