Thursday, July 15th, is the African American Heritage Action Fund, a National Trust for Historic Preservation program, announced $ 3 million in assistance to conserve African American landmarks – including a $ 75,000 grant for the Karamu House.
The grant consists in restoring the apartment Poet and playwright Langston Hughes ‘residence at Karamu House to serve as short-term accommodation for aspiring colored artists as artists-in-residence, says Ann Barnett, Karamus’ director of communications and institutional funding.
Langston Hughes Barnett says the country’s oldest African American theater has been a welcoming space for all races since the inception of Karamu House. The founders of Karamu House, Russell and Rowena Jelliffe, had a particularly close relationship with the Harlem Renaissance playwright and poet Langston Hughes.
Hughes spent time at the settlement house in his late teens, where his emerging artistry was nurtured and nurtured. Hughes wrote and debuted several pieces with Karamu, including his very first piece “The Golden Piece” in 1921.
Hughes returned to Cleveland regularly throughout his life and stayed at the Karamu in his suite on the second floor of the theater wing.
“To preserve and honor the residence of one of America’s greatest black writers, Karamu will convert the suite into temporary living quarters for select emerging African American artists who are part of Karamu’s growing artist residency program,” says Barnett. “The two bedroom residence has a kitchen, full bathroom, living room and dining area.”
Barnett says the room is in dire need of repair and restoration. The ceilings in each of the two bedrooms are deteriorating; mold all over the apartment; The sanitary facilities for the bathroom and kitchen area are not functional; and structural problems exist.
The radiator heating system needs to be repaired and there is no cooling system. The carpet is worn and the cement walls are bare. There are no working appliances in the kitchen and the bathroom fixtures are worn and inoperable.
Barnett sees the positive side, however. “However, the room has its original door moldings, doors and door handles and kitchen cabinets,” she says.
With $ 50 million in funding, the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund is the largest conservation effort ever undertaken to support the longevity of African American historic sites. The July 15th announcement represents the largest single payout in the four-year history of the Action Fund.
“The recipients of this funding exemplify centuries of African American resilience, activism and achievement,” said Brent Leggs, executive director of the Action Fund. “Some of their stories are known, others not yet told. Together they help to document the true, complex history of our nation. ‘