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With the Independent Film Scene Set to Lose Arts Engine, Are Non-Profits on the Ropes?

With the Independent Film Scene Set to Lose Arts Engine, Are Non-Profits on the Ropes?

As of Sunday, Sept. 30, the independent film scene will lose another one of its good guys. The non-profit organization Arts Engine, after operating for a dozen years, has announced that distressing economic realities have led to its decision to disband and set up its various programs at other compatible organizations.

Reports are that Arts Engine’s officers, including executive director Steve Mendelsohn and co-founder-senior director Katy Chevigny, have emailed members and donors the news, and they have posted an explanation for the move on the website’s homepage.

READ MORE: First Person: Brian Newman on Nonprofit Media Arts Orgs — The Situation Has Never Been More Dire

Dedicated to the production of social-issue documentaries, Arts Engine established its presence in the independent film scene soon after it launched in 1997. In its early days, the company was involved in launching the documentary film site MediaRights.org, and it later organized the first Media That Matters Film Festival, in 2001. Notable documentaries that the company has produced include the PBS films “Election Day” and “Deadline.”

The decline of the indie-film non-profit has been a worry for years, since before the global recession hit in 2008. These days, with donors less able and/or willing to give money to charitable causes and the rise of crowdfunding sites that siphon off dollars that may once have been spent elsewhere, the indie-film support structure is increasingly in danger of losing funding, if not relevance.

What are you seeing out there? On balance, are filmmakers and producers getting the help they need? Are there other forces at work? Let us know in the comments.

Read the full Arts Engine goodbye letter after the jump.

Dear Friends of Arts Engine:

As you are no doubt well aware, the recent economic climate has been a hard one for arts nonprofits. Many organizations have had to face immediate operational challenges as well as difficult strategic decisions. Arts Engine is no exception.

In the last few years, we have faced ongoing revenue declines, particularly in general operating support. Despite this, our core programs have continued to flourish, to serve media-makers and an audience, and to advance our mission. So, after careful consideration of current and future fiscal realities, we began serious discussions about how to enable Arts Engine’s work to continue despite the limited financial resources available to the social-issue media and arts sectors. Ultimately, we determined that by finding new homes for our flagship programs and eliminating the overhead costs of maintaining an additional non-profit media organization, Arts Engine’s work could go on.

As a result, we have decided that Arts Engine, Inc., will cease operations as of September 30, 2012.

This was an extremely difficult decision to make. However, we are heartened by the fact that we have succeeded in finding excellent new homes for our programs with organizations aligned with Arts Engine’s mission and positioned for greater stability:

• Arts Engine’s fiscal sponsorship program is being transferred to Women Make Movies, one of the leading independent film organizations in New York (www.wmm.com).

• Media That Matters and mediarights.org will move to Reel Lives, an organization dedicated to bringing filmmaking education to marginalized youth (www.reel-lives.org).

• DocuClub will again be managed by its founder, Susan Kaplan.

In addition, Big Mouth Productions, a collaborator of Arts Engine’s with Katy Chevigny and Marilyn Ness at its helm, will continue with its full agenda of film and video production of social-issue documentaries (www.bigmouthproductions.com).

As difficult as this process and decision have been, we are pleased to have charted a course that will ensure the survival of programs and projects of great relevance and power, like the work-in-progress documentary, E-TEAM – which shot segments in Syria as recently as last month – and the 12th Annual Media That Matters Film Festival, which will launch a fascinating new collection this fall.

All of the members of the Board are proud to have served this organization and its mission to support, produce and distribute independent media of consequence, and to forge vital links between media makers and the public in order to realize independent media’s potential for broad social impact. We are grateful to all Arts Engine staff through the years for their dedication to the organization and its mission, and to the current staff for their focus on the successful transfer of our programs and projects to their new homes.

We also thank you for your support and your participation in Arts Engine’s twelve-year history. May our collective dedication to this field bring us together again soon in the effort to promote diverse perspectives on our world and ensure their impact on public debate.

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