August Wilson Center names co-directors as it seeks CEO

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The August Wilson Center for African American Culture has named former City Council member Sala Udin and former Bank of New York Mellon executive Oliver Byrd as acting co-executive directors even as it conducts a national search for a new CEO, officials said Thursday.

The two have agreed to jointly oversee the operations of the center while the board conducts a national search to replace CEO Andre Kimo Stone Guess, who leaves at the end of this month to return to his hometown of Louisville, Ky.

Mr. Udin, who is in the process of retiring from Coro Pittsburgh, a leadership development organization, and Mr. Byrd, recently retired as a senior vice president at Bank of New York Mellon, have the time and knowledge needed to guide the center, giving the board the time it needs to find the right permanent leader, said Aaron Walton, chairman of the board.

"They have been associated with the center since its inception, so they have a history here," he added. "Not only do they have the private and professional expertise, but they have a stake in the success of the center. Their stepping up allows us to do a meaningful and purposeful search."

Mr. Udin, who as an actor performed frequently in August Wilson's plays, said he planned to be involved on a day-to-day basis as well as some long-term planning, although he believes the center's current programming is very strong. "The only thing I want to be sure of is to be able to deliver on it," he said.

The center also announced its 2012-13 schedule of dance, theater, music and visual art exhibitions. There will be four theatrical productions directed by Mark Clayton Southers, including Wilson's play "Gem of the Ocean," running Tuesday evenings from Sept. 9 to Oct. 21. There also will be a student production of "Joe Turner's Come and Gone" in February, part of Mr. Southers' plan to produce Wilson's complete "century cycle," as his Pittsburgh-set plays are referred to, with students.

Black Dance Festival II, featuring the August Wilson Center Dance Ensemble, is scheduled for Nov. 2 and 3, and an art exhibition about the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, "The Nazi Olympics," will run from Oct. 15 through Feb. 28.

Each year, the center bases its programming around a theme, said Mr. Guess, with last year's focusing on blacks and Appalachia while this year's will focus on the contributions of blacks and Jews, in what he called a "continuum" of artistic events around the city.

"Because the center focuses on a multi-disciplinary approach to the arts, we take a theme every year and wrap everything around it. It's logical to focus on these two communities in a city like Pittsburgh -- because they share a deep, rich history in the Hill District."

One of the plays that will run next year is "The Sisters Grey," which is about a Jewish man married to an African-American and the interplay between the two families after his death, Mr. Guess said. The play was written by Gab Cody, a Jewish woman, and Lori Roper, who is black. "That represents the interlocking of these two communities," he said.

The $40 million center, which opened two years ago, recently refinanced a mortgage to $7 million over four years from $11.2 million, thanks to the R.K. Mellon and Kresge foundations, the Urban Redevelopment Authority and Dollar Bank. Closing the mortgage has enabled the organization to concentrate on fundraising -- with a $100,000 season sponsorship from Chuck Sanders Charities for the 2012-13 season. Mr. Sanders is CEO of Urban Lending Solutions, one of the top black-owned businesses in the U.S.

"We are hopeful that Chuck Sanders' generosity will stimulate matching generosity among others throughout the whole community of Pittsburgh," said Mr. Udin.


Mackenzie Carpenter: or 412-263-1949. First Published July 20, 2012 4:00 AM


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