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What Arts Organizations Across the Country Can Learn From the August Wilson Center

Heather McClain

Throughout the last year we’ve heard, and discussed at length, the problems faced by those who wish to save the financially troubled August Wilson Center.

Right now the fate of that facility is in the hands of a judge who may sell the building to pay off the center’s debts.

Janera Solomon, Executive Director of the Kelly Strayhorn Theater acknowledged there were missteps that led to the current state of affairs at the August Wilson Center. She is leading a group committed to achieving a vision for the center that will celebrate August Wilson, African American culture, and the city.

She said while the troubles faced by the August Wilson Center are unique for Pittsburgh, when it comes to cultural organizations throughout the country, many struggle in their first 5 to 10 years. 

“This idea of organizations stumbling, whether it’s financial, or programmatic or leadership, unfortunately it’s sort of the state of affairs for arts organizations at times, and it’s part of the challenge. Part of the challenge of being a sustainable organization is figuring out how to weather these storms really smartly,” said Solomon.

She said the group she’s leading has been in conversations with August Wilson Center patrons, to find out what types of programs have been most memorable. When it comes to sustaining the caliber of local programming that people find most meaningful, Solomon said it would be hard to do so without strategic partnerships.

“You can’t do this stuff alone and the partnerships need to really last, they’re not just one time. And think about where revenue comes from,” said Solomon.

“People ask me, ‘Janera do you think there’s an audience for this?’ Yes. ‘Do you think there’s enough programming?’ Yes. ‘Do you think there’s the will to support it in this community?’ Yes. However, can you do everything all at once? No. What kind of leader do you need? Is it just one person? No, it’s a dynamic team. What’s the role of the board? What type of board do you need? Well you need a board that’s not only supportive of the mission, but have clear experience and expertise related to how these kinds of institutions work.”

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