A group of Hill District churches have banded together to raise $25,000 for the August Wilson Cultural Arts Center. Joined by the center’s interim CEO Marva Harris, pastors from the 5-N-1 Churches, as they call themselves, announced the financial commitment during an April 5 press conference at Ebenezer Baptist Church.

FINANCE—As Rev. Glenn Grayson of Wesley Center AMEZ and Rev. J. Van Alfred Winsett of Ebenezer Baptist look on, August Wilson Center Interim CEO Marva Harris explains how their $25,000 pledge, made with three other churches will help offset construction cost overruns at the center.

“We’re hopeful this will spur other churches and religious organizations to come forward with similar initiatives,” said Ebenezer’s Rev. J. Van Alfred Winsett. “We’re hoping this will unlock the doors.”

Harris, a former PNC vice president who came out of retirement to serve as the center’s CEO, said she’s been on a steep nine-month learning curve overseeing the center’s construction. The initial budget was $35 million. Overruns have raised the final construction costs to $42.4 million.

“Our first capital campaign has been very successful. We won a $2 million challenge grant from the Heinz Endowments, and raised $1.3 million of the challenge,” she said. “This gift will go toward the remaining $700,000.”

Harris said that with a line of credit and a grant from the state that pays back 30 percent of invoiced construction expenses, the center is under no immediate pressure from its lenders. Harris said, considering the economy, the center is also fairly well situated in terms of operating expenses.

“We are getting (Regional Asset Development) money, we’ve had several sellouts—the Pittsburgh Jazz Orchestra twice and the ‘Tribute to Phyllis Hyman,’” she said. “And we also have another anonymous $250,000 challenge grant on the operating side. The arts always require support beyond event sales. It’s a challenge. We opened at a time when there aren’t a lot of discretionary funds, people are losing jobs.”

Though open, Harris said contractors are still going through the “punch list” of finishing touches. She also said the city has approved the signage and it will be going up in the next few weeks.

Reverend Tom Smith, pastor of Monumental Baptist Church, said the churches decided on the funding idea following the outpouring of spirit shown by their congregations during Holy Week celebrations at Ebenezer.

“The August Wilson Center has been critical as an arts component for the Black community. And coming from the Black community, we feel obligated to support it,” he said. “We have a reservoir of talent here that needs a venue like this that celebrates art done by people who look like them.”

Reverends Smith and Winsett, joined by Rev. Nathan Colvin of Bethel AME Church, Rev. Melvin Jackson of Calvary Baptist Church, and Rev. Glenn Grayson of Wesley Center AMEZ Church, said their churches will host a concert at the Wilson Center in November featuring their combined choirs. All the proceeds will go to the center.

“It is our hope that this will inspire the entire Pittsburgh community to get involved and help to bring to completion the good work that has been started to establish this center in the cultural district of Pittsburgh,” said Rev. Smith.

(Send comments to cmorrow@newpittsburghcourier.com.)

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