From left: Levi Landis, executive director of GoggleWorks Center for the Arts, Cammie Harris, executive director of ReadingFilmFEST, Tracy Schott, board president and creative director of ReadingFilmFEST, and Dr. Rodney Ridley, vice president, interim dean of the College of STEAM and chief operating officer O'Pake Institute for Economic Development & Entrepreneurship
O’Pake Institute provides business services as part of arts expansion
Alvernia University partners with ReadingFilmFEST to expand art offerings for the Reading and greater Berks County community. The university’s students, faculty and staff will provide business consulting services through the O’Pake Institute for Economic Development and Entrepreneurship’s student-powered business incubator.
“Creating a vibrant arts environment downtown is an essential aspect of the Reading CollegeTowne strategy,” said Alvernia University President John R. Loyack. “The renaissance of downtown won’t reach its full potential until we are celebrating the local cultures through the arts.”
In early 2021, ReadingFilmFEST became its own entity, establishing a board of directors and an advisory council, including past contributors, organizers, and community leaders. The partnership will allow Alvernia students to support this transition by assisting the film festival enhance its business plan and marketing strategies for its various programming.
“Arts is the backbone of life-long learning, critical to the future of the university and will help lead to the enhanced economic development of the region,” said Vice President, Interim Dean of the College of STEAM & Chief Operating Officer O'Pake Institute for Economic Development & Entrepreneurship Rodney Ridley. “We look forward to helping to create an arts-enhanced look that represents the culture of Reading, and I’m excited for my new role as a member of the advisory council.”
Now in its seventh year, the festival continues to support emerging filmmakers, enhance local art culture and encourage spending in the local community. The organization recently announced a $35,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development to support the festival’s development initiatives, including production, marketing and promotion and year-round administrative expenses.
“ReadingFilmFEST is encouraged by the unified support and collaboration within the community to build a more robust, more vibrant Reading post-COVID,” said Reading Film Festival Executive Director Cammie Harris. “Our focus as a new nonprofit is to create an even more resilient, sustainable, and inclusive film community and we thank Alvernia for their commitment to this vision.”
The O’Pake business incubator has already served over 50 clients since its launch last year and continues to help new businesses navigate the challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.
O’Pake serves as the catalyst for educational and business expansion in center city Reading. In addition to the partnership with the Reading Film Festival, O’Pake has secured partnerships with SCORE Berks Schuylkill Chapter, Lehigh Valley Angel Investors, Kutztown University’s Small Business Development Center and Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania, as well as the institute’s initial group of sponsors, Pepsi®, Customers Bank, the Wyomissing Foundation, RKL, LLP, Visions Federal Credit Union and the Berks Alliance.
In January, Alvernia started a $20 million renovation project on its newly acquired building at 401 Penn Street, which will serve as the hub of Reading CollegeTowne, a strategic model for economic development in downtown. The downtown location, where the new O’Pake offerings will operate, is slated to open in August 2021.
ReadingFilmFEST grew out of ReadingFilm, the region’s film commission, to become an established nonprofit organization located at the GoggleWorks Center for the Arts in Reading, Pennsylvania. The festival continues to promote the area as a location and destination for film and media production, building the community through events and programming and cultivating the development of a regional film industry. ReadingFilmFEST creates programming throughout the year for audiences, students and filmmakers, culminating in a four-day international film festival each fall. FilmFreeway featured ReadingFilmFEST on its Top 100 Film Festivals. In the past, the festival has generated filmmakers from across the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Iran and Columbia.