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Arts & Technology Center
County Manager Harry Jones leads the way to study whether a successful Pennsylvania youth education and job training center can be established here.

September 11, 2008                           


Charlotte, NC – Bill Strickland, founder and CEO of successful Pittsburgh, PA-based youth education and adult job training programs, launched a study today to see if his model can be duplicated here.  

Strickland was invited to Charlotte-Mecklenburg by County Manager Harry Jones and Arts and Science Council (ASC) President Lee Keesler to kick-off a feasibility study on the possibility of establishing a locally operated arts and technology center. Such a center would be modeled on the education and training programs Strickland runs through his non-profit Manchester Bidwell Corporation (MBC). The $150,000 study is funded by donations from area businesses, foundations, non-profit organizations, local government and private individuals. Over the next 12 to 18 months, Mecklenburg County, ASC and other community partners will work with the National Center for Arts & Technology (NCAT) -- a non-profit subsidiary of MBC -- to conduct the study. 

"I want our community to be the best in the world," Jones said. "To do this, we need to address the high school dropout rate, which has become a crisis here as well as nationally. What has worked in Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and elsewhere can work here in Mecklenburg County." 

Since 1972, the MBC has served thousands of adults and youth in the Pittsburgh region by providing instruction, guidance and mentorship in career and arts education through the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild (MCG) and Bidwell Training Center (BTC), subsidiaries of MBC. MCG provides school-day and after-school arts education to motivate youth to remain in school through graduation and encourage them to continue their education. An average of 96% of seniors enrolled in MCG after-school programs graduated from high school, and 89% of those moved on to higher education. BTC provides literacy and remedial education, and partners with leading corporations to guide the design of high-caliber, market-relevant career training programs that lead to full-time employment. In 2006, BTC had a job placement rate of 85% with a 75% retention rate.   

In 2003, Strickland began replicating the MBC model in other communities. So far, three cities – Cincinnati, San Francisco, and Grand Rapids, MI -- have established centers as affiliates of the NCAT. Centers in Cleveland, New Orleans and Philadelphia are being planned now. Charlotte-Mecklenburg joins Columbus, Minneapolis and New Haven, CT, in conducting feasibility studies.  

A key element of the MBC model is recognizing how art and architecture influence behavior. "If you build a world-class environment, you get world-class people," Strickland said. "If you build prisons, you get prisoners. People are born into this world as assets, not liabilities." 

As part of announcing the study, Strickland pointed out that communities that use the MBC model to establish arts and technology centers are not franchises, and are not intended to compete or duplicate existing local services. Instead, the study will determine the need for and capacity to create and sustain youth education and adult job training programs for those people who are being left behind today.  

"We have to find out who's doing what so we don't tread on anyone's turf," Strickland said. "But the rising tide will lift all boats. It's a strategy of community where everybody wins." 

The feasibility study will take between 12 to 18 months, at which point community leaders will decide whether to move forward and if so, how. The study is being funded by donations from: The Knight Foundation; Advantage Carolina; Foundation for the Carolinas; Carolinas HealthCare System, Goodrich Corporation, Duke Energy, Wachovia, Arts & Science Council; Womble, Carlyle, Sandridge & Rice; Robinson, Bradshaw & Hinson, Castle & Cooke; Keith Corporation; and Mecklenburg County.

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