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A Second Act For Pittsburgh's August Wilson Center

Erika Beras
90.5 WESA

The beleaguered August Wilson Center announced new funding, programming and board members in the latest effort to bring the African-American arts institution into financial viability and to fulfill its mission as a cultural institution.

The six-year-old Downtown center, named after famed playwright August Wilson who set most of his works in his native Pittsburgh, went bankrupt last year and narrowly avoided becoming a hotel.  

Funding has come from the Pittsburgh Foundation, Heinz Endowments and other foundations and institutions.

Dozens of events have been booked through the end at the year at the center, including a November production of Wilson’s "The Piano Lesson," directed by Mark Clayton Southers.

A grant pool of $300,000 from the Pittsburgh Foundation will fund local Afro-Centric artworks that will display or perform next year.

Two new board members were announced – Michael Polite and Richard W. Taylor, both CEOs – who will join Maxwell King of the Pittsburgh Foundation, Scott Izzo of the Richard King Mellon Foundation and Grant Oliphant of the Heinz Endowments.

“This building is a huge public asset,” Oliphant said at Thursday’s center event. “It was created with public and charitable dollars; it represents a community interest.”

Freshman board member Richard Taylor compared this experience to his previous board tenure serving the Port Authority of Allegheny County.

“There were a lot of very difficult decisions that had to be made, decisions about cutting back service, laying off employees ... but decisions that were ultimately focused on the ultimate viability of the transit system in the region,” he said.

Maxwell King, president of the Pittsburgh Foundation, said they’ve received lots of questions about when the August Wilson Center will be self-sufficient.

“Performing arts organizations in Pittsburgh – almost every single one of them is getting some support beyond ticket sales," he said.

Foundation money, support from individuals and subsidization are all on the table, he said.