Roger Ebert Center reaches half of its funding goal

By Kayla Martinez, Staff writer

Efforts to develop the Roger Ebert Center, honoring the late film critic and notable alum, are still underway to bring several opportunities to students in Film Studies at the University.

The College of Media, along with Ebert’s wife, Chaz, announced the creation of the Ebert Center back in April of 2015. The amount needed to support the center is set at $5 million, and $2.5 million has been raised by donors so far.

Ebert graduated from the University in 1964 with a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism. Soon after, Ebert moved on to become a film critic at the Chicago Sun-Times and, in 1974, became the first film critic to receive a Pulitzer Prize for his expert critique in the field.

On the Roger Ebert website, Chaz spoke about the significance of the center to her late husband, and how the center can contribute to the college.

“Roger said that his adult life started at the University of Illinois, and he credits his education in the College of Communications (as the College of Media was then known) with setting him on his lifelong path. So I am happy that The Ebert Center will reside there,” said Chaz Ebert, in Chaz’s Journal.

Wojtek Chodzko-Zajko, Interim Dean of the College of Media, said the center will expose undergraduate and graduate students to the latest state-of-the-art journalism and media and cinema studies, following the legacy of Roger and Chaz Ebert.

“Essentially what we are doing is continuing to seek donors and raise money to achieve the goal of being able to launch the Ebert Center,” Chodzko-Zajko said. “And when it launches, it will have a research component and education component.”

In the meantime, the College of Media continues to pursue two mechanisms to honor Roger Ebert’s legacy; the Roger Ebert Film Festival which takes place at the Virginia Theatre in Champaign in the spring, and the Roger Ebert Fellowship, which selects two students each year throughout the University to receive a stipend and mentoring from Michael Phillips, film critic at the Chicago Tribune.

The fellows program is aimed at focusing on the latest developments in film and journalism related to media and cinema, along with participating in the film festival in the spring.

The process of completing the center consists of getting an approval from the board of trustees to continue raising more funds, which has already been set in motion for some time, which would then officially launch the center into completion.

“We have a substantial amount of money collected but also a substantial amount to go,” Chodzko-Zajko said. “But I’m confident that Roger’s legacy is going to help us raise the funds needed.”

A location for the center is still unknown, though according to Chodzko-Zajko, it is to likely to be located in a “physical space” within the College of Media.

For now, the College of Media frequently works with Chaz Ebert to look at other ways in which the University can continue to be involved with the Ebert legacy, as well as looking at other opportunities for students.

When Roger and Chaz Ebert launched the endowment for the center in 2009, Roger was inspired by his own experiences at the University.

“The University of Illinois is deep in my heart as a great institution. It informed and enriched me. Although there were no film courses when I was an undergraduate, it nevertheless guided me in my lifelong love of film. I hope when this Program and Center are fully realized, they will inspire new generations,” said Roger Ebert.

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