29267_410132646680_676262_nJasiri X outside the now closed August Wilson Center in 2010 at the First Voice Festival (photo by Haute Muslim) 


In the above video I spoke about the importance of the legacy of August Wilson and the necessity of supporting a African-American cultural institution. Today marks the 5th anniversary of the opening of the $40 million dollar August Wilson Center for African-American Culture in Downtown Pittsburgh. Due to the center being underfunded, mismanaged, and Black culture being undervalued, the center is closed. The city, the county, and the local foundations want to preserve the building and keep it a place where African-American art and culture has a home. The problem is, the August Wilson Center is under court jurisdiction, and Judith Fitzgerald, the court-appointed receiver, wants to sell the building to a hotel developer.

A few months ago I became part of a group of concerned community members who want to reclaim the August Wilson Center. Our interest is to make sure that African-American culture is properly invested in and supported in Pittsburgh. Just yesterday the Pittsburgh Business Times released a article that stated the “missing link” in Pittsburgh’s growth prospects is “diversity”. Reclaiming a space that houses a Black cultural institution would go a long way in showing a willingness to be diverse. Turning a center for African-American culture into a hotel would be business as usual in Pittsburgh, and would cement its reputation for being one of the least diverse cities in the United States.

August Wilson is a cultural icon. He’s considered one of the greatest playwrights in American History. Like so many local artists, August Wilson had to leave Pittsburgh to get the support for his work that would eventually lead him to Broadway and a Pulitzer Prize. Will this generation of Pittsburgh artists have to do the same? Today we’re doing a concert and rally in front of the August Wilson Center. We want to not only show our talent, but raise the question, “why are we forced to perform outside in front of a relatively new $40 million building?” Keeping the August Wilson Center closed or turning it into a hotel would send a message that Pittsburgh is unwilling to support Black art and Black artists. And the artists that Pittsburgh produces will be found enriching the culture and economy of more welcoming places.