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After purchasing its own building, Art House Cinema in Billings looks forward to expanding

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Art House Cinema
A rendering of the future exterior of the Art House Cinema

What began as a dream to fill a cinema void in Billings for documentaries, independent, foreign and low-budget films celebrates a major milestone this week.

More than six years ago Art House Cinema and Pub opened its doors in a part of the old Central Lanes Bowling Alley in downtown Billings.

On Tuesday, the nonprofit movie theater — which is a supporter of YPR — is holding a housewarming party

Art House founder and executive director Matt Blakeslee says all of Billings is invited to come and celebrate what he calls "an achievement for Billings."

"We’ve been able to purchase the G&W Building where Art House has been located for 6 years," Blakeslee said, "and call it our own."

The plan is to expand from one small screen with limited seating to three screens: a large theater with seating for 120 people, a medium theater for up to 60 people and a small theater for about 40 people

That will give us the opportunity to not only program more movies [but] hold on to movies that we really like long," Blakeslee said. "But more than anything to be able to program different types of events and art performances in those spaces as we want."

The path from opening of Art House in March 2015 to owning the entire G&W Building has not been without its bumps.

Things never go the way you anticipate them to go," Blakeslee said.

One was COVID-19. Another was getting the keys to the Babcock Theater, a venue Art House staff never imaged they would be programming. Though it wasn't in the plans, it’s a location Blakeslee calls one of the most beautiful spaces in Billings

"Our belief is that that theater can be a movie theater but it can also be a great space for live music and live theater and performance and professional events," he said. "And we see ourselves in that kind of venue."

The weekend Art House opened its doors in 2015, one of the films it showed was A Most Violent Year. It was a small budget film, an American crime drama starring Oscar Isaac.

Earlier this month the Babcock showed Dune, a major motion picture with an all star cast — including Oscar Isaac.

That range is what Blakeslee loves about films

"Movies still in our culture feel like they are for everybody," he said.

Kay Erickson has been working in broadcasting in Billings for more than 20 years. She spent well over a decade as news assignment editor at KTVQ-TV before joining the staff at YPR. She is a graduate of Northern Illinois University, with a degree in broadcast journalism. Shortly after graduation she worked in Great Falls where she was one of the first female sports anchor and reporter in Montana.