Daisy Wilson Artist Community, Inc.:
Promoting August Wilson’s Work in His Hometown
More than 10 years ago, Paul Ellis, August Wilson’s nephew, purchased his uncle’s boyhood home on Bedford Avenue in Pittsburgh’s Hill District to prevent further deterioration of the structure in which the playwright, his mother, and six siblings had lived. While he was still alive, Mr. Wilson had made clear that he did not want his childhood home to become a “museum,” so Mr. Ellis and an architectural team formed the Daisy Wilson Artist Community to explore the possibility of using the 6,500-square-foot space to promote August Wilson’s literary and social impact.
With minimal resources, Mr. Ellis completed a master plan, obtained historic designation for the space, and partnered with Trade Institute of Pittsburgh, a Foundation grantee, to repair the building’s exterior masonry. In collaboration with Duquesne University, another Foundation grantee, he created a writers fellowship whose inaugural fellow, Natasha Trethewey, was the U.S. Poet Laureate from 2012 to 2016 and is a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet. The site also hosts an annual community event with more than 5,000 attendees; and presents August Wilson Backyard Theater—36 performances to date, with an average audience of 140 attendees. Mr. Ellis’ most significant accomplishment, however, came in 2018, when actor Denzel Washington, who had starred in an adaptation of August Wilson’s play “Fences,” committed $4 million, including donations from Oprah Winfrey, Laurence Fishburne, and Tyler Perry, among others, to redevelop the playwright’s home and the adjacent green space.
A grant of $1 million from the Foundation will support completion of the project design and construction. Specifically, the project will restore two rooms to their original state and connect the space to the outdoor theater; convert four rooms into creative meeting spaces for writers, playwrights, and fellows; construct an addition to the side of the building to include stairs, an elevator, and access to the roof; and create a rooftop terrace to provide space for outdoor learning, meetings, and receptions. The renovation also will include installation of a closed loop geothermal HVAC system, storm water retention, and indoor air quality ventilation. Highlights of the green space redevelopment include adding a 200-seat outdoor theater, a garden area, and an interpretive walkway. Over time, the organization plans to rehab two adjacent homes to serve as residences for fellows and their families.