More Than Money
Issue #37

Money and Community

Table of Contents

“Potential Unleashed - Secrets of a Social Entrepreneur”

An Interview with Bill Strickland

Interviewed by Mara Peluso

Bill Strickland is the president and CEO of Manchester Craftsmen's Guild and Bidwell Training Center, Inc. in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Throughout his career, Strickland has been honored with numerous awards for his contributions to the arts and the community, including the Coming Up Taller Award and a MacArthur Fellowship for leadership and ingenuity in the arts. He has also served as chair of the Expansion Arts Panel of the National Endowment for the Arts. Widely known as a leading social entrepreneur, Strickland lectures throughout the world on social enterprise, the arts and arts education, and community development.

The Manchester Craftsmen's Guild (MCG), begun by social entrepreneur Bill Strickland, uses art as an educational strategy to work with inner city students who may not be doing well in a public school environment. Over the past 16 years, more than 80% of MCG's students have gone on to college. MCG's jazz music program, MCG Jazz, presents and promotes concerts by great jazz artists in its own auditorium. Having made more than 600 recordings, MCG Jazz hopes to build a record label that will generate revenue for the organization.

MCG is housed with its sister organization, Bidwell Training Center (a neighborhood vocational training center for adults), in a carefully designed facility that emphasizes natural light, creativity, and craftsmanship.

Two cities, San Francisco and Cincinnati, have replicated MCG's program, with five additional cities currently interested.

MTM: What does community mean to you?

STRICKLAND: Community, in the sense that I am using it, includes everyone who is in the vicinity of where we practice our craft. For me, and for the programs I direct, that means that western Pennsylvania is our community-not just the North Side of Pittsburgh, which happens to be the neighborhood where we are located. Our aim is to appeal to everybody who lives here-poor people, rich people, black people, white people-whatever. That is how we define who and what we are, and I think that is one of the keys to our success-that we are inclusive, not exclusive.

MTM: How would you describe the neighborhood that you work in?

STRICKLAND: We are located in a very tough inner city neighborhood. Only 1,500 feet from our building is a poor neighborhood. There is a lot of crime and street violence here. The largest drug bust in Pennsylvania took place a mile and a half from our building, so it is a pretty rough place. We provide an oasis of sanity where life is allowed to thrive and prevail.

MTM: How do you provide that "oasis of sanity"?

STRICKLAND: When kids and adults come here, they see a very pleasant and powerful environment that is well organized and very creative. There are flowers everywhere, including orchids from our greenhouse. There is artwork on the walls, and there is usually an exhibit going on. There is also great food-our culinary department loves to do their thing. To me, the aesthetics are fundamental to the conversation-particularly because we have people coming from distressed environments where things are not pleasant to look at, they are not well run, and often, the equipment has malfunctioned. If we want to work with people and improve their lives, we have to look like the solution and not like the problem.

We provide a nurturing and sustaining environment; we believe that is one of the main reasons that we've never had a fight in 22 years of operation-nor any theft, any racial incident, or any drugs on the property. We think the reason we haven't had those problems is because the aesthetics of the environment let people know in a thousand different ways that they have value. We have taken that concept of respecting people by creating an aesthetically rich environment and have replicated it in Cincinnati and San Francisco, and we are having similar experiences in both locations.

MTM: You are often referred to as a social entrepreneur. Can you describe what that means to your work?

STRICKLAND: I believe that social enterprise is really a way of thinking about solving problems; it is about solving social problems in an entrepreneurial and innovative way. It's less about getting rich and more about being innovative and developing a diversified revenue platform. It's not depending on philanthropy or individuals or the government to run the place.

At the MCG, we are known for being innovative in education-for the way we are working with kids. We record jazz concerts in a pristine environment before live audiences. We are known for the way we think about our vocational school, which has elements of a career fair rather than being just a traditional vocational school.

We are innovative in terms of our physical environment. We are now managing 150,000 square feet of business space. We have a training facility and a four-story office building. We have people who are not from the neighborhood who have moved their offices here and are increasing the economic value of the community. We also have a 40,000- foot greenhouse and we're beginning to sell orchids from it.

Our funding sources are diverse and include the state of Pennsylvania and its Department of Education. We have support from many foundations in Pittsburgh, including Heinz, Alcoa, R.K. Mellon, Hillman, and Benedum. A lot of the established Pittsburgh names have been very supportive of this place.

MTM: Would you talk about how money influences community?

STRICKLAND: Money can influence community both positively and negatively. The best examples of communities in which money has been an asset are when leaders have viewed money as a resource and not as an end in itself. I believe that viewing money as anything other than a resource to enhance community unduly concentrates on the wrong side of the equation. The community must be first and last in any discussion about money.

MTM: What do people who want to use money to benefit their community need to know-about money and about community?

STRICKLAND: They need to know how to use, in an intelligent and supportive way, the resource called money. For that, they need experience and the perspective of others who already have experience in this area. A deep working knowledge of community is helpful if you want to efficiently benefit as many as possible.

Go Where The Light Is
One Wednesday afternoon in September 1963, Bill Strickland, then a 16- year-old black kid, was bored by school and hemmed in by life in a decaying Pittsburgh neighborhood. He wanted a way out, but he didn't have a clue about how to find it-until that Wednesday afternoon, when he went wandering through the hallways of his high school. It's a moment etched so clearly in his memory that, 35 years later, he can still recall the quality of the sunlight streaming in through the school windows.

Looking through an open classroom door, Strickland saw something he'd never seen before: a rotating mound of clay being shaped into a vessel by a man absorbed in his work. "If ever in life there is a clairvoyant experience, I had one that day," says Strickland. "I saw a radiant and hopeful image of how the world ought to be. It opened up a portal for me that suggested that there might be a whole range of possibilities and experiences that I had not explored. It was night and day-literally. I saw a line and I thought: This is dark, and this is light. And I need to go where the light is."

So Strickland walked into the sunlit classroom, introduced himself to ceramics teacher Frank Ross, the man at the potter's wheel, and said, "I'd like to learn whatever that is." With Ross as his mentor for nearly 20 years, Strickland not only found the way out-one that led to college-he also found the way in: the path that lets one person make a difference.

Strickland has mastered the art of social entrepreneurship, applying his potter's hands to reshape the business of social change. As a result, the people who now work with him and come to his programs at the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild and at the Bidwell Training Center Inc.-his Pittsburghbased organizations for urban change -will tell you that the day Bill Strickland walked into that ceramics classroom was the day that he began reinventing this country's approach to social entrepreneurship.

- Excerpted and adapted from Fast Company , "With his potter's hands, Bill Strickland is reshaping the business of social change. His Pittsburgh-based program offers a national model for education, training-and hope," by Sara Terry, Issue 17, September 1998, p. 170. Full text is available at www.fastcompany.com/magazine/17/genius.html .


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