After Alice Clark's resignation last December as director of Pickford Film Center, Susie Purves of Seattle was hired in February to replace Clark, after a nationwide search.
Purves' background includes stints as managing director of Northwest Film Forum, project manager and executive producer at Northwest Designer Craftsmen, business manager at Seattle International Children's Festival, executive director at the Center on Contemporary Art, at Kirkland Arts Center and at Spectrum Dance Theater.
For several years, the Pickford has sponsored a Bike-In on Bay Street, a festival of sorts that features a screening of a film, often bicycle-related. Purves has what she says is a way to "elevate" the event, with three outdoors community events.
The annual Bike-In kicks off the series Friday, Aug. 15, atop the Parkade on Commercial Street.
Here's more about Purves.
Question: What led you to pursue a career in arts management?
Answer: After high school in Detroit, I went to the University of Washington and it was amazing to be in the Northwest. Proximity to the water and the mountains, safe streets, and an unarmed populace equaled true freedom for me. After following a somewhat meandering path, I received a degree in art, focusing on ceramics.
At that time, the ceramics faculty insisted on pushing students out into the greater art community. In a short time after graduation I had started a gallery with friends and was seeing some success as an artist. Seattle was full of opportunity then. The economy was lousy, but that often means opportunity for artists.
Start here for online only
Q: Why do you enjoy it?
A: I started volunteering at the Center on Contemporary Art, which at that time was presenting adventurous work on the national level and was heavily involved in the Seattle music scene. It was much more rewarding to help realize the big ideas of other artists than it was to make my own little work.
In a short time, I was on staff at CoCA and having a blast working hard and nudging Seattle's status quo with artistic director Larry Reid. CoCA was a social nucleus for artists and I was privileged to get to know many people who have gone on to do amazing things. It was artistically ecumenical and didn't draw distinctions between visual artists, musicians, performance artists or actors. That rare atmosphere hooked me on arts management. We pencil-pushers get to do a lot to make interesting things happen.
Q: Were you artistic as a child?
A: I grew up in the city of Detroit and left as it was sliding over the cliff into the Murder City era. It was a tough time for public safety and I didn't want to be a suburbanite, so I emigrated.
I always had a voracious appetite for art. From junior high onward, I went to music shows and festivals as much as possible, and would often go to films at two different film societies on a Friday night. I would run from one to the next, with the advice from my mother to start walking in the street if someone was following me.
The Detroit Institute of Arts was free and welcoming to high school students. The variety, audacity and quality of art available in Detroit at that time was dizzying, and a good preparation for understanding quality.
Q: How do you balance the financial side of management and the creative side?
A: Aren't the limitations we construct for ourselves the most oppressive? Every art organization should strive to be the best version of itself. That means the people in charge need to pay attention to the balance sheet, the mission, and the execution of the mission. Think big, plan well, communicate well, and remember - it is not about you, it's about the work.
I enjoy being an instigator. I enjoy being part of a team. I enjoy being around artists. I love to be challenged to see things in new ways.
End online only
Q: Why did you want to move from working with Seattle organizations to a mid-size town like Bellingham?
A: Many people that I have spoken to describe Bellingham as manageable, in comparison with Seattle. In ways, that is true. If you drive a car, you can get across town without fighting traffic. There is access to city government. If you love the mountains, they are minutes away.
All those things are nice, but didn't seal the deal. It was the Pickford Film Center's relationship to the Bellingham community that was so attractive.
The organization is well-run with a great staff and a beautiful building, but it also has a history and status in the community that set it apart. It has been, and it will be, a participant in downtown renewal, it has an effect on community standards and cultural appetites.
PFC is not an outsider organization. It is a recognized participant in a larger community.
There are so many art organizations in Seattle and they are always jockeying for attention and support. There is always "noise" that distracts from the work. I look forward to doing the work.
Q: How did your new idea for the Bike-In come to you?
A: From my first day on the job at PFC I was hearing complaints about no parking in downtown Bellingham. In Seattle, I lived in a neighborhood where I have to pay to get a permit to park in front of my own house - so I'm sensitive to parking issues.
After a little investigation, I found out that motorists avoid parking in the Parkade, even though it is free on weekends and evenings. The civic attitude is a mystery and probably has more to do with perception than reality.
On a field trip around the corner and up the elevator I found, on the roof of the Parkade, the most spectacular view in Bellingham! Mountains, water, islands, free parking - it is a true wonder.
That led me to want to get people up on the roof to help them appreciate the Parkade and consider parking there the next time they drive downtown. At that point, we latched on to the Rooftop Cinema concept - rooftop viewing is an outdoor cinema movement that began in Brooklyn about 10 years ago and now spans the globe.
There is a bit of an ironic twist to having the Bike-In on the roof of a parking structure, but it is so huge and so beautiful up there, why limit it to cars?
Q: Any new ideas coming down the pike?
A: Plans for the future are expanding at Pickford Film Center. Education and working with the filmmaking community are presently taking center stage. Details will be set in the fall.
BIKE-IN ON A ROLL
The fourth annual Bike-In features the classic coming-of-age film "Breaking Away," on Friday, Aug. 15, one of three outdoor movies to be shown atop the Parkade.
On Aug. 29, the Bellingham Roller Betties will skate at the Parkade for a screening of "Whip It."
On Sept. 12, Bellingham DJ Yogoman will host "The Blues Brothers."
All events begin 7 p.m. Admission is free. Details: pickfordfilmcenter.org.