Black Cinema House a cultural outlet for neighborhood

March 8, 2013 10:00:00 PM PST
A private residence on the South Side is providing a cultural outlet to an underserved community. The Black Cinema House is a place for screenings of independent and experimental films. It's organized by an artist who is making quite an investment in his community.

The Grand Crossing neighborhood has seen better days but nestled among the homes, some of which are boarded up, is evidence that there's potential for renewal.

This house at 69th and Dorchester has been refurbished and transformed into the Black Cinema House, a place for free screenings of independent movies by black filmmakers.

It's also the home of internationally acclaimed artist and urban planner Theaster Gates who came up with the idea as a way to share a cultural activity with his neighbors.

"I thought, man, it would be super cool if I had a screen that came down and my neighbors could come over and we could watch Sydney Poitier," Gates said.

About 50 people can be seated for screenings which have been taking place at the Black Cinema House since October 2012.

Through word of mouth, audiences have grown to include film students and movie-buffs eager to see carefully selected rare films.

"We look into old reparatory cinema as well as contemporary cinema and blend the two together," programmer in residence Amir George said.

Gates moved in to the Grand Crossing neighborhood in 2006 when the University of Chicago hired him for the Department of Visual Arts and his art career took off soon after.

He wanted to keep his roots in the South Side neighborhood and in 2009, Gates bought his home which had been abandoned.

It took a year and a half to restore it.

His investment in the neighborhood goes beyond the Black Cinema House. He also bought and refurbished this house across the street. He calls it Archive House and it houses collections from Prairie Avenue Bookstore and Dr. Wax Records which both went out of business.

"Why spend more money in another neighborhood when that money could do so much more in enriching this place, making it a beautiful place?" Gates said.

According to Gates, it would be great if other artists moved into Grand Crossing and made it a cultural enclave.

For now, he's happy with the fellowship that comes from his film screenings.

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