Stamford Delegation, Avon Theatre Celebrate Receival Of State Funds

STAMFORD, CT — The Avon Theatre Film Center on Monday celebrated an important step in bringing much-needed renovations to one of the crown jewels of Connecticut.

Last month, the State Bond Commission approved $1.94 million in funding that will go towards an overall $9.9 million renovation campaign for the theatre.

Renovations will include repointing masonry and brickwork, ADA compliance work on lifts and restrooms, a new roof, new seats, a third screen, an expanded concession area and a wine bar.

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On Monday, Avon leadership, advocates and Stamford’s delegation to Hartford gathered at the theatre to tout the funding and what it will mean to such an important cultural institution for the city and region.

“Stamford is the city that works. Implicit in that statement is the promise that our city is well governed and that we are a complete city that has the resources that people come to expect from a vibrant cultural and economic center. As our city grows, so must the arts,” said state Rep. Hubert Delany (D-144), who helped spearhead the funding request.

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“When people think of a moment in time, a decade for example, more often than not, people don’t remember a general speech or a politician’s speech,” Delany said. “They remember the music, the dance, the fashion, the cuisine, the performances, the architecture, the arts, the expressions of the people that reflect the time and the place we live in. It’s vital we invest in it, and that’s what we’ve done here today.”

Avon Theatre Co-Chairman Arthur Selkowitz noted that the facility is the only theater left in Fairfield County that shows independent films and documentaries, and hosts special interactive programs.

“That’s an important cultural benefit to Stamford. We’re an economic engine for Stamford, we’re a cultural engine for Stamford, and it’s so important to preserve that,” Selkowitz said, thanking Delany and the delegation for their work.

Delany had never been to the Avon Theatre prior to becoming an elected official, Selkowitz said.

“When he walked into the main theatre, his eyes lit up, he dropped his jaw, and he said he had never seen any theatre like it. That is part of the magic of the Avon; it’s part of the magic of coming to a movie theatre, of coming to see a movie instead of watching on your telephone or tablet,” Selkowitz added. “There is magic, and one of the efforts that we’re undergoing is to bring the magic back to moviegoing, and we can do it.”

The Avon is about halfway towards its fundraising goal, Selkowitz said. Earlier this year, the theatre also received $500,000 to reconfigure its existing layout to create a smaller, more intimate auditorium that will be utilized for film-making classes, poetry slams, niche films and other activities.

Selkowitz said the hope is to begin renovations in March 2025 and complete them by September 2025. The theatre will be closed during that period, but Selkowitz said the Avon plans on offering special programming and films around Fairfield County.

Stamford Mayor Caroline Simmons couldn’t attend Monday’s news conference, but Chief of Staff Bridget Fox spoke briefly on her behalf.

“This is a cultural institution in Stamford, and seeing it refurbished will be remarkable,” Fox said.

Several elected officials spoke as well, including state Sen. Ryan Fazio (R-36), state Rep. Matt Blumenthal (D-147), state Rep. Rachel Khanna (D-149), state Rep. Corey Paris (D-145) and state Rep. Tom O’Dea (R-125). The Stamford delegation also includes David Michel (D-146) and Anabel Figueroa (D-148).

Each spoke about how important the theatre is to the fabric of the community.

The Avon Theatre showed its first film in 1939 — “It’s a Wonderful World” — starring James Stewart and Claudette Colbert. The facility was owned and operated by several movie theater chains over the years before it closed in 1999.

In 2001, the Royce Family Foundation purchased the theatre and embarked on an effort to restore the building, the theatre’s website says.

The refurbished Avon Theatre Film Center reopened in 2004 as a nonprofit, member-supported movie house offering a curated mix of independent films, documentaries, art house, foreign language films and classic cinema.

“There are so few places that are convening spaces for the community and that offer real cinema that you’re not going to see in the mainstream chain movie theaters. There’s nothing wrong with another Marvel movie, but this space is one that offers people the chance to see perspectives, art and humanity they’re not necessarily going to get anywhere else,” Blumenthal said.

Fazio called the theatre a “gem of Stamford’s cultural scene.”

“It’s important that we have and continue to support all of the cultural landmarks and the cultural capital that we have here in this city. That’s what makes a city great,” added Fazio.

Khanna, a Greenwich resident who also represents a portion of Stamford, noted that she frequents the Avon and prefers going there instead of to theaters in nearby Port Chester.

Paris called the Avon not just a crown jewel for Stamford, but a crown jewel for the entire region.

“Fairfield County is so blessed to have it, and I cannot wait to see all of the cultural aspects that will continue to come from it,” Paris added.

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Avon Theatre Executive Director Peter Gistelinck said the staff was “extremely grateful, thankful and humble” for the state funds. He believes the money will cause a ripple effect as the Avon looks to complete its fundraising.

“This also shows [the state] really believes in the Avon, and it energizes not only us, but it’s an energizer for other foundations and other potential funders in the community to support us,” he said.

For more information on the Avon Theatre or to donate, visit their website.

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