It is no surprise that the arts and culture scene has suffered from the city-wide shut downs during the Covid-19 pandemic. With galleries, museums, and cinemas closed for business, many organizations faced a serious dilemma in how to continue their services. cinéSPEAK, a cause-based film organization in West Philadelphia was no different.
Scheduled to open a physical space last June, where they could show films and encourage open discussions around them, they were derailed by enforced closures and had to postpone their plans to expand.
Sarah Mueller, the founder and director of cinéSPEAK explains how the organization is adjusting to the transition online and what they plan to do in the future.
Q. How are you navigating moving online?
A. There is nothing currently in our technology that can replace an in person movie-going experience. I think people love to be with people, eat, dance, laugh, cry together, and movies are a part of that, it’s an experiential life form. It’s been hard to be apart from our audience members. The hardest piece is that we haven’t had the capacity to make more conversations. I think it has been a real challenge to survive and adjust but it’s interesting to be in this moment.
Q. Do you feel like there’s less engagement because of quarantine?
A. I think there’s an interest for the films that we show. How cinéSPEAK started, I felt really frustrated as a film student that films would play in NYC, Chicago, etc. but wouldn’t in Philadelphia, unless they were in a festival. Philly has never been a classic film city. I think there is a craving for stories, there are people who want to have cinema spaces in Philadelphia. I think the economic piece is a big barrier. There is a content saturation problem, there is so much media out there, people rely on the in person, they like to talk about the movie after it’s over, and when we don’t have that element it’s’ hard to justify it.
Q. Are you thinking of hosting outdoor events?
A. We’re hoping to do a monthly summer series. Right now the city is waiting and watching to see if they’ll allow these events. If we get a permit we’re hoping to do at least once a month screenings in West Philadelphia.
Q. How has funding been impacted during quarantine? I heard there was a fundraiser to help with the costs?
A. We had a moderately successful fundraiser. It’s been a really challenging year for art organizations, it always is, in the city especially. In the world of nonprofits, it’s challenging to develop. There are huge systemic barriers. A lot of people are independently wealthy which I am not and so that makes it twice as hard. Prior to the pandemic we were pursuing several large grants so that we can hire more people since we were relying solely on volunteer work. Because of covid all the foundations decided to stop all giving out funding. All those relationships we’ve been building for years are currently on hold. So, not only has it been a challenging year because audience members lost jobs, and we couldn’t do ticketed events, foundations basically just pulled the rug out from under us.
Q. Going back to the outdoor events, what locations are you thinking of?
A. For us having events that are accessible by public transportation is really important. We also love to be in a neighborhood where people understand like “oh this is happening down the street and it’s easy for me to get to and I can support my local restaurant on the way.” We’re looking to produce these events in Clark Park or Malcolm X Park, but as I said, we’re waiting for the city to see when it opens its permitting process.
Q. Will you also be incorporating the element of sparking conversations around the films? How do you see this working outdoors?
A. We hope to have some kind of performance element before screening the film. Some art and crafts activities for families, have a small conversation afterwards. The screening will be hosted by a facilitator, a local artist or performer who can help provoke some questions and pass the mic around to get community feedback.
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