In the wake of massive layoffs, concern over the future of Pittsburgh Filmmakers/Pittsburgh Center for the Arts | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

In the wake of massive layoffs, concern over the future of Pittsburgh Filmmakers/Pittsburgh Center for the Arts

"A lot of us aren't confident that Filmmakers will be around a lot longer."

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Humphrey agrees that Filmmakers/PCA faces big challenges. Prior to the merger, Filmmakers earned up to 85 percent of its income, with only 15 percent coming from grants and other contributions — a sterling figure for a nonprofit arts group. Today, says Humphrey, earned income is about 60 percent. "I don't like that number," Humphrey says. "We need to get back to a more entrepreneurial way of thinking."

Filmmakers is best known for its exhibition program — including the Three Rivers Film Festival and year-round screenings at the Regent Square Theater and Harris Theater — and the PCA noted for its art exhibits. But most of the group's earned income is from education, especially Filmmakers' college-level classes in film, photography and media, and PCA's art classes for kids and adults. Humphrey says the big blow to earned income wasn't the merger, but the gradual loss of Point Park University film students after Point Park began its own cinema program in 2003. Meanwhile, in the digital era of affordable gear and DIY instruction, enrollment by independent students has declined, too.

Filmmakers/PCA has balanced its budgets with help from foundation grants, including $1 million over the past three years from the Heinz Endowments, largely to support new education initiatives. On June 9, the Filmmakers/PCA board unanimously approved a $5.2 million budget for the fiscal year that begins in July. "Organizations go through tough times ... but I have a lot of confidence we'll get through it," says longtime board member Cheryl Capezutti.  "I feel really confident in Charlie's leadership."

Humphrey is working on a recovery plan. Such a plan, he said, would retain Filmmakers' college-level classes, including the intensives, and he adds that Filmmakers is looking to strengthen ties with the colleges and universities who still supply most of their students. But Humphrey is also looking to include more classes along PCA lines: workshops and short-run classes for more casual independent students. (Examples, he said, might be "How to Get the Most out of Vine," or an introduction to Photoshop.) Humphrey notes that while classes at Filmmakers bring in more revenue than do those at the PCA, PCA's shorter-run classes are more profitable in "dollars per contact hour" than Filmmakers' full-term sessions.

If the groups' future remains uncertain, its support in the funding community, apparently, remains strong. "We do have faith in the management and we believe very strongly in the mission of Pittsburgh Filmmakers and Pittsburgh Center for the Arts," says Heinz Endowments spokesman John Ellis. He says the foundation has supported both groups for decades "and will continue to do so."