The 3rd Annual Station Hope @CPTCLE Promotes Racial Unity & Justice

Photo: Steve Wagner

Sat 4/30 @ 6-10PM

Race relations may be strained but there are those who dream of a better day. By looking back with the idea of coming together for the future, artistic bridges are being built in Cleveland to help communities heal.

In a nutshell that’s the theme behind the third annual free Station Hope event, which takes place between Sat 4/30 @ 6-10pm at Ohio City’s St. John’s Episcopal Church. Produced by Cleveland Public Theatre (CPT), former Ward 3 Councilman Joe Cimperman and the City of Cleveland, the multi-disciplinary affair is viewed as a block party with a purpose.

The epicenter is the St. John’s church and surrounding grounds, where visitors can view intimate theater, dance, music and multimedia performances created by more than 250 artists from Northeast Ohio as they address racial issues. The affair is made possible with support from the National Endowment for the Arts’ Our Town grant program.

For perspective, people can expect to see something akin to nonverbal dance performance about white abolitionists in one area, spoken word poetry about gun violence in another, and then turn a corner to find a theater performance about immigration.

CoolCleveland talked CPT Media Relations Director Cathleen O’Malley about Station Hope.

What’s the history of St. John’s Episcopal Church and Station Hope?

Three years ago, then Ward 3 Councilman Joe Cimperman reached out to CPT executive artistic director Raymond Bobgan and connected us with a community resource that is St. John’s Episcopal Church in Ohio City. The church was built in 1838 but fell into disrepair and didn’t have an active congregation for many years. What people didn’t know was this church had a tremendous history as a major site in the abolitionist movement here in Cleveland. During the days of the Underground Railroad, the church was the last stop for slaves before they got into boats and crossed the waters of Lake Erie to freedom in Canada. So Station Hope was to honor the church’s leadership and commitment to human rights as a safe house and a place for freedom seekers to be protected.

How did Station Hope get off the ground?

The event started in 2014 and was meant to bring awareness to this beacon of human rights and social justice, and at the same time to function as a symbol and to provide an opportunity for the artistic community of Cleveland to gather around issues of social change. So CPT, in partnership with Ohio City Incorporated, the Episcopal Diocese, Councilman Cimperman, the City of Cleveland and Restore Cleveland Hope – an organization located on the east side that’s also about raising awareness about social justice issues here in Cleveland – got together. We reached out to hundreds of community and professional arts organizations with a call for proposals to artists to contribute short works of theater, dance, music, poetry, visual art, spoken word and multimedia. All are related to Cleveland’s social justice history and the history of the Underground Railroad, but at the same time looking forward to the current day and issues that we’re still battling.

What was the community’s reaction to Station Hope?

The first year we had no idea. We ended up having about 2,000 people show up for a free community event. It was a brisk spring day, and we had lines looping around the church property. We had people waiting to see these short plays and works. We were completely overwhelmed and amazed by the response. There was a real hunger for artistic engagement in these critical issues, and it was ultimately an uplifting community event, free and family-friendly.

How has the event grown over the past two years?

We started with five stages and now we’ve grown to over 10 different stages that are in the church properties – the sanctuary, parish hall, surrounding grounds and the courtyard. We have pop-up stages. People are provided a map and it’s choose-your-own-adventure style. Last year we had 3,000 people and this year we’re hoping for the same amount. So we’ve expanded our footprint and pretty much doubled in size and scope.

Finally, even though attendance seems to be strong, it appears as though Station Hope could grow even more in the future.

Yes, I think more than ever before. Think about what’s happened in Cleveland over the last three years. Think about what’s happened in our country. It is impossible to wake up and face the day and face the news without being engaged around our interconnectedness. So the need for people from all walks of life to have their voice respected and heard, this is one of those opportunities to really shine a light on hope and also how we have to go as a society.

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