Though the board of the August Wilson Center actually interviewed 50 people during its search for a new President and CEO, one had a distinct advantage—she had essentially been doing the job for more than two years.
So, on July 20, at a celebration replete with a brunch buffet and live jazz, they made it official and named Pittsburgh Cultural Trust VP of Strategic Partnerships and Community Engagement Janis Burley Wilson president and CEO.
“She has a passion for this center, for the arts and for this community. She has a demonstrated record of delivering great programming, she’s a proven fundraiser, and she has deep ties to artists and stakeholders,” said board Chair Michael Polite.
“She’s the one.”
Wilson, 52, developed several initiatives including the Gallery Crawl series and the Pittsburgh JazzLive International Festival during her 15 years with the Cultural Trust. And when it was tasked with developing and providing programming for AWC after the Pittsburgh Foundation, Heinz Endowments and Richard King Mellon Foundation purchased it out of receivership in 2014, she brought in the Soul Session concert series, the inaugural Black Bottom Film Festival, the Poetry Unplugged series, and Showcase Noir, an exhibition of local and international artists representing the African diaspora.
She was also responsible for hiring local artist Tarish Pipkins, also known as Jeghetto, to create a mural honoring the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright—which children from across the city helped paint. Now, August Wilson’s larger-than-life portrait adorns the lobby of the building bearing his name.
“It means so much to have all of my friends in the arts here for this,” Burley Wilson said. “We are here because stakeholders in this city felt August Wilson’s legacy was too vital not to preserve, too precious to relinquish, and too important to fall into the hands of callous commercialism. We are lucky to have this center, and because we will continue to work together, this center will thrive.”