Art House Convergence, the annual pre-Sundance conference in Utah for independent specialized theater owners and buyers, has been canceled for 2021 in its real-world format and its board has recommended that “Convergence gatherings in the foreseeable future be virtual.” Managing director Alison Kozberg, who was hired by the group in August 2018, has also been laid off.
Russ Collins, founding director of the AHC and its parent organization, the Michigan Theater Foundation, made the announcement late Friday afternoon on the AHC’s Google group.
AHC also hosts an annual summer seminar in addition to its January flagship event, which serves as something of an indie-world Cinemacon. In his post, Collins said the Michigan Theater Foundation also plans to spin off AHC as an independent professional organization.
“Obviously, the COVID pandemic is wreaking havoc across the economy, especially in the arts and entertainment sector. It is most unfortunate that program cancellations and layoffs are consequences of the current distress. … With our traditional major programs temporarily suspended, the next six to nine months will provide the opportunity to thoughtfully reconfigure and launch the AFC as a vibrant and vital independent organization for community-based, mission-driven cinemas in North America.”
Multiple members in the AHC group expressed alarm by the announcement of Kozberg’s departure and by its handling. Courtney Sheehan, founder of Context Moves and the former executive and artistic director of Northwest Film Forum, told IndieWire that it’s not the first time she’s been taken aback by the management of the AHC.
“There has been a lack of transparency about how AHC decisions are made and disseminated,” she said. “This kind of decision-making style and learning about it in this painful way is reflective of a pattern of behavior. It’s hard for me to see a positive future for AHC, especially as an organization that supposedly values diversity, equity, and inclusion if this is the level of openness.”
Art House Convergence Provisional Board member Taylour Chang, who is the director or film and performance at the Honolulu Museum of Art, told IndieWire that she quit the board upon learning of Kozberg’s layoff. She said the AHC board was not consulted on the decision. Although the provisional board was advisory in nature, two members told IndieWire that they expected to be involved and informed about any moves at this level.
During the pandemic, AHC has been at the forefront of working with groups like the Criterion Collection to raise funds supporting independent specialized theaters during the crisis. Their members also have been instrumental in developing and encouraging the virtual cinema programming that has risen over the last two months.
Emailing Collins for comment, IndieWire received a form email: “On Memorial Day Weekend holiday with my family. Will only occationally be checking e-mail. Will look forward to writing back to you on Tuesday. Be safe in our COVID-19 world.”
The full announcement follows:
The COVID-19 disruption and difficulty has caused the cancellation of the traditional Art House Convergence conference in January. As a consequence Alison Kozberg, Managing Director of the Art House Convergence was laid off.
The Art House Convergence (AHC) Provisional Board recommended that Convergence gatherings in the foreseeable future be virtual. There will not be an in-person AHC summer seminar or annual conference in January. Making these events virtual will significantly constrain AHC’s sources of revenue. The Board of the Michigan Theater Foundation, the institution that started the AHC in 2008, has also authorized “spinning off” the Art House Convergence, as an independent organization or to a similar and simpatico professional service organization. Over the next six to nine months, the Art House Convergence Provisional Board and other interested members of the Convergence community will work thoughtfully to consider the best future path for the Art House Convergence. The Art House Convergence GoogleGroup continues to be an important tool for art houses to share their concerns and successes and for vital information to be shared among the community-based, mission driven cinema community.
“Obviously, the COVID pandemic is wreaking havoc across the economy, especially in the arts and entertainment sector. It is most unfortunate that program cancellations and layoffs are consequences of the current distress. Ever since 2015, the AHC Provisional Board has aspired to make the Art House Convergence independent of the Michigan Theater Foundation (a local art house cinema in Ann Arbor, Michigan). With our traditional major programs temporarily suspended, the next 6 to 9 months will provide the opportunity to thoughtfully reconfigure and launch the AHC as a vibrant and vital independent organization for community-based, mission-driven cinemas in North America. It is the hope and wish of Michigan Theater Foundation that both Alison and the Art House Convergence land firmly on their feet to thrive and continue to contribute significantly to the vitality of cinema culture far into the future.” Said Russ Collins, Executive Director of the Michigan Theater Foundation and founder of the AHC.
The Criterion Collection, working with the Art House Convergence, is finishing up the successful Art-House America campaign. Funds generated by this campaign are providing over $800,000 in needed grants to art house cinemas across America. Funds from this campaign will rightfully benefit art houses and not the AHC or the Michigan Theater Foundation. The Art House Convergence is grateful to all the corporate, foundation and individual donors, but especially the Criterion Collection for their support so many of independent, community-based, mission-driven cinemas.