In Aukram Burton’s vision of the future of West Louisville, the Kentucky Center for African American Heritage (KCAAH) is located in the center of a thriving arts district, one that harks back to the glory days of the early 1900s, when the Walnut Street corridor was hailed as the Harlem of the South.
Burton, the executive director of the KCAAH at 18th Street and Muhammad Ali Boulevard, also envisions a thriving media arts center within the walls of his building, which currently houses a Muhammad Ali exhibit and hosts up to 100 events annually.
“We see a role for the arts in addressing the issue of violence,” he says. “We will do exhibitions that will serve as a platform for community conversation and engage young people.”
He said plans for the media arts center include space for film production, theater and training for film/video organizations. A fundraising campaign will start in the near future with the goal of bringing in $2.5 million to develop the space.
Burton said the KCAAH is an active participant in the Mayor’s Violence Task Force, and is committed to raising awareness of the issue of violence. To that end, the Center showcases artwork addressing the issue.
“It’s important to understand this issue of violence is a major public health issue,” he says.
Burton spent much of his career in the Boston area, where he earned a Master’s degree in Educational/Instructional Media Design from the University of Massachusetts. He moved to Louisville in 1999, and worked in the Jefferson County Public Schools system while also serving as a member of the Center’s board since 2008. He became Executive Director of the KCAAH in 2015.
He believes the West End and its residents are ready for a return to economic development and prosperity.
“If I could visualize this community 20 years from now, I would visualize a healthy, vibrant community that values education,” he says. “I would see more cultural venues that replicate the old Walnut Street, developing the Muhammad Ali corridor into an arts and cultural district. I’m hoping we can make connections with other institutions that firm that up.”
Burton’s taking a leadership role in making that happen in Russell, where he knows that perception is not always reality. He says the West End perpetuated by the media, with its emphasis on violence, leaves the stories of resilient and caring people untold.
“This move by Passport is something we need to look at as a good beginning, a new path for Russell,” he says. “We need good health care, education and jobs. It’s important to collaborate and address these problems in our community.”