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I love that shot!
A recollected history (with many missing parts and subject to revision) of the New Art Theater in downtown Champaign, Illinois.
The New Art Theater building was bought in 1983 and the New Art Theater business opened with Turtle Diary in 1984 or ‘85. John Manley (1955-1991) bought the building and renamed it The â€Newâ€œ Art Theater in order to distinguish it from the former business, The Art Theater, which had been showing porn. Art Theaters were once popular throughout the country, showing independent, art, and foreign language films. Eventually, many Art Theaters began showing XXX-rated films, until VHS players and the home porn video market put the â€œArtâ€ theaters out of business. The former Art Theater in downtown Champaign had been closed for several years prior to John Manley purchasing the building.
Tom Angelica, Johnâ€™s business partner and former college roommate, helped John renovate and manage the building. They renovated the four apartments upstairs, fixed up the small business site on the ground floor next to the theater, and found and repaired the needed film projection equipment for the theater. John contracted with Ron Eppel to book films. Ron initially ran the New Art Theater business. Tom and John eventually took over the theater business from Ron, who later died.
The building’s ownership transferred to Warren Manley (John’s father) when John died in 1991. Warren Manley was not particularly interested in the theater business, but his wife, Lois Manley absolutely loved the New Art Theater and did her best to find ways to support the business until she died in 1998.
In the mid 90s, a small group of local film lovers self-named “The Friends of the New Art Theater” banded together to help Tom Angelica raise money for new seats with an “adopt a seat” campaign, and “An Evening with Roger Ebert” (an event that eventually became the Ebert Film Festival). Bravo, Inc. was very much a part of that group and highly important to its success. Carle Oncologist David Graham and then film student Craig Fisher were significant in the success of the “Friends” initiative. There were many others involved in the â€œFriendsâ€, but I’ve forgotten their names (sorry). The Friends of the New Art Theater raised $14,000 in â€œAn Evening with Roger Ebertâ€. Mr. Ebert donated his time and showed a world premier of the film Mighty Aphrodite. The Krannert Art Museum donated its space for an Ebert Gala Gathering that took place before the film premier. We served food and wine in the School of Art and Design Link Gallery, where there was also an exhibition of the Seniors in the School of Art and Design Painting program at the time. Betsy Hendrick (Hendrick House) donated the elegant catering. After the Gala at the Krannert, we then all went to the New Art for the film premier. Nancy Casey from the UIUC College of Communications assisted in coordinating and advertising the event. Tickets sold for $40.00 apiece and included the Gala gathering at the Krannert Art Museum, the film premier at the New Art, and a presentation after the film by Mr. Ebert with audience interaction.
Warren Manley sold the building to David Kraft in 2001. Tom Angelica continued to run the theater business until Mr. Boardman assumed the theater business. Mr. Boardman also had the Lorraine Theater in Hoopston, Illinois. The Lorraine Theater was a highly popular theater business, showing first run films, and a much beloved destination, drawing people from a 100 mile radius to that small town just to go to the Lorraine. I remember when Twister premiered, The Lorraine had an overturned VW Bug strategically placed in front of the theater with huge tree branches sticking out of the car, and (dry ice) smoking from the car. Word was that the Illinois State Police received several calls from people who thought there had been a tornado in Hoopston.
It would be wonderful to see the New Art Theater continue to exist. I have never met Mr. Kraft or Mr. Boardman, but central Illinois film lovers owe them both a bit of gratitude for taking the financial risks they have in keeping this wonderful theater open all these years. Tom Angelica, John Manley, Lois Manley, Warren Manley, Ron Eppel, and the â€œFriends of the New Art Theaterâ€ should also be remembered fondly as events unfold concerning the future of the New Art Theater.
I fantasize that someday the City of Champaign might buy the New Art Theater or that a savvy group of film lovers would form a 503©, buy the building and continue itâ€™s now amazing 28 year legacy of showing independent, foreign, and art films in an era of cracker box multiplexes.
Elizabeth Manley Delacruz (John Manley’s sister)
Former popcorn pusher at the New Art Theater (in my spare time)
Associate Professor of Art Education
School of Art + Design
University of Illinois at Urbana