Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Bill Strickland Jr., Manchester Bidwell Corporation and WMCAT

A few weeks ago I met Bill Strickland Jr. at NEOCON, World's Trade Fair in Chicago June 15-17th. It was at Steelcase's Green Giant's Monday Night Reception where he spoke about his inspirational work building Manchester Bidwell Craftsman's Guild and Corporation in Pittsburg over the last generation. He told the story of how he followed his passion in making pottery into an organic improv journey of creation of alternative educational programs in the inner city neighborhood of Manchester. He turned the impossible into the possible so to speak and lit up the minds and hearts of underprivileged young people and adult learners along the way. As years went by he built momentum and enthusiasm for his work by galvanizing the local private sector when public funding and support waned. He turned this into a powerful process of continual reinvention with his team of talented educators where they reached out to industry and provided needed various kinds of workforce training to fill demand in local corporations in exchange for program and operational support.

He won a Macarthur Genius grant, started the grammy award winning MCG Jazz Record label and created nurturing student centered learning environments and facilities. He also wrote a book which I recently read on my vacation to Michigan titled "Make the Impossible Possible" which is found on his non-profit website.

His message where we all have something really valuable to offer our world and to follow our dreams and our passions. By building bridges and seeking sincere relationships with others of shared viewpoints inspired me to visit a program in Grand Rapids modeled on the MBC and Bill's visionary work, the Western Michigan Center for Arts and Technology. It opened in 2005 and in 2007, I believe received it's USGBC Leed for Commercial Interiors Silver Certification signifying a strong committment to providing a quality, healthy learning environment for area high school age arts students and adult learners gaining skills in medical technologies.

I didn't have too much time for my visit but I took a look around the front lobby / reception area and ducked into various learning spaces as well as enjoyed the central commons area where there was a cafe like setting. The central downtown location was literally across the street from the City Library, other businesses, a YWCA and other services. There was a children's museum across the street. Visiting WMCAT really reinforced Bill's message of the importance of creating world class environments for learning. As I couldn't visit Pittsburg this was the second best I could do to experience the MBC philosophy in action, adapted to Grand Rapids. WMCAT is really important because it shows the adaptability of the MBC model here and for other areas of the country.

Harvard Business School has been Studying the work of MBC over the last 10 years or so updating and refining a series of case studies first examining the initial programs and ideas but now looking at the replication of the model to other communities around the country. I can think of the MBC model being useful for those in my community in Vermont as we ponder the future of education and workforce training of our children and adult learners some who are seeking alternative careers due to job cuts and other drastic effects of our economy. I bet the Green Workforce training initiatives being discussed in Washington and State Capitals around the country could learn from the public private cooperative initiatives MBC has championed over the years and create good well paying sustainable, useful jobs for the next generation. (Photo of Bill Strickland courtesy of Bill-Strickland.org, Building Photos by S. Frey)

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