August Wilson African American Cultural Center

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August Wilson African American Cultural Center
August Wilson Center
August Wilson African American Cultural Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Former namesAugust Wilson Center for African American Culture (2009-2019)
Address980 Liberty Avenue
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
United States
Coordinates40°26′36″N 79°59′45″W / 40.4433°N 79.9957°W / 40.4433; -79.9957Coordinates: 40°26′36″N 79°59′45″W / 40.4433°N 79.9957°W / 40.4433; -79.9957
OwnerAugust Wilson African American Cultural Center
Current usePerforming arts center
OpenedSeptember 17, 2009
ArchitectAllison G. Williams, Perkins and Will
The 2009 grand opening
The stage

The August Wilson African American Cultural Center is a U.S. nonprofit arts organization based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania that presents performing and visual arts programs that celebrate the contributions of African Americans not only in Western Pennsylvania, but nationally and internationally.

The August Wilson African American Cultural Center building is on Liberty Avenue in Downtown Pittsburgh's Cultural District. It includes galleries, classrooms, a 500-seat theater, a gift shop, a cafe, and many multi-purpose spaces for visual and performing art. The museum opened in 2009.


The August Wilson Center was part of a plan drawn up by Pittsburgh NAACP President Tim Stevens in 1996 in order to try and bring the National NAACP Convention to Pittsburgh. In the plan, there was a statement that urged the Mayor of Pittsburgh to provide financial backing for an African American Museum. Later in 1996, then-Mayor Tom Murphy charged two City Council Members, Sala Udin and Valerie McDonald with bringing stakeholders together to discuss the museum's future. Funding from various sources, including the URA, State of Pennsylvania, and The Heinz Endowments came together to begin construction of the center. The land on which the center sits was taken by eminent domain and sold to the museum for $1. The center celebrated its "topping off" ceremony on August 12th, 2008 at 12:30 PM. Construction was completed shortly thereafter and the museum was open to the full public on September 17th and 19th of 2009.[1]

The August Wilson Center was designed under the direction of Allison G. Williams, FAIA and members of her team from her San Francisco office of Perkins and Will. During the design of this project, AI merged with MBT Architecture and then was subsequently bought by Perkins+Will. The project design was completed in the San Francisco office of Perkins+Will. Team members included Greg Lehman, Sally Curtis, Stacie Velten.[2]

In February 2019, the August Wilson Center for African American Culture (the center's original name) changed its name to the August Wilson Cultural Center,[3] and the following month, to the August Wilson African American Cultural Center (the latter change, following an online petition objecting to the deletion of "African American" from its name).[4]

Debt troubles[edit]

The center struggled to pay off its construction debt from 2012, on January 20, 2014 a federal bankruptcy official reported that the center's debt situation might be irreversible.[5] Subsequently, a federal court ruled on January 27, 2014 that the center's liquidation could begin to pay off debts.[6]

In February 2014 concerned stakeholders started a website to raise funds for the center.[7] After numerous court cases, the center was sold at a sheriff's sale on November 3, 2014 to the mortgage holder, Dollar Bank for $1,912.50.[8]

On November 5, 2014 Dollar Bank sold the center to a nonprofit consortium for $7.9 million. The consortium included contributions from private foundations: $2.45 million from the Heinz Endowments, $2.35 million from the Richard King Mellon Foundation, $500,000 from the Pittsburgh Foundation and $500,000 from the Thomas Tull Family Foundation. Public sources contributed another $3.15 million: $1.65 million from the Urban Redevelopment Authority and $1.5 million from the Allegheny Regional Asset District.[9]

The court-appointed conservator had originally agreed to sell the building to a private developer, 980 Liberty Partners for $9.5 million, who had planned to build a hotel on top of the center. Pittsburgh Major Bill Peduto, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and the URA fought the bid. 980 Liberty Partners withdrew in a September 2014 settlement that favored the consortium of local foundations. 980 Liberty partners was reimbursed $360,000 from URA's share of the purchase price.[9]

By 2019, the center was on a solid financial foundation, having ended 2018 with a budget surplus and was building a capital reserve.[10] By 2020, the center was showing additional signs of recovery, having increased its operating budget to $7.25 million from $1.77 million in 2015 and increased the percentage of the budget coming from earned income to 17% from 5%. The center had greatly increased its individual donor base and held substantially more events.[11]


  1. ^ "August Wilson Center for African American Culture". Archived from the original on 2014-10-15. Retrieved 2014-09-27.
  2. ^ "The August Wilson Center being built". Pittsburgh Post Gazette. Pittsburgh. 2014-08-30. Retrieved 2019-04-30.
  3. ^ Waltz, Amanda. "Black History Month: August Wilson Cultural Center forges ahead with rebrand". Pittsburgh City Paper. Retrieved 2019-10-04.
  4. ^ Deto, Ryan. "After backlash, August Wilson Center restores "African American" to its name". Pittsburgh City Paper. Retrieved 2019-10-04.
  5. ^ "Conservator asks to liquidate August Wilson Center assets". Retrieved 26 October 2017.
  6. ^ "Wilson Center sale gets go-ahead from judge". Retrieved 26 October 2017.
  7. ^ "Website to raise funds for Wilson Center". Retrieved 26 October 2017.
  8. ^ "Dollar Bank buys August Wilson Center for $1,912.50". Retrieved 26 October 2017.
  9. ^ a b Belko, Mark (2014-11-05). "Dollar Bank sells August Wilson Center to three Pittsburgh foundations". Pittsburgh Post Gazette. Pittsburgh. Retrieved 2019-05-01.
  10. ^ "August Wilson Center Stabilizes, Plans For The Future". 90.5 WESA. Pittsburgh. 2019-02-11. Retrieved 2019-05-24.
  11. ^ Lindstrom, Natasha (2020-02-16). "5 years after nearly folding, Downtown Pittsburgh's August Wilson Center on track for comeback". TribLive. Pittsburgh. Retrieved 2020-02-18.

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