The August Wilson Center passed another milestone last month, though patrons of the cultural events now returning to the Downtown venue would never notice. Judith Fitzgerald, the former federal judge who spent nearly three years as the court-appointed conservator during its fiscal turmoil, formally exited the position. As she told the Post-Gazette’s Mark Belko, “It’s too bad the circumstances led to the necessity of this process … [but] in the long run, it worked out.”
The anguish and acrimony over the African-American cultural center’s distress will remain part of the public record, and future historians can debate how much it represented disrespect for Pittsburgh’s black community or the bad luck of launching an ambitious real-estate venture in the jaws of a brutal recession. The key fact is what’s happening now. The shining building is alive, full of music, art, dance and theater, week after week, with more on the way.
When the big guns of Pittsburgh’s foundation world stepped up in 2014 to save the enterprise from collapse, they took on the responsibility for making it work long-term. The governing board has been moving deliberately to replace its three foundation leaders, adding African-American members with substantial experience in business and finance.
The short-term action needed to boost the center was obvious: enlisting the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust to manage the venue. The trust has a steady flow of national acts, such as the Soul Session Series opening next month, and also local productions from Bricolage theater to collaborations with WESA-FM, presenting NPR host Michel Martin’s “Reinventing the American City.”
The Pittsburgh Foundation’s programming fund recently doled out $300,000 in grants to six local organizations to produce works in tune with the center’s mission; stay tuned. Working alongside the governing board is AWC Renewal, a seven-member group led by Allegheny County Judge Joseph K. Williams III, which advises on programming for the center and its direction.
The survival of the August Wilson Center was, for too long, an open question. Step by step, it has come back to life, its future brighter than it has been in years.