After years of financial turmoil, Pittsburgh Filmmakers/Pittsburgh Center for the Arts continues its latest effort to reorganize.
In May, the nonprofit group said it would cancel fall adult classes in film, photography and digital media, and sell Filmmakers’ long-time headquarters in Oakland.
On Wednesday, the group’s board of directors announced it had formed a committee to develop “a viable strategic plan for a re-envisioned PF/PCA.” The announcement came in an open letter addressed to “Friends of PF/PCA” and signed by board officers. Board president Yasmeen Ariff-Sayed confirmed in an email that the board’s Optimization Review and Strategic Planning Committee will collect input from stakeholders, including the group’s artist committee and the public.
PF/PCA is one of the city’s largest and most venerable arts organizations. In addition to its classes, Pittsburgh Filmmakers screens arthouse films at three venues (Downtown’s Harris Theater, Edgewood’s Regent Square Theater, and Oakland’s Melwood Screening Room). PCA’s Shadyside campus holds classes in painting, ceramics and other arts, plus long-running summer camps for kids, and hosts a year-round slate of art exhibits including its flagship Artist of the Year show.
But the group has been running budget deficits well into the six figures for years, troubles largely attributed to declining enrollment in Filmmakers’ classes, which serve both college students and independent adult learners. (Some critics largely blame the problems on the 2006 merger between Filmmakers and the PCA.) In 2015, following a heavy round of layoffs, long-time executive director Charlie Humphrey resigned.
In early 2017, after a year of interim leadership, the group said it had a balanced budget and welcomed new CEO Germaine Williams. But this past May, Williams announced that the group faced a massive “structural deficit” and that he was responding by canceling the fall classes and selling the Melwood Avenue facility, the group’s headquarters for two decades.
In late May, 90.5 WESA published an article in which multiple current and former PF/PCA employees criticized Williams’ leadership and expressed doubts about the group’s future. Many of the critics said that Williams himself was verbally abusive. Williams denied those charges. He said that if it appeared that he did not have a plan for PF/PCA, it was because it took him months to learn that the group’s financial situation was worse than he thought, and additional time to convince the board of a course of action.
At the time, the board did not respond to 90.5 WESA's request for comment. The open letter issued this week was in fact the board's first formal statement since Williams announced the cancelation of classes and sale of the Melwood building back in May.
In an email sent Friday, Ariff-Sayed wrote that the board’s planning committee “will work closely with CEO Germaine Williams to accelerate and build on efforts already underway to address our pressing financial, operational and structural issues as quickly and effectively as possible.”
Ariff-Sayed wrote that PF/PCA plans to introduce a new class schedule by next spring. She added, “[W]e are planning to refresh and reintroduce the Three Rivers Film Festival and will continue to show films at the Regent Square and Harris theaters.” The Three Rivers Film Festival was canceled last year (following the loss of its main sponsor, Dollar Bank), and this year returned in reduced form as part of the Three Rivers Arts Festival.
At the PCA, exhibitions and classes will continue as planned.
She wrote that the Melwood facility – which contains all the group’s darkrooms and editing suites, among other things – is listed for sale with Colliers International.