On March 15, 2020 many art house cinemas temporarily closed to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, a novel coronavirus that causes respiratory illness. Art houses took this step in compliance with public health guidelines and in solidarity with their communities.
As of May 2020, in accordance with state guidelines, some theaters have cautiously begun to explore the possibility of reopening during the summer. This decision is a complex one that requires a careful assessment of local health conditions, legal regulations, staff safety, and community sentiment.
During this challenging period, art houses around the world are working together to innovate and develop film programming and education for digital platforms. Art House Convergence strongly encourages film lovers to invest in their local art house now so that theaters can continue to serve them in the future.
AHC meetings take place every Wednesday at 4:00pm ET / 1:00pm PT, with discussions focused around operating a cinema during this crisis. For security reasons, this call-in information is not posted publicly. Join our newsletter list to stay on top of the latest topics and registration sign-ups. More information on virtual roundtables and webinars can be found here.
Closures and Reopening
Administration & CARES Act
Advocate for Arts Funding and Support
Online Platforms and Solutions
Prevent the Spread of Misinformation & Racist Rhetoric
Resources for Individuals
Bringing Education Online
Human Resources & Staffing
Virtual Cinema: FAQs
Virtual Cinema: Platforms
Virtual Cinema: Live Events
Temporarily closed? Add your art house here.
- Theaters should always comply with public health guidelines and enhance precautions when appropriate in order to ensure the safety of staff and guests.
- Before reopening, identify and assemble key stakeholders and board members and establish a task force to address the ethical, legal, and financial concerns associated with reopening.
- Consult with your insurance broker and legal representation. Identify risks associated with reopening and scope of insurance coverage.
- Establish regular communications with local and state departments of health.
- Work with human resources to provide a forum for staff and front of house staff to share their thoughts and concerns about returning to work.
- Work with communications to create a survey to assess community sentiment. IU Cinema: Reopening Survey, FilmScene: Summer 2020 Camp Survey, IndieWire: Risks and Rewards of Reopening.
- Assess if it is possible for your theater to reopen safely. Art House Convergence: Operations Assessment, Art House Convergence: Public Health Assessment.
- Reopening: Operations, Reopening: Programming
- Review updated tax provisions. Tax return filing dates have been extended to July 15, 2020 and corporate tax payments are delayed until October 15, 2020. Read more here.
- The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act
- Resources: Small Business Owners Guide, Inside Charity: “How Nonprofits Will Receive CARES Act Funding“
- Paycheck Protection Program: Businesses with under 500 employees may qualify for federally guaranteed loans to cover the cost of payroll and may be eligible for loan forgiveness equal to the amount spent on costs including payroll, rent, and utilities. Small businesses are eligible to apply if they were harmed by COVID-19 between February 15, 2020 and June 30, 2020. Starting April 3, 2020, small businesses and sole proprietorships can apply. Starting April 10, 2020, independent contractors and self-employed individuals can apply.
- How to Apply: Apply through an existing SBA 7(a) lender or through any federally insured depository institution, federally insured credit union, and Farm Credit System institution that is participating. Eligible lenders.
- Forgiveness: Forgiveness of your PPP loan depends on expenses incurred over the eight weeks, starting from the date your lender makes the first loan disbursement to the borrower. The lender must make the first disbursement of the loan no later than ten calendar days from the date of loan approval. Paycheck Protection Program FAQ, Paycheck Protection Program Fact Sheet.
- Resources: Small Business Guide and Checklist, U.S. Treasury: Assistance for Small Businesses, Fiscal Strength for Nonprofits Toolkit, PPP Borrower Application Form.
- Emergency Economic Injury Disaster Loans: This program provides emergency advances of up to $10,000 to small businesses and non-profits harmed by COVID-19. EIDLs are low interest loans of up to $2 million. These grants are available between January 31, 2020 and December 31, 2020. Resources: Application.
- Small Business Debt Relief Program. This program provides relief to small businesses with non-disaster SBA loans, in particular 7(a), 504, and micro-loans. SBA will cover all payments on these loans including principal, interest, and fees for six months.
