Bill Strickland was born in 1947 and grew up in Manchester, an inner-city neighborhood of Pittsburgh. His life changed when he became inspired by high school art teacher Frank Ross, a skilled artisan on the potter’s wheel. The relationship that Ross and Strickland initiated with a revolving mound of clay gave form to the future vision of Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild, which began as an after-school arts program in a donated rowhouse that Strickland secured while still a student at the University of Pittsburgh. In 1969, he graduated cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in American history and foreign relations.
The decline of the steel industry created widespread unemployment, and Bidwell Training Center addressed the problem by offering vocational training to displaced and underemployed workers. Due to Strickland’s successful track record with MCG, he was asked in 1971 to assume leadership of BTC and guide its transition to providing skills relevant to Pittsburgh’s emerging market economy. Strickland’s involvement in both MCG and BTC doubled the strength of Manchester Bidwell Corporation’s ability to help the community. He envisioned a template for social change, and began to form relationships with businesses, government officials, and individuals who shared his vision.
Today, Manchester Bidwell Corporation has evolved into a national model for education, culture and hope. MCG Youth & Arts and MCG Jazz are both programs of Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild: MCG Youth serves approximately 3,900 youth each year through classes and workshops in ceramics, photography, digital imaging and design art. MCG Arts gives students a chance to work intensively with visiting artists of national and international stature through exhibitions, lectures, workshops, residencies and school visits. MCG Jazz is dedicated to preserving, promoting and presenting jazz music by bringing audiences together with jazz artists at its 350-seat music hall in Pittsburgh for innovative four-day performances and recordings. After 20 years of operation, MCG Jazz has become an anchor of Pittsburgh’s cultural and community life.
Bidwell Training Center provides market-driven career education created through strong partnerships with leading local industries. The center offers accredited Associates Degree and diploma programs in fields as varied as culinary arts, chemical laboratory technologies, health careers, horticulture and office technology.
Manchester Bidwell Corporation is a business model that works. The model works so well that Bill Strickland is replicating the Manchester Bidwell enterprise throughout the country and overseas. He has said, “If this country has a future, it’s because of the ability to form visions and partnerships. I believe that we can change the United States of America in my lifetime. We’ve got to change the way this country sees itself.”
Bill Strickland and his family reside on the North Side of Pittsburgh.
“Entrepreneurs are, by definition, visionaries. The use of art to change students’ attitudes is at the heart of my vision of education. I see a connection between the creativity instilled by a love of the arts, and the skills needed for business success. Artists are by nature entrepreneurs. They can visualize something that doesn’t exist, to look at a canvas and see a painting. Entrepreneurs and artists are interchangeable.”
“You go to a community’s business leaders and speak their language. You don’t go in asking for a sponsorship. You explain, ‘This is what I can do for you.’ You offer a partnership. It’s the same thing with public schools. You don’t go in saying what you need from them. You ask, ‘How can I help?’ With that kind of attitude you can build a center in a year, instead of 10 years. And with 100 centers like Pittsburgh, you can change the planet.”
Power of the Arts to Inspire:
“I remember seeing Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater for the first time through the growth of rhododendrons and just being amazed. Here I was, a 16-year-old kid from inner-city Pittsburgh, looking at this house with a creek running through the middle of it. I mean, where I come from, people worry about keeping water outside the house, not inside it! It was a very interesting way of looking at water and a very unusual way of looking at light. I thought, ‘If I could ever bring that light into my neighborhood — bring it to people who deserved it and would respond to it as wholeheartedly and creatively as anybody — then I was home free.’”
“I’m talking about respect, about common sense and decency, about the dictate that our best hopes must always be acted upon, that all people everywhere possess an innate hunger for, and right to, what is sustaining, good, and beautiful.”