My First Blog Posting!


Photo by the author - from the last week of my operations

This was my blog post for the Art Theater Co-op about being an active owner. It was my first official blog post... not counting the 138 weekly e-mails I sent out about upcoming movies.


All of the ideas expressed in this article are my personal statements and opinions, and do not reflect the opinions/statements of the City of Urbana.


How to be an Active Owner

By Sanford Hess, former owner of the Art Theater business

If you’re reading this, it’s likely that you are one of our 1,300 Co-op owners because, as Dan Schreiber noted, the Art Theater Co-op blogs are…um… sparsely visited. So, I’d like to make the case for you to be a more ACTIVE owner. Why? Because it will enhance your movie-going experience!

Please let me explain. I used to be a very active owner — before the Co-op took over I ran the business of the Art Theater. Since that experience, I can honestly say that I enjoy movie-going on a whole different level, because I appreciate the work that creates the magic of an audience watching a film together.

And you can do it, too! All it takes is a curiosity about our business. And our business is FUN to learn about. We’re showing movies; it’s not like we’re manufacturing widgets. On the one hand, it’s fairly simple and most movie-goers have a basic grasp of the essential concept: movie theaters split the ticket revenue with a film distributor, but keep all of the concessions sales. From that revenue we then have to pay staff, rent, utilities, cost of concessions products, etc. What’s left is profit.

But it’s so much more than that. Programming films is not for the faint of heart – you’re choosing something weeks in advance without seeing it, or knowing what else might be available. And the movie business seems stuck in a bygone era: deals are made with handshakes (or their e-mail equivalent)… and beware the occasional double-cross! Plus the Co-op brings a whole different emphasis – unlike other theaters it’s not just about “butts in seats” (as they say in the biz) it’s also about community, shared experience, and quality cinema.

Co-op owners can take part in multiple aspects of the business – either at the theater or through the Board and its efforts. There are lots of ways for you to do it:

  • To gain a better understanding of movie exhibition, you can volunteer to work on a recurring basis at film screenings. You’ll get a chance to work concessions (filling sodas and popcorn, sweeping the theater) and interact with our customers before and after the show. It’s a wonderful way to experience the business from the other side of the counter! Want to do this? Just contact Austin:
  • If your interests are more strategic, consider being part of a sub-committee for the Co-op board. There are committees on Education (planning events that build an audience for cinema), on Revenue Enhancement (making the business more profitable), and the ever-popular “POGO” (Policy Governance) committee that writes the rules the Co-op board governs itself by. Owners are always welcome to volunteer for committees!
  • Another way to learn about our business is to attend one of the monthly Board meetings. They are the first Tuesday of every month at 6:30 PM, hosted by Shatterglass at 309 S. Neil Street in Champaign. During the meetings Austin presents a summary of the month’s business, and on a quarterly basis he gives a more in-depth financial picture. At every meeting there’s a review of some aspect of the business based on the Policy Governance, and there are sub-committee reports and other topics discussed.
  • You can get a year’s worth of business information in one quick session by attending the “Meeting of Owners” (MOO) on March 1st at 2:30 at the Champaign Library main branch. (Note: the “MOO” is an acronym used by the food Co-ops, and which we have adapted to be the “Meeting of Owners Voting in Elections”. Yes, the MOOVIE.) Austin and the board will present an overview of achievements from the past year, and information about the year ahead.
  • Of course, you can also run for one of the board member seats. (Three are up for election this March) The nine board members represent the interests of all our owners. They keep up the ongoing dialogue with the General Manager and are tasked with continually making sure that the GM is in compliance with key policies on the treatment of customers, treatment of staff, emergency planning, etc.

Most importantly, you should be an active owner by coming to see movies at the Co-op. Come and be proud that as a Co-op owner you are preserving Independent cinema in Champaign-Urbana. Without you we would miss so many films, because they don’t play at the megaplexes in town. (It’s a real word…“megaplex” refers to a theater with more than 12 screens.)

With your support, we can continue to see the menagerie of films the Co-op shows, both new and classic. And when you walk into the theater to see those films, you should feel the pride and satisfaction that comes with being an owner, sustaining the experience for everyone. And I promise you that the more you do for the Co-op, the more pride you’ll feel! Having a space to enjoy films is something we can all appreciate, but it’s your role as an owner that makes it all possible.

So get involved, learn about your business, and be an active part of the Co-op!