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by Elise Miller

All of us have been impacted by COVID-19 more than we could have ever imagined just three months ago. Lives and livelihoods have been disrupted or lost. Families have been separated from loved ones. Like being in a sinking boat, springing one leak after another: At first it doesn’t seem so bad, but soon we’re all bailing water and jettisoning more and more cargo, anxious about what the future might hold.

Here at Hedgebrook, like every other organization, we’ve been trying to figure out how best to plug the holes and keep afloat while connecting with those in our community who need a lifeline at this time. Part of this has been reimagining our programs, applying for government loans and developing precautionary health protocols to prepare for opening up our residencies just as soon as we safely can.

With plummeting revenue and canceled programs, however, the Board of Directors has had to make some extremely difficult decisions in order to ensure the organization itself will have the capacity to rebuild as we collectively emerge from this pandemic. These directives entail consolidating all operations on Whidbey, closing our Seattle office and postponing all residential programs until 2021.

This radical restructuring also includes the painful decision to let go of some of our dedicated and industrious staff in order to stay within what we can afford at this time. We’re doing everything in our capacity to take these steps as thoughtfully and as humanely as possible, but this is undeniably distressing for everyone directly and indirectly impacted. We certainly extend our heartfelt appreciation to all those who will be moving on, and we will never forget their invaluable service to Hedgebrook.

What does all of this mean for our future? First, Hedgebrook isn’t going anywhere. Women, particularly women of color, are being disproportionately impacted in this pandemic. The higher burden of caretaking, domestic violence and other concerns primarily falls on women’s shoulders. This means our mission to give visionary women writers the time and space to record their experiences and share their stories broadly is as critical as ever. Their challenges and insights need to be an integral part of shaping whatever the “new normal” will look like in our society and across the globe. 

In order to keep engaging our creative community as we shelter in place, we’ve taken a deep dive into developing innovative virtual programming. Due largely to the exceptional talent, creativity and largess of our Hedgebrook alumnae community who have led these workshops, we’ve ramped up our online classes and recently launched a new webinar series. These have already been met with an outpouring of enthusiasm, classes filling up often within days after an announcement has gone out. In response to our “pay-what-you-can” fee structure, we’ve also been gratified by the beneficence of those who have registered at the highest levels so that others can participate for free as well as those who have been able to donate on top of their registration fee.

Mentors, teachers, and dramaturgs of other events and workshops we’ve had to cancel, such as the Women Playwrights Festival and Documentary Film Lab, are also generously offering their time online to engage and support those who were to participate in their respective programs at the Hedgebrook retreat.

Another change that bodes well for our future is having our new Program Director, Amber Flame, come on staff this month. Though we will sorely miss the expertise and wholeheartedness that Vito Zingarelli offered Hedgebrook over the last 13 years, Flame is already infusing our strategic planning with a wealth of fresh ideas for online opportunities and a bolder social media presence. Plus, she’s focused on updating systems that that will better serve us in the future by enhancing our efficiency and capacity.

Another major priority is reconceptualizing a strategy for program-driven development and outreach that functions out of the Whidbey office – one that builds on the strengths and abilities of the limited number of staff we currently have. The Board is an integral part of that process.

We of course never would have chosen to do this kind of drastic “reset.” Not only is consolidating offices and cutting staff a heart-wrenching process, but having to reschedule our 2020 Writers in Residence (WIR) to 2021 is disruptive and dismaying for all those involved, including the writers who were planning to apply for next year’s WIR as we’ve made the hard decision to postpone taking any new applications until next year for 2022.

That said, we are absolutely committed to using this situation as a springboard for innovation, while retaining what makes Hedgebrook so special to thousands around the world. We are already rethinking and redesigning ways to host our beloved writers in the future – keeping health and safety, as well as our special brand of radical hospitality, at the center of all our decision-making. Meanwhile, please know that Hedgebrook’s heartbeat on the land – and through the internet – is as strong and resolute as ever.

In closing, I want to express our abiding gratitude to all those who have reached out to us during this time with words of support as well as donations. Your encouragement buoys our spirits and gives us a sense of hope and possibility for what Hedgebrook can become in this new global landscape. Please continue to stay in touch, participate in our new virtual programming, engage in our social media outreach and give what you can to ensure visionary women’s voices are not only heard, but heeded. Our future depends on it.

Elise Miller
About Elise Miller
“With so much disruption and despair in the daily news, Hedgebrook serves as a powerful force for the common good. By supporting exceptional women and trans writers, Hedgebrook is on the leading edge of those demanding a more just and healthy society for generations to come.”

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A Message From Elise Miller