Lease, Camera, Action! School of Visual Arts Inks Deal for Chelsea Theater

The School of Visual Arts, one of the few institutions of higher learning to both advertise on the subway and maintain its aura of cool, is expanding due west. The school, based on East 23rd Street, has signed a 26-year lease for the former Clearview Chelsea West Cinemas at 333 West 23rd Street, between Eighth and Ninth avenues.

Gene Stavis, who has for 30 years taught film at SVA without the luxury of an actual school-owned movie theater, will direct programming at the two-screen cinema.

“The irony is that we’re preparing thousands of artists every year to face audiences, and we had no way for them to do it at school,” Mr. Stavis said.

Starting this fall, Mr. Stavis will have to find other sources of irony: He will be able to host film festivals and show off student work in disciplines ranging from animation to photography.

“We are going to use it clearly for films, but not primarily for films,” Mr. Stavis said. “This does not fall under any department of the school. It will serve, we hope, as a catalyst to make people from different disciplines work together, as artists are doing around the world these days.”

Mr. Stavis wouldn’t say how much the school is sinking into the renovations of the theater, which will take place during summer break, but he did say the theater will be outfitted with the capacity to project both 70mm film and digital media.

Eminent graphic designer Milton Glaser (who also happens to be the acting chair of the school) and architect Laurence Jones are redesigning the building’s exterior and interior. Both screens in the theater’s two auditoriums will remain.

In a way, the theater has already begun functioning. This week, the school hosted the Gen Art Film Festival. And in May, the theater will host a couple of the school’s end-of-year shows. “Then we’re going to close the place for the summer and do major construction, and look forward to a fall opening,” Mr. Stavis said.

The 800-seat theater, built in 1963, once housed the Roundabout Theatre Company, before changing hands a number of times, ultimately ending up as a Clearview Cinemas, a frequently underused movie house that often handled overflow from the other Clearview Cinemas down the block between Seventh and Eighth avenues.

Clearview was reportedly holding onto the lease until it found someone to take it who wouldn’t steal away patrons.

“This kept out the competition in the neighborhood,” Mr. Jones, the architect, said.

Neil Lipinski, a principal at Colliers ABR, represented the school on the lease.