Karamu House Logo


CONTACT: Andrea Wedren





CLEVELAND, Ohio– December 29, 2023: Karamu House announces seventeen (17) local artists receiving awards through Room in the House fellowship (RITH). With generous support from Cuyahoga County residents through a Support for Artists grant from Cuyahoga Arts & Culture RITH, artist awards are designed to empower artists’ creative practice through a $5,000 financial award, digital exhibition presence and space at Karamu for creation, exhibition, and performance. Applications for the fellowship were open to Cuyahoga County-based artists with demonstrated commitment to their visual arts or performance-based work and alignment to Karamu’s vision of socially and culturally responsive art that celebrates the Black experience.

“We take great joy in this artist program. We hope this award creates bandwidth and allows the artists to expand in ways that will elevate their practice, while connecting them to Karamu’s broader community. Our artists are keepers of the cultural flame. We are truly grateful to Cuyahoga Arts & Culture and the Cuyahoga County residents for providing Karamu with the opportunity to work with these talented individuals.” says Aseelah Shareef, Karamu’s Vice President & Chief Operating Officer. Karamu looks forward to the program’s continuation and will announce applications for the 2024 cohort in the coming months.

2023 Room in the House Cohort

Visual Artists

Drew Benton – A photographer and cinematographer with a passion for visual storytelling focusing on showcasing the richness of music, film, and dance talent within his community.

Davon Brantley — Implements self-portraiture and psychology within his work and is inspired by the dissociative behaviors that happen because of trauma and the repetition involved with these experiences. “I guide the audience through my own narratives involving experiences of colorism, racial stereotyping, and meditations on death, life, sexuality and masculinity.”

Chelsea Craig — A visual artist raised in Shaker Heights whose practice includes work with metals, glass and jewelry making. Her work reflects her experience as an African American woman living in today’s complicated society including self-identity, social/political issues, black culture, black history, and the female body.

Aja Joi Grant – A Cleveland-based photographer, educator, and curator. Studying psychology at Cleveland State formed her passion for exploring different themes around the human experience in her art and served as a basis for her interest in educating. She also curates a street photography feature in CAN Journal.

Adenike Harper — Known as the “Gourmet Girl”, serves as the cake artist and owner of Gourmet Girl Custom Cakes. Self-taught with 19 years’ experience, Gourmet Girl tells stories with sugar! With cake as her canvas and you as her muse, she specializes in curating art gallery worthy cakes and desserts that reflect what makes you truly unique through couture cake design.

Theresa Highbaugh – A self-taught artist who works in graphic design and digital media; however, her preferred medium is oil, on both canvas / canvas board. Theresa’s artwork predominately features the Black Child, to raise their expectation of seeing positive images of themselves, and to ensure that their stories are accurately documented.

Brinase Merrit — Works in the health care field and creates visual stories that bring awareness to health disparities of the past and health disparities facing women of color today.

Bobbi Reagins – A Cleveland native and a painter who works in oil and acrylic paint, primarily on larger scale pieces. Often referencing African American history, Reagin’s work explores the varying relationships between past and present. “My artwork takes a critical view of psychological, social, sometimes political and cultural issues in a subtle approach.”

Lacy Talley – A versatile artist, graphic designer, and muralist, hails from the vibrant

city of Cleveland. She is celebrated for her dynamic and eccentric figure-based acrylic paintings that transport viewers to otherworldly realms with a captivating sense of vitality. Lacy’s artistic journey is a testament to her unique fusion of Afro Futurism and Surrealism, drawing inspiration from the enigmatic allure of crystals. This infusion adds a one-of-a-kind edge that transforms familiar subjects into imaginative visual experiences.

