Claude McKay, a famous poet from the period of the Harlem Renaissance, once likened an intersection in the Hill District to the "Crossroads of the World". Pittsburgh has played an important role in African American culture and history, producing an enormous number of African American achievers - cultural contributors to whom all Americans can point with pride.
The project of creating the August Wilson Center for African American Culture has been developed and driven forward by the passion and commitment of several groups of people convinced of the need for an organization of this type in Pittsburgh.
While over the years, there have been a number of initiatives aimed at creating an African American cultural facility in Pittsburgh; the work culminating in the Center that you see today began with the convergence of several individual initiatives and groups.
The organization was incorporated as a not-for-profit 501(c)3 under the name African American Cultural Center of Greater Pittsburgh (AACC) in 2002. Four years later, the organization adopted a new name: August Wilson Center for African American Culture.
The Center is under the direction of interim Co-Executive Directors Oliver Byrd and Sala Udin, who were appointed by the board following the end of Andre Kimo Stone Guess' two year contract. Neil Barclay served as the organization's first President and CEOfrom 2003 to 2009. Marva Harris served as an interim President in 2009. Prior to its incorporation, the organization was governed by a group of stakeholders and a steering committee, co-chaired by Oliver Byrd and Nancy Washington, in a true community based planning initiative.
Some significant milestones of the project from its inception, through incorporation and into the present day, include:
- 1996 :
Pittsburgh NAACP President Tim Stevens along with other members of the Pittsburgh NAACP create "Plans for Progress," an action plan for Pittsburgh's African American community. The plan is drawn up as a part of the NAACP's efforts to attract the national NAACP Convention to the City of Pittsburgh. Included in the plan is a statement urging the mayor to provide strong financial and resource backing for an African American museum.
Pittsburgh Mayor Tom Murphy agrees to support the effort to build the facility and arranges for Stevens to meet with Mulugetta Birru, then Executive Director of the City of Pittsburgh's Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA). Dr. Birru is receptive to the idea and secures a commitment of $500,000 from the URA to begin research on this project.
Mayor Tom Murphy charges Pittsburgh City Council Members Valerie McDonald Roberts and Sala Udin with the task of convening various stakeholders to develop a single community supported cultural facility idea that the city can support.
- 1997: The Multicultural Arts Initiative (MCAI) hosts meetings of interested stakeholders, out of which a study team, comprising Dr. Mulugetta Birru, Dr. Nancy Washington, Dr. Ralph Proctor, Sala Udin, Valerie McDonald Roberts, Yvonne Cook and Oliver Byrd, is formed and funds for a feasibility study are secured.
- 1999: A Steering Committee is formed to direct the development process. They envision a cultural center with space for exhibitions, performances and education. This new landmark attraction for both local residents and tourists will support growth in entertainment, and add social and economic benefit to the region. This Steering Committee includes Mulugetta Birru, Carol Brown, Ellsworth Brown, Esther Bush, Oliver Byrd, Yvonne Cook, Judith Davenport, Arthur Edmunds, Andrew Masich, Joseph McGrath, Valerie McDonald Roberts, Richard Stafford, Tim Stevens, William Strickland, Jr., Sala Udin, Nancy Washington and Doris Carson Williams.
- 2000: Lord Cultural Resources Planning & Management, the most prominent international consultancy in the area of museums and cultural facilities management, is commissioned to work with the Steering Committee to develop the project.
- 2000: A national charette convenes in Pittsburgh to discuss and debate issues with respect to the future and plans, goals and objectives of the proposed African American Cultural Center. It brings together community leaders, elected officials, funders, consulting team members, and an invited panel of national experts to inform and energize the project and give shape to the concept.
- 2001: With technical support provided by the URA, site evaluation and selection is completed. The chosen site is located at the corner of Liberty Avenue, 10th Street and William Penn Place in Downtown Pittsburgh. A group of African American clergy is convened to review the site evaluation and selection process. They strongly endorse the process and ultimate site selection, while emphasizing the importance of connecting with the neighborhoods.
- 2002: The African American Cultural Center (AACC) is incorporated as a 501(c)3 not-for-profit corporation by Dr. Mulugetta Birru, Oliver Byrd, Yvonne Cook, Valerie McDonald Roberts, Sala Udin and Nancy Washington. The initial Board of Directors is formed with Oliver Byrd as Chair, Dr. Nancy Washington as Vice Chair, Sala Udin as Secretary and Yvonne Cook as Treasurer. The Steering Committee continues to advise the process. Dr. Ralph Proctor, an early and consistent voice for an African American cultural facility, is asked to serve as a subject matter expert with Lord Cultural Resources Planning & Management, the Center's consultants.
