Arts & Culture Community People

Part II of the Neighborhood Leader Interview: Rebecca Griffin, Executive Director of NEMPAC

This is the second part of an interview with Rebecca (Becca) Griffin, Executive Director of the North End Music and Performing Arts Center (NEMPAC). Click here to read Part I of the interview. What future goals do you have for NEMPAC?

Becca: One of my goals is to expand NEMPAC to a wider range of students. Initially, it was babies and toddlers with 8-10 year-olds for private instruction and some adults. We would lose a lot of people between certain ages. So, we are trying to introduce programs for a broader set of age groups.

Do you receive any public funding from the City or State? Does NEMPAC apply for public or private grants?

No, we don’t receive City or State funding, but our rent is discounted which helps keeps our costs down. We charge our students for the courses and programs to cover our expenses.

We have tried to pursue grant money and it is always on my list. We get turned down quite a bit, but we have received a few. Boston Rocks is one grant that we have received in the past. We applied for funding through the Boston Foundation, which was denied. They referred us to the Barr Foundation, but they have to invite you to apply and we have yet to be invited. We have applied also to the Ramsey McClusky Family Foundation. Cheryl Sullivan is working on grant writing as we speak.

Tim & Becca Griffin
(Photo by Mary Marenghi)

Positions at small non-profits such as yours are often a labor of love. Why is NEMPAC so important to you?

I grew up in a small community where everyone looked out for each other. When I moved, I never found another real community until the North End. I am very community-oriented. Even before NEMPAC, I was a Mom-organizer. I believe it is important to welcome everyone.

Today, many Moms had professional jobs before having kids. When they have a baby, they make the decision to stay home and raise their baby. All of a sudden, they are completely isolated, which is terrible. NEMPAC is a way for me to help the Moms, get paid a little bit and help the Eliot public school.

I have also found that once kids reach a certain age, they scatter to various schools which creates another sort of isolation for neighborhood families. NEMPAC is a way to bring everyone back to the community here.

When I was a young professional, I never appreciated how important non-profits are to a neighborhood. Now, I see how much an organization like NEMPAC can do.

Besides NEMPAC, what else do you enjoy getting involved with in the neighborhood?

I am very involved in the Eliot School as a parent. I am very happy there and glad my kids were accepted given the struggles getting in that North End families are having today. I am also on the Board at the Nazzaro Center and participate in North End Against Drugs. Of course, I am involved in NEWMA, the informal network of mothers. Although I am older now, I have reached out to the Boston Onein3 program.

What’s it like to be a Mom raising school-aged kids in the neighborhood? Did you consider moving out of the city?

You couldn’t pay me enough to put my kids in the car every time we needed a gallon of milk. I think there is a momentum behind parents wanting to stay in the city and deciding not to move to the suburbs. There is a trend for people to live smaller, more urban. With my civil engineering background, I am interested in urban renewal and architecture. I tell parents every day it’s so much better to stay in the neighborhood.

It is unfortunate that parents get shut out of our public school. But as far as city-living, the options that we have here are incredible. The pre-school choices are extensive. The turnaround of the Eliot and more open space such as the Greenway really attracts families to the neighborhood.  Where I grew up, you went to one school and everyone looked like you. If you were different in any way, there were not many options for you. Here in Boston, we are lucky to have so many options.

If the Eliot were expanded, do you think more families would stay in the North End?

Absolutely. Since Traci Griffith became principal, the demand for an education at the Eliot has grown tremendously.

What would you like to see changed in the neighborhood?

I would love to see the Eliot School expanded and to have a K-12 somewhere in downtown Boston to serve all these kids that are now staying. That would be huge.

The Nazzaro Community Center is great, but it is also bursting at the seams. I would love to see that expanded.

For NEMPAC, I would really hope we can get more space. I am not sure where it will come from, but we are always looking for more room. The Mass. Cultural Council has a large grant for construction that we are considering. It is a large goal, but why not?

NEMPAC could do so much more with additional space and more staff. Today, it is just me, Sherri Snow and Cheryl Sullivan. We get an astounding amount of things done but we could do so much more. It’s a good problem to have and actually very exciting to think about what is possible.

Do you coordinate with other organizations for space?

In addition to our work with the Eliot and Nazzaro Center, we just started a program with the West End Community Center on Staniford Street. They have space, but no programming. We have programming, but no space. So, during vacation week, we will do our morning program there. We will also try Italian for Adults there.

We also do programs at the Old North Church and the Health Center. We use space at the Boston Harbor Community Church, Lincoln Wharf and the ABCD Center on Charter St. We hope to do more with St. John School as well.

How many people does NEMPAC “touch?”

From our daily and weekly programs, we directly reach around 200 people per week. When we do special events, such as on the Prado, we will have 300-400 people.

Again, we are trying to get different crowds. Our concerts attract empty-nesters that we didn’t have before. We did Christmas carols with the Holiday Stroll this year to get our name in the shops. Our morning program kids will occasionally perform for the seniors. We had a heart-warming experience when we brought our baby/toddler music program to the senior day-care at Villa Michelangelo.

How can folks keep up with you and NEMPAC?

The best way is through our website, Anytime you email through the website, it comes to me. I am happy to give out my own email as well: I also post a lot of our events on the NEWMA list.

Thanks Becca, for a great interview!

Related post:
Neighborhood Leader Interview: Rebecca Griffin, NEMPAC Executive Director