Opening doors to the future

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Girl Power has made its way to the August Wilson Center for African American Culture. The center recently announced its 2011-2012 Fellows who will receive support to advance their perspective projects.

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AWC FELLOWS— From left: Staycee R. Pearl, Erika Beras, Maryam Abdul-Qawiyy and Kelli Stevens Kane. (Photo by Gail Manker)

“We are trying to give the artists the ability to move their projects to the next level and we want to be able to connect them with people who can help them with their careers,” said Andre Kimo Stone Guess, the center’s president and CEO. “The center becomes their oyster and we help them make connections with people in the industry. This will strengthen their connection and heighten the awareness of all the things they are working on.”

This year’s fellows are: Staycee R. Pearl, Erika Beras, Maryam Abdul-Qawiyy and Kelli Stevens Kane.

All the women are excited to have been chosen for the residency.

“I am very honored that I was chosen to do this,” said Qawiyy, an American-Belizean travel writer who is in the process of penning a coming-of-age yarn about a girl who creates a safe place for herself through writing. Qawiyy resides in Squirrel Hill. “I feel honored that I am a part of this legacy and I feel so welcome. I am excited to have this opportunity because it will get your name out there and be able to network and bring your work to the attention of other artists.”

Choreographer and performance artist Staycee R. Pearl echoes her fellow artists’ sentiments.

“This fellowship gives us the space and the resources to create what we want,” says Pearl who resides in Wilkinsburg. She will be presenting a reworked version of her work, “Octavia,” which tells the story of a African-American science fiction author, Octavia Butler.

During the year-long residency, each artist will have a venue to create and present their work, pursue individual career development, participate in collaborative, creative and marketing projects, strengthen community connections, acquire financial services and collect a generous regular stipend. The monetary stipend gives the artists the freedom to focus on their individual work and develop it more fully.

“The August Wilson Center seeks to do more than provide a physical platform for cultural expression in the arts. It also wants to ensure that creative people in Southwestern Pennsylvania have access to the soft-skills and other resources they need to further their craft and careers,” said Shaunda Miles, vice president of Programming and Cultivation. “This will enable them to devote more time to their work and improve and emphasize the civic role of arts in the region.”

Those are the reasons that Queens native and North Side resident Erika Beras felt that the fellowship would allow her to move to the next step with her project of highlighting the Great Migration.

“It is an underreported story in this area and there are people who migrated and I thought this would be a great opportunity to get help with my work. It’s an extensive project. I hope to set up an exhibit of the people who I have interviewed that migrated and do an audio documentary and possibly write a book,” Beras said.

Playwright Kelli Stevens Kane is standing on the shoulders of her grandmother when it comes to her fellowship project.

“My grandmother lived in the Hill District and went to funerals of people in the community—some she knew and some she didn’t know. I learned that there are other people that did that and it showed how the community was,” she said.

“I wasn’t raised in the Hill, but the project is spiritually rooted in the Hill. The play that I wrote spans four generations and it honors all of our people. The play is a mix of fact and fiction. I feel like a human filter for these people,” Kane said.

The August Wilson Center Fellowship winners were chosen from a pool of more than 50 applicants. There was a two-phase peer review process involving preliminary and final selection panels made up of regional arts professionals active in various fields of the arts.

Fellowships may be awarded at any stage of an artist’s career. Eligible artists may work in any of the following disciplines: media arts, music composition and performance, performance-based and literary arts or visual arts. Up to six fellowships are awarded yearly.

Each fellowship recipient will present their work during the First Voice International Black Artists Festival in Pittsburgh in May. The festival focuses on the work of the August Wilson Center Fellows.

The August Wilson Center Fellowship Program is made possible by the support of an anonymous donor with additional grants from the Pittsburgh Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Multicultural Arts Initiative.

(To get more information about the August Wilson Center Fellowship Program or to apply, visit the center’s web site at http://www.augustwilsoncenter.org or stop by the August Wilson Center, 980 Penn Avenue Downtown to pick up an application.)

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