Mergers don’t happen too often in the arts, but New York’s independent nonprofit film world has just experienced a major overhaul with the announcement today that Robert De Niro and Jane Rosenthal’s Tribeca Film Institute will be merging with Renew Media, the long-running arts-funding and advocacy organization established by the Rockefeller Foundation. Although Renew Media might not be as recognizable a brand name as Tribeca, it is arguably the more significant entity in this marriage, having granted millions of dollars in financing and support over the years to independent filmmakers and artists such as Craig Brewer, Gregg Araki, Jonathan Caouette, Miranda July, and Bill Viola.
The two organizations will combine their staffs and will operate under the name of the Tribeca Film Institute, with Renew Media executive director Brian Newman taking over as CEO. According to a press release going out today, this merger will help create “one institution dedicated to innovation in film and media, the enrichment of audiences and the promotion of education, understanding and creativity through media arts.” More important, the Tribeca Film Institute will now be run by some of the smartest people in the film nonprofit world — and, at long last, it will become a major organization that could rival the influence and impact of the Sundance Institute.
“In all honesty, the biggest changes won’t be immediate,” says Newman. “What we’re really saying is that the Tribeca Film Institute is growing up. An institute of this size, doing major programs that will have an international impact, should exist in New York.” Those programs will include more than just grants, however. Tribeca has been looking for a “major physical presence and permanent home in lower Manhattan” for some time now; that search will continue, presumably with renewed intensity. Newman also foresees the new Tribeca becoming more actively involved in advocacy for filmmakers and media artists in the city, who he feels have been sorely lacking a centralized resource for all kinds of support: “We want to be that voice that’s been missing for artists.” Among the issues such advocacy might include: the search for “more housing for artists in the five boroughs, so they can stay in New York instead of having to move elsewhere.” —Bilge Ebiri