Boardman's Art Theatre
126 West Church Street, Champaign, Illinois 61820
Opened June 2003. Closed 30 December 2009.
This page is taken directly from Chapter 7 of The Art Theater: Playing Movies for 100 Years that I co-wrote with Audrey Wells and Joseph Muskin.
At the time of the New Art's closing, the News-Gazette reported that building owner David Kraft was intent on keeping a theater in the building. The leading contender to operate the theater was reported to be Skip Huston, owner of the Avon in Decatur, Illinois. As it turned out, Greg Boardman, owner of the Lorraine Theater in Hoopeston, added the Art to his portfolio. The New Art would be known as Boardman's Art Theatre when it reopened in June 2003.
Greg Boardman, a native of Rossville, a small town in eastern Illinois, had owned and operated the palatial Boardman’s Lorraine Theatre in Hoopeston, Illinois since 1987 when he acquired the Art. At the Lorraine Theatre, Boardman, a professional sound engineer, provided high quality sound, projection, and customer service and drew crowds from all over the area.
Likewise, Greg Boardman and building owner David Kraft made many improvements before opening Boardman’s Art Theatre. They installed a new state-of-the-art Dolby Digital and DTS sound system, including 16 Klipsch speakers and a rebuilt Simplex XL projector with a new platter. A new 26-foot screen with masking curtains that adjusted to match the aspect ratio of the film complemented the excellent sound and projection upgrades. They spruced up auditorium and lobby with new paint, wallpaper, and carpet. A new larger concession stand, custom built of cherry, was installed along the west wall of the lobby, replacing the one in the center. A custom mural above the entrance/exit doors was painted depicting famous film people including Marilyn Monroe and Roger Ebert. The restrooms received cosmetic renovations. In time, the wooden armrests on the seats switched to ones with drink holders. Boardman even added a new ticketing system that would allow patrons to purchase tickets on-line prior to coming to the theater.
Upon assuming ownership of the Art, Boardman told The Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette: “I enjoy the opportunity to have another old theater and fix it up and show films in the way the director intended them to be shown. People who love movies and love music and care about presentation will love the Art. It’s going to be primarily independent and alternative films. Like most bigger cities, Champaign-Urbana doesn’t need another mainstream theater. We already have two big multi-plexes. We don’t see ourselves competing with them. I don’t want to show something that’s already playing on six screens. I want to hit a good balance between Art house films and good, mainstream films. I want to show movies I like and I want people to like the movies I show. I feel really privileged to have the opportunity to take a theater like this, built in 1913, and return it to its glory. I want it to be so nice and so comfortable that people will want to stay here after the movie and talk about it. I’m so excited. This will be a wonderful space to see a film.”.
Boardman’s Art Theatre opened Saturday, 21 June 2003. The gala event began at 7:00pm with guest speaker John F. Allen, designer of the Art’s new sound system. The premier film was Chicago at 7:30 followed by Spider-Man around 10:00. A searchlight was out front and admission was free. The free admission continued for the first week. The staff at Boardman’s Art Theatre started the practice of sporting uniform vests and bow ties, meant to create a bit of class.
Aaron Polk, an actor, writer, and director, was the theatre manager. He had previously worked for GKC Theaters and had managed a video store. Polk was quoted in the News-Gazette: “I was a big fan of this theater. Part of me taking this job was a desire in keeping this theater open. I know how important this theater is to the culture of this area, and that’s important to me. I know the theater has quite a following.”
One of the Art’s followers, film student and employee Colleen Cook, who would also eventually become manager, helped the Art Theater connect with the University of Illinois and community groups to host film festivals, a practice that continues with the Art Theater Co-op. Under Boardman’s operation of the Art, the French, Latin American, and Asian film festivals got their start. In the early days of digital projection the Art lead the way with the “Full Frame Film Festival.” Cross-promotion came into play, too, as downtown Champaign experienced a renaissance. In tandem with the French Film Festival one year, the nearby Jane Addams Book Shop featured French books in their picture window. During the run of the Zhang Yimou’s sumptuous House of Flying Daggers, a local interior design company decked out the lobby in a style to match the film. In September of 2004 a locally produced documentary about the arrests of two people for having video-taped the police screened at the Art and served the community as a place for discussion on the issue. The Art Theatre’s tradition of being the place to see international, independent, and sometimes provocative movies continued..
Greg Boardman made national news in 2006 with an article in the Washington Post and one on NPR for his refusal to screen Jackass 2. Boardman, who lived in California and operated both the Lorraine and the Art Theatres long-distance, told the Washington Post he made the decision to let the Lorraine Theater screens go dark for two weeks in the summer because he was appalled by the movie fare available. "The movies are so bad and I don't need the money ... I just didn't think I should use my high-quality facilities to show people vomiting on screen," said Boardman. By 2007, Boardman sold the Lorraine Theatre.
Two years after selling the Lorraine Theater in Hoopeston, Greg Boardman, acknowledging some financial disputes with the building’s owner, sold the Art Theatre in Champaign. He announced the sale in an email newsletter saying he was proud of the improvements he had made to the theater, thanking the staff, and telling supporters that “quality independent films” do so well at the Art that he had “many distributors calling [him] to see if they could book their films into the Art Theatre.” The Art certainly benefited from its six years under the operations of the expert sound engineer in California and the devoted local managers, but by 2009, its doors were closed once again – although this time for only one day.