Shapeshifters in the Time of Pandemic

The following are some answers to questions you may have about the current state and future of Shapeshifters Cinema as of May 2020

The Indiegogo campaign wrapped up two months ago, shouldn't you be moving ahead with construction now?

After a successful Indiegogo fundraising campaign that ended February 29th, we were excited to finally be in a position to move ahead with securing the loan we needed to build out the space to add a brewery and taproom. But as luck would have it, as you know, two weeks later the entire state of California abruptly shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Accordingly, that same week we were told by our lender that they would not be originating any new loans because of current and future uncertainties related to the pandemic and its aftermath. At that point we found ourselves in a very awkward state of limbo. On the one hand we had the cash required by the lender for incidental costs associated with the planned construction project (given to us by over 175 enthusiastic donors and supporters), but on the other hand, there was now no loan available to us as a small, startup business to move forward with construction. Compounding the issue, we had been unable to find enough investors who were willing to front the rest of the money we needed to get the business up and running because most of it would have gone into structural improvements to the building (due primarily to the size and weight of the equipment that was going to be installed). And because we don't own the building, that was just not a desirable investment. So after much discussion, we finally decided that there was just no reasonable way to move forward with the original plan.

Can't you get some money from all those pandemic relief funds being offered now?

The short answer is no. And that's because, in the state of limbo we are in, we don't exactly fit any of the listed categories. We can't get a small business loan because we don't exist yet as a business. And we haven't yet found any non-profit grants that pertain to us since we don't yet have a history in the space we just moved into, we don't have any employees and we are not low income or otherwise marginalized.

Could you skip building the brewery and just open a bar? 

Installing a bar without a brewery would mean we wouldn’t need to purchase expensive equipment, but it would still require structurally reinforcing the floors in the back room for a walk-in refrigerator, upgrading electrical, and upgrading the bathrooms to be ADA and Health Dept compliant. So we would still need to get the same loan, which is not available to us. It would also require applying for a different Conditional Use Permit from the city, reworking the drawings with our architect, and resubmitting everything to the Building and Health Department. This would put us back 6-8 months and by then, what money we do have would have run out.

So how do you plan to bring in an income now?

Even though we are no longer able to pursue our original plan, we are lucky enough to still be in a position that allows us to pursue a new path forward and we are really excited by the prospect. We have just renewed our fiscal sponsorship with San Francisco Cinematheque, who have been supporting us administratively for the past 6 years. With this fiscal sponsorship we will be able to apply for grants from foundations and also receive tax-deductible donations from individuals, just like we were doing when we operated as a monthly series. But now we have our own space that will allow us to do so much more! In addition to grants and donations, we plan to turn part of the front room into a retail space to sell artist-made media (books, DVDs, LPs, zines), weird cultural ephemera and more. We also look forward to offering a robust schedule of programs of experimental, small-gauge and artist-made media and performances, including workshops and salons. Until we can open our doors safely, these will be happening online (but we also have some fun things in mind that we will be able to do with the space in the meantime that we will tell you about soon!). These, along with our newly established membership program will provide a diverse array of funding to help us continue our mission of supporting the creation and exhibition of mind-blowing, experimental and artist-made work.

What about all the money raised on Indiegogo? What are you planning to do with it now? 

We are still committed to using the money from the recent Indiegogo fundraising campaign to upgrade the space, but now it will be channelled into a slightly different direction. We plan to build shelving and cabinets in the front for the retail shop. We also need to build secure storage space for supplies and equipment. Anything left over will go toward equipment purchases including a new 4K video projector, a 16mm Eiki projector and new lighting, including hanging lights, spotlights, and a lighting controller.

But what about the beer?! 

The good news is: we will still be making beer, just not in the space as we had originally planned. We are looking into different possibilities including contract brewing and bottling with an established brewery that we can then sell as concessions at the space once we secure the proper permits (which we are already in the process of doing). We are also considering opening a brewery at another location and donating a portion of the profits to support the cinema. In any case, fear not! There will be beer.

I signed up as a member. How is that going to work now?

The membership program will continue (mostly) as planned, with all the promised perks and benefits. If you signed up during the Indiegogo fundraising campaign earlier this year you will receive an extension on your membership to accommodate for time lost during the pandemic. Essentially, your membership time period won't officially start until we can welcome you back into the physical space, but you will still get your T-shirts and totes, etc. and you can still use your member discount wherever that applies in the meantime. Over the next several weeks, we will be contacting those of you who signed up for a membership level that included perks related to the brewery to figure out how best to translate your support into this new template. If however, after weighing your options, you decide that you are no longer interested in supporting this new model of Shapeshifters, we will of course respect your wishes and return your money. We realize this isn't exactly what you signed up for two months ago and we certainly don't want to force you to stick around for anything you're not 100% down with.

If we are supposed to be social distancing, how are you going to continue to operate a cinema for the foreseeable future?

We look forward to welcoming you back to the space as soon as we can do so safely and effectively. In the meantime, we have plans to offer the same great programming you have come to expect from Shapeshifters, but in a different, expanded capacity. Soon we will be launching a regular programming schedule that makes the most out of the tools we have available to us so that we can accommodate moving image, sound, performance and anything else that comes our way. Some of this will be live-streamed from home studios, some of it might happen in the cinema space at Shapeshifters (and live-streamed to you). We've seen some creative ways that artists and arts organizations have been using online and social media over the past several weeks to connect with audiences and each other and we are encouraged, motivated and excited to jump into the mix.

And when the time comes for us to convene again, we will fire up those projectors and bask in the glow together.

Until then, stay safe, stay healthy and stay motivated. Thanks for sticking with us!

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Donations are tax-deductible through our fiscal sponsor, San Francisco Cinematheque, a 501(c)3 nonprofit.