One unique aspect of the New Art Film Festival (NAFF) is the venue we are proud to call our home. The Art Theater is one of the oldest, continually operating, purpose-built movie theaters in the United States. It reached the century mark in November 2013, and the recent flux of activity underneath its roof proves the Art shows no sign of slowing down in downtown Champaign, Illinois!

A true community effort has kept the doors of the Art open to the film connoisseurs and movie fans in our midst. When the exhibition industry decided to mandate the conversion to high-definition digital projection for all theaters wishing to book first-run feature films in the future, a major fundraising issue faced the Art as it did other venues across the country. What could be done?

A highly unusual solution was arrived at thanks to Ben Galewsky, who applied his knowledge based on working with the Common Ground Food Co-op in neighboring Urbana, and Sandford Hess, then-owner of the Art who studied industry trends to determine whether the theater might stay open or close down. Once they organized a process to place the Art in the hands of a new cooperative, more than one thousand Champaign-Urbana citizens and worldwide fans purchased shares to fund the launch of the co-op and raise the necessary capital to pay for that equipment and other costs.


The Art Theater of Champaign, Illinois


To everyone’s surprise, it worked! And, to everyone’s knowledge, the Art was one of the first, if not the first, movie houses to operate under this kind of business model. In early 2017, the Board of Directors of the Art asked its members to vote on a proposal to merge the theater with another local organization, the Art Film Foundation, to take advantage of the latter’s nonprofit status for growing the theater and its programming. Members overwhelmingly approved the move as the cooperative model had served its short-term purpose to save the Art.

Apart from American and international art cinema and documentary, which has been its bread-and-butter staple since 1958, the Art Theater regularly schedules special event screenings, filmmaker appearances, and festivals running the gamut in genre, subject matter, and cultural concerns. The NAFF has a special place in this programming panoply because it is an event developed specifically to showcase the Art as well as local filmmakers, many of them regular Art customers. In fact, our very name derives from a previous era when the Art was known as the New Art Theater.

For upcoming play dates and movie information, membership application, and donation options, visit the Art’s website and Facebook. Also, delve into its history by reading the book The Art Theater: Playing Movies for 100 Years by Perry C. Morris, Joseph Muskin, and Audrey Wells, published by Champaign Urbana Theater History in 2013. Any which way, be sure to tell the keepers of the Art Theater mystique that the New Art Film Festival sent you!


[rev. 7-28-2019 jp]



Art Theater logo design by MMAFT/courtesy the Art Theater

About The NAFF

The New Art Film Festival is an annual festival showcasing local filmmakers from Champaign-Urbana, IL, and other downstate Illinois cities.

Like Us on Facebook

Contact the NAFF!

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.