August Wilson Center announces Black History Month programming

PITTSBURGH — The August Wilson African American Cultural Center will be hosting a month-long series of events in celebration of Black History Month, which will include a retrospective on Pittsburgh’s role in the cultural lexicon and a celebration of the city’s historic arts scene.

Pittsburgh’s Black Art Scene: Past, Present & Future will highlight art forms and artists that have contributed to the city’s historic Black arts scene, according to a news release. Through three special events, historians, artists and scholars will examine three distinct phases of Pittsburgh’s cultural evolution, including a special tribute to the remarkable history of the National Negro Opera House, an interview with Mark Clayton Southers, the founder and producing artistic director of the Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company, and a special performance by the funk-jazz collective, Funky Fly Project, the release states.

Starting Feb. 4, the Center will present a special installment of their virtual music series AW Studio Sessions, featuring jazz and soul legends Gerald Veasley and Carol Riddick in “I Got Life: The Music of Nina Simone.” The presentation, studio-recorded this past fall, moves through four aspects of Ms. Simone’s songbook: quest, passion, fury and hope, the release states.

Also continuing will be the popular Lit Fridays program with a special edition featuring photographer Ming Smith, who created a photography series in the Hill District of Pittsburgh in honor of August Wilson in the 1990s.

The Black Bottom Film Festival, which illuminates African American cinema and African American filmmaking pioneers of recent decades, will expand in February with an offering to engage film audiences year round. The program will present the first screening in its virtual film series, Melissa Haizlip’s “Mr. Soul!” BBFF Film Curator Joe Lewis and Literary Curator Jessica Lanay will be in conversation with Melissa Haizlib and Executive Producer Blair Underwood ahead of the screening.

In the months ahead, the series will continue to feature films that focus on the themes of spirituality, race, family conflict, honor, duty and working-class struggle, themes ever-present in August Wilson’s Pittsburgh Cycle plays. The Center will also offer a free informational session about the next iteration of its Youth Writers Camp, a monthly program designed for middle and high school students to explore and develop their own unique writing voices through interactive readings, thought-provoking writing exercises and constructive discussions.

“Pittsburgh is the birthplace of some of the country’s most acclaimed talent, and it continues to be home to a vibrant local arts scene and an incubator of exciting new voices. The August Wilson African American Cultural Center is proud to celebrate the city’s legacy in creation of Black art, and I’m thrilled to partner with an array of artists and scholars over the month of February to share our city’s talents with people all over the world,” Janis Burley Wilson, president and CEO of the August Wilson African American Cultural Center, said. “From our Black History Month programming to the creation of the forthcoming exhibition August Wilson: A Writer’s Landscape, and our continued work championing dynamic artists of all disciplines, the Center is dedicated to honoring the trailblazers of Pittsburgh’s arts scene while serving as a steward of its present and future creators.”

Black History Month program details:

AW Studio Sessions: Gerald Veasely and Carol Riddick

Feb. 4 at 8 p.m. EST

“I Got Life: The Music of Nina Simone” pairs two legends of jazz and soul music to celebrate an iconic artist. Riddick and Veasley share a deep appreciation for Ms. Simone, who wrote renowned civil rights song “Mississippi Goddam” and who marched at Selma. Her music and desire for social justice still resonate today. The “I Got Life” quartet consists of Carol Riddick (vocals), Gerald Veasely (bass), Aaron Graves (keyboards) and Tim Hutson (drums). Tickets for all AW Studio Sessions are $12. For more information and to purchase tickets, please visit https://aacc-awc.org/events/.


BHM: Past with Jonnet Solomon

Feb. 12 at 6 p.m. EST

BHM: Past will premiere on AWAACC’s Facebook page and YouTube channel, featuring a 15-minute video showcasing the remarkable history of the National Negro Opera House in a conversation with Jonnet Solomon.


Black Bottom Film Festival

Feb. 15 at 7 p.m. EST

AWAACC’s Black Bottom Film Festival (BBFF) will present the first screening in its virtual film series, Melissa Haizlip’s “Mr. Soul!” BBFF Curator Joe Lewis and Literary Curator Jessica Lanay will be in conversation with Melissa Haizlip and Executive Producer Blair Underwood ahead of the screening. The other films to be shown in the series are “Coded Bias” (March 15) and “Philly D.A.” (April 19). This series is presented in partnership with PBS’s Independent Lens, which is dedicated to giving voice to the voiceless and celebrating diversity.


Youth Writers Camp Informational Session

Feb. 18 at 6 p.m. EST

AWAACC’s Youth Writers Camp dives into August Wilson’s four major artistic influences and helps participants discover their own unique writing voices. Open to middle schoolers and high schoolers, the Youth Writers Camp began in 2018 for young people interested in poetry, plays, short stories and more. To learn more about this opportunity, please join this hour-long informational session.


BHM: Present with Mark Clayton Southers

Feb. 19 at 6 p.m. EST

BHM: Present will premiere on AWAACC’s Facebook page and YouTube channel, featuring a 15-minute interview with award-winning playwright and director Mark Clayton Southers. Southers resides in Pittsburgh and is an active member of the Pittsburgh arts community. He is the founder and producing artistic director of the Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company.


BHM: Future with Funky Fly Project and Lit Fridays with Ming Smith

Feb. 26 at 6 p.m. EST

This special edition of the Center’s literary-focused virtual salon will feature photographer Ming Smith, who created a series in the Hill District of Pittsburgh to honor August Wilson in the 1990s. Moderated by AWAACC Literary Curator Jessica Lanay, the conversation will center on her August Wilson series, her connection to Pittsburgh and the future of Black creation. Lit Fridays happen live on Facebook Live and on Zoom. Immediately following Lit Friday, BHM: Future will premiere on AWAACC’s Facebook page and YouTube channel, featuring a performance by the young virtuosos of the funk-jazz collective, Funky Fly Project.