The August Wilson Center for African American Culture isn’t quite a decade old, but its fate is already on the line. In Pittsburgh, the story has been one of the top stories this year and the debates are ongoing about its future and what will become of the building, which not so far ago was an inspiration and hope for the fans of Pittsburgh-born Pulitzer-prize winning playwright August Wilson and the community at large.
What will happen to the 65,000 square-foot building at 980 Liberty Avenue? Will it be a hotel? A museum? A concert hall? An apartment building? Will it preserve its name?
The August Wilson Center had so much promise that hasn’t quite pan out, exciting plans that were never implemented and bills that never got paid. It was supposed to be a model for other cultural institutions, instead the unsolvable problems that mired its financial situation could be at the center of a play by the playwright whose name it bears.
An idea to create an African American museum was born in 1996. The groundbreaking ceremony for the Center took place almost exactly a year after August Wilson died — October, 2006.
San Francisco-based architect Allison G. Williams, a prominent African-American architect at Perkins+Will, won a competition to design the Center. When the building was completed, city newspapers reported, “There is a new jewel in Pittsburgh’s crown: the August Wilson Center for African American Culture. It is a two-story structure punctuated by the glass that made so many Pittsburgh fortunes.”
It is uniquely shaped like a ship made in glass and stone inspired by Swahili trading ships that carried East African culture to shores across the Atlantic.
“It’s inspiring to see such enthusiasm from the Pittsburgh community. This is an incredible opportunity for all of us to do something to ensure that our collective history will be preserved, presented and interpreted for generations to come,” August Wilson Center Board member Farmer White said in 2006.
In 2014, the story of the Wilson Center is drastically different, it is all about disappointment, unfulfilled expectations and a whole lot of uncertainty.