Category: Metro Written by Rebecca Nuttall - Courier Staff Writer
AUGUST WILSON CENTER IN DOWNTOWN PITTSBURGH
Last week the New Pittsburgh Courier received word that the August Wilson Center for African American Culture would be closing its doors on May 30 due to financial difficulties. When news broke on May 10 of massive layoffs at the Center, it seemed the rumors could be true, but the Center’s interim president and CEO Oliver Byrd said the Pittsburgh community shouldn’t count the AWC out yet.
“The rumor is completely unfounded, no merit to it whatsoever,” he said in an interview with the Courier May 13 hoping to set the record straight. “What’s happening is after four years of being in the building the board is looking at what’s working and what’s not working and to look at how we have to recast the business model to ensure the Center stays around for a long time.”
The $40 million AWC was opened in 2009 with $11.2 million construction debt. The debt was reduced to $7 million in January with help from foundation grants, which have long made up the base of the AWC’s funding.
The center is now behind with loans payments on the $7 million debt and despite Byrd’s optimism, 10 members of the AWC staff lost their jobs on Friday.
“Given the escalating expenses and the imbalance between the expenses and our revenue, we had to lay off some employees. I think the media has focused on the layoffs and we’re always disappointed when we have to lay people off, but with the appropriate course corrections, I think it’ll be healthy for us in the long run.”
Part of those course corrections will include bringing in more revenue by reducing the amount of free programming. Byrd also said the AWC is looking at other avenues for telling the stories of African-American people, beyond the arts, as a way to increase revenue.
“The marketplace will have to pay for the programming that’s offered,” Byrd said. “There will still be a big mix between free programming and ticketed programming because it’s part of our mission, but we need to have a better mix of contributed revenue.”
In April the AWC announced the inclusion of five new fellows in their 2012-2013 fellowship program. Byrd said their First Voice Festival debut set for May 17 to 25 would continue as planned.
“A lot of what we do at the AWC has been looked at positively not just locally but nationally. So we’re very proud of the quality of programming that we’ve been putting out there,” Byrd said. “Very often when you’re looking at the financial reality that we’re dealing with, those kinds of stories get lost. But we’re not at all dissimilar from other arts institutions at this stage.”
However, he also noted that some contributions originally promised during the capital campaign for construction of the facility were not honored. This could be a contributing factor to the AWC’s current financial situation.
Byrd is filling in for Andre Kimo Stone Guess, former AWC executive director who departed in September 2012. Byrd said the board has delayed their search for a new executive director, but plans to commence the search within three to six months.
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Last Updated on Wednesday, 15 May 2013 15:24
Category: Metro Written by Ashley N. Johnson
GONE TOO SOON—Dejour Gadsden, one of four teens killed by gun violence in 2013. (Photo courtesy of Facebook)
The killing of a 17-year-old McKeesport boy Saturday in the Hill District marks the fourth homicide of an individual 18 and under in Allegheny County and the first homicide in the Hill District this year.
Dejour Gadsden, 17, was shot and killed Saturday in the 2100 block of White Hill Drive in the Hill District when, according to Pittsburgh Bureau of Police, three men in black masks came to the residence of his female friend and opened fire on both of them. Gadsden was pronounced dead at the scene and his friend was taken to UPMC Mercy Hospital, where she is expected to recover.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 15 May 2013 15:25
Category: Metro Written by Associated Press
PITTSBURGH (AP) — The August Wilson Center for African American Culture in Pittsburgh has laid off some staff members as it struggles with debt and revenue problems.
Aaron Walton, president of the board of directors, confirmed the layoffs but didn't provide details.
Mark Clayton Southers, who coordinated theater programming for the center, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that Friday was his last day.
Sala Udin and Oliver W. Byrd are listed on the center's website as interim co-directors. But Udin told the Post-Gazette that he has not been in that role since mid-April.
The downtown nonprofit center is named for the late Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, who was born in Pittsburgh. It opened in September 2009 after years on the drawing board.
Editors Note: Will be updated.
Last Updated on Sunday, 12 May 2013 17:05
Category: Metro Written by Courier Newsroom
Thanks to a push from state Rep. Ed Gainey, D-East Liberty, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald announced the creation of a Public Health Commission on Preventing Violence and Promoting Community Mental Health.
Last Updated on Monday, 13 May 2013 19:24
Category: Metro Written by Tene Croom
STATE REP. ED GAINEY
Brandi Fisher believes the war on drugs is really about a war on Africa-Americans.
“The war on drugs feeds prisons and turns our communities into prisons outside of those four walls,” she said.
Fisher, president, Alliance for Police Accountability, was among the panelists in the NAACP town hall meeting, “Ending the War on Drugs.”
The town hall meeting was part of the civil rights group’s Northeast Regional Civil Rights Training Institute.
Panelist Michael Skolnik, Global Grind editor and chief and political director to business magnate Russell Simmons, evoked the memory of slain civil rights leader, Rev. Martin Luther King, to make a point.
“When I see the destruction that this horrific and unjust war has caused specifically to Black communities, but also Latino communities as well, across this country; I think about what King said about the rights you take for granted are worthless unless you fight for those same rights for others.” Skolnik said to the hundreds of people gathered in the auditorium at CCAC’s Allegheny Campus.
He talked about being White and why because of his race he should do more to champion against the ills facing the African-American community.
“I have a responsibility with that White privilege to do something,” he said.
The war on drugs, Skolnik said is perhaps the issue that he and Simmons care the most about ending.
Also on the panel was Pennsylvania State Rep. Ed Gainey who got personal as he discussed the scourge of drugs. He recalled how the high-rise in East Liberty, where he grew up, has been ravaged by the illegal narcotics trade.
“In 20 years I’ve seen so many drug addictions. People sleeping in the stairways. People sleeping in the laundry room. Human feces. Children walking by this every single day,” he said.
But, Gainey did more than lament how bad things were in the neighborhood of his youth. Speaking in a tone, much like a preacher delivering a fiery sermon on Sunday morning, he denounced what he called the “federal lie.” He zeroed in on the much quoted theme of former first lady Nancy Reagan whose idea in the 1980s for young people to not get hooked on drugs was to just say no.
“It was the biggest lie I ever heard in my life.” Gainey said while pointing out what he saw as a federal government contradiction after Mrs. Reagan launched that drug abuse campaign.
“From that time on how many wars have we financed with drug money? We stipulated an economy out of drug money and then we created sub-cultures called the penitentiary. Ran drugs through the African-American and Latino communities. Fueled the jail system through drugs that they bought to fund the war.”
Celebrated hip-hop artist Jasiri X takes record companies and rappers to task for contributing to the problem. He cited a popular song by Rick Ross that referenced cocaine, that he heard being heavily played on a New York City radio station.
“A lot of time as artists, we’re glamorizing the very thing that’s imprisoning and hurting our community,” he said.
But through his organization, One Hood, hip-hop has made positive changes in communities, Jasiri X said, where there might be problems because people didn’t get along because someone was from a different “hood” or neighborhood.
“We use hip-hop, being from the hip-hop generation, as a way to begin to do things to bring these communities and neighborhoods together.”
Last Updated on Friday, 10 May 2013 14:58
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