August Wilson Center's chief leaves for Ga. job

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Neil A. Barclay, president and CEO of the August Wilson Center for African American Culture, is leaving Pittsburgh to become CEO and executive producer of the National Black Arts Festival in Atlanta, an acclaimed year-round celebration of African culture.

Mr. Barclay, who has lead the center since 2003 and has been a driving force behind development of the $39.5 million center, announced his move yesterday, months before its grand opening and just days before a community day preview.

"In accepting the leadership of the nation's premier celebration of African Diasporic culture in Atlanta, I quite simply return to working more intimately with my first loves -- artists and the development of creative capital," Mr. Barclay said in a statement. "I will always be grateful, however, to this great city and its remarkably generous citizens for the many blessings it has bestowed upon me."

Mr. Barclay will leave "roughly around the opening of the center" on Sept. 19, said center spokeswoman Pam Quatchak. While the center's board of directors conducts a national search for a successor, she said it's also looking for an interim president "to oversee the transition and work with Neil for a smooth leadership transition over the summer."

Mr. Barclay, who has more than 30 years of experience in the arts, put a "face with credibility" on the development of the 60,000-square-foot performing arts, exhibition and educational center, said Oliver Byrd, chairman of the center's board of directors. He was a major force behind fundraising efforts for the center and his experience in the arts helped translate the center's vision into high-quality programming and an innovative building in the Downtown Cultural District, Mr. Byrd said.

"He was the face of the organization, a good spokesman for our vision to funders locally and nationally," he said. "This opportunity that came up for him was really too good for him to pass up ... We're delighted for him, and it gives us an opportunity to think more carefully about what we need in the next CEO."

Raising money to build the center wasn't always an easy task; the project cost rose from an estimated $35.9 million in 2005 to $39.5 million, of which $34.5 million has been raised.

Mr. Barclay in 2003 planned to raise a $5 million endowment for the center's operating expenses. Ms. Quatchak said the center has raised $1 million toward endowment and $2.5 million each year to support the center's operations and is "actively raising operating and programming support for the inaugural year."

"He was a cheerleader for us," said board member Esther L. Bush, who also is president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh. "He understood it was critically important that all of the communities in Western Pennsylvania and in Harrisburg and all around the country needed to be aware of what we were doing here."

Mr. Barclay served on the boards of Pittsburgh Opera, Pittsburgh City Theatre, Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council, WQED Multimedia, Hill House Association and the Hill House Economic Development Corporation.

Ms. Bush said she is saddened to see Mr. Barclay leave, but added, "we should be extremely proud we had his talent here."

Mr. Barclay began work in the arts as an actor on stage and television before moving into arts administration and education at his alma mater, Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, according to the center's Web site. He later earned a law degree and worked as a consultant to the National Endowment for the Arts Advancement Program, the site says.

Before coming to Pittsburgh, he served as associate director of the University of Texas Performing Arts Center.

"In recent years I have been deeply inspired by the life and work of August Wilson," he wrote in a statement yesterday. "It has been a profound and humbling privilege to have played a part in the creation of the Center that bears his name. Like August, my muse has been the great artists, educators and historians of our time whose work will be immeasurably enhanced by the one-of-a-kind facility, which officially opens just prior to my departure this fall."


Sadie Gurman can be reached at sgurman@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1878. Patricia Lowry can be reached at plowry@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1590.


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