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Sisters In Cinema To Open Media Center On 75th Street, Helping Grow Chicago’s ‘Film Ecosystem,’ Lightfoot Says

A "media art center" for women and gender-nonconforming Chicagoans is set to open this fall in South Shore, hosting the nonprofit's documentary fellowship, a paid newsroom for young reporters and other free programs.

A rendering of the Sisters in Cinema media center's interior.
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SOUTH SHORE — City officials celebrated the groundbreaking of a new media center on 75th Street Monday, as a local film nonprofit prepares to offer programs for women, non-binary and gender-nonconforming media makers out of the space this fall.

Sisters in Cinema is building a gallery, 45-seat theater, editing lab, educational space and more at 2310 E. 75th St. The “media art center” will host the nonprofit’s documentary fellowship, paid newsroom for young reporters and other free programs.

The center is expected to open in September.

“I’m so happy to be bringing this project as a deep investment in our community,” Sisters in Cinema founder Yvonne Welbon said. “We are bringing jobs, learning opportunities and we’re also creating a space for healing. Through our work, we are creating a pipeline for those who wish to work in the creative industries.”

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Sisters in Cinema founder and CEO Yvonne Welbon.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot joined other elected officials and local film industry leaders for a mock groundbreaking ceremony at the South Shore Cultural Center Monday afternoon.

“Investments in our film industry will be — and are — a key pillar” of the city’s coronavirus recovery plan, Lightfoot said. “Sisters in Cinema will help grow a film ecosystem and talent base right here in Chicago, all while giving residents from historically excluded groups … resources they need to find success and entry into the industry.”

Welbon’s journey to opening the media center “is a journey of love of city; love of art and cinema; and being really focused and determined on something that’s so incredibly important,” Lightfoot said.

“It has been a long journey” from the project’s Neighborhood Opportunity Fund grant award in 2017 to now, Ald. Greg Mitchell (7th) said.

The project received $181,725 through the fund’s first-ever round of grants, but under former Mayor Rahm Emanuel payments were often delayed — and in at least 35 cases, never received, according to city data.

Mitchell said he’ll “need” the Sisters in Cinema center to be successful, as it “will serve as a catalyst for one of my most challenged corridors.” Three out of five storefronts on 75th Street in South Shore are vacant, according to a study of the neighborhood’s business corridors last spring.

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A view of 75th Street from the Crandon Avenue intersection. The Sisters in Cinema media center will be located in the one-story building with white paneling, to the right of the “Family Medical Center” sign.
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Crews renovate the interior of the property at 2310 E. 75th St. in South Shore.

Sisters in Cinema has had many forms since its founding in 1991 as a research project, said Welbon, a South Shore native and resident.

“I was in graduate school and I only knew the name of one Black woman filmmaker — Julie Dash,” Welbon said. “I wanted to find more, and one of my professors told me, ‘Perhaps you’re the second one.’ [I] knew that was not true, so I went looking for my sisters in cinema.”

The database blossomed into a website in 1997, a documentary in 2003 and finally a nonprofit in 2014.

Monday’s ceremony opened with a performance from Chicago vocalist and storyteller Zahra Baker. A planned celebration at the media center site was canceled, with forecasted temperatures in the teens and snow flurries.

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