Throughout the month of August, the August Wilson Center for African American Culture has launched several promotions to draw more patrons to its doors. While, outsiders have taken these efforts as a sign that the AWC has again fallen under hardship, the center seems to have righted its financial ship.
|ANDRE KIMO GUESS
“I’ve been doing this a long time and brand new institutions always have problems coming out of the gate,” said AWC President and CEO Andre Kimo Guess. “When you build a $40 million dollar building and when you have operations that are $3 million a year, you don’t have some unlimited fund to pull from. Then you couple that with the fact that everyone in the country is going through (a recession). We’re not in trouble. We had challenges when we walked in the door and we have way more opportunities than we have challenges.”
Despite reports to the contrary, Guess says the center has balanced its budget for the most recent fiscal year ending June 30. This is a vast improvement over last year when fundraising shortfalls and other funding factors put the AWC under financial strain.
“Last year, according to our audit we had a $1.5 million deficit. So if you take out our depreciation and interest, you had a $350,000 deficit. This year, if you take out all of that we will balance our budget,” Guess said. “When you want to look at the real health of the center, you have to take out the depreciation aspect. Our preliminary understanding of things before we go into our audit is that we will balance our books after depreciation and interest.”
In an effort to continue the center’s upward momentum, they recently hosted a membership drive at the Savoy Restaurant Aug.17. At the event, which drew several local and national celebrities, 25 people signed up as new AWC members.
“The reason the center exists in Pittsburgh is because of the rich cultural legacy we have, especially the African-American culture. The one thing I didn’t want to have happen is to have a perception that this place isn’t for the community,” Guess said. “The way you give it back to the community is to offer them the (the chance to) support you the way you support them. The membership drive was a way to give people a piece of the center, to give them stock in a sense.”
Last week the AWC also presented its cast for the local production of “August in August” which ran from Aug. 18-22. The presentation Aug. 16 also showcased the center’s transformation to an organization that will be responsible for producing its own events from concept to completion.
“I think that’s the difference between where we are now and where we were when I first walked in, we’re more locally focused. Over the years the model for arts organizations has been a patron model. I didn’t want to necessarily build our model on a patron model. We’re not going to bet the farm on that. We will be able to raise more money if we can say we have 10,000 members giving us $25. I’d rather have that than 100 people giving you $50, but I’ll take that too,” Guess said. “I want people to know this is genuine. I understand half of the Black community in Pittsburgh lives below the poverty level. Money will never be an object for the people coming to the center.”
Another one of the center’s most recent promotions is the 486 Club subscription. For $125, members will receive admittance to three one-night-only performances with featured performers brought in from outside Pittsburgh.
The number 486, represents the number of seats in the center’s auditorium and so far more than half of the subscriptions have been sold. Members of the 486 Club will also receive a basic annual membership to the AWC.
“Our tickets are very affordable. If you haven’t come to the center, come to the center. It doesn’t cost anything. Come to your center. If you feel an affinity for what we do, support it and not just support it by giving your money, invite others to come,” Guess said. “Every actor who comes from out of town says the same thing, ‘I have never seen anything like this before in my life’. That’s why I came here from New York.”