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Hill District arts education group expands its reach by adding to a local landmark

Tyian Battle was in tears more than once Friday as she hosted the ribbon-cutting for ACH Pathways Kaufmann Center. The $4 million addition to the Hill District’s historic Kaufmann Center allows her group, ACH Clear Pathways, to expand its educational programming in visual and performing arts for children and families.

Battle founded the nonprofit in 2010, the year after the death of her son, Amon C. Harris, at age 7, due to an undiagnosed congenital heart condition. The opening of the new annex was just the latest milestone in the journey that led the Hill District native to launch the group and acquire the landmark Kaufmann Center.

“I feel so wonderful, excited and blessed to be able to have a historical facility for community and youth within the arts,” said Battle, the group's executive director.

In addition, the expanded ACH will host its first big public event July 30 and 31. The inaugural Hill District Arts Festival will feature live music, street performers, two dozen vendors and more. (For more on the festival, see here.)

"Together," a 1975 sculpture by Selma Burke, is displayed inside the new ACH addition.
Bill O'Driscoll
90.5 WESA
"Together," a 1975 sculpture by Selma Burke, is displayed inside the new ACH addition.

More than 100 people attended the ribbon-cutting on Centre Avenue, held on the new patio outside the 2,700-square-foot addition, and accessible by a new ramp. Speakers, including Jake Wheatley, chief of staff for Mayor Ed Gainey, praised Battle as someone who realized her dream despite starting her journey with no connections in politics or philanthropy.

“She saw something, and she did something in her own community that will stand the test of time, that is giving back tenfold,” said Wheatley, who when he first met Battle was a state representative from the Hill. He called Battle a role model for young people in the Hill, a majority-Black neighborhood that has long struggled with poverty and disinvestment.

As Wheatley spoke, dozens of children inside the center worked with instructors on developing a production of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hit musical “In The Heights,” set for an Aug. 12 performance.

Other speakers at the ribbon-cutting included: Neil Weaver, director of the state’s Department of Community and Economic Development, which contributed about $2 million toward the project; State Sen. Wayne Fontana; and Ty Gourley, executive vice president of the Hillman Family Foundation.

Other supporters in attendance included local luminaries like jazz drummer and bandleader Roger Humphries, who will headline the arts festival; Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild founder Bill Strickland; state Rep. Aerion Abney; Steelers great Franco Harris; and jazz vocalist Jessica Lee.

Battle created ACH Clear Pathways to honor her late son, who had wanted to take martial-arts lessons the family couldn’t afford.

ACH currently offers classes in everything from visual arts, dance and theater to music and, yes, martial arts. Battle said about 75 children are currently enrolled in summer programming. Programming for seniors is set to resume in September.

Less than a decade after its founding, and with help from its board members and elected officials like Wheatley, ACH raised funds to purchase the iconic Kaufmann Center. The Hill District building once housed the Irene Kaufmann Settlement House, funded by the Kaufmann department-store family more than a century ago to help the Jewish immigrants then moving to the Hill in great numbers from Europe.

For decades, the center belonged to the Hill House Association, a community-development group that provided essential services to the neighborhood, from health care to meeting space. ACH Pathways purchased the building after the Hill House, plagued by financial woes, ceased operations in 2019. Ground for the new addition was broken in 2020.

Besides its dance studio, writing center, and basement visual-arts studio, the addition showcases, in its first-floor hallway, a famed piece of sculpture: “Together,” a 1975 bronze by Black artist Selma Burke that formerly adorned the original center’s façade. The sculpture depicts a woman and a man cradling an infant.

Bill is a long-time Pittsburgh-based journalist specializing in the arts and the environment. Previous to working at WESA, he spent 21 years at the weekly Pittsburgh City Paper, the last 14 as Arts & Entertainment editor. He is a graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and in 30-plus years as a journalist has freelanced for publications including In Pittsburgh, The Nation, E: The Environmental Magazine, American Theatre, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Bill has earned numerous Golden Quill awards from the Press Club of Western Pennsylvania. He lives in the neighborhood of Manchester, and he once milked a goat. Email: