Kentucky Center for African American Heritage

CJ Fletcher standing in front of two paintings done by her late husband, titled “Rix” Series 10 and “Defining Moments” - Series #3. These works are part of an exhibition called Remembrance: A retrospective of the works of Louisville visual artist Eugene Thomas. Photo courtesy of the Kentucky Center for African American Heritage

CJ Fletcher standing in front of two paintings done by her late husband, titled “Rix” Series 10 and “Defining Moments” – Series #3. These works are part of an exhibition called Remembrance: A retrospective of the works of Louisville visual artist Eugene Thomas. Photo courtesy of the Kentucky Center for African American Heritage

The Kentucky Center for African American Heritage represents a hub in revitalized West Louisville offering gallery exhibition for works representing the Black experience as well as an ideally large event space for a wide variety of occasions.

The Center has been a 21st century development in Louisville for some time and continues to grow depending on funding.

“The whole process started back in 1999 by a committee that was developing historic markers,” says Executive Director Aukram Burton. “It turned out that some money was going to be available associated with the bridges project.”

Despite the incredibly new feeling the Center has, its structure clearly has a lot of history. “This used to be a trolley barn … the transportation department paid for the reconstruction of this building,” says Burton. “The buildings were really in bad shape. They were almost falling down.”

Located at the corner of 18th and Muhammad Ali Boulevard., the Center is very easy to find and provides ample parking. When entering the modern reception area of glass architecture connecting the historic brick structures that make up the facility, you can make your way to the main hall where a tremendous amount of space serves for weddings, parties and cultural events.

Burton is proud to keep the place regularly utilized. “We don’t have to advertise for events because the word gets out. We’ve had bar mitzvahs here, the Prince of Wales has been here, the First Lady’s been here. Almost every call we get is from someone wanting to rent the place.”

Normally the facility is open to public visits on weekdays only, but with it being Black History Month, the space will also be open on weekends due to the amount of events and presentations taking place. This weekend, UofL’s theatre department will be presenting the play “Bloodline Rumba,” and the month will end with “The Meeting” – a 1987 play about a rare occasion when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X met in person and respectively challenged one another’s ideologies.

Every Saturday from February 6 to March 5 will also feature the movie presentation of “The Window to Our Past” at 2 p.m. along with various documentaries about the Black experience. The showings are free and open to the public.

Right now, the gallery areas feature the paintings and carvings of the late Eugene Thomas – a local celebrated artist – beautiful archival photographs from the book “Two Centuries of Black Louisville” and the recently added 2016 Women’s Artist Exhibition featuring large acrylic and mixed media works. Along the main hall’s event area is a wall of fame full of famous Black musicians who performed in Louisville.

Burton expresses how the facility continues to grow with future plans. They are ready to expand to provide more purposes to the vast amount of space at their disposal along with the acquisition of another building for media and entertainment.

“We just launched the Black Media Collaborative where we bring together directors, producers, actors, you name it,” says Burton. There is also the interest in tourism. “We’re really trying to promote the Kentucky African American Heritage Trail because that’s going to give us, meaning Kentucky, more to promote in terms of tourism. One of the fastest growing areas in tourism right now is cultural tourism.”

The Center is an important part of this city’s culture with promise to have more advantages for strength in citywide knowledge and diversity. “It’s a place where people can come west of Ninth Street, which is a big issue in this city,” says Burton. “We try to help in breaking down that barrier.” VT

For more information about The Kentucky Center for African American Heritage, visit kcaah.org.