Home > UPDATE: Community Members Meet with August Wilson Cultural Center President & CEO and Key Staff Regarding Restoring the Name

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UPDATE: Community Members Meet with August Wilson Cultural Center President & CEO and Key Staff Regarding Restoring the Name “African-American” Back on the Building of the August Wilson Cultural Center

“The African-American Experience and Art of the African Diaspora” is this just a Stencil on the Window? 

Seven Pittsburgh Community Members met with members of The August Wilson Cultural Center Board and key staff to discuss the board’s decision to remove African-American from the formal name of the center on the building outside as well as to address current and future programming. The meeting which occurred last Friday (March 8th) included Tim Stevens, Chair of B-PEP, the Black Political Empowerment who felt the meeting was very encouraging. “We had a passionate and positive meeting, we left feeling we were really close to resolving the issue. I personally proposed and handed out a few options that the board could consider and what I saw on the building that night was really close to one of the options I proposed.”

Outside the building façade the board has placed new branding signage with language that includes the following, “The August Wilson Cultural Center” and featured prominently is the added phrase “African American Experience and Art of the African Diaspora.” Stevens believes that the language on the building reflects a true victory for the community. “Our goal was to put African-American back on the building, and one of the suggestions I have for the board moving forward would be to get a commitment from them that this language will stay, and this issue will be resolved quickly.”

Renee Wilson also participated in the meeting as a concerned community member, she has created an online petition and is also circulating street petitions throughout the community regarding the issue, and so far, she has collected 1,100 signatures from people supporting her mission to restore the African-American name back on the building. “They put some words on the center, African-American Experience and African Diaspora but it’s not permanent. We would like them to write a letter of understanding that the words stay on the center for ever, the legal name for the center is the African-American Cultural Center why that is not on there is amazing to me. We also want them to allow the community at large to have some input in our culture center.” Wilson is concerned that if the board does not do the right thing the center will fail because the blatant elimination of the name African-American she feels creates a huge disconnect and void within the community. “My question to the board of the August Wilson Center is this the legal name the African-American Cultural Center? They said that August Wilson's name is owned by the estate and the center or the people don't control it, why not leave the legal name on the building?”

While the signatures from the petitions continue to grow, Wilson plans to forge ahead on this issue because she believes the name African-American Cultural Center reflects an important ancestral tie to the African culture. “We want the legal name of the building on the building it should never be taken off no matter who is running it. We cannot see the paper work behind closed doors, but we can all see the Institution name on the door!!! Save our Culture Center!”

Community member Paradise Gray also attended the meeting and initially felt that it went well, but he still wants the name changed back.  “I love the August Wilson Cultural Center, I love the programming, but removing the name is not a good look for a city undergoing gentrification.” Gray believes adding the African Diaspora to the outside signage on the building is cool and may provide a more global reach, but he feels it falls short of helping the young people in Pittsburgh who need more of a connection to the center. “The young people that live in the city, need an actual connection to the history that has occurred here, there is a disconnect. I don’t think there is a real connection to the average black people that live here that it refers to and it creates a further gap.” At the heart of the matter for Gray is the fact that he believes when it comes to arts funding in the city there is a huge disparity. “There is a huge discrepancy between the money spent on European culture and arts in this city compared to the African-American arts in the city. There is an incredible discrepancy in funding that is why we want to make sure that this is not just a stencil on a window, and that is why they need to return the African-American name to the Center in its original format. When you disrespect and diminish black arts and culture, they are going to have to fight me.” Gray says this will not happen on our watch adding #NOOW (Not On Our Watch).

Wilson is hoping the August Wilson Board will operate in transparency regarding this issue and if there is no quick action regarding the name change, she is exploring legal action. 

Stevens believes the current information outside the building emphasis a global reach for the center, and he wants to build on the positive momentum that he feels is taking place at the center. “I am very impressed with the programming that they shared, the activities with young people, schools and community groups and for a forty-million-dollar facility we should do everything we can to save and support it and make sure it is in existence for decades to come, this should be the focus.”

Cydney Nunn, Public Relations and Marketing Manager at the August Wilson Cultural Center provided PUM with the following statement and message. “We do not anticipate holding additional meetings relative to rebranding. As mentioned, we have garnered Board and Community support, in addition to the support of the August Wilson estate. It was determined that the name will remain August Wilson Cultural Center. The words from our mission - "African American Experience and Art of the African Diaspora" are also on the façade of the building as we continue the phases of our rebranding project. There is no plan on eliminating what is most essential to the organization, celebrating the Black experience both nationally and internationally.”

 

 

  

Janis Burley, President and CEO of the August Wilson Cultural Center issued the following Message:

 

Dear Friends of the August Wilson Cultural Center,

We have learned that there is concern about the newly branded name for the performing arts venue, August Wilson Cultural Center; the term "African American" was a part of the original name for the Center.

We understand the importance of names and naming among people of African descent, particularly as it pertains to our enslaved African ancestors and their history on the mainland of North America. While the name change was not done in isolation, but rather as part of the broader strategic planning process that resulted in the new Mission and Vision Statements for the institution, we understand that no level of engagement can eclipse the vast and abiding ideological narrative that has historically elicited deep concern and cultural implications. We want to affirm that we are listening.

