Art Theater Co-op board election opens Sunday

Thinking about becoming a member of the Art Theater Co-op? You can do so at any time but if you sign up by March 25 you can vote for the candidates wanting to be on the inaugural nine-member co-op board of directors.

Eighteen candidates are running for election; their names will be released at 1 p.m. Sunday during a membership meeting at the Art Theater, 126 W. Church St., C.

The candidates will be there to introduce themselves to members, who number more than 500 so far. The interim co-op board also will release a voter guide, with photographs and bios of the candidates.

Members may vote any time between this Sunday and March 25. They may vote online — each member will receive an email with a link to the ballot — or cast paper ballots at the Art Theater box office. You must be a shareholder or member to vote.

Urbana resident Ben Galewsky, who is helping lead the effort to transform the privately operated Art Theater to a co-operative, said today that one of the amazing things is he’s never heard of most of the candidates vying for the new board of directors. He called the  campaign competitive and the candidate slate diverse.

"You have this idea and you start to sign up members and people you never thought of ask to be on the board," he said.

A share in the Art Theater Co-op is $65; people are welcome to buy more than one. However, each shareholder, no matter how many shares he or she owns, can vote only once in the election, and on other issues. If a co-op member moves away from the community, he or she would be given back their share unless he or she chooses to contribute it to the co-op.

People may pay the share online through PayPal or in person at the Art Theater. A share is basically a membership fee and should not be viewed as an investment. However, if the future board of directors discovers that the theater co-op has a lot of money, it could vote to return some money back to shareholders, or members. That circumstance, though, is highly unlikely, according to Sanford Hess, the current operator of the Art Theater.

Hess said if 500 more people buy shares in the Art Theater Co-op,  the co-op would have enough money to pay for a digital projection system. He suggested that each current shareholder persuade at least one other person to buy into the co-op.

"I think we will make our goal," he said of the $80,000 to $100,000 needed for a new digital projection system. "We are more than halfway there, and importantly, word is getting around. It’s like many things — the hardest part is getting things going. At a certain point you start building momentum and the momentum begins to carry it on on its own."

The movie industry is expected to move to all digital releases by the end of this year. That creates a quandary for smaller, independent movie houses  that might not be able to afford to pay for the conversion.

For example, the Onarga Theater in Iroquois County north of Champaign recently began a campaign to raise funds for a digital projection system. That small movie house is owned by Randy and Cheryl Lizzio.

For more about the Art Theater Co-op effort, read my Art Beat column in the Entertainment section of The News-Gazette this Sunday.

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