Since the time it was founded in 1915, Karamu House has provided art education, professional theater and community programs in an inclusive environment while honoring the experiences of Black creatives. That mission received a huge boost this July when Karamu House received a $75,000 grant from the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund.
The grant money will help turn Karamu House’s Langston Suite into a finished apartment to be used as short-term housing for emerging artists. With the project’s finish on the horizon, we sat down with Karamu House president and CEO Tony Silas to take a look at the details.
Q. What type of renovations are in the works?
A. There’s a kitchen, a common area, a bathroom and two small bedrooms [in the space currently]. So, what our vision is is that the bedrooms are so small that we’ll take a wall down and they’ll just be one large room in that area. And then the common area will include a worktable where artists will be able to plug in.
Q. What’s the goal of the project?
A. This is really about honoring the African American experience, through this aesthetic design and capital improvement in this space that Langston [Hughes] periodically stayed at when he came to visit once he left Cleveland and went to New York. It’s really about a place to convene [and] for artists to then talk about work and to see if there’s opportunity for collaboration or partnership amongst artists. I think once creating that space, the opportunity for collaboration then presents itself.
Q. What kind of artists will you be looking to bring in?
A. We embrace the visual and performing arts, so any artist who is part of the residency program will have access to the space. We’ve had dancers, we’ve had painters, we’ve had spoken word artists. It has run the gamut. Any artist who is participating in our residency program will have access to the space.
Q. How does this reflect Karamu House’s mission and impact Cleveland as a whole?
A. Langston Hughes was an iconic figure in American literature [and] we want to continue to preserve his legacy. Karamu House is not just a Cleveland treasure, but a national treasure. I think it’s important to further underscore our place in American history as not just the theater but a cultural arts center, and so we really want to continue to be able to position Langston and other artists to say that this has been a foundation.