Russ Collins has headed up the annual conference of art house owners, Art House Convergence, for six years now. As theaters across the country have faced the threat of closing their doors, especially as they begin to move to digital projection and face mounting operational costs, the Convergence has been a vital place for people to exchange ideas on how to stay alive and thrive. He's also the CEO of one of the nation's most prestigious movie venues, Ann Arbor's Michigan Theater.
Collins sees historical resonances in his industry's own fight to stay alive and encourage arts patronage in organizations like the Association for the Performing Arts. But the organization has crucial questions that it must face in its infancy. "How big is the movement of community-based mission-based cinemas going to be?" he asked rhetorically. "How do you define all that kind of stuff? It’s even harder for art houses."
But bringing movies to people is clearly a passion for Collins. "Coming together for movies in a social context happens because we’re social creatures," he said. "It’s a profound psychological experience, and just like there's a different impact listening to a musician in real life, so it is with film."
The Art House conference ballooned to 350 attendees in its past year, its sixth; 25 people showed up in its first run.
Seeing the constant threat that independent theaters face. "When I was coming of age in the '70s, the notion that a theater company needed subsidy seemed odd because you weren't connecting to your audiences. Art houses need subsidies in order to run, and that’s okay."
Collins identified the nation's public schools' lack of support for film appreciation and other art courses as the biggest challenge he currently faces.
Collins is staying busy with the Michigan Theater's regional festival, Cinetopia. Meanwhile, the Convergence continues its growth. "We hope we can keep spreading the word and encourage people throughout North America to form art house theaters nationwide," he said.