Uplifting Black women media makers is Yvonne Welbon’s mission. That’s why she founded Sisters in Cinema as an online resource in 1997. Now, the digital resource and nonprofit is about to open a physical media and community center, called the Sisters in Cinema Media Arts Center, in Welbon’s neighborhood in South Shore on 75th Street.

The center, located at 2310 E. 75th St., will include video galleries with more than 100 interviews with Black women filmmakers –– as well as a theater room and computer lab, alongside an archive space that will rotate items educating visitors about different filmmakers. All of this will be unveiled during the center’s grand opening on March 15.

Sisters in Cinema will be a new community resource in an area where many businesses have shuttered. The initiative is made possible, in part, with help from Chicago’s Neighborhood Opportunity Fund.

“We’re hoping that the center will be a catalyst for change. 75th Street used to be an arts and culture corridor,” Welbon explained. “When I was growing up in the neighborhood, there was a lot happening on 75th Street. And now it’s not what it used to be. So, we’re hoping that we’ll be part of the revitalization.”

Welbon went to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s film school from 1991 to 1994. During her time there, she saw little representation of Black women filmmakers which drove her to want to find more of them. She went on to create Sisters in Cinema in 1997, as a database of information about people she wanted to learn about in her industry.

Now, Welbon wants Sisters in Cinema to be a resource for the next generation of Black women filmmakers.

Yvonne Welbon is the founder and CEO of Sisters in Cinema walking through her new space.
Sisters in Cinema Media Arts Center will be a community resource for classes and other programs for the South Side. Photo by Ash Lane for The TRiiBE®

In addition to the media center, the nonprofit also offers its own programming to support Black women, femmes and non-binary filmmakers, including The Sisters in Cinema Documentary Fellowship Program and the Black Lesbian Writers’ Room. These opportunities will target the needs of South Shore community members.

“We’ve done a number of surveys with the community… They wanted a computer workshop for seniors, which I didn’t know about. Young people said they want to be able to have their own screenings,” Welbon said. “We’re looking at what the community is interested in, and also keeping some of those flagship programs like this fellowship in place.”

The Reel Innovators program will teach 18 to 24-year-olds how to create their own screenings and learn how to market and maximize their work.

“Everybody doesn’t have the opportunity to go to film school. We found that there were a lot of programs for kids… the 18- to 24-year-olds kind of get left out,” Welbon said. “It’s really hard to be an artist if you don’t understand money, so we have money healing workshops,” she added. 

Welbon and Sisters in Cinema will host events throughout the weekend, starting with the grand opening on March 15 at 3:30 p.m. at the Sisters in Cinema Media Arts Center, located at 2310 E. 75th St.

A community open house will be held from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. on March 16, ending with a brunch honoring Black women and gender-nonconforming media makers on March 17 from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. 

Sisters in Cinema will also hold an online auction from March 15-21. Supporters can donate directly and buy tickets for the grand opening events online. People can also reach out to info@sistersincinema.com for volunteer opportunities, and to learn about joining the Sisters in Cinema advisory board.

Welbon is excited to expand on the mission of Sisters in Cinema and the foundation she has been building for over 25 years.

“This is the biggest and boldest iteration of Sisters in Cinema because it’s actually institutionalizing something that began back in film school when I didn’t know the names of Black women filmmakers. People in South Shore will start to know the names of Black women filmmakers,” she said. “This is a pretty big iteration of the projects that I’ve done in my life.”

is a freelance writer for The TRiIBE.