We, at the August Wilson Cultural Center, have no intention of diminishing a focus on African-American culture. In fact, the name change reflects a deeper embrace of the broader cultural richness of the entire African diaspora and commitment to August Wilson’s legacy. Our new mission states:

The mission of the August Wilson Cultural Center is to own and operate a home for the arts, storytelling, learning and exchange around the African American experience and the rich culture of the African diaspora. We are guided by the enduring truths and essential values evident in the work of August Wilson.

We will continue to examine these and other critical questions of race and identity through the artistic and cultural programming at the August Wilson Cultural Center. We invite everyone to join us in this work. It is our hope that our "call" to fully embrace the national and international stature of our namesake favorite son, August Wilson, and moreover our "call" to broadly embrace arts, culture, experience and expression of the entire African diaspora opens up even more possibilities for how they are honored, showcased and celebrated at the August Wilson Cultural Center. It is necessary that our collective "call," to elevate the unique experience of African-Americans and those of the African diaspora take center stage. Our ancestors never allowed what they were called - or what people thought they should be called - to overshadow their actual calling. We plan to honor that legacy. We will keep you posted on our progress. If you have comments or feedback, feel free to reach out via email at info@aacc-awc.org. Visit our website at aacc-awc.org to learn about the very important work taking place at the August Wilson Cultural Center.

Janis Burley Wilson

President & CEO

 

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is the significance of August Wilson’s name associated with the organization August Wilson Cultural Center?

In 2006, the building’s previous owner named the building for August Wilson to bring international attention to the Center by identifying it with the Pittsburgh native who rose to global prominence as one of America’s greatest playwrights. When the building’s current owner, the African American Cultural Center, purchased the building in 2014, it used the name August Wilson Center-African American Cultural Center for the building with consent from the August Wilson estate. In 2019, the African American Cultural Center determined to operate under the name August Wilson Cultural Center. We are closely aligned with the August Wilson estate and continue to be honored by this association and determine that August Wilson’s personal mission aligns with our own, taking our organization to global heights of excellence in cultural programming. The August Wilson Cultural Center is our home for arts, storytelling, and exchange around African American culture and the African Diaspora.

2. What initiatives are being launched to honor August Wilson’s legacy?

Working with the August Wilson estate, we are creating a permanent interactive digital exhibit dedicated to the work and inspiration of August Wilson’s legacy that will open in Fall 2019. The exhibition will include his personal effects, props and costumes from his Broadway plays and more.

3. Was there community input into the rebranding and strategic plan process?

Many community voices were at the center of this planning process. We consult with our Advisory Boards and a group of community leaders and stakeholders. We realize that it is impossible to capture the sentiments of every segment of community however we are committed to keeping lines of communications open and we welcome feedback from the community through surveys, newsletters, and inquiries from info@aacc-awc.org.

4. “The building was paid for with tax payer dollars and is responsible to the public.” What is the current state of ownership vs. public tax payer dollars?

In 2014, the building was purchased with public and private funding. The board of Directors and CEO have governance over internal operations. During the strategic planning process, we did confer with community regarding the name change, and we will continue to provide programming to benefit the community, however tax payers have no legal naming authority for AWCC any more than any other entity or institution that receives tax-payer dollars.

5. What happened to the name August Wilson Center for African American Culture?

In November 2014, the August Wilson Center for African American Culture went through receivership. A new organization was formed called African American Cultural Center. This new organization purchased the building from the original organization, clearing all debt and severing all ties. In 2018, the African American Cultural Center received permission from the August Wilson Estate to continue to use his name for the building, including with modifications. After a strategic planning process with thoughtful consideration from the Board, President & staff, advisory members with benchmarking examples of culturally specific, sustainable, successful organizations we rebranded the institution, the August Wilson Cultural Center (AWCC).

6. Does the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust own and/or operate the August Wilson Cultural Center?

The August Wilson Cultural Center is not owned, nor operated by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, nor are they involved in any form of governance for the AWCC. The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust continues to be a valued partner in the Cultural District through shared services and programming initiatives.

7. There have been so many changes at the August Wilson Cultural Center. How can the community express their opinions in a formalized way?

The August Wilson Cultural Center values our patron’s comfort and we are committed to providing a positive patron experience. We are implementing processes to invite feedback from our patrons like a portal on our website, specifically sending a “Message to the President” and Response Cards that can be filled out at AWCC to provide feedback and share your thoughts about the August Wilson Cultural Center. Please check back with us soon as these initiatives are underway.

8. Does the newly branded name eliminate the focus on “African-American” programming?

In our opinion, August Wilson’s name is synonymous with African American culture. If one reads his plays, listens to interviews, it is clear August Wilson committed his life to the documentation of African American life. If one peruses our website, our programming mission speaks for itself. Our programming is rooted in African American and African Diasporic culture. We are charged with upholding the aforementioned mission and vision set forth by our leadership and patron

base and we’re honored to present relevant and high caliber programming at the August Wilson Cultural Center.

9. Who owns the AWCC?

The building is owned by the African American Cultural Center, DBA August Wilson Cultural Center.

10. How can you become involved with the August Wilson Cultural Center?

We welcome volunteers to get involved with events and various programming year-around. Please contact us at getinvolved@aacc-awc.org for more information. Patrons also have the opportunity to make donations year-around in support of AWCC programming and sustainability for years to come.

 

Earlier Story Click Here 

 


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