Founder of Arpa Foundation for Film, Music & Art. Her vision for the Arts & Charitable work
Sylvia Minassian, founder of Arpa Foundation for Film, Music and Art (AFFMA), came to appreciate the arts as a child while growing up in the cosmopolitan city of Istanbul, where she was exposed to various art forms influencing the magnificent city at the crossroads of multiple civilizations. The unique synthesis of European and Oriental art in Istanbul played a pivotal role in her love for art, fashion, dance and cinema. At an early age, Sylvia studied the French language, which further helped her understand the inherent relationship that exists between language, art and culture.
Her love for the arts was elevated to a whole new dimension while she spent some time in Paris at the age of thirteen, prior to permanently settling in California with her family. The museums of Paris and the diversity of the city’s street artists and musicians mesmerized her and intensified her desire to contribute to the art world throughout her adolescence and adult life.
Most people who know Sylvia and her vivacious personality will find it hard to believe that she was quite timid in her teenage years in Fresno, California. This was mostly due to the fact that she was introduced to an entirely new culture as a young immigrant girl.
Rest assured, she was quick to adapt to her new surroundings and began immersing herself in volunteer work for various charitable causes.
By the time Sylvia was in college, studying French, Spanish and Art, she began dedicating time to music and dance, with a newfound appreciation for folk and ballroom dancing. Influenced by her favorite professor, the world of opera, theater and independent/documentary films became a part of her life.
Shortly after receiving a master’s degree in French literature, Sylvia began teaching French and Spanish in high schools. It is at this time in her life when she grew more confident and assertive as a result of the inspiration she felt in teaching students. Foreign language classes were electives and she appreciated the fact that her students had actively chosen to take these classes. Their intrigue with learning new languages increased Sylvia’s passion for teaching and pushed her to establish French Clubs on campuses in an effort to encourage her students and expose them to French culture.
Throughout her high school and college years, Sylvia continuously volunteered for various nonprofit causes. Her involvement increased over the years as she began to take part in organizing events aimed at promoting artists from around the world in the fields of film, music and art. She is also very proud of her Armenian heritage and has always been an active leader in the Armenian-American communities she has lived in.
Her love and passion for the arts and charitable work entered a new phase after her marriage to neurosurgeon Dr. Haig Minassian. Even while raising their three children, Sylvia was committed to working with organizations such as Childhelp USA, World Vision International, and March of Dimes. The need to make a difference in the lives of those who are vulnerable and marginalized was something Sylvia felt had always been innate to her.
With the support and encouragement of her husband, she decided to start a foundation focused on her love for the arts. In 1995, she founded the nonprofit organization Arpa Foundation for Film, Music and Art (AFFMA) which has provided a platform for filmmakers, musicians and artists, whose works explore subjects of social and cultural importance.
Since its inception, AFFMA has supported a wide spectrum of artists including filmmakers, photographers, musicians, writers, actors, designers and dancers. In addition to numerous grants being awarded, AFFMA has actively organized an array of networking events such as concerts, art exhibits, book signings, fashion shows, talent shows, musical performances, lectures, forums, comedy nights, special screenings, and premieres, all in an effort to promote the arts and enhance the cultural environment of the community.
AFMMA’s biggest endeavor was launching its signature Arpa International Film Festival in 1997, which quickly came to be recognized as one of the leading indie film festivals in Southern California. The festival’s mission has always been to cultivate cultural understanding and global empathy by creating a dynamic forum for international cinema. The festival has bridged cultural divides by fostering dialogue among people of diverse backgrounds. By showcasing local and international films that explore critical issues such as war, genocide, diaspora, dual identities, exile and multi-culturism, Arpa International Film Festival has solidified its role in safeguarding films that continue to make a social impact.
Over the past two decades, the Festival has awarded filmmakers and Hollywood celebrities with a number of awards including Career Achievement, Lifetime Achievement, Rising Star, Breakthrough Artist, and the Armin T. Wegner Humanitarian Award. Recipients and supporters over the past 20 years have included Hank Moonjean, Howard Kazanjian, Vivica A. Fox, Leo Chaloukian, Dean Haglund, Dean Cain, Alanis Morissette, Bob Papazian, James Hirsch, Ara Keshishian,
Stuart Manashil, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Suzanne Somers, Jacqueline Bisset, Atom Egoyan, Frances Fisher, Serj Tankian, Cheech Marin, Angela Sarafyan, Tony Shalhoub, Mike Connors, Marilu Henner, Tippi Hedren, Denise Chamian, Esai Morales, Ken Davitian, and Angus Sutherland.
Minassian continues to be the heartbeat of AFFMA, employing her deep perspective and understanding in discovering gifted independent filmmakers whoseexperiences and works contribute greatly to the unique lineup of films featured at the annual AFFMA International Film Festivals.
Along with her dedicated team and their participation in the active growth of the organization, Minassian’s ultimate commitment and passion have made the Festival accessible to filmmakers worldwide. Arpa International Film Festival has given filmmakers across the globe the opportunity to appreciate their differences and unite in their creative journeys.
In 2011, on the occasion of the 15th anniversary of Arpa International Film Festival, Sylvia was bestowed one of the most coveted awards given by the Armenian Government - the Golden Medal of the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Armenia. This was in recognition of her outstanding contribution to promoting Armenian cinematic arts domestically and internationally.
The Arpa International Film Festival, now celebrating its 20th year, is the oldest international Indie film festival in Los Angeles. This year’s Festival, taking place November 3-5 at the historic Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, will once again feature a dynamic set of
international and local films. A special 20th Anniversary Gala will be held on November 5th at Loews Hollywood Hotel, where awards will be presented to winning filmmakers, along with special tributes to Chris Cornell (in memorium), Terry George, and Alexander Dinelaris.
Sylvia’s immense commitment to AFFMA and Arpa International Film Festival is a testament to the importance of supporting the arts because she is true believer that art is one of the primary vehicles through which people are able to express their inner feelings and talents. This is the driving force behind Sylvia Minassian’s vision and pledge to the world of film, music and art.
To learn more about Arpa International Film Festival and get updates on this year’s 20th Annual Festival and Gala, please visit: arpafilmfestival.com
Arpa Foundation for Film, Music and Art (AFFMA) is a non-profit organization.
Photo Courtesy by Don Hannah
Makeup & Hair by Margeaux