TYIAN BATTLE, second from right, and others help cut the ribbon to celebrate the grand opening of the renovated Kaufmann Center, on Centre Avenue in the Hill District, July 22. It’s a place where people, particularly young people, can learn arts and other programs. (Photo by Rob Taylor Jr.)
Inside, African American students had their acting skills on full display, practicing a performance complete with props, lights, and music.
Outside, there was a celebration, a ribbon-cutting, of the $4 million expansion and renovation of the Kaufmann Center, smack-dab in the middle of the Hill District, where arts is king.
Tyian Battle, the founder of the organization ACH Clear Pathways, founded in honor of her late son, Amon C. Harris, was in awe of all the people who showed up for this occasion. But what the people, the elected officials, the residents all knew was how important it was to have a state-of-the-art building for the arts for young people.
BILL STRICKLAND, TYIAN BATTLE, FRANCO HARRIS, ROGER HUMPHRIES (PHOTO BY ROB TAYLOR JR.)
“I don’t know about the rest of you, but I wasn’t exposed to the arts, and music, and painting at a young age,” expressed state Sen. Wayne Fontana, during the July 22 grand opening. “The young folks in this community and all around here can be. They can be exposed to the arts like a lot of us never were, and that’s going to make a difference in those kids’ lives.”
Senator Fontana added: “As those kids come through this facility, they will begin to see a ‘clear pathway.’”
Battle has said that her son loved martial arts, and martial arts, along with theatre, acting, dance, music, poetry, digital media and more are offered to kids via ACH Clear Pathways. ACH Clear Pathways bought the Kaufmann Center, next to the Hill House on Centre Avenue, in 2020, and held a groundbreaking at that time to expand the center by some 2,700 square feet for a digital media studio, art studio, and other amenities, which includes a ramp for those who don’t want to walk up the “Rocky (movie) steps,” as Battle called them.
A number of the speakers during the ribbon-cutting ceremony spoke of the vision that Battle saw for the Kaufmann Center, including its expansion, that no one else could see at first. Senator Fontana didn’t see it at first. Others couldn’t see how she would be able to raise the money for the expansion.
JAKE WHEATLEY, NOW MAYOR ED GAINEY’S CHIEF OF STAFF, PRAISED TYIAN BATTLE FOR HER TIRELESS EFFORTS TO MAKE THE KAUFMANN CENTER EXPANSION HAPPEN. (PHOTOS BY ROB TAYLOR JR.)
Chief of Staff for Mayor Ed Gainey, Jake Wheatley, said at the event that Battle’s dream “was something that wasn’t easy to materialize.”
Early on in the process, Battle felt she was getting the “run-around” from people when it came to funding the Kaufmann Center expansion. Wheatley, who for nearly two decades was the state representative in the Hill District, told her: “Sometimes, when you’re doing work in communities that have been traumatized, there are people who are traumatized, too. So you can’t let the traumas that they have stop a dream that you want to do.”
Wheatley said Battle took that to heart.
“This is somebody (Battle) who had a dream and walked that dream into reality,” Wheatley continued. He made sure to tell the crowd that he wouldn’t rush through his comments, because “Ty is like a little sister,” and he knows how much she persevered for the center’s expansion. “She didn’t have money, she didn’t come from money, she didn’t have political connections, but she had a lot of people who believed in her spirit.”
TYIAN BATTLE WITH MACEDONIA CHURCH OF PITTSBURGH SENIOR PASTOR BRIAN J. EDMONDS.
For parents, like Wheatley, there is now a dedicated place, the Kaufmann Center, where youth can be exposed to the arts, right in their backyard. Studies have shown how exposing a young person to a new thing often leads to that child taking a vested interest in it. That student is then less likely to spend free time on negative activities, and more time with that new hobby. There are even times where that student makes that hobby his profession. Battle told the Courier that you never know, a student presently in the program or in the future could become the next George Benson or August Wilson.
“As a working parent, in the summer, I need somewhere where I can have people who will nurture my kids, understand my kids’ circumstances and they’re going to make sure they get exposed to positivity,” Wheatley said.
The expansion cost was originally $1.5 million, but it ballooned to $4 million. The state of Pennsylvania’s Department of Community and Economic Development supported the expansion with $2 million in funding.
“ACH’s work with Pittsburgh’s youth has been nothing short of astounding over the years,” Neil Weaver, acting secretary of the department, said at the July 22 event. “Tyian and her team have been spreading the love of the arts to so many kids that otherwise would not have access to things like a dance studio or musical instruments. But it’s about so much more than just creating art. It’s about creating opportunities for these kids and in turn building the community. The arts are essential to the Hill District’s rich history, and ACH Clear Pathways brings that history into the present. And by instilling passion for the arts into young people, it’s bringing it into the future as well.”
TERRI BALTIMORE SPEAKS AT THE JULY 22 RIBBON-CUTTING…
“Today feels like history,” Battle told the New Pittsburgh Courier at the ribbon-cutting. “I feel so inspired to continue to work…foundations believed in me to take ownership of a community asset. They could have picked anyone but they chose ACH, and this is what we do, artistic programming.”
State Rep. Aerion Abney, whose district includes the Hill, was on hand, as well. He also sees the renovated Kaufmann Center as a big plus for the community and the youth. But both Abney and Battle pointed out that the artistic programming that will be taught at the Kaufmann Center will soon be open to seniors, too.
No experience in the arts is needed for people to be part of the programming, Battle said.
“This is where it starts,” she said.
After the ribbon-cutting, people began filing into the Kaufmann Center, some standing in amazement watching the kids practice their performances in the Elsie Hillman Auditorium. Macedonia Church of Pittsburgh Senior Pastor Brian J. Edmonds took a tour with Battle through the Kaufmann Center’s multiple floors.
“This is a fulfillment of a dream that has come to life through faith,” he told the Courier. “Faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen, so you’ve gotta see some things before you actually see them come to pass. I think Tyian embodies that and this center is a picture that it can actually happen.”