Karamu House Regains Nonprofit Status, Looks Ahead to New Season


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If any local arts institution has mastered the art of the bounce-back, it's got to be Karamu House. The nation's oldest African-American cultural organization was reeling from a one-two punch. In April, the organization lost its tax-exempt status – just weeks after executive director Tony Sias shaved 15 staffers to save money.

But the non-profit designation has just been restored, the 2016-2017 season is in place and long-overdue renovation of the Jeliffe Theater will start in August.

"We're excited...it's been crazy around here, " says Aseelah Shareef, Karamu's director of programming. The letter from the IRS definitely provided a boost. "We know that the work that we're putting in is beginning to turn things around."

Shareef tells Scene a funder informed Karamu about its tax status. Although IRS revoked Karamu's non-profit designation in November 2015, an official letter didn't arrive until April – after the group filed its regular return

"We don't know why we received such late notice from the IRS," Shareef says.

But the organization is back on track, implementing a strategic plan drafted under its interim director executive director, Patricia Egan.

Architect Robert Madison will oversee the theater renovation, which will be funded by a $1.8-million grant from the state.

Despite construction, the show will go. Karamu is planning a full season of plays directed by some of Cleveland most respected directors, including Reggie Kelly, Fred Sternfeld, Sarah May and Margaret Ford-Taylor. Ford-Taylor's return is her first association with Karamu since she was fired as executive director roughly 15 years ago. Sias said reached out her personally, he said via email. Ford-Taylor could not be reached for comment.

Shareef said the plays would be staged at locations throughout the city. Karamu is also planning a portfolio of community and educational programs to accompany its offerings. More information will available on Karamu's newly designed website, which is expected to launch around July 8. 

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