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Using arts education and mentorship to increase high school graduation rates.

Manchester Craftsmen's Guild

location_on Pittsburgh, United States
Founded in 1968 on the belief that environment shapes behavior, Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild (MCG) has grown from a community-based ceramics program into a cornerstone of Manchester Bidwell Corporation’s internationally recognized education model. Across four artmaking disciplines, MCG updates the traditional master-apprentice model to help historically underserved youth graduate on time.
Bill Strickland, Founder
People are born into this world as assets, not liabilities. It’s all in the way we treat people (and ourselves) that determines a person’s outcome.

Bill Strickland, Founder


HundrED has selected this innovation to

Pittsburgh, USA

Key figures

Innovation Overview

11 - 18
Age Group
25 000
1 792
Updated on September 17th, 2021
about the innovation

How can an after-school program help increase high school graduation rates?

Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild is dedicated to educating and inspiring urban youth through the arts. Founded in 1968 after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., this acclaimed arts education program has a storybook-like history. Started by Bill Strickland, an underserved teenager in one of Pittsburgh's poorest neighborhoods, MCG is now housed in a world-class facility on Pittsburgh's North Shore, where students are surrounded by art, architecture, music, food, flowers, and natural light.

Bill Strickland was a struggling and disaffected high school student by his own admission. One fateful day 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, 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, Bill Strickland’s vision for a school.

Video: The Hope Business

“We have to build places of hope rather than places of despair. The public school system here is built to contain kids, not educate them. If you build prisons, you create prisoners.” - Bill Strickland

Today, MCG’s flagship program is afterschool art classes, provided at no cost to Pittsburgh Public School students. Additionally, MCG serves a variety of students through daytime programming. This includes some of the most disadvantaged youth in Allegheny County through a partnership with the Department of Human Services, as well as a variety of partnerships with private and charter schools.

Link: MCG's Website

Students learn from and create alongside MCG's teaching artists, who are all practicing, professional artists. In addition to being full time employees (with full benefits) MCG's teaching artists are celebrated annually with a staff exhibition and reception, which now includes the work of local public-school art teachers. Several teaching artists are former MCG students, which further illustrates the value of this program.

The primary goal of engaging students through the arts is to build confidence and facilitate the mentoring process, however students also gain practical skills and a more complete understanding of science and technology. Since MCG’s inception, students in the ceramics studio have been learning chemistry, and photography students have been applying math. Recently digital arts students have been learning materials science, especially related to 3-D printing, CNC routing, and laser engraving.

MCG engages families and the community in several ways. Families and community members may attend three open-house "family nights" annually in addition to several free public art events, a component of our artist-in-residence program. World-class, professional artists mentor MCG students and exhibit their work in the building’s gallery. Art classes for adults (with discounts and Act 48 credit hours for educators) are also made available. In addition to these events, MCG has presented its ninth year of the MCG Invitational Arts Exhibition, through which MCG facilitated the giving of around $300,000 in scholarships, cash prizes, and workshop opportunities to talented high school artists in the Western PA region.

MCG’s replication efforts have established ten sites in North America, and one very special site in Acre, Israel, where Jewish and Arab students learn side by side, the same way black and white students do in Pittsburgh. More than 27 U.S. locations and five international locations have expressed interest in adapting this model to their cities. These efforts would not be possible without strong partnerships with local, state, federal, and even international governments. Founder, Bill Strickland, sat on President Obama's Council for Community Solutions and recently joined Pittsburgh's mayor on a trip to India to once again meet with the Dalai Lama.

MCG’s teaching artists serve as the primary mentors; however students are also provided with access to a robust student services department, which includes a dedicated college and career planning specialist. Our annual survey of seniors shows that 94% of interviewed students who attended MCG graduated on time, and 94% planned on enrolling in post-secondary education.

In 2019, MCG was honored to be included in HundrED’s Pittsburgh Spotlight for its innovative approach to providing youth apprenticeship training in a beautiful environment. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic MCG has broadened its scope of services and resources to address social-emotional learning through a series of wellness-focused workshops, food insecurity by providing fresh produce to families through a partnership with 412 Food Rescue, and loss of learning by developing a course development tool in partnership with Tufts University’s “Code for Good” program that will allow teaching artists to align course content to PA Academic Standards. In addition, MCG has adapted its beautiful culture and environment for a virtual setting in order to ensure high quality arts programming and mentorship, whether delivered in-person or remotely in the future.


