California State University, Northridge will confer an honorary doctorate of fine arts on entertainment executive, educator, philanthropist and Northridge alumnus Jim Berk during the university’s commencement ceremonies next month.
Berk, CEO of Participant Media, the company responsible for such socially relevant films as “An Inconvenient Truth” and “Waiting for ‘Superman’,” will receive his degree Tuesday, May 24, during the commencement ceremony for the Mike Curb College of Arts, Media, and Communication.
“We are delighted to be honoring Jim Berk in this way,” said Cal State Northridge President Jolene Koester. “The degree recognizes Mr. Berk’s many accomplishments in a diverse and varied career that has encompassed the fields of education, music, philanthropy, business, the arts and entertainment, and his work as a community leader. He is an example of the California State University’s aspirations for its diverse student body, and we are proud that he is part of the Northridge family.”
Berk was born in 1959 in Brockton, Mass., but grew up in the San Fernando Valley. He earned a bachelor’s degree in music from Cal State Northridge and a master’s degree in public administration from California Lutheran University.
Berk said he chose Northridge because of the reputation of its music department and because its music education program was one of the most prestigious in the country. When he graduated from CSUN in 1981, at age 21, he took his passion for music to work at Carson High School, re-opening the school’s closed music department and building it into one of the largest and most celebrated performance programs in California.
Berk was then asked to write the curriculum and establish a public high school and performing arts magnet. The Hamilton Academy of Music grew to be the largest program of its kind in the western United States.
In 1990, Berk was appointed principal of Hamilton High School, becoming the youngest principal in the history of the Los Angeles Unified School District, leading the school through a restructuring, renovation and rebirth.
Berk left Hamilton in 1992 to become founding executive of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences Foundation, a nonprofit, entertainment production company. He produced live concerts, festivals, television programs and records as well as instituted an array of national programming, including GRAMMY Showcase, GRAMMY in the Schools, GRAMMY Festivals and GRAMMY Records.
In 1996, Berk became President & CEO of Hard Rock Café International, a global entertainment and leisure company, expanding the company’s reach to 104 locations in 29 countries. He simultaneously served as chief executive of the Hard Rock Foundation, which provided education, social action grants and thousands of hours of employee volunteer services to local charities and schools.
Berk became President & CEO of Fairfield Communities, Inc., one of America’s largest independent vacation ownership and resort companies, in 1999. Five years later, he became Chairman & CEO of Gryphon Colleges Corp., a private, for-profit company providing training in high-demand career specialties.
In 2006, Berk was named CEO of Los Angeles-based Participant Media, an entertainment company that focuses on socially relevant feature films and documentaries as well as publishing and digital media that aspire and accelerate social change.
Participant has had 30 films released to date, including “Good Night, and Good Luck,” “An Inconvenient Truth,” “The Visitor,” “The Kite Runner,” “Food, Inc.,” “The Cove” and “Waiting for ‘Superman’.” In 2011, Participant will premiere eight films including “PAGE ONE: Inside The New York Times,” “The Help” and “Contagion.” For each of its films, Participant creates extensive social action and advocacy campaigns designed to continue the impact of the film from the screen to the community. Participant’s digital Social Action Network is TakePart.com.
Cal State Northridge recognized Berk as a Distinguished Alumnus in 2007. He currently serves on the university’s Special Task Force on Engagement, which is charged with helping to build new linkages between Northridge and its more prominent and influential alumni and friends. He also served as honorary co-chair of the opening gala of the university’s Valley Performing Arts Center.
He serves on the boards of the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television and the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education as well as the boards of Summit Entertainment, Me to We, Inc., the Participant Foundation and Soliya, a pioneering nonprofit associated with the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, is focused on employing new technologies to facilitate dialogue among students in the Middle East, North Africa, Europe, the United States and other areas of the world.