Susie Purves had been running nonprofits in the art world for decades before moving to Bellingham. In 2013, she took the wheel at the Pickford Film Center after the departure of Alice Clark.
It can’t be easy walking into a town like Bellingham and filling the shoes of someone as beloved as Clark, but Purves, as it happens, fit right in immediately. In the short time she’s been here, she “gets” Bellingham for all its gifts and quirks. “The Pickford is an absolute gem,” she said. “This place is a treasure.” It takes energy, drive, and determination to run an arts nonprofit, but Purves is clearly up to the task. When asked what her day-to-day schedule is like, she laughed. “I allow the staff to do their jobs. I’m the shepherd.” It’s pretty rare in the art world to have an executive who makes room for the staff, but Purves sees this as the biggest lesson she’s learned from arts nonprofit management. “It’s important for there to be organizations that trust the artist’s vision and realize artistic projects. The government’s not going to do it, the artist can’t because of limited resources.” So that leaves the execution to energetic, smart people like Purves.
She is particularly delighted by how much this community supports The Pickford. When seeking fund- ing for the Media Literacy Program, Purves said that people didn’t give huge donations, “But so many people donated in small chunks. They felt a connection to those kids and a desire to support them.” The program sends experts into middle schools to teach kids about media literacy.“Middle schoolers are at an age that they are starting to see their place in the world and understand it.” Purves wants to offer the program in more schools.“If Bellingham can have a genera- tion of kids growing into their teen years and able to assess what they’re seeing and understand what is a call to action, what that means, and what kind of effect that has on them, that will be tremendous.”
Purves’ big ambition is to involve the Pickford in the community more and more. “Bellingham is the kind of town where if you have an idea, even a wacky one, and it can be done, everyone will say, ‘Okay’ and you get to do it.” She cites the Rooftop Cinema as a prime example. “When I came to town, I wanted to show movies on top of the Parkade downtown.” Everyone was on board, and it has become one of the most popular downtown events.
Among her favorite programs are the Doctober Documentary Festival and the Children’s Film Festival. “We have a film that is perhaps not showing anywhere else in the United States. It has no North American distribution. I had to hunt it down and convince them to send it to us.” It is a French-Finnish-English production called Moomins on the Riviera. The Children’s Film Fest will kick off with an ice cream social and music by Spencer Willows. “It’s a great event, and not something you’d find outside Seattle, San Francisco, and other major cities.” Until now, thanks to Purves.