I attended the meeting of the City Council’s Babcock Theater Advisory Committee, Jan. 4, and think Art House Cinema founder and president Matt Blakeslee made the more detailed and persuasive case for management and programming of the landmark theater. He eloquently summarized his plan to light the marquee seven nights a week, programming first-run Hollywood films and varied performances in collaboration with Pub Station owner Sean Lynch and others.
With other movie theaters located on the West End of town, he sees the Babcock as serving the City Center and Heights areas, and benefiting downtown businesses — adding a pulse of activity to downtown Billings every day of the year. Having founded and operated the Art House Cinema and Pub as a nonprofit three years ago, Blakeslee has brought a first class film-going experience to downtown Billings, playing over 250 award-caliber films to appreciative audiences — including 325 subscribing members — and hosting concerts and other events. His organization is experiencing impressive growth, and has already raised $650,000 toward purchase of the building that houses the theater. Plans provide for expansion to three screens and a pub with food service.
Blakeslee is an expert in theater management and a visionary in programming. His team of staff and volunteers at the Art House Cinema make film-going a gracious and enjoyable experience, and I am certain they will do likewise with our beloved Babcock Theatre. The Art House has the advantage of being a non-profit, able to operate on small margins and seek funding from donors. Landmark theaters are rarely profitable, but the value of the Babcock Theatre to the community is inestimable. Providing affordable entertainment to a wide audience — including families with children, teenagers and older adults — is a wholesome and sustainable future for the Babcock Theatre.