Last November, Chapel Hill’s Chelsea Theater quietly broke the news
that it would probably not renew its lease when it expires at the end of March. (The art cinema mainstay has been in continuous operation since 1990.) Since then, under the rallying cry “Save the Chelsea,” a local group has created an exploratory committee and advocacy effort to raise enough funds to take over the lease, hoping to make an offer to retiring owner Bruce Stone by the end of February.
In December, the group circulated a public survey
to gauge interest in saving the theater and test the ideas of making it a nonprofit or co-op. On Sunday, January 21, the committee—which includes former Ackland Art Museum director Emily Kass, filmmaker Mark Barroso, and Chapel Hill Alliance for a Livable Town founding member Tom Henkel, among others—held a followup meeting at Flyleaf Books. Before a standing room-only crowd, the group unveiled its proposal to turn the Chelsea into a nonprofit and briefly sketched ideas for both maintaining and supplementing the theater’s current film programming with “speakers, filmmakers, performers, and scholars."
The Save the Chelsea group seeks to raise $150,000 over the course of 2018. According to Kass, this will go toward the lease, nonprofit start-up costs, refurbishments and repairs, and operating reserves. Donations are currently being accepted through a fundraising site
; the group is also taking checks addressed to “Save the Chelsea” and mailed to Chelsea Art Theater, 11312 U.S. 15-501 North, Suite 107/110, Chapel Hill, NC, 27517.
In twenty-two days, the GoFundMe campaign has raised almost $5,000 of its $50,000 goal, though Kass says the group has also already raised about $55,000 more through private donations. She says that, should the effort not move forward, all funds will be returned.