REV. WILLIAM CURTIS
Three days earlier, a collection of Black artists and musicians performed outside the Center to mark its 5th anniversary and also to rally support for the foundations’ bid. Organizer janera solomon, executive director of the Kelly Strayhorn Theater and chair of the foundations’ August Wilson Center Recovery Advisory Committee, said the event characterized what the Center is about.
“We’re not really activists,” she said. “We’re people who care. Look around. There’s a diverse group of people here, age-wise, color-wise. That’s part of what this center’s vision was about.”
Others in attendance included poet Vanessa German, hip-hop artists Jasiri X and Paradise Gray, and former City Councilman Sala Udin, who also sits on the Recovery Advisory Committee and was a founding member of the AWC’s board.
Even as these rallies were going on, court appointed conservator Judith Fitzgerald had petitioned O’Toole to postpone a scheduled Oct. 6 sheriff’s sale of the Center. She argued that even if the trial determined the deed covenants against altering the building exterior without city permission and using it for purposes other than an exclusively Black museum are invalid, 980 would not have time to complete the sale. O’Toole rejected the petition on Monday.
Paradise Gray (Photo courtesy Tracey TjdaMilitant Jennings)
That same afternoon the Coalition to Preserves the August Wilson Center Mission, a group convened by retired Highmark executive and past AWC Board Chairman Aaron Walton at the request of Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, released a statement on its goals for the center’s disposition.
The group, which includes a cross section of African-American faith, business, political and community leaders, is moving forward “with the support and cooperation of Judith Fitzgerald, the court-appointed conservator, and AMS Planning & Research, a national arts and management consulting firm engaged to complete a community assessment of the August Wilson Center for African American Culture,” the statement said.
The group’s spokesman, Rev. Dr. William Curtis, senior pastor of Mt. Ararat Baptist Church, said it would focus on methods to:
•Utilize the influence of all stakeholders in devising and executing plans to include substantial African-American and majority population input toward the perpetuation of the AWC’s existing community mission;
•Serve as a catalyst to engage the political, foundation, financial, business and greater community in productive dialogue relative to AWC’s disposition;
•Advocate for the continuation of the community’s use of AWC’s current location;
•Collaborate and cooperate to arrive at a resolution to the AWC ownership that represents the spirit and the intent of the community feedback reflected in the AMS-conducted focus group interviews;
•Participate in planning that will result in the long-term financial viability and sustainability of the AWC;
•Assist in the creation of opportunities for African-American participation in the planning and ownership of any hotel erected at the current AWC location;
•Advocate for the appointment and establishment of an inclusive independent community board of directors responsible for the management and governance of a reconstituted AWC, and
•Create an inclusive programming process that assures the ongoing participation of members of the arts community.
The Coalition’s work, Curtis said, will continue throughout the various legal proceedings set to take place before arriving at a resolution of the controversies surrounding the disposition of the August Wilson Center.
Coalition members include: Rev. Curtis; Rev. Barbara Gunn, pastor, Mt. Carmel Baptist Church, North Versailles, Pa.; Connie Parker, President, Pittsburgh Branch NAACP; Keith Keys, Property Developer, Hill District Pittsburgh, Pa.; Mark Lewis, President, POISE Foundation; Bishop Loran Mann, senior pastor, Pentecostal Temple COGIC, Pittsburgh, Pa.; William Robinson, member Allegheny County Council; Charles Sanders, President & CEO, Urban Lending Solutions Inc.; Aaron Walton, Retired Highmark Senior Executive; and Doris Carson Williams, president & CEO, African-American Chamber of Commerce.
Other individuals and organizations, Curtis said, have committed their support to the Coalition as the official representative of their community voices.
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