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Pittsburgh's August Wilson Center names new top executive

| Thursday, July 20, 2017, 12:30 p.m.
Janis Burley Wilson
Janis Burley Wilson

The August Wilson Center's new top executive faces an ambitious list of top priorities, including deepening the funding pool for the once struggling center.

Janis Burley Wilson, 52, of Monroeville was named head of the center Thursday, though her familiarity with the center stretches back more than two years when the it was taken over by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, where Burley Wilson spent 15 years as an executive.

Michael Polite, chairman of the center's board of directors, noted that Burley Wilson has already been working to bring a variety of programs to the center, including the Black Bottom Film Festival and an exhibition of costumes from the movie “Fences.”

“Janis brings a deep knowledge of the Pittsburgh arts and cultural scene, and strong relationships with our community stakeholders and grantmakers,” he said.

Burley Wilson said she plans to stick to the vision of the center's founders and continue to bring in powerful speakers and musicians, but first she plans to assemble a capable team.

Her priorities: Developing better communications through a center website and branding, educational programs and fundraising.

“Currently the funding is coming from a few foundations, and they've been extremely generous, but I see the August Wilson Center as an international entity,” she said. “This is an organization that could seek out funding from national foundations and international foundations.”

The African-American cultural center was facing bankruptcy and foreclosure in 2014 when civic, government and community leaders came together to reach a settlement to buy the building and temporarily turn operations over to the Cultural Trust.

The CEO search began in February. Polite said 50 applicants from across the Northeast were considered.

He declined to reveal Burley Wilson's salary, but said her contract is for three years and amounts to “six figures” per year. She starts at the center Sept. 1.

“Janis was the right person,” Polite said. “She brings competency and passion to get the work done, all of the things we'll need in our new leader.”

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