By Charlie Deitch
Pittsburgh Current Editor
A Change.org petition posted Feb. 28 is demanding that the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust restore the words “African American” back into the name of the August Wilson Cultural Center.
The Petition, which can be found here, has received more than 330 signatures by 11:45 a.m. this morning. The facility was originally named the August Wilson Center for African American Culture. In a written statement, The August Wilson Cultural Center said, “the name change was not done in isolation, but rather as part of the broader strategic planning process that resulted in the new Mission and Vision Statements for the institution, we understand that no level of engagement can eclipse the vast and abiding ideological narrative that has historically elicited deep concern and cultural implications. We want to affirm that we are listening.” The rest of the statement can be read at the end of this post.
According to the petition posted by Renee Wilson:
To The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, The August Wilson Cultural Center, the city of Pittsburgh, PA and all other concerned parties; We are asking for the restoration of the name “African-American” back to building located at 980 Liberty Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15219! The building was previously known as “The August Wilson Center for African American Culture.” The name has been unceremoniously changed to the August Wilson Cultural Center. We, the African American supporters of the center, are not pleased with this change. We ask that you rectify this to show your continued commitment to the African American Culture in which the center was initially built upon!
Pittsburgh Current has reached out to both the Cultural Trust and the petition organizers and will update this story as information becomes available.
Several petition signers also expressed their reasons for signing:
Statement from the August Wilson Cultural Center:
Dear Friends of the August Wilson Cultural Center, We have learned that there is concern about the newly branded name for the performing arts venue, August Wilson Cultural Center; the term “African American” was a part of the original name for the Center.
We understand the importance of names and naming among people of African descent, particularly as it pertains to our enslaved African ancestors and their history on the mainland of North America. While the name change was not done in isolation, but rather as part of the broader strategic planning process that resulted in the new Mission and Vision Statements for the institution, we understand that no level of engagement can eclipse the vast and abiding ideological narrative that has historically elicited deep concern and cultural implications. We want to affirm that we are listening.
We, at the August Wilson Cultural Center, have no intention of diminishing a focus on African-American culture. In fact, the name change reflects a deeper embrace of the broader cultural richness of the entire African diaspora and commitment to August Wilson’s legacy. Our new mission states:
The mission of the August Wilson Cultural Center is to own and operate a home for the arts, storytelling, learning and exchange around the African American experience and the rich culture of the African diaspora. We are guided by the enduring truths and essential values evident in the work of August Wilson.
We will continue to examine these and other critical questions of race and identity through the artistic and cultural programming at the August Wilson Cultural Center. We invite everyone to join us in this work. It is our hope that our “call” to fully embrace the national and international stature of our namesake favorite son, August Wilson, and moreover our “call” to broadly embrace arts, culture, experience and expression of the entire African diaspora opens up even more possibilities for how they are honored, showcased and celebrated at the August Wilson Cultural Center. It is necessary that our collective “call,” to elevate the unique experience of African-Americans and those of the African diaspora take center stage. Our ancestors never allowed what they were called – or what people thought they should be called – to overshadow their actual calling. We plan to honor that legacy. We will keep you posted on our progress. If you have comments or feedback, feel free to reach out via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit our website at aacc-awc.org to learn about the very important work taking place at the August Wilson Cultural Center. Janis Burley Wilson President & CEO