This week, BendFilm announced a restructuring that means an exit for its director, Orit Schwartz.
It’s not hard to see how administrative shake-ups in the arts happen when times are tough. But what about an upheaval when an organization is doing well? Schwartz says:
The board decided to restructure the festival and eliminate my current position.
Orit Schwartz has been at the helm of BendFilm since 2010. She and the board agree on a few things: under her leadership the festival celebrated its tenth year, has enjoyed a lot of community support and artistic success. Board members also say the organization’s budget is in the black, with a balance in the bank. So far, no disagreement.
Jim Foster is on the BendFilm board. He says there’s no issue with Schwartz’ performance.
She’s brilliant. She’s well connected, she’s smart, she’s savvy. She’s got a 6th sense for programming films. The 10th anniversary celebration was a rousing success, over 100 filmmakers, a 26% increase in ticket sales.
But as the festival’s growth played out, Schwartz’ story and the board’s story start to diverge. Foster says:
In a way we’re a victim of our own success. Even before October when the festival took place, it was clear we were in over our heads in terms of being a lean organization.
The board decided to split Schwartz’s job into two positions: a director to handle programming and other film stuff, and a program manager, to oversee the festival’s business. Not all festivals do this, but it’s not uncommon either.
Jim Foster says there was no intent to sideline Schwartz during the process.
She was involved in all these conversations. She’s the person who said, as we grow we need to be concerned about sustainability. The key to sustainability was writing grant applications, expanding our support base.
But Schwartz denies she was ever involved in any such discussions.
Ultimately, she was offered the position of program manager. That’s the job overseeing the creative side of things.
And Schwartz saw it as a position she was not willing to accept.
Just getting rid of the director title and making it a manager title just didn’t make sense to me. It wouldn’t be a good career move, especially after coming off a fourth successful year.
Schwartz has a film production background. She’s worked as an associate producer on the TV series News Radio, a production coordinator on Third Rock From The Sun, and she produced and wrote her own short film before moving to Bend. This was her first time running a non-profit.
The festival has become important to Bend, not just as something fun to do, but as an economic engine, giving tourists a reason to visit in October — a time of year when a lot of people aren’t coming for summer or winter vacations.
Schwartz says she aims to stay in Bend. The board intends to initiate a search or its two top jobs soon.