NEMPAC Executive Director, Rebecca (Becca) Griffin, is a very well-known name to neighborhood families and anyone pursuing music and performing arts in the North End. The group just celebrated its 10th year Anniversary! NEMPAC’s mission is to provide affordable arts-related programming to residents of the North End / Waterfront and the surrounding neighborhoods.
Becca, thank you for taking the time for this interview. Let’s get started by telling us a little bit about yourself. Where did you grow up?
I grew up in a very small town in upstate New York, Bovina Center. Bovine means cow in Latin. It’s about 3 1/2 hours north of New York City. We moved there when I was a baby in the 1970’s and there were mostly dairy farms and a population of just around 500 people. I graduated high school there in a class of 26.
Over time, Bovine has become a haven for second homes for people from NYC. That has replaced a lot of the farms, but also brought a lot of arts and culture to the area. My whole family is still there.
How did you come to the North End?
I was a civil engineer and my work brought me and my husband, Tim, to Boston from Milwaukee. I graduated from Union College in 1993. I initially went to Washington D.C. after college, followed by Milwaukee, before coming to Boston in the year 2000 to work on the convention center here.
We initially had a corporate apartment here in the North End. We kept driving around Boston looking for apartments, but it was so hard to drive around the city. I joke that we landed in the North End because we couldn’t find the South End. We started in the Mariner Building on Commercial St. and since then we have moved to Salem Street. I’ve been in the North End about 11 years.
How did you get involved in NEMPAC?
Before having kids, I was a piano student at NEMPAC. I had seen a sign in a bank for private lessons. When I had children, I learned about baby/toddler music classes. At the time, I didn’t even know it was the same organization.
When I was involved as a mom at the Nazzaro Center playgroup, I was on the email list for NEWMA, the North End/Waterfront Mothers’ Association. Knowing moms in the neighborhood, we all would come up with ideas for craft sales and other types of events. John Romano was President of NEMPAC and he suggested doing it for one of the neighborhood non-profits. That was my first time volunteering for NEMPAC.
Sarah Hart was there at the time as NEMPAC administrator. In 2008, she was leaving the state and suggested that the organization grow with an Executive Director and Private Music Instruction Coordinator. That is how I became Executive Director while Sarah Glenn became our Coordinator. Since then, Sherri Snow has taken over the Private Music Instruction program.
How did NEMPAC get started?
In 2001, a group of moms were looking for a way to keep young families in the North End. From an idea hatched around a dining room table, these women created the North End Music and Performing Arts Center. With the help of Boston’s George Robert White Fund, they transformed an abandoned bath facility on Paul Revere Mall (Prado) into a thriving community resource.
How has it expanded?
Initially, the concept was a way to help support the Eliot School which did not have a music program. From there, much of the last 10 years has been expanding the practice spaces and NEMPAC offices. In 2008, we were able to nearly double our size from 400 to 800 square feet.
Today, the center is brimming with children and adults studying music, theatre, Italian, yoga, before school arts programming and much, much more.
How is the NEMPAC organized?
NEMPAC is a private, non-profit with headquarters on the Paul Revere Mall (Prado). Day to day operations are performed by me, a paid, part-time Executive Director and Private Music Instruction Coordinator, currently Sherri Snow. Courses and private music instruction are delivered by paid contractors (see bios).
Matt Black has recently stepped in as Acting President, following long-time President John Romano. NEMPAC is run by a volunteer Board of Directors: Matthew Black, Kathy Carangelo, Emily Karstetter, Margaret Ris, Bethany Botto, Court Clayton, Ron Parker, Melanie Crocini, Chad Wolfson and Susan Ward.
Our “Spring Fling” Fundraiser marked our 10-year Anniversary, so we are very proud of that.
Give us a general description of what NEMPAC does and its programs.
In the last 10 years, NEMPAC sponsored or created numerous recitals, theatrical productions, youth theater productions, summer programs, MyGym classes, yoga, language classes, music shakers classes, Pumpkin Painting on the Prado, Egg Hunts on the Prado, Halloween parties, craft sales and built a network of wonderful partners all over our North End “campus.”
We have about 70 weekly students in our Private Music Instruction Program. The program has more than doubled in the last 2-3 years. We have about a dozen instructors.
In 2009, we started a morning program at the Eliot School. The Eliot has a late start at 9:25 am which is difficult for working parents. Principal Traci Griffith came to us and asked if we could run a program in the morning. Now, we have about 40-50 kids on the average school day. Cheryl Sullivan runs that for us and it is a perfect fit. Many of the kids come by choice and we offer music, drama, yoga and arts-related programming. Jeremy Sarzana is also there everyday.
We offer a community play about once every 18 months. We just finished On Golden Pond at the Improv Asylum, which was our sixth full-scale production. We won’t be able to use the Improv going forward, so we will be looking at theater space for next year.
We have student recitals at the Old North Church as well as concerts with our instructors. Our Kid Rock Band has 7 children and we have 15 students in our Adult Italian class.
Last year, we did a play for the Fisherman’s Feast. Emily Trast ran that event. She does drama for us, including the morning program, which has allowed us to try out different programs.
We hold various events on the Prado and last year we participated in the Columbus Day event, organized by the Friends of Christopher Columbus Park (FOCCP).
I like to say “yes” to requests such as the Feast play and Columbus Day. We also do a lot of holiday events, such as Egg Hunts and Pumpkin Painting. That helps us expand into the community and let people see what we are doing.
Our scholarship fund is needs-based and allows us to offer private instruction as well as courses to more students.
Additional information on NEMPAC can be found at their website, NEMPACBoston.org.
Coming up in the second part of this interview, we talk about future goals for NEMPAC and what it is like to be a Mom in the North End.