PITTSBURGH, PA – June 12, 2024 – The August Wilson African American Cultural Center’s (AWAACC) fourth annual B.U.I.L.D. Residency Program, made possible with major support from the Richard King Mellon Foundation, features two of the region’s most talented artists: musician/educator Howie Alexander in concert on June 18th for Black Music Month, and DJ/filmmaker/educator Phillip Thompson, displaying his exhibit celebrating Black comic book culture, Collections in Black, from July 25 – December 29.

Created to address opportunity gaps Black artists face growing their artistic and business capacities and increasing their visibility, the Program was designed to: Build capacity and support for labor intensive work; Utilize the Center’s abilities and resources to develop collaborations and partnerships that not only benefit the Center, but the city of Pittsburgh and beyond; Inform other artists, audiences, communities, and performing arts organizations of the rich cultural legacy and cultural aesthetic and vibrancy of Pittsburgh-based artists; Lead the professional development and support of future artists and arts administrators, including curators, producers, managers; and Develop cross-cultural and cross-sector collaborations, including commissions and partnerships locally and nationally.

“We are grateful to the Richard King Mellon Foundation for making our B.U.I.L.D. residency possible. Witnessing both Howie’s and Phill’s outstanding work unfold is exciting,” said Janis Burley, President/CEO, AWAACC. “If you think you know their work, I can assure you that they always bring something new to the table. Join us at the Center to see for yourself what these artists have in store for you.”

The artists and companies-in-residence receive mentorship, professional development, and access to the Center’s professional staff and state-of-the-art venue. The specific activities of each residency are tailored to the artists’ creative process and are designed to offer participants holistic support.  Inaugurated at the AWAACC in 2021, past B.U.I.L.D. Resident Artists and Companies include visual artist, photographer, and filmmaker Emmai Alaquiva (2021-23), and the Demaskus Theatre Collective (2022-23).

This year’s selected artists are dynamic representatives of Pittsburgh’s vibrant arts community. Keyboardist and educator Howie Alexander started playing piano at the age of 15, is a graduate of Taylor Allderdice High School and Duquesne University, and is sonically literate in R&B, gospel, funk, blues and jazz. Alexander was mentored by jazz guitarist Jimmy Ponder, who gave him his first gig at 17, and by former Count Basie trombonist Nelson Harrison and Dr. James Johnson, Jr. of the Afro-American Music Institute (where Alexander taught piano and has been serving as Artistic Director since 1994). Alexander also worked with drummer Poogie Bell, The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and with Pittsburgh’s legendary tenor saxophonist Stanley Turrentine. Alexander recently composed a silent film suite for the 1920 Oscar Micheaux motion picture Within Our Gates at the 2023 Black Bottom Film Festival.

Phillip Thompson, also known as DJ Big Phill, has been involved with DJing, music production and filmmaking since he was 15. An alumnus of Penn Hills High School and Rust College, an HBCU in Holly Springs, Mississippi, Thompson released his first film, The Archives, which documented Pittsburgh’s hip-hop community, in the summer of 2000 at the Andy Warhol Museum. He later founded his production company, 33 and a Third Media, and established Union DJs: a consortium of Pittsburgh’s best turntabilists. Thompson’s outreach activities include his work as a coordinator for Westinghouse High School’s Lighthouse Program, and he took those students to Prague, and documented their journey in the documentary, Pittsburgh to Prague. Thompson’s latest film and exhibition, Collections in Black, chronicle his journey across the country to document some of the rarest and highly culturally curated comic and art collections and highlights The African-American Newspaper, The Pittsburgh Courier, which featured Black comics, pioneering Pittsburgh cartoonists, Matt Baker and Jackie Ormes, contemporary cartoon artists, DC Comics and Marvel artist, Shawn Martinbrough, and rare Black comic books.

The B.U.I.L.D. Residency Program supports artists’ works – from conception to completion – and is in full service to the community.

For tickets and more information on the Residency Program and other events at the August Wilson African American Cultural Center, go to: https://awaacc.org

About Richard King Mellon Foundation

About the Richard King Mellon Foundation: Founded in 1947, the Richard King Mellon Foundation is the largest foundation in Southwestern Pennsylvania, and one of the 50 largest in the world. The Foundation’s 2023 year-end net assets were $2.9 billion, and its Trustees in 2023 disbursed more than $176 million in grants and program-related investments. The Foundation focuses its funding on six primary program areas, delineated in its 2021-2030 Strategic Plan.

 About August Wilson African American Cultural Center

Major support for AWAACC’s operations is provided by Richard King Mellon Foundation, Henry L. Hillman Foundation, Heinz Endowments, and the Allegheny Regional Asset District (RAD). AWAACC’s programming is made possible by generous support from its donors. For a complete list, please visit awaacc.org.

The August Wilson African American Cultural Center is a non-profit cultural organization located in Pittsburgh’s cultural district that generates artistic, educational, and community initiatives that advance the legacy of Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright August Wilson. One of the largest cultural centers in the country focused exclusively on the African American experience and the celebration of Black culture and the African diaspora, the non-profit organization welcomes more than 119,000 visitors locally and nationally. Through year-round programming across multiple genres, such as the annual Pittsburgh International Jazz Festival, Black Bottom Film Festival, AWCommunity Days, TRUTHSayers speaker series, and rotating art exhibits in its galleries, the Center provides a platform for established and emerging artists of color whose work reflects the universal issues of identity that Wilson tackled, and which still resonate today. www.awaacc.org.

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Carolyn McClair
(212) 721-3341 | Cmcclair@awaacc.org