Smile Politely

Art Theater Co-op readies for elections

Back in August, Art Theater Operator Sanford Hess presented preliminary plans for an Art Theater Co-op. Now, the Art Theater Co-op transition takes its next step with the first official general member meeting on Sunday, March 11, at 1:00 p.m. Shareholders will come together to meet prospective board members and listen to their proposals.

The meeting will also aim to inform members of the state of the co-op transition process and give them a chance to discuss by-laws that will be voted on, along with the board elections that are to be held from March 11–25.

Ben Galwesky, a self-described “co-op nerd,” who currently serves as an interim board member of the Art Theater and as the current Board Chair at Common Ground Food Co-op, originally proposed the co-op idea to Hess after reading an Art Theater Facebook link to an article about digital conversion and how it meant the end for art theaters.

Galewsky likens digital conversion in the film industry to the transition to genetically modified crops in the food industry: “Consumers don’t really get a lot of benefit out of it, but it doesn’t matter, because it’s happening.”

“I always thought that the theater would make a good co-op,” Galewsky said. “It’s unfair for one person to put all their capital into it. The business model is set up to break even. We need 500 people to share the pain.”

Galewsky has been a part of co-ops since Common Ground was part of the Illinois Disciples Foundation. He says that he was able to apply his prior experience working in a financial career, at a Swiss Bank, to the new co-op models.

The Art has been functioning with an unofficial interim board of seven members. The new board, to be voted on by shareholders, will be comprised of nine members, each serving a three-year term.

Packets for board membership consideration were due on March 7 and have offered a wide selection for the interim board. “It’s gratifying for me that the candidates are all people I’ve never heard of before. This is bigger than just us that started it,” Galewsky said.

The board will have the task of hiring a manager to run the Art Theater, handling the financial aspects, and aiding the digital conversion, along with a host of other things.

Galewsky points out that outreach is going to be a huge key for board members as more money will need to be raised from owners to establish a fully operational co-op.

In January, Hess and Galewsky attended the Art House Convergence conference in Park City, Utah where they were able to discuss the co-op idea, which became quite popular with other independent art theaters with a similar doomsday feeling. They have since been contacted by art theaters as far as Alaska, and a filmmaker interested in a co-op distribution structure.

“Our competition is not the multiplexes, Netflix is. And getting people out of their houses to promote a communal experience. Food does the same thing,” Galewsky said.

Although board memberships are unpaid positions, Galewsky sees them as a source for personal satisfaction and resume enhancement. Hopefully people will think, “three years from now we’ll have this vibrant running co-op and I was there to set it up.”

Galewsky credits Common Ground for aiding the Art Theater’s transition. “They (Common Ground) have been able to raise capital fairly easily and have helped acclimate people to the idea of a co-op. And Sanford has made it a community resource with his ‘Two Minute Cinema,’ the film festivals, and rentals for the Bollywood films.”

“I am thrilled beyond all expectations with the Co-op process so far. The source of the success is the community, which treasures having an art house theater and doesn’t take it for granted,” Hess said.

“This community loves its theater. It’s kind of magic. We’re halfway to buying our own movie theater,” Galewsky said.

Hess would like to remain involved throughout the transition but will be acting in a diminished role as the Art Theater Co-op completes its transaction with his corporation.

“I hope to run for the board in the future, once the transaction is complete and the co-op has taken over. I will definitely not be the manager, but I will work with the new manager and the board to make for a smooth transition of operations,” Hess added.

“The Co-op is Ben’s brainchild … if he had not come up with the idea of starting a Co-op for the theater, we would never be where we are today. Plus he’s been an instrumental part of organizing the process that has gotten us to this point. It’s not easy to create a community corporation from nothing, and Ben (and the rest of the Interim Board!) have done the heavy lifting so that we can turn over a rolling organization to the first elected board,” Hess said.


Interested in becoming a co-op owner? See more details about how you can join.


Eds. Note: Galewsky is running for the Art Theater Co-op Board

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