Performing Artists

Alice Blumenfeld & Felise Bagley– A choreographic duo. Alice Blumenfeld is known for a unique and “fierce presence (her movements seem to arise from several feet beneath the ground)”. Blumenfeld is a well-rounded artist bridging her work as scholar, choreographer, educator, and performer. Her recognitions include: a Fulbright Grant recipient in dance in Spain (2012), a U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts (2008), and a two-time Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Awardee in Choreography (FY 20 & 22). Felise Bagley is a native New Yorker whose dance career spans more than three decades. Her longevity & excellence in dance were recently recognized with a Cleveland Arts Prize Mid-Career Award in 2015. Her experiences have taken her across the globe, including to: New York City Center as a guest artist with The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

Obediya Jones-Darrell – Has professionally composed music for theater productions throughout the United States, including Cleveland Public Theatre, Cleveland Play House, and the Radical Buffoons (New Orleans). Internationally Mr. Jones-Darrell has composed music for the Grammy award-winning Czech National Symphony Orchestra, Vancouver’s Art Song Lab, and is currently composing for Symphony Nova Scotia. His music, films, scripts, and theatrical productions have been presented in over 50 festivals internationally.

Kisha Nicole Foster – Lives in Cleveland, and is the recipient of the 2019 Cleveland Arts Prize for Emerging Artist in Literature. Foster is the author of Poems: 1999-2014 and Bloodwork. Her work has appeared in

Black in the Middle – An Anthology of the Black Midwest. Her work has also appeared as public art with her partnership with Building Bridges Arts Collective. From this partnership, Foster was commissioned to present workshops and create poems as public art.

Jailyn Sherell Harris – Has performed in film, festivals,  arenas and in theaters across Northeast Ohio and beyond with credits from Dobama Theatre, Ohio Shakespeare Festival, Ensemble Theatre,  Karamu House, Lakeland Civic Theatre, the Players Guild Theatre, and the A.R.T. in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Jailyn has choreographed for theaters and organizations across the northeast Ohio area and beyond, including the Sitar Arts Center in Washington, DC.

Kierra McDade – Has curated and created artistic events since 2017 through her performance art platform, Temple of Passions. Temple of Passions prioritizes visibility for spoken word poets and musicians that identify as any of the following: BIPOC, LGBITQIA+ and Ally.

Martinique Mims – A slam poet and children’s book author of Through the Colors of a Butterfly. She has performed in several Mixed Media series, including the Socially Distanced, The Wandering, and Distant Shores at the Borderlight Theater Festival with Maelstrom Collaborative Arts.

Avery Lamar Pope – A storyteller from Cleveland, OH, tells stories through mediums including: acting, poetry, music, playwriting, and movement. He has been blessed to grace the stages of Karamu House, Dobama Theatre, Cleveland Public Theatre, Great Lakes Theater, Cleveland Play House, Tantrum Theater, Idaho Shakespeare Festival, and more.

Jerrod Amir Shakir – An activist for reparatory justice, mental health advocate, and the Community Organizer for Bike Cleveland. He expresses his art through the practice of poetry and Hip-Hop music and is a member of several organizations which fuse arts, activism and mental health justice.


Recognized as the oldest Black performing arts institute in the nation, Karamu House is listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places and featured in the Smithsonian’s African American Museum. Legendary artists including Langston Hughes, Ruby Dee, Robert Guillaume, Ron O’Neal, Bill Cobbs, James Pickens, Jr., Vanessa Bell Calloway, and Imani Hakim have been associated with the 107-year-old “place of joyful gathering” (the meaning of “Karamu” in Swahili.) Today, Karamu is a beating heart for the entire community, regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identification, or age. Core programs include socially relevant and professional quality theatre; arts education programming for all ages; and community programming, such as comedy, live jazz, and spoken word performances, that invites participation and engagement, reflection, and a recommitment to cultural values.

For more information about supporting Karamu House, visit karamuhouse.org/donate. Learn more about Cuyahoga Arts & Culture at www.cacgrants.org.

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Sign up for the seasonal Karamu House digital newsletter including news and special discounts! 

Karamu House Logo


Ticket Office Hours​