Foundation of hope: A rescue may come for the August Wilson Center

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The brightest sign of hope for the August Wilson Center for African American Culture may be a bid from a group of local foundations to buy the Downtown property.

After Dollar Bank started foreclosure proceedings because the center didn’t make its 2013 mortgage payments, former bankruptcy judge Judith Fitzgerald was given the authority to liquidate its assets to pay off its $10 million debt. She set March 31 as the deadline for offers on the center, a 4-year-old, four-story building designed to resemble an East African trading ship and equipped with a theater, gallery, lounge and exhibit and conference space.

The Pittsburgh Foundation, joined by several other charitable organizations that have yet to be identified, submitted a proposal that would preserve the center’s mission of showcasing and developing African-American arts programming. The details of the offer from the philanthropic consortium are not yet known, and it apparently is one of several submissions Ms. Fitzgerald received.

But a statement from the Pittsburgh Foundation is encouraging. It said its “primary objective” is to allow the center to reopen for the long term and fulfill “its essential role as a community hub for African-American arts and culture.” That would be the best possible outcome for the center, which opened in 2009 but never realized its promise.

The foundation community may be the best equipped to do far more than reorganize the center’s finances. Sound fiscal management is a necessary step, but that will go only so far.

August Wilson, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright for whom the facility is named, was a ground-breaking, creative force whose work drew acclaim from a broad audience. Likewise, the Wilson center must produce unique, quality programming in order to survive and thrive. But first, somebody must take ownership.

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