Can Cinema Be an "Arts Magnet" for This Midwest University? These Donors Think So

I'm no longer surprised to come across news stories looking at how philanthropy helps transform small college towns into nationally recognized art meccas. What is surprising is when a gift—or in this case, a suite of gifts—is earmarked towards the often-overlooked field of cinema. It warrants a closer look.

Indiana University's cinema program recently received six gifts to endow key programs as part of the school's $2.5 billion "For All: The Indiana University Bicentennial Campaign." Thanks to the campaign's gift-matching initiative, the donations create almost $1 million of revenue-generating endowments for IU Cinema programming.

"In its first six years, IU Cinema has established itself as a leading destination for quality, relevant, engaging and, very often, provocative films as well as some of the most acclaimed filmmakers from around our nation and the world," said IU Bloomington Provost and Executive Vice President Lauren Robel.

The school, in other words, has doubled down on cinema as the art form—I'm somewhat smitten by the term "arts magnet"—upon which it will build its reputation. 

One endowed program, Filmmaker to Filmmaker: Conversations from the Director’s Chair, will pair two complementary filmmakers on stage together, discussing their artistic vision and craft, accompanied by screenings of their films. This program was endowed by Roberta and S. James Sherman.

Another, the Art and a Movie Film Series, is a collaborative program between the Eskenazi Museum of Art and IU Cinema, pairing lectures on objects in the museum collection with films screened in the cinema. Marsha R. Bradford and Harold A. Dumes have supported this program each year and decided to endow it to ensure its place on campus.

If the Eskenazi Museum of Art rings a bell, it's because it received a gift $15 million from its namesakes, Indianapolis-based philanthropists Sidney and Lois Eskenazi last May. It represented the largest cash gift in the museum's history and a lead gift toward renovation of its building, which opened in 1982.

Indeed, a closer reading suggests that some of these endowed programs aren't strictly devoted to cinema. They are cross-disciplinary in nature, and programming directors elsewhere should take note accordingly. Donors like this approach, whether cinema interfaces with, say, visual art, or the arts as a whole interface with the STEM field. For proof, look no further than recent developments out of Waterville, MaineCleveland, and Atlanta.

In addition to its endowed programs, IU Cinema also has a commitment for a planned gift to "support student travel scholarships for cinema and media students whose films are accepted to film festivals." These scholarships will help students participate in festivals where their films are to be screened.