- Employee Retention Credit. This provision provides a refundable payroll tax credit for 50% of wages paid by eligible employers to certain employees during COVID-19 crisis. The credit is available to employers, including non-profits, whose operations have been fully or partially suspended as a result of a government order limiting commerce, travel or group meetings. This credit is not available to employers receiving assistance through the Paycheck Protection Program. More information available here.
- Delay of Payment of Employer Payroll Taxes. This provision would allow taxpayers to defer paying the employer portion of certain payroll taxes through the end of 2020, with all 2020 deferred amounts due in two equal installments, one at the end of 2021, the other at the end of 2022. Payroll taxes that can be deferred include the employer portion of FICA taxes, the employer and employee representative portion of Railroad Retirement taxes (that are attributable to the employer FICA rate), and half of SECA tax liability. This deferral is not available to employers receiving assistance through the Paycheck Protection Program.
- Seeking support from a business counselor? Find a local resource partner here.
- Contact your landlord or lender, renegotiate payments schedules and terms.
- Review your insurance policy and contact your insurance provider to determine if your business interruption and liability insurance include any coverage for an outbreak in your community. Even without explicit coverage for pandemics of communicable diseases, theaters can file a claim.
- Review existing contracts and check force majeure and cancellation clauses to ensure that they include protection during epidemics and pandemics. Communicate with your board and key stakeholders about financial risks and liability.
- Contact you vendors and suppliers, anticipate changes in demand and respond accordingly.
- Protect your liquidity. Assess how long you can operate during a period of temporary closure and identify expense reductions that can extend this period. Make financial plans for variable outcomes ranging from 1-12 months of potential interruptions.
- Tell your legislators to include arts nonprofits in COVID-19 economic relief and stimulus packages. Download a letter co-authored by Art House Convergence and Film Festival Alliance here (.txt, .pdf), and find your legislators here.
- Join Americans for the Arts in requesting $4 billion in aid for the nonprofit arts industry. Their letter is available here.
- Take the Americans for the Arts COVID-19 Impact Survey.
- Fill out the Americans for the Arts: Cares Act Funding Tracker
- Americans for the Arts: Economic Impact of the Coronavirus on the Arts Sector.
- National Endowment for the Arts COVID-19 FAQ.
- Support the Chicago Cinema Workers Fund.
- Advocate for art houses on social media: Facebook Banner, Instagram.
- Video Conferencing: Zoom (Free – $19.99 per month). Read best practices and security tips here. Wirecutter Review.
- Zoom Meeting v. Zoom Webinar: Think of meetings as interactive conversations and webinars as lectures. Hosting a small staff meeting? Zoom Meeting is likely the right fit. Hosting a public event? Zoom Webinar is more secure and allows you to manage the large audience.
- Group Chat: Slack (Free – $12.50 per month), Microsoft Teams ($5.00 – $12.50 per user/ per month).
- Education: Zoom for Education ($149.90 per year), Zoom Breakout Rooms for group work, Flipgrid (Free), Loom (Free).
- Project Management: Asana (Free – $24.99 per month).
- Live Streaming Platforms: Twitch, Vimeo ($50 – $75 per month), Kastapp (Free – $4.99 per month), Howlround: Theatre Commons.
- Chatting Platforms: Discord, Twitch.
- How to Host a Watch Party on Facebook.
- How to Plan a Virtual Event on Vimeo.
- Video Livestreams as an Engagement Tool for Museums.
- Do not ignore racist remarks, condemn racist rhetoric and actions when they occur.
- Do not use images or terms that reinforce negative stereotypes like “Wuhan virus.”
- Discuss and enforce anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies with volunteers and staff.
- Monitor social media platforms for racist behaviors.
- Craft your own public statement. Resources are available from the Association for Asian American Studies and Asian American Journalists Association.
- Pioneer’s Assistance Fund COVID-19 Emergency Grant: One-time grants for movie theater workers laid off or furloughed due to COVID-19.
