Nefertiti Burton: Commanding Presence On and Off Stage
UofL professor Nefertiti Burton is a woman who wears many “hats.”
Burton teaches, directs, writes, acts and leads in her dual roles as theater professor and associate dean for international, diversity and outreach programs in UofL’s College of Arts and Sciences, not to mention another role as a story teller.
Before coming to UofL in 1999 as co-director with Lundeana Thomas for the African American Theatre Program, Burton performed in regional theatre, film and television in Boston and the East coast and directed in both national and international venues in her early career.
It was in the roles of actor and director that Burton observed not only how things connected successfully on stage, but also how artists and art in general required complex organization to thrive and compete. However, she also noted that African Americans often were not included in the networks of the arts community.
“I became swept up in the workings of arts administration and how to create a ‘well of information and resources’ to help African American artists grow,” Burton said.
Burton and her husband Aukram, a photographer and film maker, formed a nonprofit Boston group Middle Passage Educational and Cultural Resources, Inc. and offered workshops to artists on management skills, grant writing, planning and other technical assistance. They created the first of its kind directory of Massachusetts artists of color, “Primary Colors,” which became a national model for other states.
In addition to directing a play this month and planning UofL’s first-ever film study program this March in Cuba, Burton also adds a 13-year research effort on the ancient Odu Ifà of the Yoruba people of Nigeria. Her interests grew from storytelling to her children to becoming a practitioner of the Yoruba oral tradition and creator of five stage productions based on the Ifà sacred literature.
A recipient of awards for writing and directing from her peers, Burton may be best described by a student in her teacher evaluation.
“She is awesome,” the student said.
Editor’s Note: The Louisville Defender earlier this month profiled three UofL employees in its annual African American Achievers issue. UofL Today will feature each of these profiles over the next week.