In Royal Oak, one piece of history has stood the test of time and remained an integral aspect of the local arts community. But the city’s longstanding Main Art Theatre is threatened by extinction after abruptly announcing it was closing its doors for good last summer, and new plans call for replacing the beloved art house theater with a five-story mixed-use building. Still, on Saturday, a crowd of devoted fans of independent cinema took to the streets and rallied to save the Main.
The rally was hosted by the Friends of the Main Art Theatre, a group that has been working tirelessly to preserve the building and everything it stands for over the last two years.
The rally started at 2 p.m. Despite the frigid weather conditions, the Main Art’s sidewalk was filled with determined people in support of the cause.
The event was enlivened by the sounds and dancing of the Detroit Party Marching Band, who kept everyone’s spirits high even in the cold.
The Main Art’s legacy has spanned generations as ralliers varied in age, ranging from a retiree, a recent university graduate, and some adolescent youths, with the youngest being a toddler.
Speaking to this truth was Jason Krzysiak, who has a history in community organizing, including over 20 years in the UAW, running for election, and winning two terms as city commissioner in nearby Pleasant Ridge. Krzysiak spoke to the crowd about the importance of maintaining the community and providing spaces for art to be enjoyed.
“We love this theater,” he said. “We love the memories, and we love the evenings and days that we spent in this theater with loved ones and friends, laughing our asses off, crying our asses off. This place is priceless.”
The Main Art Theatre has always championed independent cinema, often screening foreign titles that might not have otherwise had a theater to call home in the metro Detroit area. The Main was also known for its midnight shows, drawing crowds to watch a picture in the dead of night.
Not only has the theater acted as a hub, but the preservation of the theater has doubled as a way to keep the community together. As Krzysiak said, “This is what it’s all about, bringing us together from all walks of life. That’s the community foundation we want to instill in this place and keep it running well into the 21st century.”
U.S. Rep. Andy Levin, a Democrat whose district includes Royal Oak, also made an appearance at the rally, briefly talking to the crowd.
“My movie nights go back a little further. How many of ya’ll have come here for decades?” he said. “So this is a tough situation. I want to do everything I can to support the arts. How important is it to have art in our lives? How important is it to not just have those blockbusters or whatever they call them, but creative, independent films in our lives? So I love this place. I love Jason and all the activists who are fighting for art, and I want to play a helpful role in keeping art in Royal Oak.”
The rally continued with those in attendance being allowed to speak and share their thoughts on the potential destruction of the Main, including Jessica Bultman and Nathaniel Webster, two 2004 graduates of the now-defunct Dondero High School, currently the Royal Oak Middle School. The pair talked about their history with the theater, stemming from their media production course that involved a field trip to the theater to watch Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine documentary in the aftermath of the mass shooting in Colorado.
A vote on the fate of the Main is expected to be held at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, April 12 at Royal Oak City Hall. In the meantime, Friends of the Main Art asks supporters to email [email protected].
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