Pittsburgh Arts organizations merge

The Pittsburgh Center for the Arts and Pittsburgh Filmmakers are two cultural and artistic organizations in Pittsburgh that offer programs for the surrounding community. However, one of these gems was almost lost earlier last year as Pittsburgh Center for the Arts was forced to close its doors to the public due to financial constraints. Saved in the nick of a time by a merger with Filmmakers, the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts is under reinvigorated leadership ? and it is ready for a strong rebound.

As described on their website, the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts ?fosters a vibrant contemporary art scene in Southwest Pennsylvania by encouraging more people to create, see, support, and learn about visual arts.?

The Center opened its doors to the public in 1945 and has been expanding in both size and program variety ever since. On September 16, the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts celebrated its 60th anniversary, and toasted to its future with a birthday party that included an Artist of the Year exhibition, studio arts demonstrations and a concert by Motown group Martha and the Vandellas.

Failed Funding

The idea for the merger sprung up about a year ago after Pittsburgh Center for the Arts was forced to close its doors. The Center was a local nonprofit devoted to offering visual art and art education to the entire community, as well as supporting the
work of local artists. But last year the Center reached a point in its financial troubles where closing seemed like the only feasible possibility.

For some time, the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts had suffered from lower than expected revenue, fewer contributions from individual donors and too many unsuccessful programs. ?The Center for the Arts became compounded to the point where they couldn?t pay their bills,? explained Charlie Humphrey, the executive director of both Pittsburgh Filmmakers and the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts.

Under Humphrey?s direction, the filmmaking school, Pittsburgh Filmmakers, has remained successful and managed to avoid being hit too hard by recent years? struggling economy. Over 80 percent of the organization?s revenue comes from earned sources, and thus Filmmakers has to rely on outside contributions for only about 15 percent of its income.

Humphrey was on his way to London in August of 2004 when he first read about the Center for the Arts closing. Plagued by the news throughout his vacation in Europe, Humphrey was eager to help when a representative from the Center of the Arts approached him two weeks later and asked about Filmmakers? interest in a possible merger.

In September 2004, the Center?s resources were contracted to Pittsburgh Filmmakers through a management agreement that allowed Filmmakers to manage the operations of the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, and thus keep the organization afloat. Humphrey has served as executive director of both establishments since.
Negotiations for officially combining the two organiza-tions, which started in early 2005, were concluded late this summer. The boards of both the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts and Pittsburgh Filmmakers unanimously voted to join the two nonprofit organizations. The merger is likely to be finalized in November, when the membership of Pittsburgh Filmmakers convenes to vote. With the merger, the Center and Filmmakers hope to remain two strong contributors to the Pittsburgh visual arts tradition.

The Man Behind the Merger

Charlie Humphrey has been a contributor to Pittsburgh?s cultural life since the early 1980s, first as a producer at WQED radio and later as an editor of an underground newspaper, before moving on to take the position of executive director at Pittsburgh Filmmakers. He is an outspoken participant in Pittsburgh?s art community, advertising Filmakers as an accessible resource and contributing articles and editorials to publications such as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He vocally supports the importance of a rich art arena in the community.

According to Humphrey, Pittsburgh?s strong traditions in both education and philanthropy positively contribute to its art scene. ?Arts thrive in places where they are supported,? he noted. Humphrey views Pittsburgh as a city in which ?creative colleges and universities give room to creative communities.... We have patrons who just love [the arts]; per capita it is quite unusual.?

Now Humphrey is working to guarantee that both the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts and Pittsburgh Filmmakers will continue to focus on their missions to bring high-quality art education and visual art resources to everyone in the community. Humphrey envisions that the merger will bring about new programs directed for children, as well as more support for individual artists, thanks to increased resources that the Center of the Arts will now have access to.

What?s in it for Students

The Pittsburgh Center for the Arts offers classes in everything from creative writing, to fiber and decorative art, to printmaking and book arts. The center also showcases the work of many local artists. With no experience required for most classes, art students and civil engineers alike can participate in classes at the Center, alongside people from outside of Pittsburgh?s university community.

Pittsburgh Filmmakers has a lot to offer Carnegie Mellon students interested in a career in the arts or just looking for a new hobby. Many classes at Filmmakers can be taken for university credit. As described on their website, ?Pittsburgh Filmmakers has developed a national reputation as one of the country?s largest and most respected art centers. We are recognized as the regional authority on independent media, having made a long-term commitment to contemporary media art in the greater Pittsburgh area.?

The School of Film, Photography, and Digital Media
within Filmmakers was established in 1971. Like the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, the School of Film, Photography, and Digital Media continued expanding and growing over the years. Today, the school offers university-level classes and is recognized by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design. With classes on everything from scriptwriting and editing to producing, the school is an excellent place for students to explore their inner George Lucas.

Pittsburgh?s visual arts were saved from near ruin last year. But just because the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts isn?t doomed to close doesn?t mean that students should hold off on visiting the Center. With dozens of classes to choose from, the programs at the Center and Filmmakers are worth enrolling in. Taught by experts, these classes are a great way to explore your creativity, talents, and learn more about Pittsburgh?s culture. With such great resources only blocks away, there is no reason to hesitate taking advantage of these cultural hubs any longer.