As part of Milwaukee Film’s ongoing commitment to operate and restore the historic Oriental Theatre, the nonprofit announced on June 23 that it will remain closed.

Because of ongoing health concerns surrounding COVID-19, Milwaukee Film plans to use the summer to finish extensive renovations to the main and east theaters.

“Our operations have been highly disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, which has created significant uncertainty over when we’ll be able to safely open our doors again to large crowds,” said Jonathan Jackson, CEO and artistic director for Milwaukee Film. “We are, however, able to safely embark on several long-planned restoration projects that, if not done now, would require future shutdown of the cinema.”

The restoration work includes replacing seats and carpeting, improving sightlines and sound quality, restoring plaster on the ceiling and walls, and beginning the process for installation of the 1925 Wurlitzer theater organ Milwaukee Film previously announced it secured for the Oriental Theatre.

“The Oriental Theatre has long been a gathering space for Milwaukee to participate in the arts, and Milwaukee Film is helping to ensure it will be part of our community for generations,” said Patti Keating Kahn, board chair for Milwaukee Film. “Going forward with this work now is an important decision, and as we’ve reached out to our major donors, they’ve been extremely supportive that this is the perfect time for restoration to ensure we’re ready when it’s safe to bring film back to a packed house.”

In spring of 2019, Milwaukee Film met its fundraising goal for the Oriental Theatre capital campaign, with Chris Abele, co-founder of Milwaukee Film, having kicked off the campaign with a lead donation of $2 million. Donald and Donna Baumgartner; the Herzfeld Foundation; the Sheldon and Marianne Lubar Charitable Fund; Allan H. (Bud) and Suzanne L. Selig; and The Yabuki Family Foundation provided additional lead donations.

“Thanks to the generosity of more than 900 contributors, Milwaukee Film has donor-designated funds for restoring the Oriental Theatre,” added Jackson. “By accepting those funds and by signing a decades-long lease to operate the theater, we took on the role of stewards of this historic cinema palace.”

Milwaukee Film anticipates that the work to the main and east houses will run into the fall. Similar restoration work was completed in 2019 in the west house. Milwaukee Film continues to offer curated films through Sofa Cinema, its virtual cinema portal proudly supported by Associated Bank. Current titles are available at

© Photo

Lee Matz

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