At the first town hall meeting at the August Wilson Center for African-American Culture, visitors and staff seemed to want the same thing. The public asked President Andre Kimo Stone Guess how he was getting the community involved in the center and Guess expressed a desire to get more involvement from the community.
“We’re going to go into the community. I’m going to learn about the community,” Guess said. “I hope this is the first step to that. We need to take this setting into the community.”
|PANEL HOSTS—Andre Kimo Stone Guess, right, and Aaron Walton answer questions from the audience.
In the past months since its opening, the center has been struggling with how to balance a welcoming open-door atmosphere while still remaining financially viable. Both the public and Guess, along with Aaron Walton, chairperson of the board of directors, agreed the solution would be give and take. The center should offer more engaging activities and in return, the public would visit and serve as the center’s ambassadors to other residents in the city.
“We have to let people know what’s going on at the center. If we can’t share the story no one will,” Walton said. “We can respond to expectations but we can’t respond if we don’t know what you need.”
Some in the audience Aug. 16 indicated there were issues with the center’s marketing, especially in terms of their outreach efforts to the community. In order to ensure community input Guess said he would create four advisory boards made up of artists, clergy, community members and politicians.
“Earlier this year, I came down with the Newcomers of Fox Chapel and they did just love the place, but I don’t know if there was any outreach afterwards,” said Jackie Dixon, director of government relations for Giant Eagle. “Do you have any kind of marketing plan to bring in people who are able to contribute?”
|EXTEND YOUR REACH—A.J. “Khalid”?Thomas of Penn Hills offers feedback to the panel.
Several in the audience and those participating in the meeting through the online social networking site Twitter, called for more gospel and jazz concerts as well as programs to address societal issues such as youth violence and the breakdown of many African-American families.
“That’s the problematic area right now with the youth. The youth are the future and I was wondering what you were doing to bring this culture to them,” said Calvin Dixon of McKeesport. “Black folks are finally starting to bring it together to build something here. We need to get something in to bring in families to teach them the structure of a family.”
Several local artists expressed a need for studio space and performance space. Although Guess explained everyone could not be helped, he said the center is working to offer one space per month at little to no cost to local artists through the help of corporate sponsors.
“We have limited resources in a finite space. We wouldn’t be able to meet the needs of everyone,” Guess said. “We don’t want somebody to come into the place and go broke being here. We don’t want to take your money and have you not be successful.”
Guess encouraged everyone in the audience to buy a membership to the center. An individual $40 membership includes free admission to the exhibition galleries; advance ticket sales—prior to public availability; discounts on ticketed performances; invitations to members-only events; and exclusive events with artists.
In the future, the center hopes to hold several other town hall meetings at locations in other areas of Pittsburgh.