MCG Youth & Arts’ mission is to educate and inspire urban youth through the arts.
As a teenager growing up in Pittsburgh’s North Side, Bill Strickland was not much different from other kids in the neighborhood. That was true until, one morning in school, he passed the open door to the art room where teacher Frank Ross was working on the potter’s wheel. Awestruck by the sight of a skilled artisan raising and forming the walls of an urn, Strickland approached the teacher. Over the coming months, the relationship that Ross and Strickland initiated with a revolving mound of clay began to give form to the future vision of Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild.
Ross was not a typical teacher. He brought jazz records from his personal collection to play for students and shared stories about the great legacy of Pittsburgh’s jazz community. Through the music, he drew connections to the clay artist’s essential challenges: balance, harmony, intuition, improvisation, flow and structure. On visits to their home for dinner, Strickland experienced how the Ross family’s way of life was enriched by aesthetic sensibilities. Hand-woven tapestries adorned the walls. After dinner, coffee sipped from a handmade cup accompanied conversations and laughter. As he gained mastery over the potter’s art, Strickland also began to experience success in school. Teachers could see that Strickland’s newfound self-confidence began to transfer first to his self-image and then to his abilities as a student. With Ross’ assistance, Strickland gained admission to the University of Pittsburgh.
In 1968, Pittsburgh was a city racially divided and economically distressed. Strickland established Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild to help combat the economic and social devastation experienced by the residents of his predominantly African-American North Side neighborhood. Originally located in a residential row house on Buena Vista Street in Pittsburgh’s Mexican War Streets district, Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild initially offered an informal art program and exhibition space for inner-city minority children. Strickland and his father built a kiln in a garage and acquired a few potters’ wheels. Photography was soon added to address the interests of community members and because Strickland understood that artists needed good pictures to promote and help sell their work.
The program soon began to gain the notice of Pittsburgh’s civic leaders. Because of his successful track record with Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild, Strickland was asked to assume the leadership of Bidwell Training Center, a career training education program serving mostly displaced steel workers from the same community.
In 1986, after leading a $6.5 million capital campaign, Strickland opened a new 62,000 square foot arts and career training center. This facility offered vastly improved and expanded studios as well as classrooms, workshops, gallery spaces, and a 350-seat auditorium. The center currently provides training in fields as varied as gourmet food preparation, chemical, office, and medical technologies, and education arts programming in ceramics, design arts, digital arts, and photography.
On October 1, 1999, Manchester Bidwell Corporation was incorporated as the parent organization of Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild and Bidwell Training Center. One of the impacts of the implementation of a parent organization was the formalization of the continued partnership and concurrent planning between the two non-profit subsidiaries. In addition, the long-standing organizational philosophy of educational empowerment through creating positive physical and emotional environments was reaffirmed.
The contributions of Bill Strickland and Manchester Bidwell Corporation to the arts and the community have been well documented and honored with numerous prestigious awards. Strickland has served a six-year Presidential appointment as a Council Member of the National Endowment for the Arts and received the MacArthur Genius Award for leadership and ingenuity in the arts. In addition, Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild has received the Coming Up Taller Award.
In 2007, Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild was selected to serve as the host organization for the 2008 National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts (NCECA) conference. This led to the launcing of Cera[m!x] Pittsburgh, a regional celebration of the ceramic arts, organized by MCG Youth & Arts staff.