Bio: Executive director Alice Clark anchors downtown cinema

FOR THE BELLINGHAM HERALDAugust 26, 2013 

Veterinary assistant. Model. Art student. Pie baker. Executive director of Pickford Film Center.

Alice Clark has a personal history as intriguing as any film plot.

Born to a veterinarian father and homemaker in St. Louis, her first job was helping her dad with the animals. Discovered by a modeling agent at 18, she arrived in New York City in time for the disco era and Studio 54.

"That business is so crazy and I was trying to be conscious about the world while everyone else was talking about shoes," Clark says, shaking her head. "Then I just started travelling and lived in Paris and Germany doing modeling. I really learned how much I loved the world, how brave I could be. I learned who I was and who I was not."

At 23, a Vancouver, B.C., makeup artist tells Clark she's "getting old," so, married and raising two children, Clark goes back to her first love, art and design. She graduated from Western Washington University in 1997 with a bachelor's degree in graphic design and illustration, and stayed to teach part-time.

Then the idea of an independent theater in Bellingham surfaced.

"I've always enjoyed film, but I didn't think I'd end up doing this," Clark says. "I volunteered to give something lasting to this community. The opportunity came around to help save independent cinema."

She volunteered for the board, creating graphic designs and eventually becoming president. When the need arose for a director, she was already doing the job.

"I started learning how to run a nonprofit and a business and a theater," she says. "It's never really felt like work, even during a fundraising campaign. I like a challenge."

As Whatcom Film Association, the organization raised enough money to negotiate a lease for 1416 Cornwall Ave. The Pickford Cinema opened for business Nov. 20, 1998.

Nearly 15 years later, the organization has two locations; Pickford's new home at 1318 Bay St., and the original space, renamed Limelight Cinema.

Thanks to fundraisers and grants, Pickford on Bay Street is newly renovated and updated, with two screens, artist space upstairs and a food-friendly lobby.

"It's a cool building," Clark says. "It's been great to bring it back to life."

"Buying the building was a really good move," she says. "No one can increase the rent or make us leave. We are more of an anchor for the Arts District than anyone understood it would be."

Three thousand members contribute to ticket sales of over $1 million a year.

Clark has taken on other challenges, too. Pickford worked with other theaters to win approval for a license that allows movie theaters to serve wine and beer. She also sells fresh seasonal pies under the name Alice's Pies at Bellingham Farmers Market.

Last year, Pickford had to replace its 35 mm projectors with new digital ones, at a cost of $225,000. The community responded with donations to cover the cost, and then some.

"Sometimes, especially during the campaigns, things can get difficult," she says. "But when people stop me on the street and say they love the Pickford, that picks me right back up."

PICKFORD FILM CENTER THEATERS

Limelight Cinema: 1416 Cornwall Ave.

Pickford: 1318 Bay St.

Phone: 360-738-0735

Online: pickfordcinema.org

Taimi Dunn Gorman is a Bellingham freelance writer.

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