New Art Mission director wants to increase theater’s profile

EDITOR’s NOTE: This fall, BAMirror is chatting with recently appointed leaders of local arts organizations. Today we talk with Rebecca Sheriff, the new executive director of the Art Mission and Theater in downtown Binghamton. Sheriff, it should be noted, is a former reviewer for BAMirror.

By George Basler

With gas prices being the way they are, film enthusiasts should tip their hats to the Art Mission and Theater in downtown Binghamton.

Located at 61 Prospect Ave., the small, two-screen theater — with a total of 78 seats — shows independent, specialized and foreign films that normally don’t show up at the AMC Loews and Regal multiplexes. “It’s a great organization because it means people don’t have to travel to Ithaca or New York City to see films that otherwise might not be shown here,” said Rebecca Sheriff, the theater’s new executive director.

But while the theater has a unique role in the community, it also suffers from an awareness problem, Sheriff said. “A lot of people have just vaguely heard of it,” she said. “Part of it is that we’re kind of off on a little street. Except for a core group, it doesn’t occur to people to come here.”

Sheriff sees her role as working to change that. “We want to be a more integral part of the community and a place to go downtown for a cultural experience.” she said.

The 33-year-old Binghamton resident comes to the theater with a master’s degree in non-profit management, with a concentration in arts management, from Binghamton University. She served an internship with the Broome County Arts Council and worked as marketing and volunteer coordinator for ACCORD, a volunteer mediation program. The job with the Art Mission and Theater gives her a chance to pair her strong interest in the arts with skills in non-profit management, she said.

The Art Mission and Theater opened in May 2007 as the result of the merger of the Art Mission gallery in downtown Binghamton and the Art movie theater on the city’s South Side, which burned in 2004. The Prospect Avenue theater, which also features displays of local artists’ work in its lobby, is a renovated railroad hotel located across a parking lot from the Kilmer Building, home of Remlik’s Restaurant and The Goldsmith.

The theater’s board of directors wants Sheriff to work on promoting the theater and increasing membership and donations, said Denny Ebert, chairman.

Sheriff puts it this way: “We’re growing from the start-up phase to the growing phase.”

One way to do this is to hold more special program and events, including conversations with filmmakers, Sheriff said. For example, the theater  hosted a food tasting from Remlik’s paired with the screening of Dinner Rush, a highly-praised independent film starring Danny Aiello about a father-and-son relationship in a New York City restaurant.

Sheriff said the the theater is now working with a class at Binghamton University to stage a film festival in December. The students will plan and coordinate the festival as part of their coursework.

Attracting more Binghamton University students to theater, especially ones who now live in new student housing projects downtown, is one of her priorities, Sheriff said. She sees these students have been an untapped potential audience.

“We have a strong demographic with people over 50, but we want to be doing a lot more marketing toward BU students,” she said. This will include distributing flyers and making contact through social media.

“We really want to be a cinema center for the community. You can go to Regal but come here for independent and foreign films that are a little bit different,” Sheriff said.

Another priority for the the new executive director is increasing on-screen advertising. She sees this as a big opportunity for the theater. The theater is also planning its second annual food, wine and beer tasting event with a live auction for early next year.

Still, surviving as a small, independent theater isn’t easy. The Art Mission and Theater has to pay the same percentage of ticket sales to distributors as larger theaters, Sheriff said. The theater is also facing the expense of converting to digital projectors, which is the direction the industry is moving in, she said.

“People come here for the experience, the artwork and the ambiance,” she said. (The concession is also much cheaper that the local multiplexes. This is a personal selling point for me.)

“Come on down and check us out,” Sheriff said.

For  more information on the Art Mission and Theater, visit  the theater’s website: www.artmission.org.

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