Courier exclusive: August Wilson Cultural Center to be renamed to "August Wilson African American Cultural Center" after community voices concerns


The New Pittsburgh Courier has learned that the August Wilson Cultural Center is restoring “African American” to the official name, and the building at 980 Liberty Ave., Downtown, will now be called, the “August Wilson African American Cultural Center.”
“We heard from our friends and allies the depth of feeling associated with having ‘African American’ present in the institutional branding, and we believe it is an upside compromise to include it,” said Janis Burley Wilson, the Center’s President and CEO, in a statement provided to the Courier. “August Wilson’s name alone signifies a celebration of African American culture. Although the August Wilson Cultural Center name embodies the African American experience, we’re planning to incorporate ‘African American’ back into the Center’s name. This direction allows more voices within Pittsburgh’s community to feel included, and for the mission, vision and incredible programming to once again take center stage.”
In the statement, the organization’s Board of Directors met recently and were unanimous in their support of suggestions by the Center’s leadership to include the words “African American” in the Center’s name. Support for various approaches came from allies and trusted advisors.
According to the statement, the Center’s name was initially modified out of necessity following its financial reorganization and the bankruptcy of the original company, and after the building was purchased under new ownership and leadership, severing ties with the previous organization. More recently, as a part of a relaunch, a new brand identity went up on the front of the Center’s Liberty Avenue facade and drew feedback expressing interest in having the words “African American” referenced in its branding.
The Board and management have agreed to amend the Center’s current name to: The August Wilson African American Cultural Center. The Center is excited to work with designers to develop the best options to depict this name on signage, marketing and promotional materials, according to the press release. The Center will begin to phase-in the new name and branding over the next several weeks.
“The vision for this unique Center is on course with sound financial footing, solid leadership, and with dynamic and powerful plans for the future,” said Michael Polite, Board Chair of the August Wilson Cultural Center, in a statement provided to the Courier. “This amendment to the Center’s name honors August Wilson and the deep impact his work continues to have with the African American community and beyond.”
“I’m excited, I’m happy, I’m happy, I’m happy, I’m glad the name is back,” said Renee Wilson, cousin of August Wilson, who led the charge to have the words “African American” restored in the August Wilson Cultural Center’s name. “It should never leave. Praise God.”
The Courier attended a meeting at the Carnegie Library’s Hill District branch in early March, in which 10 community members strategized ways to approach August Wilson Cultural Center leadership about placing “African American” back in the name. Black Political Empowerment Project Chair Tim Stevens eventually brokered a meeting between Burley Wilson, Renee Wilson, and others. After the meeting, the Courier has learned, there still was not a clear indication as to if “African American” would be placed back into the Center’s official name.
But, according to Renee Wilson, in an exclusive interview with the Courier, March 21, “I felt coming out of the meeting that we were going to make some progress.”

Renee Wilson, shown here with Paradise Gray.  (Photo by J. L. Martello)

“I am glad that they came to their senses to resolve an issue of gentrification in this city, by upholding the name that it originally was,” said Blaqk Ops member Nicky Jo Dawson, who was also part of the 10-person meeting at the Hill District Library. She told the Courier that by placing African American back in the name, “you are sending a message to the Black population that we will not be erased.”
Dawson added: “I salute Janis Burley Wilson for living up to her senior title in community engagement.”
For the first time, the Center ended a year (2018) with a surplus and new capital improvements to the building are underway under Burley Wilson’s leadership.
AFTER A NATIONAL SEARCH with more than 50 qualified applicants, Penn Hills High School graduate Janis Burley Wilson was tapped to become CEO of the August Wilson Center. (Photo by Emmai Alaquiva)

Constanza Romero Wilson, wife of August Wilson and executor of the estate supports the current leadership, according to the statement released by the Center on March 21. “August Wilson was an artist that very much looked toward the future with optimism and an impeccable trust in the power of the arts both as an instrument for change and as an affirmation of our common humanity. I am confident that he would embrace the vision and the mission of this organization.”
 

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