Charlie Humphrey, Executive Director, Pittsburgh Filmmakers
Q&A with Charlie Humphrey
By Carmen J. Lee
Endowments Communications Officer
For nearly 40 years, Pittsburgh Filmmakers has equipped artists, nonprofits and students with media-making tools to express their creativity. After merging with Pittsburgh Center for the Arts in 2006, Filmmakers’ programming expanded to include a range of offerings in the visual and performing arts. Executive Director Charlie Humphrey explains how the organization is continuing to evolve, providing new classes, performance series and other artistic opportunities, despite the struggling economy.
Q: What has been your organization’s biggest triumph of the past year?
A: It was getting through the year without cutting any programs or laying anybody off in the face of what we all know has been an extraordinarily difficult economic situation.
Q: What has been the biggest challenge?
A: Ensuring that we keep the robust programming offerings that we have without making any sacrifices or compromises. I’m happy to say that I think we’ve managed to do it.
Q: What issue or event has had the most impact – positive or negative – on your organization in the past year?
A: An event that had a really significant impact on us was last year’s G-20 Summit. I actually think it had a profound impact on the entire city. The arts and culture scene in Pittsburgh benefitted and is continuing to benefit from all of the attention that the G-20 conference brought to the city. For example, we had a contest for a haiku that would go on the marquee of the Harris Theater downtown, which we weren’t able to open during the G-20 because it was inside the restricted area. A photograph of that marquee wound up on the cover of the Wall Street Journal. Also, at the Center for the Arts, we provided packages that were gifts of art to the G-20 leaders from the leaders of Pittsburgh, specifically the mayor’s office and the county executive’s office. We were responsible for putting those packages together that included a great deal of regionally made art.
Q: What goals do you have for it next year?
A: We have a 10-year strategic plan, and we’re beginning year three. Our goal is to continue to work towards a number of initiatives that we have outlined in the plan, including advances in our curriculum both at Filmmakers and at the Center for the Arts, where we’re introducing more sequential classes so that there is linear advancement for students. The plan includes development of specific places to make them more attractive. We’re continuing with our resident partners like Calliope House, where they raised the money to transform Simmons Hall into a much more inviting performance area. We also launched the Mr. and Mrs. Ira Gordon Raku Pavilion at the Center for the Arts. Raku is an ancient Japanese firing technique in the glazing stage of ceramics. It involves very high heat, and it has to be done outdoors. Not only have we been having outdoor raku firings, but we’ve also launched a new performance series at the Center for the Arts.
Q: So if your organization was a person, what type of personality would you say it had?
A: It would be one of those hosts who invites you to their home and provides you with a tremendous level of hospitality. It’s a host or hostess who never sits down while you’re there.
Q: What’s one of the biggest misconceptions about your organization?
A: It’s that we have anything remotely to do with Hollywood or the films that come here to be made. We benefit when those films come because it means jobs for our students, our faculty and our artist members, but we’re not about the whole Hollywood thing. If you look at the films that we program, they’re American independent and foreign films.
We’re very often confused with the Pittsburgh Film Office, and I believe that their work helps us and our work helps them. But there’s no formal relationship.
Q: Could you share a short story about an individual’s experience that captures what your organization is meant to be to the community?
A: There’s a mom who’s from Pittsburgh but lives in Miami, Fla., and she remembered that there was a program for kids at the Center for the Arts where they could take week-long art camps. So rather than go on vacation this summer, she left Miami, came to Pittsburgh and enrolled her child in a week-long art camp at the Center for the Arts. And she said she did it because there’s nothing like that down there.
Q: Can you share a short story about an incident or event that illustrates the impact you believe your organization is having on your local community or the region?
A: When we decided, with the help of The Heinz Endowments, to purchase the Regent Square Theater in Edgewood about 10 years ago, we were scared to death that it was going to be our Waterloo. We had to put a significant amount of money into the building. We didn’t know if people would venture there. We didn’t know if art films would play outside the city, and we weren’t sure at all what kind of an impact we would have on retailers in that area.
What we’ve found is that, first of all, it’s been a smash, a run-away success. Regent Square Theater is very popular. But if you could walk down both sides of Braddock Avenue, talk to the people who run businesses there – the restaurants and the bar owners – and ask them what the impact of the Regent Square Theater has been since it reopened, they will tell you that it has been profound. It’s a win-win scenario. We love our neighbors in Regent Square, and they get the benefit of the thousands and thousands of people that we bring there every year.