The August Wilson Center for African American Culture, a landmark hub in downtown Pittsburgh that celebrates blacks’ contributions to the arts, recently announced its new president and CEO.
Janis Burley Wilson, 52, a skilled cultural innovator in Pittsburgh for almost two decades, officially took the reins in September as she outlines new initiatives and programs for the betterment of the institution.
“It is truly an honor to be selected by business and community leaders, and people I admire including the entire African American Cultural Center board, to lead the August Wilson Center into the future, and to have the support of key stakeholders such as our mayor and county executive to be the steward of Mr. Wilson’s legacy,” Wilson said.
“We will continue to search for insightful, poignant and powerful artists, lecturers, poets and musicians with a universal appeal to present at the center,” she said. “We will make our education and enlightenment initiatives more robust moving forward. I want to be opportunistic, entrepreneurial. I will be open to opportunities and partnerships that will further the mission of the African American Cultural Center.”
The center, named after the famed black playwright and Pittsburgh native, opened in 2009 but soon encountered financial troubles, facing foreclosure until the Pittsburgh Foundation, Heinz Endowments and Richard King Mellon Foundation intervened in 2014 to help save it.
Almost four years later, the center is back to being self-owned, and Wilson, who is unrelated to the building’s namesake, said it will continue to flourish and educate about the rich African-American culture under her direction.
“Concern over continued funding for the arts, especially under the Trump administration, is real,” she said. “However, it is important to still impress upon people the value of the arts and know that if you’re doing great work, that that work will speak for itself.
Wilson, herself a Pittsburgh native, spent several years curating programming for the center as vice president of strategic partnerships and community engagement for The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.
There, she produced programs such as “Showcase Noir,” featuring artists of the African diaspora, “Poetry Unplugged,” featuring spoken word artists from around the country, and the Gallery Crawl, a quarterly showcase of Pittsburgh’s diverse art scene.
Through the trust, she managed Highmark First Night Pittsburgh, the city’s arts-focused New Year’s Eve celebration, making dramatic programming changes to diversify the audience and programming. Additionally, she founded the Pittsburgh JazzLive International Festival in 2011.
“Janis brings a deep knowledge of the Pittsburgh arts and cultural scene, and strong relationships with our community stakeholders and grantmakers,” said Michael Polite, chairman of the center’s board of directors and CEO of urban property developer Ralph A. Falbo Inc. “She has delivered great programs and is a widely respected professional.”