- Unemployment Benefits & The Coronavirus: Details about State and Federal changes to unemployment benefits.
- Federal Student Aid: Student Loan Forbearance.
COVID-19 is a respiratory disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. It is spread through person-to-person transmission.
- Between people who are in close contact with one another (within approximately 6 feet).
- Through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks.
- Some recent studies have suggested that COVID-19 may be spread by people who are not showing symptoms.
- It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes. This is not thought to be the primary source of transmission.
- Current research shows that COVID-19 is spreading “very easily and sustainably between people”
- Continue to celebrate your mission. Arts and culture still matter, continue to make your unique mission central to your conversations with donors.
- Tell your story. Explain what support will be used for and personalize your asks.
- Every dollar counts. Encourage patrons to donate the value of their ticket instead of requesting a refund.
- Pace yourself. Because of uncertainty about the duration of closures, roll out fundraising initiatives slowly.
- Mobilize your Board. Encourage Board members who are able to pay dues in advance.
- Renegotiate Grants. Request that funders re-designate restricted funds for general operating costs.
- MUBI, a curated streaming service for art house and independent films, is offering 3 months of free streaming access to your art house’s members complete with a bespoke landing page for your theater. Email knewmark(at)mubi.com for details.
- Music Box Direct, a streaming service featuring films including Transit and Frantz, is offering one month of free streaming access to your art house’s members. Email bschultz(at)musicboxfilms.com for details.
- Engage filmmakers, professors, and staff to host special virtual happy hours and film conversations as member benefits.
- Magnolia Selects and Spotlight Cinema Networks are offering art house theaters 100% of the subscription fees when their patrons sign up for Magnolia Selects. After July 1, fees will be divided on a 50/50 split between the theater and Spotlight/ Magnolia. Read more here.
- Facebook Boost Grants. Facebook is offering small grants to eligible businesses.
- Gift Packages & Swag. FilmScene: Concessions Bundle, Texas Theatre: Home Cinema Survival Kits, Sidewalk Cinema: Curbside Concessions, Frida Cinema: QuaranZine, The Little: Popcorn Pass.
- Sponsorship. Encourage sponsors to support your new initiatives and virtual programs. Offer email logo placement as a sponsor benefit.
- Reach out to local community foundations and emergency grant programs.
- Remain active and keep your supporters updated about progress.
- Virtual Fundraisers. Seed&Spark:Art House Crowdfunding.
- Adapt class structure for your new platform. Consider keeping class duration to 1-2 hours, allow participants to submit questions in advance, and use chat functions to moderate questions.
- Adult Education: Belcourt Theatre: Anatomy of Cinema, Coolidge Corner Theatre: Virtual Education, BMFI: Film Studies Online.
- Youth Education: Milwaukee Film: Educator Services, NYCIFF: Long Takes, Short Takes, Your Takes, JBFC: Kids at Home, Pickford Film Center: Recommendations for Teens.
- Production: JBFC: Film Challenge, Sidewalk Cinema: Teen Video Challenge, database of accessible online digital movie image material for found footage filmmaking.
- Distinguish your virtual programming from your theatrical programming, and make it easy to find. Check out great examples from the Coolidge Corner Theatre and Ambler Theater.
- Keep members and constituents “in the loop” with weekly emails. Check out an example from Bryn Mawr Film Institute.
- Keep your social media channels active. Check out examples from the Coolidge Corner Theatre and Jacobs Burns Film Center.
- Remain regular in communication with partners, suppliers, and partner organizations.
- Prior to reopening, states should carefully review federal, state, and local public health guidelines and restrictions.
- Include a public announcement about steps your theater is taking to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
- Art House Convergence: Reopening Safely, Gina Cuomo (Denver Film), George Myers (Amherst Cinema).
- Art House Convergence: Reopening Approaches and Questions, George Myers (Amherst Cinema), Beth Gilligan (Coolidge Corner Theatre).
- Encourage social distancing. Lines, seating, and staffing should allow for 6 feet of between individuals.
