Arts and Culture

When Muhammad Ali died in 2016, people in Louisville and around the world celebrated him and paid tribute to his life and work.

At this year’s Ali Festival, organizers hope to see that same reverence for the boxing legend when the 10-day festival kicks off on the anniversary of Ali’s death. From June 3-13, the Ali Center will host a number of events that honor the legacy of Ali.

Jeanie Kahnke, senior director of public relations and external affairs at the Ali Center, said the annual festival started when Ali died, and has since grown every year.

“It is so inspiring for young people to have Muhammad Ali from their hometown, and to realize that in them, there lies a potential to accomplish anything they want to, because they have their fellow Louisvillian who did just that,” she said. “I think that’s really a point of pride for our city.”

The 2020 festival was canceled due to COVID-19. But Kahnke said thousands of people have attended in past years. Now that more people are vaccinated, Kahnke is looking forward to celebrating Ali’s life with the public again.

“We tried to keep our families safe, and we grieved those who got sick or passed away from COVID,” she said. “We saw the protests, the economy, the loss of jobs. There was just a whole lot of things happening in 2020 that we can tell our grandkids about someday, but the Ali Festival is really a way to come out of that. We hope that the community looks at it as a way to renew itself.”

The Ali Festival will start on June 3 with a private ceremony at Cave Hill Cemetery, where Ali is buried. A public remembrance event will follow.

Highlights for the week include the world premiere of “City Of Ali,” an 81-minute documentary about how Louisville reacted to Ali’s death. An online series titled “I Am America” about the intersection of race and religion will be released on June 9.

Kahnke said Ali enjoyed visiting different neighborhoods throughout the city during his lifetime. To carry on that tradition, the Ali Community Bus will bring games, care packages and other activities directly to residents on June 7, 9 and 11.

The winner of an art and poetry contest will be announced on June 8 to mark the 100th birthday of artist LeRoy Neiman, who was friends with Ali. There will be a digital exhibit released that day that highlights their friendship and Neiman’s artwork. Student artists in grades k-12 who want to compete in the art contest must submit their entries by May 31.

Rare items from the Ali Center’s archive will be on display on June 8.

“We haven’t done this before,” Kahnke said. “A lot of Muhammad’s artifacts are behind doors, and folks don’t really get to see them, so we’re going to bring them out.”

The Ali Center is expanding its hours to 12-5 p.m. for the duration of the festival. More details about the festival will be announced in the coming weeks. Information can be found at the Ali Center website.

John Boyle covers southern Indiana communities and health for WFPL News. He is a Report for America Corps member.