Dear Art House Community,
We, the members of the Art House Convergence Transitional Working Group, are writing today to invite your participation in the next phase of the Art House Convergence Community. We hope you’ll read this entire message and join us for next steps that invite your involvement.
Since 2006, the Art House Convergence (AHC) has been dedicated to advancing excellence and sustainability in community-based, mission-driven cinema exhibition. The annual conference, regional seminars, AHC Google group forum and programs provided networking opportunities, educational resources, and defined best practices for hundreds of theaters and festivals located throughout North America.
AHC made some mistakes along the way. Art House Convergence grew faster than ever could have been anticipated—much faster than the infrastructure and oversight necessary to support its own operations and governance. Since its inception, AHC was operated as a project of the Michigan Theater Foundation, without its own governing board, bylaws, or bank account. Nevertheless AHC evolved organically as a vibrant “community of practice” — a collection of programmers, administrators, distributors, vendors, critics, academics, and others who “share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.”
This community of practice was built over the past 16 years — largely from an engaged and enthusiastic cohort of volunteers — and we want to honor the efforts of these individuals, including past conference chairs and track heads, as well as the prior AHC staff members who worked to bring it all together.
While AHC was formed to be a nurturing professional network, it exhibited a pattern of failing to live its stated values, creating a historically unequal environment that felt hostile to some. In trying to repair those inequalities without proper training or more diverse staff changes, more harm was caused. It erased, maligned, devalued, and tokenized the contributions of volunteers of color, silenced criticism, and limited the development of healthy participatory democratic decision-making. In perpetuating these behaviors, AHC failed to treat all of its stakeholders with respect and dignity.
Formed in September 2020, the AHC Transitional Working Group (AHC TWG) is a volunteer body made up of previous AHC participants and new colleagues. The AHC TWG is a bridge. Our only charge is administering the formation of new representative leadership, through the process of a membership drive and an inaugural board election. This is so a new, elected body can lead this organization into the future with a toolbox which includes transparent structure, operational accountability, and cultural competency.
AHC TWG recognized that we could not move forward with this endeavor without first acknowledging, examining, and addressing the systemic racism and structural oppression historically perpetuated within AHC. With the guidance of outside facilitators, we have further recognized and named individual and collective traumas that were born out of that environment.
The TWG has wrestled with the stark reality of AHC’s past failings, yet we entered into this work with the conviction that the mission remained worthwhile and important. The AHC could only be born anew if it addressed the pivotal questions of who is currently included in this community, ways in which we want to expand the community and how individual and team contributions are seen and valued.
We are excited to now invite you to join this cinematic community of practice – either anew or for the first time – to be part of rebuilding AHC as a democratic, transparent, diverse, equitable, inclusive organization with a commitment to becoming anti-racist.
As announced in January, AHC has transitioned from being a program of the Michigan Theater Foundation to a fiscally-sponsored project of the Sundance Institute — an important step in ensuring our autonomy, independence, and accountability. Therefore we have created a template for a board structure, a code of conduct, bylaws, and a mature and effective financial structure. We want to build an organization that supports and sustains the broader art house community while respecting and reflecting the values of our constituent cinemas.
Here’s what comes next and how you can be a part of it:
We welcome you to opt-in as a member of AHC by filling out this New Member form, which includes a pledge to abide by AHC’s Code of Conduct. Membership will be free for 2022, with decisions about a future dues structure to be determined by AHC’s inaugural board. This call for membership will remain open, and we invite you to share this letter and the form with your networks so that it reaches new individuals and organizations.
AHC will be run by an elected board of directors, as described here. If you are interested in nominating yourself to run for a board seat, please fill out this form by August 5, 2022. The election for the inaugural board will be held Sept 1-7, 2022 with a strong commitment to transparency and democratic norms. (Upon the election and formation of the new board, the AHC TWG will disband and all leadership and decision making will be handled by the new, elected board.)
The AHC TWG looks forward to this transition by continuing this important, foundational process, and thanks you in advance for your involvement, support, and voice as we all map out the future of this organization.
Your Art House Convergence Transitional Working Group,
Camile Blake Fall