After spending nearly 15 years filling key roles at the nonprofit Pickford Film Center, including more than a decade as its executive director, Alice Clark said there was some sadness in closing a rewarding chapter of her life.
But taking into account how far the Pickford has come since its infancy in Bellingham, she leaves with a high level of job satisfaction.
The popular downtown theater, which began as a small, 80-seat venue on Cornwall Avenue (which today continues as the Pickford’s Limelight Cinema), today has a bright, new home in Bellingham’s emerging Arts District and more that 85,000 annual ticket sales with revenues that reach $1 million.
Clark will officially step down as the center’s leader on Dec. 31. The Pickford’s board of directors is in the process of finding a successor.
As a driving force behind the center’s fundraising efforts, including a recent successful effort to raise $225,000 for necessary digital upgrades to the theater’s projection equipment, Clark is a proponent of greater collaboration between nonprofits, business owners and city leaders to bolster creative arts in Bellingham.
In your time at the Pickford, what accomplishment are you most proud of?
Building the Pickford Film Center, itself, for sure.
When we started the organization our sole operation was the old Pickford Cinema on Cornwall Avenue and, although blessed with many good attributes, it still suffered from limitations of space and inferior sight lines. I became a bit obsessed about figuring out how we could eventually find a better home base that would provide a better viewing experience and give us the space we needed to really become the community hub we knew our members would respond to.
The journey there took most of my tenure at PFC to complete, but it was an amazing experience, and we accomplished what we set out to do. In fact, the PFC has turned out to have more of an impact than we realized in the beginning.
For us, the main driver was about creating a better place to watch and enjoy movies, but the reality is that the film center also evolved into a major anchor in the Arts District and a real economic driver downtown. That has been very cool to see happen.
What do you wish you had more time to work on?
I think I would have to say that would be in the programming aspect of PFC.
We put the outdoor cinema on a bit of a hiatus during the capital campaign and building of the film center, and I think we now have the time to grow that program again, which allows us to serve children and families more than we typically do at our theaters.
I also would like to see us do more for the local filmmakers in the area, from young adults to more accomplished professionals. I feel that as the regional film organization, it is something we should commit to on a higher level. But that is just my personal opinion.
What’s the best piece of fundraising advice you’ve ever received?
It was from Miriam Barnett, the powerhouse behind Allied Arts in the late 90s. She said: ‘’It’s all about relationships.’’
This seems like a no brainer, but in reality I think a lot of people underestimate this piece of the puzzle. You can do all of the planning and trainings you want, but without having formed relationships with those you plan to ask to begin with, you won’t get very far.
In fundraising for the Pickford, what was your greatest challenge?
I think that we started before all of our ducks were 100 percent in a row, and in some ways that may have heeded our progress. On the other hand, if we hadn’t started when we did, then we might have wound up having the economic downturn happen earlier in the campaign.
It is easy to speculate about such things. The truth is that it took a long time, we weathered the rough years toward the end and were ultimately successful. Like raising a child, you do the best you can and you make some mistakes along the way.
That’s part of life. What matters in the end is the final result.
What’s the most important thing the Pickford brings to Bellingham?
To me it is about bringing the stories from all over the country and the world to our community and giving people the space and time to understand the meaning of those stories. Understanding is a key component of this.
We may not be hanging out around fires anymore listening to the tales of past defeats and victories, but we still have the desire for the story, as it tells us about ourselves and our place in the world. Whether we are learning about how Shackleton made it to Antarctica or watching a kid survive poverty in India, like in “Slumdog Millionaire,” movies expand our understanding.
When you couple that with our community’s desire to learn and share that experience with each other, then you have created something that does more than show movies—it is a community-building institution, which is a good thing.
What can Bellingham business owners and city leaders can do to foster nonprofit organizations like the Pickford, as well as other creative-arts groups?
As far as business owners, I think that there are several things they can do that would really help and there are businesses out there that are already doing some of these.
1. Create a culture of giving back within your own company. All nonprofits are possible due in large part to the work of volunteers, so encourage your employees to volunteer with nonprofits by serving as board members, participating in community projects or other ways. Encouraging this could mean giving paid time off while doing volunteer work, creating a way for employees to work together on a volunteer project and allowing time for employees to speak about the nonprofits they support and why.
2. Offer matching gift programs for your employees. It may not need to be a 50-50 match. If you can afford a flat amount or percentage, then do that. This encourages employees to give and creates goodwill all around in the process.
3. Allocate a percentage of your annual budget to nonprofit sponsorships. This is one of those win-win situations: You help a nonprofit make a program happen, and in return, you gain some positive exposure for your company.
4. Consider what else your business has that might be of use to nonprofits, which are always looking for donated services and equipment. Can you afford to donate something now and then to a nonprofit’s annual fundraiser? You don’t need to wait until they ask. Contact the nonprofits you are interested in, and offer them what you have. The same goes for cast-off equipment.
As far as city leaders are concerned, I would like to see leadership on creating a fund for projects like the Pickford Film Center. Right now there are just a handful of avenues for funding, none of which are really designated for projects like ours.
We were able to secure some funds from the local tourism commission, but typically applicants need to show they are drawing tourists from outside of the city. Most local projects simply don’t fit that requirement.
One idea could be to crowdsource the process. By this I mean groups with projects applying for funding could have them posted on a city-run website (maybe the Arts Commission could be the designated city avenue for these).
The community could review the applications and commit individual funds to the projects they want to see happen. The city would then commit matching funds to those that garnered the most support. This way the city and the community are partnering together with nonprofit groups to make projects happen.
After Dec. 31, what comes next for you?
I think I am an entrepreneur at heart, so I look forward to throwing myself into my new pie business (Alice’s Pies) and taking on that new challenge.
I am dabbling with other ideas, as well, including writing, maybe a little consulting and exploring other business ideas. Hopefully I will also find time to get back into art by painting and other cool projects, traveling and more hiking.
I also look forward to having fun with the Sunnyland Stomp again next year with an even bigger chicken race.
So much to do, so little time!Evan Marczynski, staff reporter for The Bellingham Business Journal, can be reached at 360-647-8805, Ext. 5052, or firstname.lastname@example.org.