Independent cinemas are facing an uncertain future in the age of coronavirus. More than 150 across the United States have temporarily closed and with social distancing set to last for some time, arts organizations have come together to keep the credits rolling for owners and workers.

Marquee - Vogue Manistee Option 1
Vogue Manistee ©Art-House America

The Art-House America Campaign is a fundraising initiative that aims to provide financial relief to independent cinemas across the US, helping them pay staff and essential bills while they're closed. The campaign was set up by the nonprofit Art House Convergence with support from film distributors Criterion Collection and Janus Films, who got the ball rolling with an initial donation of $50,000 to help the campaign reach its $500,000 goal.

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Film Forum ©Film Forum

"Now is the time to stand up for the local movie houses we love," organizers said in a statement. "These theaters are fighting to retain valuable staff – programmers, educators, and managers – in the face of dramatically reduced revenue. Government support may be coming soon, but not soon enough. Research shows that even in normal times the average independent theater has only one month and 26 days of operating cash on hand, which means that we must act now."

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Plaza Theatre ©CJ Swank

Small independent cinemas have long struggled to survive in a tough business with competition from streaming services, as well as mega-multiplexes with luxury recliners and flashier amenities. But now is an especially challenging time for them. With no revenue coming in from ticketing and concession sales and many houses already under-resourced, it's likely a large number of theaters will be forced to dim their lights for good at the other side of the pandemic. 

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Texas Theatre ©Barak Epstein

But the Art-House America Campaign is hopeful that its fundraising efforts will provide some relief to large and small, urban and rural, nonprofit and for-profit independent cinemas across the country. Not only do these spaces play an integral role in the arts sector by championing small-budget, foreign language, and classic films, they're also essential in their communities and bolster local businesses like bars and restaurants. According to campaign organizers, "the typical arts event attendee spends $31.47 per person, per event, beyond the cost of admission, which means these organizations will be leaders in the financial recovery of their communities."

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The World Theatre ©Bryce Jensen

On Monday, with the support of donations from the public, the campaign approved the first emergency grants to support 52 independent movie theaters across the US. It's hopeful that it can provide more aid in the coming weeks. The Arts House Campaign is nearing its goal but it's not quite there yet. If you would like to support it, you can do so here.

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