The story of the August Wilson African American Cultural Center began over 20 years ago when a small band of community leaders in Pittsburgh decided to pursue the notion of a single African American arts facility located in the heart of Pittsburgh’s Cultural District. They envisioned this facility to be a place where all people from the region would gather to celebrate Black culture. These leaders also wanted the AWAACC to serve as a national showplace for collective history, art, music, literature, theater, and most importantly, reflect the supremacy of Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning Pittsburgh native and playwright, August Wilson.
After 10 years of planning and hard work, an official groundbreaking ceremony was held in October of 2006 on the corner of 10th and Liberty Avenue. With the help of government officials, the Urban Redevelopment Authority, The Heinz Endowments, The Pittsburgh Foundation, The RK Mellon Foundation and the Allegheny Regional Asset District, the two-story- 65,000 square foot building with a “sail” facade was completed and unveiled to the public in 2009. Inspired by Swahili Trading ships that carried East African culture to distant shores, the Center opened as an independent nonprofit organization operating within a spectacular building that housed a theater, exhibition galleries, and multi-use event spaces designed by one of the nation’s leading African American architects, Allison Williams of Perkins+Will in San Francisco.
Shortly after its opening, the center encountered financial and management challenges. Not to be deterred, a consortium of the same local foundations and government entities came together to save the building. This consortium, along with financial assistance from Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, joined forces with the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust to manage and preserve the idea of an international showplace emblematic of Wilson’s legacy, existing in the heart of downtown Pittsburgh. All involved understood Wilson’s creative bequest as an inheritance much too important to let slip away, and an opportunity that had to stay in his birthplace so it could nourish the region with creativity and cultural enlightenment.
In September 2017, Janis Burley Wilson was named AWAACC’s first President & CEO. Since that time, Burley Wilson has established control of all programming initiatives and has steadily taken a great deal of operations and facilities in house with her growing staff at the Center. Now, AWAACC is presenting and producing over 100 events per year that include: the Pittsburgh International Jazz Festival presented by Citizens Bank, The Highmark Blues Heritage Festival, gallery exhibits featuring emerging and established African American artists, a speaker’s series, ground-breaking theater, music concerts, an annual poetry festival, and the Black Bottom Film Festival held throughout the city.
August Wilson: The Writer’s Landscape, the first-ever exhibition dedicated to the life and works of the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, will open in early 2022. The permanent exhibition, which is free to all, will explore the people and places of Pittsburgh, where Wilson was born and raised, and which had a profound impact on shaping his worldview.
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