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Art Theater’s doors to close

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CHAMPAIGN — The words “Thanks for the memories” were being attached to the Art Theater marquee Friday. The beloved home of foreign and art films has stopped showing films and will close for good on Halloween.

House Manager B Erickson pauses a moment to look at the word ‘CLOSED’ that he just put up on the marquee of the Art Theater on Friday, Oct. 25, 2019, in Champaign. The theater has stopped showing films and will close for good on Halloween.

Robin Scholz

B Erickson, who was installing the large words from a ladder, said: “We’re very sorry to go and very proud of sharing this gem with the community.”

In a letter to “friends and community partners,” Art Film Foundation interim Executive Director Rhiannon Bettivia said: “When we hit rough patches in the past, you stepped up and helped us with emergency fundraising. Emergency funds help with discrete, one-time needs, and the Art Theater has remained in operation because of your passionate support and the tireless work of our wonderful staff.

“Unfortunately, the film industry is changing and we will face systemic challenges that show no signs of abating.”

Manager B Erickson heads back inside after putting up a ‘Closed’ sign Friday, Oct. 25, 2019, on the marquee at the Art Theater in Champaign. The theater has stopped showing films and is closing for good on Halloween.

Robin Scholz/The News-Gazette

Bettivia declined to divulge more details when contacted Friday by The News-Gazette, saying only: “We’re in a tough industry that presents many challenges. … As I hope we were able to convey, we are very grateful for our time in the community and very sad it has come to an end.”

The Art Film Foundation thanked its patrons for a long run that began in 1913, when the theater opened as the Park Theatre.

“We know that you, our members and audience, are amazing. We have made so many memories together; we’ve laughed, screamed, and cried tears of joy and sadness,” the letter said. “We’ve shared in groundbreaking films and unique experiences, from ‘Casablanca’ to ‘Rocky Horror.’”

It became the Art Theater in 1958. The late critic Roger Ebert recalled seeing his first foreign film there.

From 1971 to 1988, it was an X-rated theater.

John Manley bought the building in 1987 and it has shown films under different owners until now. Current owner David Kraft said the lease for the theater space has not run out.