The Pittsburgh Foundation

Foundation outlines August Wilson Center revival plan

Foundation outlines August Wilson Center revival plan

PITTSBURGH, PA, Dec. 4, 2014 – With the sale of the building completed, the foundations group that has been leading a year-long effort to save the August Wilson Center from permanent closure, or from re-opening in a way that runs counter to its original intent, has announced a re-structuring plan that will allow it to begin a productive second life as soon as possible.

The group has formed a temporary governing body that will act as administrator and steward of the building to allow time for the creation of a permanent management and operations board that will be made up of community members.

That governance body is made up of the heads of all three foundations with the most significant investments in the Center – Grant Oliphant, president and CEO of the Endowments; Scott Izzo, director of R.K. Mellon; and Maxwell King, president and CEO of The Pittsburgh Foundation, who will serve as chair.

Within three to six months, the temporary governance body will dissolve and be replaced with the permanent body to oversee management and operations – the Building Board.  That group will comprise three to five community members, with the majority being African American. The members will have expertise in nonprofit facilities management, business or finance, and will be committed to advancing arts and cultural programming rooted in the African American experience.

Pittsburgh Foundation President Maxwell King said the board’s first priority will be to secure a long-term building management contract with the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, which has a long and successful record of operating arts and entertainment facilities.  “The overarching requirement will be that the programming focus be primarily, though not exclusively, on African American art and culture,” he said. Trust managers, in conjunction with the Building Board and a community advisory committee, will be charged with setting a proper balance between mission and revenue generation.

“During this transitional period, we will work with a range of groups and individuals, locally and nationally, to develop the best possible management practices and highest-quality programming,” said  King.  “We are committed to accountability and engaging the public in this process.”

Beyond the foundations, many community groups have organized to support a second life for the Center, viewing it as the main presenter of innovative African American visual and performing arts programs.

While the Building Board is being organized, the August Wilson Recovery Committee will continue its efforts to develop robust and innovative African American arts and culture programming. The board managing the building will be separate from the programming work.

The grounding for the transition plan comes from community conversations held by the August Wilson Center Recovery Committee. Its members’ planning work will continue in collaboration with artists and others from Pittsburgh’s African American arts community. The foundations have pledged to support the process emerging from this collaborative effort and encourage programming that will distinguish the Center.

The Center’s Building Board will be expected to maintain a high level of public transparency, which will include quarterly reports on planning efforts and programming activities, as well as financial summaries. Both will be posted to The Pittsburgh Foundation’s website.

The immediate transition work for the foundations’ governing body will be to take stock of the building’s condition, develop a financially sound operations structure and re-open the building to present high-quality, primarily African American artistic works and cultural programming, in keeping with the Center’s charter covenants.

The Building Board will engage the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust to help assess the physical status of the Center. Building and real estate experts will participate in assessing all aspects of the building structure, identifying needs, as well as opportunities for future development within the building.

In its renewal, the Center will be guided by the legacy of August Wilson, Pittsburgh’s native son whose 10-play Pittsburgh Cycle garnered two Pulitzer Prizes and universalized African Americans’ struggles for identity, place and freedom. Its purpose is to present programs, performances and exhibitions that attract all people interested in the African American experience expressed in art. The expectation is that the Center will draw audiences from across Pittsburgh and the surrounding region.

“We want the Center to be a premier place for performances and exhibits, but what we are hearing from so many in the various communities that are attracted to it is that it also be the go-to place for meetings and lectures, gatherings and social events,” said King. “We’re committed to ensuring that the August Wilson Center has the time and resources to attract the community support that is essential for it to become the place for all these great purposes.”