August Wilson Center for African American Culture Opens Thursday

Article excerpt

Pittsburgh playwright August Wilson was a living legend in 2002 when a group of local visionaries incorporated a nonprofit organization called the African American Cultural Center. After his death in 2005, it was only natural to rename it in his honor.

Now, seven years after its inception, the August Wilson Center for African American Culture is a physical reality.

"August Wilson was a 'first voice' artist, meaning that he was an African American telling African-American stories. The August Wilson Center is a 'first voice' organization to interpret, present, explore and celebrate arts and culture from the African-American canon as well as from Africa and the diaspora from an African- American perspective or aesthetic," says Shay Wafer, the center's vice president of programs.

The gala grand opening starts with a champagne reception at 5 p.m. followed by a tribute ceremony at 6 p.m. Thursday in the center's new home in the Cultural District. Cocktails, buffets and a preview of the center's first season start at 7 p.m., followed a half-hour later by a concert by the Sphinx Chamber Orchestra. Starting at 9 p.m., DJ Nate the Phat Barber will provide music for drinks, desserts and dancing.

Two art exhibits will be on display -- "Pittsburgh: Reclaim, Renew and Remix" and "In My Father's House."

The $39.5-million facility includes a 500-seat theater, a studio with a wooden floor the same size as the theater that can be used for rehearsals or performances in a more intimate setting and an education center with computer work stations to host visits from schoolchildren. But the prevailing design of the center is a flexible, open space that can be used in various ways.

Wafer says the theme of the first season is "Beyond Category" for two reasons. "The center defies categories because it is both a museum and performing arts center. Add the educational center and culinary experiences we'll present, and we defy categorization."

In addition, she says the artists being presented this season "have excelled in one particular discipline and are now incorporating other artistic forms in order to create something that's their genius."

The center's 2009-10 programming includes ample variety within major disciplines, such as music, dance, theater and other verbal arts, film and visual arts. …