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Community Group Planning for Future of August Wilson Center

Chris Squier
90.5 WESA

The August Wilson Center’s future remains uncertain, but a group of community volunteers and activists have been holding community meetings to formulate a plan for a new August Wilson Center.

The August Wilson Center Recovery Committee laid out plans for the center’s future, plans that group members said were formed by looking at past failures and successes. Group leader janera solomon said things must operate differently in the future.

“Accountability and sustainability have to be at the forefront of our planning,” said solomon, who is also executive director of the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater. “An innovative model is key. We definitely don’t want to do the traditional art center, museum model. We know that that won’t work.”

Going forward, the report said the AWC must be funded adequately, rebuilt slowly and relationships with area foundations need to be repaired.

The committee’s plan would keep the August Wilson Center at its current location, which is slated for an Oct. 6 sheriff’s sale. The hope of the group is that a bid from area foundations for the building will be accepted. A court-appointed conservator could finalize a sale before Oct. 6 to New York Developer 980 Liberty Partners. That group has proposed putting a 200-room hotel over the building – and keeping some space for the August Wilson Center. The recovery committee does not favor that option.

“We stand for a fully dedicated August Wilson Center and not to be a tenant or a room guest in somebody’s hotel,” said Sala Udin, committee member and co-founder of the AWC.

Following community conversations, the group put together a list of what people said they wanted in a new center, including strong leadership and greater involvement with local cultural institutions.

“It definitely and must be connected to the greater arts community,” said solomon. “There was a sense that the AWC, over time, became sort of an island of its own – not intentionally, but it evolved that way. AWC 2.0 – it’s got to be more integrated and be part of the arts ecology of the city.”

The plan was laid out, even though the future of the physical building remains unclear. The committee said several times that this issue is not about a building, but solomon said they do hope the current building can be saved, along with the mission of a robust cultural center.

“This is Pittsburgh in 2014," she said. "We should be, in my opinion, shooting for the stars. We’re not saving the building so it can be a vacuum, I mean it’s a vessel for something. It’s a vessel for all of this programming and opportunities, for people to connect and understand and most importantly to have pride in Pittsburgh.”

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