Art to change from Co-op to NFP

Well, that made headway rather quickly after becoming public knowledge! Remember all the dramatic superlatives our community bandied about a few years back when it was deemed an imperative to reorganize the Art Theater as a cooperative so shareholder purchases could possibly “save the independent cinema” in Champaign-Urbana? A shift in prerogatives and future goals has emboldened the Board of Directors (BOD), general manager Austin McCann, and participating shareholders to choose yet another operating path for the Art, agreeing by vote to allow a local and heretofore low-key organization called the Art Film Foundation (AFF) to bring the movie house under its wing. As a not-for-profit (NFP) group, the AFF will provide the theater with the means to pursue fundraising options, which had not been a possibility due to its prior co-op status, for beefing up its programming slate and building improvements.

Certainly, they are banking on the addition of grants and tax-deductible donations to regular ticket sales and annual memberships to provide the Art a better-than-before operating budget. This is all well and good – why wouldn’t we want the Art to continue its long-term recovery? – but we do wonder if this will give select tastemakers more latitude to become pickier with their scheduling and, even more so, suggestions to their new parent organization on which screenings and events to throw said moneys behind. Since we are at the very beginning of repositioning the Art as something inherently new, even with a pledge in the press release below to not change their daily business acumen, we should give them time to resettle. As the public conversations commence over this development, be vocal about what you want to watch at the Art and make sure to verbally support your local film festival for local film artists in the process. Yes, it’s an imperative.

~ Jason Pankoke

p.s. Presumably, the URL to the Art’s Web site will be changed to remove “coop,” so Google them if you find the page links here to be broken. Thanks!



From May 25, 2017:



CHAMPAIGN, IL (May 25, 2017) – After a twenty-day voting period, the cooperative owners of the Art Theater have approved a merger with the Art Film Foundation (AFF). Owners overwhelmingly approved the merger, with 97 percent of the voting ownership pool approving.

The merger will dissolve cooperative ownership, bringing the Art into the fold of the AFF and conferring onto the theater tax-exempt charitable status. The Art’s programming, staff, membership program, and daily operations will remain unchanged, but it will now be legally capable of soliciting tax-deductible funding from individuals, businesses, local and state foundations, and national non-profit arts funding organizations.

“The Board and I are very excited for the merger,” says Austin McCann, the theater’s general manager. “The Art has always found innovative ways to remain vital to the Champaign-Urbana community. I’m very thankful for the owners’ support for the merger and their dedication to the positive transformations that make the Art such a crucial cultural space.”

The AFF is a Champaign-based 501(c) (3) tax-exempt charity founded in 2015. Its mission is to promote culture and education through film and cinema. Post-merger, the current Art Theater Board of Directors will be appointed to the Board of the AFF. “Merging the two boards together ensures stable leadership during the transition and provides a continued focus on incorporating community voices into the leadership of the theater,” says Leigh Estabrook, the current president of the Art Theater Board of Directors.

“I’ve been involved with the Art Theater for six years and one of the most notable things about the Art and its supporters is its willingness to embrace change for the better,” says Alicia Kozma, an Art Theater Board Member. “The most consistent response we’ve had from cooperative owners regarding the transition discussion is their willingness to put the collective interest of the theater over individual ones. The Art is certainly what it is today due to the dedication of the community that supports it.”

While the Art has made initial inroads in raising donations – most notably through the Kickstarter project to repair the marquee, its membership program, and the Smart Kids summer programming series – the move to 501(c) (3) status opens many fundraising venues previously closed to the theater. McCann notes, “The ability to fundraise tax-deductible donations and grants gives the theater a whole new set of opportunities to move into the future in really new and exciting ways.”

Full information – including a FAQ, fact sheet, proposed merger plan, and other documents – on the proposed merger can be found here:


Leigh Estabrook
Art Theater Board President
the [dot] art [dot] theater [dot] president [at] gmail [dot] com

Alicia Kozma
Art Theater Board Member
aliciakozma [at] gmail [dot] com


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