Sunday, April 15, 2007

Future of Nonprofits may be in Minnesota

Just back from a great conference in Minneapolis, hosted by IFP Minnesota called REFOCUS: The Future of Production in Minnesota. Minnesota, like the rest of us, has been feeling the crunch lately when it comes to all things media. Unlike most place, however, they've gotten together to do something about it. With grants from the Jerome Foundation, McKnight Foundation and Bush Foundation, IFP Minnesota pulled together a full day of panels focused on saving the media arts scene in the state and making Minneapolis/St Paul a leader in the field. As the conference program described it:
Join other top leaders in the film and new media community to begin a conversation about transforming the future of the industry in Minnesota. The goal of this summit is to strengthen Minnesota’s economic infrastructure and create a vibrant film and new media industry through all of its relevant sectors, including: education, non-profit organizations, production (including commercial and feature), exhibition and the digital revolution.

It was great to join people like Richard Seitz of ITVS, Mike Maggiore of Film Forum, Janet and John Pierson of the Austin Film Society and Grainy Pictures, and Bruce Sheridan of Columbia College, Chicago (among others) to work with the folks in MSP to explore ways to revitalize and sustain their media arts community. I spoke about recent changes affecting nonprofit media centers, looming trends - threats and opportunities, and how we are trying to revitalize what we do at my organization. Others spoke about transforming education, or improving exhibition possibilities, and even how to emulate what Austin has in terms of community.

They have a lot going for them - great producers, a good crew base, exciting emerging and established media artists, supportive city leaders (two mayors showed up), and some of the most forward-thinking foundations in the arts. Add to that a great school - MCTC, and some great leaders of local nonprofits - and they might just have the recipe to create real change.

It was exciting to see a group come together in this fashion to really think of all the aspects needed to sustain the media arts in a community. I'm not sure we could pull together such a group in a meaningful dialogue in NYC, but maybe we'll try soon. I thought the best quote of the day came from the leader of a small nonprofit that helps women and girls in MN to make media:

"It would be great if there could be an organization that promotes real advocacy, research on the front edge of media arts, training on that front edge and help with distribution. If such a place existed, its what I'd want to join."

She's right, and hopefully IFP Minnesota can start to build that home, they're thinking about it already.

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