- 2002: With strong community based support marshaled by Tim Stevens, President of the NAACP, Esther Bush, President and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh, and Doris Carson Williams, President and CEO of the African American Chamber of Commerce of Western Pennsylvania, the AACC secures more than $6 million in support from Allegheny County and the City of Pittsburgh.
- 2003: The organization hires Neil A. Barclay as its founding President and CEO. Mr. Barclay brings his 30 years of expertise to the new institution as well as a national reputation for innovative programming and leadership.
- 2003:Under the direction of Carol Brown, the AACC Building Committee completes a design competition for its proposed new facility and selects Allison Williams, an African American architect from Perkins+Will in San Francisco, to design the building. Ms. Williams and the AACC subsequently receive positive notices in U.S. News and World Report and The New York Times.
- 2004: The AACC announces its first full season of programming, and receives a $4 million grant from The Heinz Endowments.
- 2005: The AACC receives a $2 million commitment to support its Capital Campaign from the Richard King Mellon Foundation. In October, the construction site for the building of the August Wilson Center is cleared.
- 2006: The team of Turner Construction Company, Ebony Development, LLC and Sterling Contracting, LLC is chosen to manage the construction of the August Wilson Center.
- 2006:In February, the office of Governor Edward G. Rendell announces that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is committing $5 million towards the Center's building, with further funding to be made available after the initial sum is drawn down. Democratic Senator Jay Costa also announces on behalf of Senators Robert Mellow, Jim Ferlo, Sean Logan and Wayne Fontana, a $1 million grant, adding to the Governor's commitment. State Representative Jake Wheatley announces a further grant of $500,000, that he has secured with the assistance of House Minority Whip Mike Veon, Rep. Joseph Preston, and other Allegheny County members of the Democratic Caucus of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.
- February 17, 2006: At a press conference held at its temporary exhibition gallery at 209 9th Street in Downtown Pittsburgh, the African American Cultural Center of Greater Pittsburgh officially announces its new name: August Wilson Center for African American Culture.
- October 18, 2006:The official groundbreaking ceremony for the August Wilson Center for African American Culture occurs at 10:00 a.m. at the corner of Liberty Avenue and 10th Street in Downtown Pittsburgh. The 250+ attendees include members of August Wilson's family, Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Mark Roosevelt, Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato, students from the Pittsburgh High School for the Creative and Performing Arts, and other local personalities, dignitaries and residents.
- 2007: The Center launches its "Excitement is Building" Community Campaign to raise Capital Campaign support from individual donors. Two central initiatives of the Community Campaign are a Kresge Foundation Challenge Grant, and the One in a Million Challenge Grant established by August Wilson Center Board and Capital Campaign Steering Committee Members Nancy and Milton Washington to encourage local African American support for the Center.
- 2007: Construction of the August Wilson Center officially begins in August. On November 30, Parcel I in the August Wilson Center Consolidation Plan, designated as Block 9N Lot 8 in the Deed Registry Office of Allegheny County, Pa., is officially sold to the August Wilson Center for African American Culture for the sum of $1 at a closing held in the offices of Meyer, Unkovic & Scott LLP, Downtown.
- June 6, 2008: The August Wilson Center mourns the loss of Dwight White, who along with his wife AWC Board Member Karen Farmer White, has been a supporter and friend of the Center since its inception. As co-chairs of the Center's ongoing Capital Campaign, Mr. and Mrs. White have been extremely instrumental in raising millions of dollars toward the construction of the new facility. The Center establishes a permanent memorial in Mr. White's honor.
- August 12, 2008 at 12:30 p.m.: The August Wilson Center hits a construction milestone with the installation of the final steel beam. This last piece of steel - draped with an American flag - "tops out" the Center. The final steel beam completes the structural part of the construction process, allowing workers to begin enclosing the building.
- May 30, 2009: Almost 10,000 people attend the August Wilson Center's Community Open House Preview to enjoy entertainment, a street fair and the first chance to see inside the new Center.
- September 17 and 19, 2009: The August Wilson Center for African American Culture celebrates it grand opening with a World Premiere Tribute Ceremony and Celebration and free Community Day for the public.