A community arts hub in Harlem is finally transforming into what it was always meant to be.
ImageNation‘s Raw Space at 2031 Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd. will reopen this summer as The Sōl Cinema Café, a hub for black indie films, music and art.
“This is the beginning of a lifelong goal being realized, and it’s something we’ve been working toward for a really long time,” said Moikgantsi Kgama, ImageNation’s co-founder and executive producer.
She and her partner, Gregory Gates, started ImageNation, a media arts group created to support independent film and music that highlights Pan-African people and their stories, in 1997 and have been showing films and art at Raw Space for several years.
But the couple never had the funding to complete their vision of a coffee shop/cinema and have had to rent out the space for events like bar mitzvahs, baby showers, and other community initiatives. But now they’ve decided to actualize their dream and devote the space full time to black culture.
“It’s time for us to do what we came to do,” Kgama said. “We’re at the point where we’re ready to take it to the next level.”
When it is finished in June or July, the space will become a full-time coffee shop from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., selling coffee and drinks and food such as a South African drink called the Durban, sweet baked plantains and more, and a theater screening black indie cinema (ImageNation recently screened films like “Rafiki” and “My Africa,” with Will and Jada Pinkett Smith’s “Sprinter” scheduled for May 11), panel discussions and director talkbacks.
Sōl’s look is being overseen by Harlem designer Sheila Prevost and South African-born Thulare Monareng, who will incorporate African motifs and iconography and keep it as a flexible space with movable seating and walls to accommodate different activities. People will sit in vintage theater seats that can be sponsored, which will help raise money to renovate the space.
Each seat is $500 to name for five years and comes with free tickets for three movie screenings and membership at Sōl, which can be purchased at imagenation.us.
Kgama and Gates need to raise $120,000 in total and plan to fund $20,000 of that through the 45-day “Save My Seat” campaign.
“Our place will be media-rich with images from black film all around you as you sit in the space or put headphones on and watch movies while you drink coffee,” Kgama said.
With some seats already sold, Kgama said there is momentum.
“We have an audience base who has been following us through the journey, and we owe it to them to finally get it done,” she said. “Economic empowerment is the next frontier. Media right now is becoming so consuming so it’s important that all people have a stake in the way it is being represented.”
To that end, the cinema will also have a VR component to it that will make it tangible to the community.