As one of the longest running women’s film festivals in the world, the St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival (SJIWFF) has rightfully earned its place as one of the province’s most beloved arts and cultural events, and indeed, one of the country’s most anticipated annual industry events. Established in 1989, the festival brings together local, national and international filmmakers for five days of screenings, panels, workshops and more and is a true celebration of women in film. In addition to supporting and promoting women filmmakers, the event also exposes communities to creative works they wouldn’t have access to otherwise, while helping promote the city and province as a vibrant place to do business.
Earlier this year, SJIWFF were one of 12 groups chosen to participate in Business & Arts NL’s ArtSupport NL program to receive fundraising development training and support. On the heels of their latest successful festival, Executive Director Jenn Brown took some time out to chat about the experience and how it will help as they look toward their 30th anniversary next October.
Business & Arts NL: Why, initially, was the SJIWFF interested in participating in the ArtSupport NL program?
Jenn Brown: As a registered charity and not-for-profit cultural organization, responsible financial management is at the core of everything we do. The calibre of our programming and the reputation of the Festival across the country has been increasing greatly, but our operating budget has not. In order to meet this demand and find balance, we were eager to participate in this focused fundraising development training. All Business & Arts NL training sessions serve to be incredibly valuable, so we regularly participate. You can never learn too much, and there’s always something new.
Business & Arts NL: What’s one of the most valuable lessons you’ve learned thus far over the course of the program?
JB: For nearly three decades the St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival has presented year-round screenings, film camps, mentorship programs, panels, professional development training and advocacy work. However, we must not assume that folks know what we do or where we are today! This is one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned thus far. When it comes to sharing your story, all success deserves to be celebrated and shared. For example, we took it for granted that all film festivals pay artist and screening fees. This is not the case and is something that we now share in a big way. By supporting our Festival you are directly putting money in the pockets of artists. This is one of our core values, and ensuring that our mission and mandate is being served by all of our work helps focus and ensure our resources are going where they need to. Another big takeaway was availing of volunteers. We are all working with very limited means. Ambassadors can help you make projects happen, expand your outreach, offer new ideas and skills, plus you get to work with incredible people who believe in your work.
Business & Arts NL: Did the program help achieve any of the goals set for this year’s SJIWFF? Do you have any other activities coming up in which you plan to implement some of the lessons learned?
JB: This program aligned perfectly with a recent strategic planning session of the Festival and continues to help build a very thorough case for support and update other aspects of our core operations and communications. The program reminded us to keep stewardship and donor outreach on the front burner during our annual Festival this past October. All elements of the program are thought about and acted on each day here of the Festival. Understanding the larger picture, what we can do now and what we can work toward is imprinted on all of our projects thanks to ArtSupport NL.
Business & Arts NL: How will the program help SJIWFF meet its overall goals?
JB: Through this program, we have been developing a fundraising plan which is very timely as we will celebrate our 30th anniversary in October 2019. We need this signature year to be just that- a featured celebration that will serve our community well, as well as our industry on a local and national level. We need additional funding to achieve this along with a solid strategic approach. We are also looking at how do we get to our 40th anniversary at the same time! To ensure both sustainability and growth, this program has helped us develop a plan for today and for the future of the Festival. Assessing where you are now and where you want to go is key.
Business & Arts NL: Are there any important takeaways from this program that you’d like to share with other arts organizations?
JB: Knowing the full funding ecosystem and how it works is essential, even if some of it is beyond where you or your organization is today. The more you know, the more you can understand how everything works together. You can aspire to reach new levels of support, and also discover your organizations’ weaknesses and how to improve them. To better represent our artists and our province, learning best practices to develop healthy cultural communities is vital. The comradery of connecting with other artists and arts organizations at programs like this is very valuable and encouraging. You feel the support from your community, and you can give support to others. Our work is important work and has a huge impact. Art is important, and people want to support it!