Free Spirit Media offices in historic Sears Tower

With its new space in an historic Sears building in North Lawndale, Free Spirit Media now has five locations to help urban youth from under-resourced communities gain life, academic and professional skills through media production and journalism.

Founded and led by award-winning producer Jeff McCarter, the nonprofit works with a budget of $1.8 million that is contributed by bighearted foundations, film industry organizations and businesses to serve around 700 teens a year. 

FSM’s new space is on two floors in 14 storey Nichols Tower at 906 S. Homan, the original Sears Tower was built in 1893 as the landmark building in Sears Roebuck’s massive mail order complex. Restoration as a community hub for art, culture and workforce development was completed this summer after 25 years in the works. (School of the Art Institute is one of FSM’s neighbors.)

Located on the 11th floor, FSM’s Media Hub will be in its own space for the first time, having held programs in South and West Side schools and youth centers. 

Its 2,200-sq. ft. of space, vacant since 1977, when Sears moved its headquarters downtown to the newly built Sears Tower, has an eerie connection to the past.  It was the original, 1924 studio of radio station WLS, whose call letters stood for “World’s Largest Store.”

Media Lab’s programs on civics, journalism and media production will be taught throughout the week by six of FSM’s 24 paid educators and media industry instructors.

Jeff McCarter

FSM’s Administration offices in 1,800-sq. ft. of space on the 5th floor is a more casual space, “for a mix of administrators, alums, staff and students, a place to hang out,” notes McCarter.

Its other locations are offices at Media Process Group, 1357 W. Washington, headquarters of Free Spirit Pro, “the production company part under our umbrella, where we work for hire,” says McCarter; the Gary Comer Youth Center and North Lawndale College Prep. This year, FSM students held 30 industry internships and 15 work placements in local production companies.

“We are hugely supported by the production community,” says McCarter, ticking off such industry benefactors as Cinespace, Optimus, Cutters, Daily Planet, Davi Reinisch Productions, IPA, AICP, SAG AFTRA, Locals 476 and 600 and ABC/7.

FSM’s 18 member board of directors is headed by Jon Siskel of Siskel/ Jacobs Productions.  Co-chairing the 15th anniversary Focus gala on June 2 are Hootenanny’s Liz Tate and producer Kathy Finley.

The goal of the Focus event is to raise $150,000, says McCarter, to be used for job training programs, work placement, internships field trips for alums and investing in such cutting edge equipment as prosumer-level digital cameras, Final Cut Pro systems and Apple computers.

Tickets will be $50 and sponsorships are welcome. To get involved in the Focus event, contact Director of Development and Communications Rachel Hoge: 312/526-2187, Rachel@freespiritmedia.org. McCarter also can be reached at 312/526-2175, or Jeff@freespiritmedia.org.

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