Skip to comments.Pittsburgh Center Honoring Playwright Finds Itself Short on Visitors and Donors
Posted on 01/31/2014 5:51:52 AM PST by raccoonradio
The bank has sued to foreclose. The citys philanthropic groups, with names like Mellon and Heinz, have withdrawn support. The $42 million August Wilson Center for African American Culture, a bow-front building inspired by a Swahili sailing ship, is high and dry.
Named for the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright who found a street-savvy poetry in the lives of poor Pittsburgh blacks, the culture centers plight has been especially painful for those who had hoped it would enshrine the music, art and literature of the urban world he knew.
Instead, it appears to be a victim of mismanagement by its senior staff and board of directors, who borrowed to build a grand palace of culture, but failed to find a wide enough audience and donor base in the hometown of Wilson, whose plays are mostly set in the Hill District just blocks away.
... a state judge handed control of the cultural center to a conservator, usurping its board in a final effort to avoid liquidation. The bank that holds the mortgage, which has gone unpaid for months, is advancing $25,000 to pay the conservator. The culture center is flat broke.
Mark Clayton Southers, a former director of its theater program, said the Wilson center struggled to find an audience among the people Wilson portrayed: working-class blacks, many of whom feel unwelcome downtown with its skyscrapers and largely white-owned businesses, he added.
You cant build it and they will come, Mr. Southers said. Not when youre trying to work with a community that is not traditional theatergoers or cultural consumers.
(Excerpt) Read more at nytimes.com ...
Visited there about a yr after it opened...expensive building but sparsely attended. The NYT article says that these days they make a small amount of money by renting it out on Sundays to a largely white megachurch.
Unwelcome downtown? Pitt. has a nice modern subway system, and there's fairly cheap parking nearby at the Grant St Transpo Ctr.
Yes, I never. I have no idea who that playwright is, nor have I ever cared.
Is anyone surprised? Check out Detroit. Or the corruption in charter schools in Dallas. Or Obama’s nine trillion dollar deficit spending.
The grifter class can’t handle money. It seems to disappear when in their hands.
Sounds a lot like a well known disciple of Bill Ayers that I know.
This has been a local story for some time. So it made the NY Slimes now? I can guess they’re hoping for a rich benefactor to swoop in and save them.
It appears that the Heinz and Mellon foundations agree with you. I've certainly never heard of the guy, does that make me a racist? lol
Yes. One bit of Pittsburgh black history done well is an exhibit on Negro League Baseball in the sports section of the John Heinz History Museum. There were legendary jazz clubs
and artists like George Benson, etc.
I almost thought when I heard the name that August Wilson was the playwright of Hot l Baltimore, a short lived Norman Lear series about a flophouse. Looked up—ah, right church wrong pew. LANFORD Wilson wrote that play.
Hasn't he called P Diddy, Kanye, Jay-Z, or Beyonce?
It made the NY Slimes in Nov but I had heard about the troubles some months ago, and someone at the Toonseum (a cartoon museum across the street) posted a Trib-Review article (on Facebook) about poss. auctioning off of artwork...
I do know the one time I did visit (free and worth it) I saw the names of a bunch of benefactors like US Steel but maybe they gave money to help open it...but that was it, and it didn’t make money, so..
>>Like Mosley, Joseph Wos, executive director of ToonSeum, had high hopes for the center.
The small cartoon museum one of three in the United States devoted to cartoon art opened across Liberty Avenue from the center a few weeks after the center’s grand opening.
Wos said ToonSeum put an exhibition on extended loan to the center in 2010. In a letter to Attorney General Kathleen Kane, Wos said the exhibition on loan celebrated a long-forgotten civil rights comic and featured a timeline of the civil rights movement and the comic, along with large-scale reproductions of the entire comic.
The center exhibited the collection in 2011 but did not return it, Wos said. Now, he is concerned that the collection, which he valued at $3,000 to $3,500, might be sold.
There was no paperwork related to this, though that was the understanding, Wos told Kane.
This was a disaster from concept on, Pittsburgh has tons of places to perform theater, in fact the downtown area has been completely revitalized by a multi-decade effort to create and encourage a theater district downtown.
That has all been successful, but this thing was just a turd from the get go... the issue is simply this, like it or not, african americans don’t in Pittsburgh at least, go to the theater, PERIOD. Go walk Penn Avenue any friday or saturday night and you will find it bustling with theater goers, and symphony goers, and artsy fartsy types doing gallery crawls, and you will also notice that African Americans by and large aren’t among the crowds.
Pittsburgh is still a very segregated city not by law, but by socioeconomy, most of the African American community are not in the middle or upper classes. They work in the service industry and hourly wage jobs overwhelmingly. There was no need for another theater or performing arts center beyond those that the city already had, and there was never financial support among the african american community to have one dedicated primarily for that purpose.
The only reason I think this thing got built in the first place was no one wanted to be labeled a racist by pointing out it wouldn’t work.
I am not against a valid reason to have some venue to celebrate the works of a black anyone. For instance, I’d like to visit a place like that to see all the wonderful things that George Washington Carver did. Likewise for Louis Armstrong and the like.
But to promote a nobody (as far as I know) playwright simply because he was black isn’t something I care about. If he was somebody to care about, I believe I would have recognized him in some way or another. Even if by most standards I should have known, I really don’t care. To me, there is no ‘there’ there.
And Wilson had one black parent and one white parent.
“Hasn’t he called P Diddy, Kanye, Jay-Z, or Beyonce?”
That is actually a good idea, I’m sure they could all use some charitable deductions on their income tax.
I go to a big cartoon convention every year in the ‘burgh and love the city. Yes there is a big cultural district with places like the Benedum (a blues band I know recorded a live album there), Heinz Hall etc
>>There was no need for another theater or performing arts center beyond those that the city already had, and there was never financial support among the african american community to have one dedicated primarily for that purpose.
They took up a collection at the Kawanza celebration and netted $103
I chalk this up to the simple fact that there are way too many specialized museums out there that focus on subjects that no one gives a s__t about. In some cases, its a shame. Symphonies are losing money left and right and having to scale down. Symphony Halls are shutting down. And these type of “art” museums are notorious for NOT attracting visitors.
Most remotely modern “art” and “literature” is crap and does not connect with the average person. So why should they come to this Wilson Center? Building this was a feel-good PC project — a museum dedicated to an African American — that ultimately no one cares about.
It looks like they should be serving eggs & waffles inside.
Seriously though, this country has way too many museum that honor trivial crap.