In an effort to help rural movie theaters stay in business, Colorado announced the Rural Theater Digital Conversion Grant. The Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade (OEDIT), Colorado Small Business Development Center Network (SBDC), The Denver Film Society, Downtown Colorado, Inc., the Gates Foundation and Boettcher Foundation have teamed up to create grants ranging from $10,000 to $30,000 for theaters in converting to the new digital equipment being required by the film industry.

“Local small town cinemas are a key amenity for local workforce retention and play a crucial role in enhancing culture and providing a strong sense of place,” said Donald Zuckerman, Colorado Film Commissioner. “In addition to showing newly released films, these venues often function as a meeting place and social center and are sometimes the only community facility within their county. Films, special events, educational screenings and fundraising events at the theaters foster activities for various community groups and enhance local learning opportunities. Moreover, the theaters are an affordable leisure option for families and the elderly, and serve as a safe, secure venue for young people.”

Film distributors no longer distribute traditional celluloid prints, and have now converted to digital format. This new distribution method requires a digital cinema projector, which cost an average of $60,000-$70,000 each. Many rural theaters cannot afford these projectors and will likely close, threatening the arts, culture and fabric of the community.

The Colorado Economic Development Commission (EDC) approved $200,000 from the Strategic Fund Initiative to assist rural theaters in making the switch, and the Denver Film Society, with financial backing from the Boettcher Foundation and the Gates Family Foundation, is also submitting funds to help.

“The economic development benefits from this grant are multi-faceted – from direct job retention to ensuring our smaller communities have a place to celebrate arts and culture,” said Ken Lund, executive director of OEDIT. “Theaters play a major role in the economy of many rural areas, and we know that many business prospects considering a move to Colorado or expanding in the state look at the vibrancy of the downtown area as an economic indicator in their decision making process. Preserving these theaters have great spill-over affects, and we hope that these grants will help rural theaters continue to thrive.”

Both nonprofit and for-profit theaters can apply for funds. The available funding amount is variable and dependent on total demand and the specific theater, including theater location. Requirements to receive grants include:

• Minimum cash input of $10,000
• Minimum 2-to-1 match for EDC Grant funds
• Applicant must also apply for local Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Business Loan Fund
• Minimum three hours SBDC consulting
• Theater will need to demonstrate to the SBDC and the Colorado OEDIT that it will be economically viable after the digital conversion
• Theater must receive a technical review to ensure new equipment will function properly
• Theater must be in a rural area that equals the area outside the boundaries of a city or town of more than 20,000 in population and the urbanized area contiguous and adjacent to such city or town
• Priority will be given to theaters in communities geographically distanced from communities with already converted theaters

Theaters can apply online by visiting

Collaborators on the grant include The Denver Film Society; Downtown Colorado, Inc.; Colorado Department of Local Affairs, Main Street Program; USDA Rural Development; Small Business Development Centers (SBDC); 14 rural Business Loan Funds of the Community Development Block Grant program; OEDIT: Creative Industries, Tourism & Film Office; Gates Foundation, and the Boettcher Foundation.