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Arts

Parkway Theatre to go dark next year as Maryland Film Festival scales back operations

The Parkway Theatre will pause screenings, programs, and events in early 2023.

The Parkway Theatre will go dark in early 2023, discontinuing screenings and other events in the renovated movie palace that is home to the Maryland Film Festival and which, according to financial documents obtained by The Sun, has been operating in the red.

Struck hard like other arts organizations and businesses by the COVID pandemic, film festival officials said they are hitting the pause button to develop a new business plan and adjust to the current economic climate and “dramatic and continuing shifts” in the movie business and audiences.

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“The slow economic recovery, challenges and changes in the film industry, and shifts in moviegoing habits have thwarted our efforts, despite extraordinary initiative from our team,” Sandra Gibson, the film festival’s executive director, said in a news release.

Tax documents for its organizing entity, the Producers Club of Maryland, list total revenues of $1.2 million but expenses of $1.5 million. In the prior year, the club reported nearly $1.9 million in revenues and expenses of $1.6 million.

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Festival officials told supporters in an email on Friday that the pause will allow the nonprofit organization to work with consultants on a new plan. Staff reductions are in store as well, according to a news release, as the organization deals with “the challenges of the post-COVID landscape.”

The film festival owns the theater, whose full name is Stavros Niarchos Foundation Parkway Theatre. Located on North Avenue and Charles Street, the now 107-year-old building underwent an $18 million renovation and opened in 2017. In addition to serving as the home of the film festival, it shows movies year round.

The reopening of what had been a crumbling vacant theater added a high-gloss venue to the Station North arts and entertainment district, and now, festival officials say, they need to find a way to continue its unique role in Baltimore.

“This isn’t just about numbers,” Scot Spencer, the festival’s board chair, said in a statement. “It’s about a building, a neighborhood, an organization, and a mission. We have brought moving art and a community service in a beautiful venue to the people of Baltimore, with people who are from, and of Baltimore.

“Our question is how we continue to do all of those things given the time, circumstances, and environment we find ourselves in.”

The theater’s closing for an indeterminate amount of time will also affect students at Johns Hopkins University and the Maryland Institute College of Art, which partnered with the film festival to renovate the Parkway and whose film programs held classes and screenings at the theater.

The film festival had previously announced it would take a hiatus next year, pushing its 25th anniversary to 2024, citing the similar reason of needing to regroup in the face of changes in the industry and the continuing chill of the COVID pandemic.

“After a difficult few years, we fully reopened the Parkway Theatre in 2022, excited about the promise of audiences returning and our future as a vibrant hub for film and media,” Gibson said. “We are disappointed that we need to pause this work, but understand the decision and the importance of developing a plan that will support our community and the passions of artists and audiences.”

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Sun reporter Mary Carole McCauley contributed to this article.

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