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Welcome to Pittsburgh: Philadelphia’s Gina Range joins August Wilson African American Cultural Center

click to enlarge Welcome to Pittsburgh: Philadelphia’s Gina Range joins August Wilson African American Cultural Center
Photo: Tane Clunes
Gina Range
Black Pittsburghers have been protesting in the streets for months, demanding the city’s police and politicians do better for their communities. Yet in the middle of the largest civil rights battle of the 21st century, Gina Range chose to make the move across the state from Philadelphia, taking on a new role at the August Wilson African American Cultural Center and calling Pittsburgh her new home.

Did the fact that Pittsburgh was recently rated as one of the unsafest cities in the country for Black women factor into her decision?

“No, and I’ll tell you why,” Range shares with Pittsburgh City Paper. ”I feel that everyone has a choice to make when it comes to where they live, and where they feel safe, and I can appreciate that, so I don’t knock it at all, but when you come to Philadelphia, everybody talks about how terrible and unsafe Philadelphia is.”

Range, a native Philadelphian, is leading the AWAACC’s development team as the new Vice President of Institutional Advancement, bringing accolades from the center’s president and CEO Janis Burley Wilson who noted Range’s passion for “celebrating Black culture and the art of the African diaspora” in a press release about her appointment.

“Philadelphia was my town,” Range says. “What my biggest thing for Pittsburgh will be is that I need to be able to get out and learn this town.”

Learning the town thus far has proved difficult, however, considering Range also moved to Pittsburgh during a global pandemic, so everything that she had been looking forward to experiencing about the city has been closed since her arrival. Things like concerts, the symphony, the opera, the ballet.

“It is disappointing that I’m not getting to immerse myself in any arts here immediately because you know, it’s such a rich city when it comes to the arts and culture,” she says.

That includes experiencing live events inside the August Wilson African American Cultural Center as well. Range has a long history of appreciation for the arts, theater, and music, and has held positions with the African American Museum in Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Theatre Company, and the Philadelphia Orchestra. During her interview process earlier this year, when Range heard her new employer was the host of the International Jazz Festival, she thought, “Oh, I’m going to help them! I’m a music person, this is a no brainer!” Then, the pandemic hit.

But even though the stay-at-home order moved the 10th anniversary festivities online, Range says the event gave her “a flavor of the dedication and commitment” of fans of the center, with over 40,000 people viewing the festival online. It was such a success, she says, that they’re planning on continuing a virtual element at future festivals even after the pandemic is over.

And as a lifelong fan of August Wilson, which is one of the things she admits first drew her to the job opening, she says she’s especially looking forward to getting to work with the center on its first-ever permanent interactive exhibition dedicated to the legacy of the playwright, August Wilson: A Writer’s Landscape, scheduled to open in spring 2021.

For now, Range still hasn’t met many folks in town yet, besides her coworkers. She moved into her new Shadyside apartment site-unseen. But she’s feeling optimistic. She praises Burley Wilson’s vision, and says it was what excited her enough to make the move. “It took a lot for me to decide to leave Philadelphia. I love Philadelphia, but I figured, you know, I have done a lot of work there.”

Is there anything she’s hoping to bring to Pittsburgh?

“[The August Wilson Center] is arguably the largest Black serving cultural organization in the city of Pittsburgh,” she says. “A lot of African-American people consider it their place to be, and they should because that is what it was founded on, so I’d like to think that I will also help bring my development expertise to the city, my strategic planning expertise to the city, and also help uplift minority programming and arts and cultural organizations within the mix of arts and cultural landscape here.

“I want to be here, and I want to be a part of it.”

August Wilson African American Cultural Center. aacc-awc.org

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