Cleveland, OH

Karamu House donates archives to Case Western Reserve University

Paul Krasinic

CLEVELAND, OH— Karamu House, the nation's oldest African-American theater and cultural arts center, is donating its archives to Case Western Reserve University. The unique collection will be preserved and available to the public at the Kelvin Smith Library.

The management of Case Western Reserve will preserve the records of works by people associated with Karamu that were done more than a century ago. The archives include production schedule and stage management documents, biographies, correspondence, board of director files, photographs— all related to the theater and its place in the history of the city.

The President and CEO of Karamu House, Tony Sias, said, "This was the impetus to organize our archives. The Cleveland Public Library and interns from Summer on the Cuyahoga have played instrumental roles in providing leadership and support, respectively, in arranging, storing and digitizing our materials. This work prepared us for conversations with the Kelvin Smith Library at Case Western Reserve University. This is a seminal moment in Karamu's history, gifting our archival treasures to such an esteemed institution for ongoing preservation, global access, and safe keeping."

Karamu House was founded in 1915. It was born in the Central neighborhood and later forged as a neighborhood anchor in Fairfax, where people from different races, economic and religious backgrounds could come together through arts. Karamu, named from Swahili words, means "Joyful gathering."

Karamu House has been featured in the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture and listed in the US National Register of Historic Places. The theater's programs include professional-quality theater that is socially relevant and arts education for all ages. Karamu also offers a wide range of community programs, including comedy, live jazz, spoken-word performances.

The Karamu House is preserving the archive at the Kelvin Smith Library because it's one of the premier theater history archives in the country. Kelvin Smith Library has archived the Cleveland Play House, the first American professional regional theater. The public and researchers will have access to and mine the collections and make connections between the two.

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