African American Cultural Center Struggles to Gain Foothold

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July 13, 2011; Source: The Times Leader | The August Wilson Center for African American Culture in Pittsburgh is struggling to gain a foothold in the midst of a still troublesome economy. The center, named for the late Pulitzer Prize winning playwright, opened in 2009 after years of planning but also right as the recession took hold and since then has experienced less than hoped for financial performance. In 2010 it apparently ran a deficit of $857,000 and raised revenue of $2.4 million.

Meanwhile some financing reported to be cumulatively in the neighborhood of $900,000 is being held back by three different foundations, which apparently are waiting for conditions to be met. One unnamed foundation is withholding half of its $320,000 grant and the Heinz Endowments are withholding $750,000 on a $4 million grant until the Center can produce $228,000 in contributions from the black community. Finally, the Kresge foundation is reportedly holding back on its final payment on a $1.2 million grant until the center can get its line of credit refinanced into a long-term loan.

Unfortunately, the center’s line of credit is quite large – $11 million accumulated as a result of construction overruns. The center has also, apparently, invaded its small $800,000 endowment with the donor’s permission, taking out $300,000 to cover other expenses. All of this, of course foretells a tough road ahead. It is unclear what the center’s plans are going forward but it appears that it will be at a minimum altering its business plan to produce events – music, dance and theater – rather than just hosting them. The CEO has declared that the center intends to create a “local ecology for the arts to nurture the talent that emerges in Pittsburg where Wilson and many other African American artists got their start.—Ruth McCambridge