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Freedom Center Offers Help to Black Theatre Group

By Steve Ramos · November 24th, 2004 · Arts Beat
The suffrage being discussed by National Underground Freedom Center Chief of Communications Paul Bernish is a vote of support for Cincinnati Black Theatre Company (CBTC) in its fight to continue programming after losing its home at the Arts Consortium of Cincinnati in the West End.

There has been no formal contact between Freedom Center administrators and CBTC Artistic Director Don Sherman as of yet. But Bernish wants to extend a helping hand publicly and begin dialogue between the high profile Freedom Center and the grassroots, neighborhood-based CBTC.

Offering to help CBTC is exactly what an institution built upon themes of tolerance, diversity, democracy and respectful treatment of others should do, but that doesn't make the Freedom Center's offer any less impressive.

"The idea was to try and pursue this from the Freedom Center standpoint and to initiate conversation with the Black Theater to help them ... and maybe they can help us," says Bernish, a member of the Freedom Center Board since 1996 until recently, when he was named the Center's communications chief.

"There is a mutual opportunity here to help Cincinnati Black Theatre and to benefit the Freedom Center and to add visitors. We have a 300-seat theater, the Harriet Tubman Theater, and Cincinnati Black Theatre can help bring new programming to the space."

Any help of any sort is good news to Sherman and the rest of the CBTC family.

The small company has called the Arts Consortium's Paul Robeson Theater home since its inception in 1998 and planned to stage two of its three productions for 2004-2005 in the space. After December's Black Nativity (at the College of Mount St. Joseph), CBTC had planned to produce Ain't Misbehavin and The Wiz at the Robeson Theater.

A new owner of the community center at 1515 Linn St. -- T/K Real Estate Development LLC -- has informed the Arts Consortium that they need to vacate the property by the end of the year. Arts Consortium Director Glenn A. Ray has announced a temporary relocation and consolidation of the Arts Consortium at its gallery space located inside the Cincinnati Museum Center while they decide on a new, permanent home. However, CBTC will not move with the Arts Consortium to the Museum Center. The crisis is separating the two groups, both sharing a similar agenda: finding a new home quickly.

In the days following the Arts Consortium's eviction notice -- they are being pushed out for a planned bingo hall -- it's CBTC that has early momentum, thanks to the Freedom Center's offer.

Bernish is quick to caution that everything is at the idea stage; neither group has formally met. There is limited availability at the Freedom Center (the Harriet Tubman Theater is designed for lectures more than performance) but some dates are available for the theater troupe. There are also opportunities for Black Theatre actors to provide live reenactments as part of Freedom Center exhibits.

What is not being offered is the Freedom Center as a permanent home for CBTC or a space for the Arts Consortium. Yet, at this time of Thanksgiving, Bernish is confident that the Freedom Center has something positive to give and receive.

"We've always had -- and I know this from board membership and dealing with the staff from Director Spencer Crew on down -- a role in the community other than just opening our doors to the community. We're not just a museum on the riverfront. There is a role to play, and we want to be active in the community."

Cincinnati Black Theatre Company, on the cusp of homelessness and losing the remainder of its season, has the chance to test the integrity of the Freedom Center's pledge to be a part of Cincinnati and use its substantial resources for lifting up the community beyond its riverfront doorstep.



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