- Enhance cleaning efforts: prepare cleaning checklists, stagger screenings to allow more time for cleaning between shows, regularly clean surfaces and touch-points (knobs, railings, touchscreens, dispensers).
- Work closely with staff. Develop plans around sick time and absenteeism, establish communication channels, provide training on PPE.
- Provide personal protective equipment, including gloves, sanitizer, and masks for staff.
- Schedule fewer screenings to avoid crowding in lobby and other common areas.
- Discourage sick patrons from attending screenings. Offer full refunds to sick patrons.
- Make hand sanitizer, napkins, tissues, and soap readily available to guests.
- Make trash cans readily available for the disposal of tissues and napkins. Change trash regularly.
- Post hand washing instructions at sinks.
- Minimize touching customers phones, credit cards, and tickets. If possible, allow customers to swipe or insert cards themselves or make their purchases in advance.
- Event Safety Alliance: Reopening Guide
- Captioning for Livestream: National Captioning Institute, CaptionAccess, Streamtext.
- Post-Production Captioning for Videos: YouTube (Free), Rev.com ($1.25/ per minute), Alternative Communication Services.
- Video Conferencing with Accessibility Features: Zoom, Google Hangouts, BlueJeans.
- National Endowment for the Arts: Resources to Help Ensure Accessibility of Your Virtual Events.
- RespectAbility: Ensuring Virtual Events Are Accessible for All.
- Remain in regular communication with staff. Leadership should establish clear communications plans to help team members understand workflow and decision-making.
- Counter stigma by disseminating accurate information about how to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Speak out against negative behaviors, and maintain employee confidentiality.
- Establish compassionate and clearly communicated staffing protocols to account for workplace disruptions. Plan for work redistribution, flexible schedules, and increased absenteeism.
- If staff need to perform work onsite, schedule them to avoid overlap and provide additional supplies to regularly clean workspaces (alcohol-based hand sanitizer, Clorox wipes, tissues, hands-free waste receptacles).
- During furloughs or layoffs, assist staff with applying for unemployment.
- Create opportunities for staff engagement like weekly check-ins or Netflix viewing parties.
- Ensure that your sick and leave policies are consistent with public health guidelines and that staff are informed about these policies. Offer paid sick leave.
- All employee health information is confidential, even during a crisis. Employers should not reveal the identities of infected employees.
- In most circumstances, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits employers from asking employees about health conditions. However, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) does allow for some exceptions to mitigate the negative impact of pandemics in the workplace. The EEOC recommends that employers follow CDC guidelines and has provided additional guidance about employer actions during an influenza pandemic.
- Carefully annotate your building closing checklist. Make sure multiple staffers have the tools and information they need for data backups, bank deposits, building security, and reopening.
- Care for your building while closed. Download our checklist here.
- Prepare your projectors and servers for an extended shutdown. Instructions from Boston Light & Sound are available here.
- Arrange for at least one staff member to visit the building regularly.
- Check concession stands for perishable items. Arrange to sell or donate items.
- Communicate closure to distributors, Deluxe, and Cinevizion.
- Cancel all non-essential subscriptions, including software, advertising (print, social media, digital), concessions ordering, and shipping.
- Adjust your thermostat.
- Contact your landlord about rent relief. Research business eviction protections in your city or town.
- Contact your bank or lender about mortgage or loan payment relief.
- Art House Convergence: Virtual BORs & Reopening Programming, Rebecca Fons (Film Scene & The Iowa Theater).
- Reopening Programming Offers:
- IFC Films: The Indie Theater Revival Project.
- Paramount: Repertory titles can be developed into custom programs, or book preexisting programs through the Back to the Big Screen Program. Full list here.
- Searchlight: Offering select titles beginning June 1 for a limited fee including Isle of Dogs and Jojo Rabbit.
- Sony Pictures Classics: Offering select repertory titles including Only Lovers Left Alive and All About My Mother.
- United Artists Releasing: $125 flat for select catalogue titles, $40 donated to Will Rogers Relief Fund.
