The Pittsburgh Foundation

August Wilson Center Announces New Leadership

Janis Burley Wilson named President and CEO

PITTSBURGH, Pa., July 20, 2017 The August Wilson Center enters a new era of optimism and achievement with the announcement today of Janis Burley Wilson’s appointment as President and CEO of the African American cultural institution.

Ms. Burley Wilson has been a cultural innovator in Pittsburgh for nearly two decades, developing events such as the city’s quarterly Gallery Crawls, weekly JazzLive series and annual Pittsburgh JazzLive International Festival, which have helped to bolster the role of Downtown and the Cultural District as a regional arts and entertainment destination.

For the past 15 years, Ms. Burley Wilson has led these and other creative arts initiatives through her work with the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, where she was Vice President of Strategic Partnerships & Community Engagement and Director of Jazz Programs before accepting the August Wilson Center position.

Since the Trust began overseeing the August Wilson Center’s operations more than two years ago, Ms. Burley Wilson has been responsible for developing the Center’s programming, which has included an exhibition of costumes from the movie “Fences,” based on the late August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play; the inaugural Black Bottom Film Festival; Soul Sessions, a series of intimate concerts; Poetry Unplugged, a night of poetry, music and activism; and Showcase Noir featuring artists representing the African Diaspora locally and nationally.

“Janis brings a deep knowledge of the Pittsburgh arts and cultural scene, and strong relationships with our community stakeholders and grantmakers,” said Michael Polite, Chairman of the August Wilson Center board of directors and CEO of the urban property developer Ralph A. Falbo Inc. “She has delivered great programs and is a widely respected professional.”

Financial difficulties led to the August Wilson Center experiencing bankruptcy, mortgage default and foreclosure in 2014. A foundation-led coalition of civic, government and community leaders rescued the Center by reaching a court-approved settlement to buy the building, and temporarily turning over the Center’s operations to the Trust. The search for a new leader of the Center began in February.

“For all the work and resources that have gone into keeping the Wilson Center building open, none of it means much without skilled, dedicated people working to make it relevant to the entire community,” said Maxwell King, President and CEO of The Pittsburgh Foundation. “Janis is the skilled, dedicated leader to make that happen. She has the vision to know where the Center needs to be five years from now, and she has direct experience with the Center in programming and management. We are fortunate to have her leading the operation in this crucial next phase and we know she shares the same commitment as community leaders on our board to achieve its ultimate success.

Trust President and CEO J. Kevin McMahon said Ms. Burley Wilson was instrumental in many of the Trust’s activities, including increasing access to high-quality programming in the Cultural District and strengthening the August Wilson Center’s brand during the reorganization that followed the coalition’s purchase of the building.

 “After more than a decade and a half of great work at the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, we are excited to see Janis Burley Wilson advance to President and CEO of the August Wilson Center,” Mr. McMahon said. “While we are sorry she's leaving the Trust, we're very pleased that she will remain an engaged and thoughtful leader in the Cultural District.”

Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto said Ms. Burley Wilson’s “proven track record of successful programming” is vital to the future of the August Wilson Center, and he anticipates that she “will further help our collective efforts to support the Center's rebirth.”

Also enthusiastic about Ms. Burley Wilson’s appointment was Allegheny County Executive Richard Fitzgerald. “As a Pittsburgh native, she understands the importance that August Wilson has in this region,” he said. “With her background and abilities, Janis can ensure that this Center remains an integral part of Wilson’s legacy and the cultural fabric of our region.”

Ms. Burley said she will be drawing on her personal familiarity with the city as well as her professional acumen as she officially takes over the reins of the Center. “The stories that August Wilson told in his ‘Pittsburgh Cycle’ resonate even more because of my connection to this city. I also recognize that the Center has a global provenance, and I plan to capitalize on the international prominence of the August Wilson name to promote the Center a place of artistic innovation and world-class art.

“It is truly an honor to be selected by business and community leaders, and people I admire including the entire African American Cultural Center board, to lead the August Wilson Center into the future, and to have the support of key stakeholders such as our mayor and county executive to be the steward of Mr. Wilson’s legacy.”

Welcoming Ms. Burley Wilson to her new position, Grant Oliphant, President of The Heinz Endowments, said:  

We are delighted that Janis is taking on this critically important role. She has the credentials and expertise to lead the August Wilson Center into a successful new era of development and has proven her ability to build creative programming and to attract audiences to the facility. The August Wilson Center is an enormous community asset capable of making important cultural contributions to our region and Janis will play a key role in shaping the Center as an influential arts institution.”

Among Ms. Burley Wilson initial tasks will be developing a business plan that will broaden the Center’s funding base; creating strategies for engaging and leveraging community-based artists; and delivering high-quality programming that enhances the image of the August Wilson Center and establishes it as one of the Pittsburgh region’s leading cultural institutions.

Ms. Burley Wilson said she will adhere closely to the founders’ vision of the Center celebrating, nurturing and promoting African American culture while welcoming all people locally, nationally and internationally. She intends to maintain the type of programming, and she is looking forward bringing in more world-renowned art and artists to the Center’s gallery and stage.

“We will continue to search for insightful, poignant and powerful artists, lecturers, poets and musicians with a universal appeal to present at the Center,” she said. “We will make our education and enlightenment initiatives more robust moving forward. I want to be opportunistic, entrepreneurial. I will be open to opportunities and partnerships that will further the mission of the African American Cultural Center.”

Ms. Burley Wilson said her first priority will be to build a capable team to ensure that the Center’s administration operates successfully and then begin to slowly integrate new programs.

“I look forward to building upon the successes of my predecessors at the August Wilson Center and creating a progressive, dynamic institution that the world will recognize as a monument to the art and culture of African Americans and the African Diaspora.”

Media Contact:  

Doug Root
The Pittsburgh Foundation