Tivoli at the Nelson: revival of a Westport art scene staple

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In 1983, Jerry Harrington opened the Tivoli Cinemas on Westport Road. Harrington and the Tivoli played an active role in Kansas City’s film scene. The Tivoli held the LGBTQ+ film festival, Out Here Now, every summer. In 1992, the theater expanded and moved across the road to a three-screen building. It screened thousands of movies and brought joy to many patrons. If you spent enough time at the Tivoli you would get to know John personally. He loved the joy that he saw on people’s faces as they left the theater. 

The theater was famous for showing small independent art films that would not regularly be shown at larger theaters. It was the theater that I first watched, and fell in love with, the film “Ladybird.” The small theater was able to survive the changing film industry and in 2013 raised $130,000 to switch the film projectors to digital projectors. But with the advent of streaming services, and larger theaters expanding into niche films, the Tivoli lost customers. 

“The combination of the age of the facility, my advancing age and health issues, along with the radical shifts happening in the movie business have made it impossible for me to continue,” Harrington wrote in  his letter announcing the closing of the Tivoli in April of this year. 

The closing of the Tivoli was met with sadness from many of the patrons of the theater, as it was the place that they were introduced to art-house movies and the joy that can be made from small, independent films. 

“Kansas City has lost a cultural icon that will never be replaced,” said Ben and Brian Mossman, owners of the Glenwood Arts Theatre, in a statement about the closing. 

This isn’t the end for the Tivoli Cinemas though. The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art announced Sept. 20 that they are helping to reopen the Tivoli. They are donating their Atkins Auditorium for screenings four times a week. They are updating their digital projectors and putting in a loop to assist the hearing impaired patrons. 

“We have been very interested in strengthening our film programming at the Nelson-Atkins, and housing the beloved Tivoli while benefiting from Jerry’s deep knowledge of independent films has a wonderful symmetry,” said Julián Zugazagoitia, CEO & Director of the Nelson-Atkins.  “This exciting partnership will fill a vacancy that has been left in Kansas City since the Tivoli’s closing.” 

Jerry Harrington has been named the film curator at the new Tivoli at the Nelson-Atkins. 

“My heart was broken when the Tivoli closed,” Harrington said in an interview with Fox4. “I could never have imagined re-opening the doors in such a magnificent setting.”

 The partnership will allow Harrington to choose the movies that will be shown. He has made it clear that he will not only be showing new movies, but those movies that he thinks are vital to film history. The films will not only be domestic American films but important foreign films, harking back to the first few years of the Tivoli Cinema and its notorious choice of independent, foreign films.

Coinciding with the opening of the Tivoli at the Nelson-Atkins, the Rozzelle Court is being revamped. It will now be open after the matinees at the Tivoli for film discussions that, when possible, will be led by guest speakers. The new food court will also focus on smaller, shareable plates for light eating during the discussion.

There will be a special Donor’s Premiere held Oct. 21 at 7:30 p.m. for their first film. They will be showing the silent film “The General” starring Buster Keaton with the music being provided live by the Alloy Orchestra.

The public premiere will be Wednesday, Oct. 23. Films will be shown four times a week at the Atkins Auditorium: Monday at 11:15 a.m., Wednesday at 1 p.m., Friday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 1 p.m. Tickets will be $10 at the box office or online at nelson-atkins.org and $7 for members of the museum. 

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