Frances P. Aulston

The West Philadelphia Cultural Alliance owns and operates the Paul Robeson House and Museum. The alliance was established in 1984 to “stimulate community participation in the arts by cultivating an interest in, understanding of, and appreciation for the arts in the greater Philadelphia region.”

It grew out of a City of Philadelphia initiative to assess the cultural needs of neighborhoods, Frances P. Aulston, the Robeson House’s longtime director and tireless champion, said in a 2015 interview.

She was working as a researcher at the Free Library at the time, and was given the responsibility to promote and highlight artists and cultural programs in the community. Aulston was the catalyst behind the founding of the alliance (several other artists joined her) and became its executive director.

According to one newspaper account, the alliance assembled more than 50 cultural and educational organizations to plan a weeklong arts festival after the 1985 bombing of MOVE headquarters on Osage Avenue, which killed 11 people. The aim was to help the city heal in the aftermath of the bombing.

During her tenure (Aulston died in 2015), the alliance worked with dozens of cultural organizations to elevate the arts and artists, and offer culture and other enrichment programs for the community.

The alliance was looking for more space for its operations when it learned in 1994 that the house where Robeson had lived was available.

Born in Richmond, VA, Aulston had long ago made Philadelphia her home. She moved to the city in the 1950s as a teenager. She got her bachelor’s degree in human services from Antioch College and her master’s in library sciences from Drexel University. She received numerous citations for her contributions to the community and was a member of many boards.

She was the heart and soul of the Paul Robeson House.