Kevin ‘Ultra Omni’ Burrus 2024 Mellon Fellow

 Portrait

Kevin ‘Ultra Omni’ Burrus is an iconic pioneer of ballroom culture and an international ballroom historian. Burrus is also an assistant film director, human rights and community activist, and philanthropist. In 1979, Burrus co-founded one of the first Brooklyn ballroom houses—the worldwide pioneering House of Ultra Omni. While working on Wall Street, he became an icon in underground ballroom culture. At the House of Ultra Omni, Burrus built an art form and a personal legacy as a chosen father to his members. He continues to serve as a devoted House Father to hundreds of Ballroom children and remains committed.

Burrus joins Hemi as Artist in Residence in 2024, the year which marks the 45th Anniversary of the House of Ultra Omni. This pioneering house has sustained the ballroom scene, spread ballroom and voguing culture globally, and remained a guardian of its history. As a Spring 2024 Mellon Artist in Residence at NYU’s Hemispheric Institute, Burrus will curate the House of Ultra Omni’s collection for the Hemispheric Institute Digital Video Library (HIDVL) with the collaboration of the Institute’s Associate Research Archivist Camille Lawrence. The House of Ultra Omni Collection will include historic documentation of balls and other events as well as a series of new interviews conducted by Kevin and Camille Lawrence.

As a pioneer of ballroom culture, Burrus initiated the move of house-structured Balls from Harlem to downtown New York City. Among many artistic and production innovations in ballroom, he initiated and curated the first mini ball in 1982, and launched online balls during COVID-19. In 2006, Burrus was Assistant Director and Producer for the film How Do I Look, a documentary considered to be a sequel to Paris is Burning. In 2023, Burrus was featured as a guest curator of The Harlem Fantasy ‘82: Origins of the Royal House of LaBeija, at the Bozar Museum in Brussels. For the exhibition and its programming and digital publications, Burrus served as the resident historian of Ballroom culture. The exhibition highlighted the significance of the Fantasy Ball and the origins and genealogies of Ballroom, and included rare photography and film footage. Kevin Ultra Omni is a pillar in ballroom culture, a key source to historians, journalists, archivists, and curators alike. Features and publications have appeared in The New York Times, The NY Daily News, The Village Voice, Vibe Magazine, and Vrij Nederland Newspaper of Amsterdam. TV and film coverage and appearances include MTV News, LOGO TV, and the BBC.

Throughout the years, Burrus has remained committed to supporting and uplifting LGBTQIA+ individuals and collectives. Burrus has a long history as an HIV/AIDS activist and educator. Kevin and The House of Ultra Omni participated in The Love Ball 1 and Love Ball 2, where ballroom and fashion icons came together and raised over $2 Million for HIV/AIDS. The House of Ultra Omni was the first house to advocate that Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GHMC) provide information, safer sex products, and health resources at ball events in response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic affecting the LGBTIQA+ community. In 2012, he created The Kevin Omni Burial Fund to cover funeral expenses for members of the House Ball community. Along with carrying over 300 trophies/titles in ballroom and awards for community service, Kevin Ultra Omni has contributed to the Harlem Arts Council, Gay Men of African Descent (GMAD), and New York City's Black Pride board.