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A Bright And Shining Cinematic Light

It is February in the MidWest. Every morning icy tendrils adorn my car window, the sky is grey and there is a dryness in the air. These are the doldrums of Winter, a stagnant time accented by increasingly erratic winter and drying skin. April looms large in many minds, but for me this is a time of year that I really look forward to.

The first week of February is when the Historic Artcraft Theatre unveils its movies during a grand party. The local restaurants gather together and donate gallons of iced tea, a cascading arrangement of entrees and a cornucopia of desserts. It is time when hundreds gather in the theater, checkbook in one hand and a pulled pork sandwich in the other in order to pay homage to the heart of this small Mid Western city. Last year $130,000 was raised in two hours in support of this theater. Local politicians hover over the beer stations in order to capture a vote or to make an impression on a local opinion maker and three hours later we  pour out of the theater. Local gossips mix with staid bank presidents, Democrats and Republicans engage in civil conversation. For three hours on a cold Saturday night, the world stops and all eyes are turned to that large 35 foot screen. Every year a short video is played where the movie titles in the form of abridged versions of the trailer are shown. Usually the management of the Artcraft appear, gleefully poking fun at themselves with a profound and with a noble sense of self-effacing humor. The crowd explodes with applause and exuberance when one of their favorite titles comes on screen.

It is a testament to both the community and how much the movies mean to us all. Usually during the year, the Artcraft often leads the world with box office of retro titles. During the Christmas season, the theatre leads by selling thousands of tickets for movies like “Christmas Vacation”, “Elf”, “A Christmas Story” and more. All of these movies are on streaming, all of these movies are on blu-ray, but the team at the Artcraft know firmly, that the greatest special effect is the sense of community that rises within the theater.

A man who I feel is on the vanguard on showmanship, Rob Shilts, hosts the event usually with a local media personality at his side. The preview video plays, then the bidding starts. Movies are bid for, the more popular ones gaining sponsorship in the thousands of dollars, people bid on naming candy rights, cartoon sponsorship (yes, they still play cartoons) and so on. The crowd indulges itself and as the night wears on bidding intensifies. Rumors spread that so and so is trying to corner this movie, rivalries flare. In my case, the bane of my Artcraft existence, Dave from The Chase Bank always wants to out bid me. It's all in good fun and at the end of the night, all participants walk away knowing they were part of something pretty spectacular and in the words of Ralphie from “A Christmas Story”, “All is right in the world”.

For many people in South Central Indiana, This Historic Artcraft Theatre is a portal to what was once good in the world. A celebration of a vision of America that was passionate, honest, and celebrated an inclusive community. The Artcraft has become the heart of this small MidWest city, flowing out dreams and diversion in an often-confused world. It is so much more than a screen and a projector. It represents the very best in moving going, it represents the very best of us.

The only thing I can really compare this sponsorship party to is  “Let’s Make A Deal” mixed with an Amish barn raising. It is a unique and more than fun experience. Rob Shilts, Dave Windisch, Jaime Shilts, Danny Causey, George Chimples and the ever boisterous Beth Guerrettaz along with a horde of volunteers work diligently to ensure that the vision of this grand lady of community movie going is sustained and grows.

I contribute in a small way by producing the preview video, it is something that I am more than honored to participate in. I look forward to it every year, and in my way it is how I pay tribute to the showmen and showwomen who drive the Artcraft engine forward.

In these weekly essays, I often mention the Historic Artcraft Theatre, because I deeply believe in their mission statement and I believe that they are profoundly leading by example. I will make the statement that the Artcraft truly is the Vatican of community moviegoing, and from these examples I firmly believe we can inspire a movement that can give focus and most importantly a vision of thoughtful discipline in growing a community theater. I have learned so much from the vision of Rob Shilts, and I am more than grateful.

The Artcraft this year has been greatly impacted by COVID. It was forced to shut down for a good part of the year. The Sponsorship party will be online this year. I asked the Artcraft permission to include links for this year's event and they graciously agreed. I think this will give you a brief window of what this group does so right.

The theater page with general info on the Sponsorship party itself:

Direct link to sign-in and register for the Sponsorship party:

And, if anyone wants it, here's how they can add to their general fund;

If you find this helpful and if you can derive some inspiration from this, well maybe consider bidding on something or just make a small donation.

Things are changing, and I think for some theaters The Historic Artcraft is shining a more than bright light. For me, The Historic Artcraft is where movie going past, present, and future truly live.