On Feb. 1, Open Television (OTV) announced that it raised more than $1 million with support from the Surdna Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation and more.

OTV was created and founded by Elijah McKinnon and Dr. Aymar Jean Christian in 2015. OTV started as a research project and has grown to become an online platform and nonprofit for intersectional pilots and series. According to its website, the organization’s mission is to support Chicago artists in producing and exhibiting independent programming. 

“We saw that there was this amazing opportunity that we had as a nonprofit organization that is uniquely poised to support and amplify the stories of intersectional artists,” said McKinnon, who uses they/their/them pronouns. McKinnon is an artist, activist, abolitionist co-founder, and executive director of OTV. 

OTV initially started as a research project before becoming a nonprofit in 2019. Since then, the organization has been hard at work on its fundraising efforts. So while the $1 million is a major blessing, McKinnon said the process did not happen overnight. They said it took nearly two years to raise the funds. That $1 million also includes programming and operating grants received from the Field Foundation of Illinois, Pop Culture Collaborative and Cinereach.  

“We also realized during that process that it was also a great opportunity for us to reinvent the wheel in terms of investing and pipelines to Hollywood,” McKinnon said.

OTV was created and founded by Elijah McKinnon [left] and Dr. Aymar Jean Christian [right] in 2015. Photo courtesy of McKinnon.

There has been a shift in Hollywood within the last few years, McKinnon said. There’s been more intersectional storytelling that includes the voices of people who aren’t white or male, such as “Moonlight,” released in 2016 and won the Academy Award for Best Picture, and the ongoing FX episodic television show “Pose.”

When artists and others from marginalized communities get to share their stories, and others like them get to see themselves reflected on the screen, that is when “we actually get our humanity,” McKinnon added. 

With foundation support, McKinnon said OTV has the opportunity to support Chicago artists at every stage of their career. 

Chicago is a growing hub for film, television and media, with shows including “Empire,” “Lovecraft Country” and “Euphoria.”  Because of this, McKinnon said, the goal is to have the industry come to the artists instead of artists moving and trying to figure out how to get into the industry. OTV will assist by creating programming and examining how the film and television industry can better support intersectional artists. 

Now that the organization has more resources, the plan is to continue to do what they’ve already been doing — except in a full-time capacity. 

“We don’t want to introduce anything new,” McKinnon said. “We want to continue doing exactly what we’ve been doing for the last five years. And in my opinion, I’m a little biased, and have been slaying at it, right? We know we do what we do really well.”

OTV will use the funding to hire full-time staff and support the already existing programming at OTV, including its Fellows Program, Study Hall and Brave Future Film Race. The Fellows program is in its third year and is currently accepting applications for its next cohort. 

According to McKinnon, the program is for emerging writers and directors, and it trains talented artists in the fundamentals of the project and career development, preparing them to launch careers in the industry.

The deadline to apply is March 1. 

“We’ve only been able to operate at like this half-past frequency. We’ve never really been able to fully commit to it because the resources haven’t been there,” McKinnon said. “With these newfound resources, we can now support artists at a variety of stages [in their careers].”

is a multimedia producer for The TRiiBE.