Watsonville Film Festival (WFF) is one of the many inspiring organizations in our community doing great work through the arts, and we’re proud to have supported them through our Fiscal Sponsorship* and Grant programs. Now that they have “graduated” into a full nonprofit in their own right, we caught up with Executive Director Consuelo Alba to hear about her organization’s experience under fiscal sponsorship, and her vision for the future of Watsonville Film Festival.
Tell us about Watsonville Film Festival! What is your focus and mission?
The focus of our program is to share inspiring and thought-provoking films that are relevant to our diverse audiences, and that celebrate the talent and creativity of our local filmmakers. Our mission is to build community, one film at a time. That’s how we frame the work we do, and how we put our program together: We celebrate the human spirit and build community one film at a time.
We started in 2012, and the focus of our work for years was presenting the annual festival. Slowly we added a few more screenings here and there. Last year, we presented more films that had great receptions. We partnered with a climate change action group to present an environmental film series that went really well.
This year, we decided to launch a monthly series, so we now officially have both the festival and ongoing presentations! The new monthly film series takes place at the Appleton Theater, the second Thursday of each month. It makes so much sense for us and for the community, and people really like it! We have built a wonderful audience and everyone is ready to take our program to the next level. We had our first screening recently on Women’s Day with a film program dedicated to women, and we had a full house! Presenting a film every month is a very big step for us.
How did you get involved with our Fiscal Sponsorship program?
From the very beginning, the Arts Council has been supportive of our work. We were grant recipients, so we were able to start the conversation with the Arts Council’s Grants Manager about how we really needed to take our organization to the next level.
We were a grassroots organization, a group of friends, film professionals, educators, and activists in Watsonville coming together. We needed a place to showcase the talent of our community, and share our stories and the films made in Watsonville. That was the beginning of the festival. It was a big group of people, and we realized it needed to be more than a one-time event. People were so excited about it, we decided to continue. We found out about the Fiscal Sponsorship program at the Arts Council and we realized that kind of structure was exactly what we needed. We were not quite ready to be our own nonprofit, but we wanted to move beyond an all-volunteer collective, and we needed more support to present the program in the future. It all came together very organically.
What was your experience like? How did fiscal sponsorship help your growth as an organization?
Being fiscally sponsored by the Arts Council was a big deal for us! It was a very serious step for us as an organization. It gave us the opportunity to go out there in the community and say, “Your contribution is tax-deductible, as we have a serious nonprofit organization helping us make it happen.” Being fiscally sponsored gave us the room to grow as an organization, to build a stronger Board of Directors, and to be able to work together for a while and become stronger as a team without worrying about handling the fiscal aspect on our own.
Personally, it was important to me to work with an arts organization to showcase films in Watsonville. There are other sponsors we could have worked with like education organizations, but what we do is an arts program working with the community. To make that distinction, that what we do is not just education but showcasing the talent and creativity of the people in our community, was really important.
It was often assumed that the school district was behind the festival as students were involved. Being able to identify ourselves as this arts organization-backed group of committed individuals who made the festival happen was critical to building our identity.
Now that you are “graduating” from this program and have launched your own nonprofit, what does the future look like for the festival?
The future looks very bright right now! Working with the Arts Council really allowed us to grow in a very sustainable way. It gave us room to build a Board of Directors who work well together, and a solid team that makes things happen. We didn’t have to worry about all the financial stuff for a while, and now we’re ready to take that on. We have an excellent treasurer with lots of nonprofit management experience and we were all on the same page with the fiscal help of the Arts Council, so it was a really smooth transition. We had the time we needed to make sure we have everything in place to stand on our own as a nonprofit in our own right. Now we’re ready!
We became our own nonprofit at the end of last year, so we’re ready to launch more programming throughout the year. We’re developing our own donor system, and being independent allows us to apply for more grants that we weren’t eligible for previously. It seemed like we were “teenagers” and our organization has now reached full “adulthood” – we’re learning to drive! I’m proud to work with the hardworking team of staff and board members; it’s a great group of people with lots of ideas. The new monthly program is a big deal for us and we have a very clear action plan to keep growing and building. This is a really good time in Watsonville; we’re able to take our time to develop our audience, create our own systems, and build the funding to take things to the next level.
Anything else you’d like to add?
We’re very grateful for the support! Working with the Arts Council, you really are our partners and we’re looking forward to continuing that.
While we have graduated from the fiscal sponsorship program, we’re now part of the cohort of organizations taking part in the Arts Council’s Elevate Grants program**. It’s a great fit for continuing to take our organization to the next level, working with the Elevate cohort, the Arts Council, and the WFF Board of Directors. It’s helpful for us to have a group of peers to work with as we are getting specific about how we need to move forward. I see our work together as continuing to move forward and bring great things to our community
*Fiscal sponsorship is a formal arrangement in which a 501(c)(3) public charity, like the Arts Council, sponsors a project that is compatible with our mission and lacks exempt status. This allows fiscally sponsored projects to seek grants and solicit tax-deductible donations under our exempt status. Many fiscally sponsored projects eventually become full nonprofits. We currently provide fiscal sponsorship services to Young Writer’s Program, El Sistema Santa Cruz and Espressivo.
**The Elevate Grants program provides professional development and funding for organizations to ensure their long–term success. This is a 3-year program supported by a skilled organizational consultant and Arts Council staff. The program curriculum adapts to the needs of each cohort member around board development, strategic planning, and fundraising. The current 3-year Elevate Cohort is in it’s first year and includes Tandy Beal and Co., Tannery World Dance & Cultural Center, Senderos, and the Watsonville Film Festival.