- Universal Repertory: Offering 25 themed combo drives of titles from Blumhouse, Dreamworks, Focus Features, and Illumination. Full list here.
- Warner Bros: WB Classics Program : 5 TIERS
- What are virtual cinema screenings? Virtual cinema screenings are ticketed screenings of films unavailable on any other VOD platform that viewers can enjoy from the privacy of their own home. Once a customer purchases a ticket they will receive access to a temporary film rental.
- How can viewers enjoy a virtual screening? Audiences can buy tickets through their local art house cinema.
- How does this support independent theaters? Virtual screenings allow theaters to keep programming films, even when their doors are closed. A portion of each ticket sale will go directly to the buyer’s local art house cinema.
- How many films should my theater book at once? We recommend theaters offer the same number of films they usually do. If you regularly book four films and have capacity to market, promote, and discuss four, then you should adhere to your established model.
- How do we help our patrons navigate the tech? Offer a FAQ. a/perture cinema: FAQ, Coolidge Corner Theatre: FAQ, Jacob Burns Film Center: Virtual FAQ.
- AgileLink VOD a virtual cinema ticketing solution that tracks sales, and collects payment.
- Eventive Virtual Festival an online festival and cinema solution that provides on demand streaming, geo-blocking, and live-streaming.
- Film Festival Flix
- Gathr At Home: Virtual Event Cinema
- Patron Technology Virtual Events
- Staff as you would any special program.
- Keep your event secure. For Zoom, this means never post your link publicly, and adjust settings to make sure the host has control over the meeting.
- Participant Video (Off)
- Join Before Host (Off)
- Mute Participants Upon Entry (On)
- File Transfer (Off)
- Screen Sharing (Off)
- Allow removed participants to rejoin (Off).
- Online Festivals: Bring festivals online using Vimeo, Eventive, of Film Festival Flix. Northwest Film Forum: ByDesign [online], Ann Arbor Film Festival.
- Keep it Local. Showcase and support local artists. Northwest Film Forum: Capitol Hill Arts District Streaming Festival.
- Streaming Recommendations: Help patrons navigate streaming platforms. Coral Gables Art Cinema: Gables Cinema Drive-In, Old Greenbelt Theatre: Animation for Kids, Music Box Theatre: Music Box Hotline.
- Talk Backs: Host film conversations. Gene Siskel Film Center: Screen to Screen, Jacob Burns Film Center Comedy Tonight: Classic Films with David Schwartz (Zoom Webinar), Moviehouse: Art Talks (Zoom).
- Trivia & Games: Use Zoom Webinar, Youtube Live, or Facebook Live to host an interactive event. Ambler Theater, Bryn Mawr Film Institute, and ArtsQuest: Reel Rumble (Youtube Live), ArtsQuest: Disney Trivia (Zoom Webinar), ArtsQuest: 48 Hour Film Challenge, Marquee Trivia (Zoom Webinar).
- Viewing Parties: Use Netflix Party, Twitch, or Facebook Live for collective viewing and chatting. Belcourt Theatre: Space Jam
- Seed&Spark is developing a solution that will allow festivals to take their program online. Read their 2020 Film Festival Survival Pledge, download the one sheet here, and fill out their survey here.
- Guidelines for Opening up America Again
- Coronavirus in the U.S.: State-by-State Map
- CDC: How To Protect Yourself and Others
- OSHA: Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19
- Small Business Owner’s Guide to the CARES Act
- CDC Business Pandemic Influenza Preparedness Checklist
- CDC Interim Guidance for Mass Gatherings or Large Community Events
- CDC COVID-19 Summary
- CDC Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers to Respond to COVID-1
- CDC Community Mitigation Guidelines to Prevent Pandemic Influenza (Review Section on Community NPIs)
- Resources to Address Coronavirus Racism
- Talking about Coronavirus: Centering Language around Inclusion, Empowerment, and Justice
Note: We will regularly update this post as the situation evolves. Last updated at 3:30 PM ET on July 7, 2020.