A painting with your movie ticket: Hollywood’s digital transition means more space for art

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It’s a Thursday night at the Laemmle movie theater on Lankershim. Patrons are streaming in for the evening shows. As they make their way down the corridor to the theaters, they’re greeted with a series of bright, floral paintings by the San Diego collaborative duo Hill and Stump –and art patrons, sipping wine.

Much has been said about the transition to digital movie projection, but in that switch, away went conventional movie posters. For the past year, one chain of theaters has been turning over the now unadorned wall space to display the work of artists. It doesn’t stop there. Moviegoers also get to see a short video about the artist and his or her process, before the film starts. And on opening night, the artists appear in person to talk about the work, too.

The transition to digital movie posters freed up wall space that this chain now dedicates to art. (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

“People like to know how people make things these days. People love that,” said Joshua Elias, the curator of the venture the Laemmle Theaters calls “Art in the Arthouse.” “It takes a little mystery out of it, but it also helps people connect with the art.”

Theater owner Greg Laemmle said dedicating the freed-up wall space in the halls of his theaters just made sense. “I can’t think of anything better to have on the walls than art,” he said. “I think communities that are full of art are the sort of places I wan to live. We have to find a way to encourage art and artists and artistic expression.”

Finding art in a place where you didn’t expect to see it is part of that encouragement, Laemmle said. It’s a different experience than consuming work in a gallery or a museum. Like a gallery, though, all of the art is for sale, and in the ten shows the theaters have hung so far, a number of pieces have sold–stoking the coffers of the artists as well as Laemmle’s Charitable Foundation. (One beneficiary is the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition; Laemmle and his wife Tish are ardent cyclists and say they plan to bike to the Oscars this weekend.)

On the opening night of the Hill and Stump show, about 50 people came to hear the artists speak and to see the art–including two women who drove an hour and a half from Upland. They even sat for an hour in the theater, waiting for the talk to begin, dissecting the large images of the work projected on the screen. “We were intrigued, two women collaborating on a piece of art, which is very rare,” said Trish Franco. Was it unusual to come to an art opening in a movie theater? “Yes, but it made so much sense,” said Mary Jo Warner. “When they expressed art in the arthouse, I’m going, ‘shouldn’t it have always been here?'”

Artists Anna Stump and Daphne Hill discuss their collaboration, which appears on the movie screen behind them (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)