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See this innovation in action

MCG Taught Me The Importance of Hope
Since Kindergarten, David Underwood had been in and out of the foster care system. While his experience was generally positive, David’s life in foster care was rarely stable. In 2005, when David was a sophomore at Pittsburgh Oliver High School, a friend told him about Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild youth arts education program. Desiring a place where he could express himself, David decided to attend MCG Youth & Arts. After taking classes in all four art studios, David found his true calling. “Photography gave me a meaningful focus in the midst of the chaos around me,” David recalls.  It wasn’t long before David’s focus on photography led him to consider furthering his education after high school. “I started to realize through photography that if you work for something, you have the ability to create something beautiful. MCG taught me that pretty quickly,” says David.With encouragement from the teaching artists at MCG Youth & Arts and confidence built through field trips to various local colleges, David applied to the art education program at Edinboro University. “I hadn’t even thought of going to college until MCG,” recalls David. During his first year at college, David shifted his major. In 2012, he obtained his B.A. in Social Work with a minor in Sociology. After graduating, David took a position as a case worker for families involved in the foster care system. David says that “MCG taught me the importance of hope and, having been in the foster care system, now I want to give hope to those who need it most.”
Rebuilding a Neighborhood With Beauty, Dignity, Hope
Bill Strickland's 2002 TED Talk still resounds to this day: click here to watch it.Why you should listen... Bill Strickland's journey from at-risk youth to 1996 MacArthur "Genius" grant recipient would be remarkable in itself, if it were not overshadowed by the staggering breadth of his vision. While moonlighting as an airline pilot, Strickland founded Manchester Bidwell, a world-class institute in his native Pittsburgh devoted to vocational instruction in partnership with big business -- and, almost incidentally, home to a Grammy-winning record label and a world-class jazz performance series. Yet its emphasis on the arts is no accident, as it embodies Strickland's conviction that an atmosphere of high culture and respect will energize even the most troubled students.With job placement rates that rival most universities, Manchester Bidwell's success has attracted the attention of everyone from George Bush, Sr. (who appointed Strickland to a six-year term on the board of the NEA) to Fred Rogers (who invited Strickland to demonstrate pot throwing on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood). In 2010, President Obama appointed Strickland to the White House Council for Community Solutions, which oversees volunteering and community service on a local and national level. And though cumbersome slide trays have been replaced by PowerPoint, the inspirational power of his speeches and slide shows are the stuff of lecture circuit legend. What others say...“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.” — Fast Company
Stop, Collaborate, and Listen
With the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts (NCECA) annual conference returning to Pittsburgh, quite a few people will visit Bill Strickland’s little miracle in Manchester. Astute observers may guess that Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild (MCG) is housed in a building designed by the same guy who designed the airport — Tasso Katselas. Whose teacher was Frank Lloyd Wright. And right they would be. Why is this significant? Because the building was built for poor people. Those are Bill’s words, not mine. Everyone’s welcome at Manchester Craftsmen's Guild, though, regardless of race, national origin, religion, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. One of Bill's guiding philosophies is that environment shapes behavior. He believes that if you put people in a world-class facility, and expose them to world-class food, art, and architecture, their sense of self and aspirations soar. This includes everyone, from the kids at MCG to the adults preparing for careers in the adjoining Bidwell Training Center, to the musicians who perform in the Grammy Award–winning MCG Jazz concert hall. Bill’s heart is in the MCG ceramics studio, where he reconnects with his origins as a potter and recharges his will to do the hard work of visionary leadership. It’s got a wall full of windows to let natural light in, and shelf after shelf of world-class pottery from around the world, including a stunning Akio Takamori piece right in the middle. In this studio, inner-city kids are glazing their first forays into pottery with copper reds, and having those works reduction-fired in a downdraft, gas, car kiln. At no cost. High school kids can pug out 25 pounds of white stoneware, throw to their heart’s content, and go pug another log. And do it again the next day. Naturally, it’s not without guidance. The list of people who learned, worked, or taught in the MCG ceramics studio is a veritable who’s who of Pittsburgh ceramic artists, not least of all, NCECA’s own executive director, Joshua Green, and hometown boy done good, Sharif Bey. The photograph above captures the conclusion of an exemplary MCG course, titled Stop, Collaborate, and Listen, which was created by the teaching artist with the bright blue hair — Talon Smith. The true beauty of the course was that it ran in conjunction with a course of the same name in MCG’s design arts studio (led by the smiling bespectacled gentleman in the background, Ben Pyles). “The class was created to coincide with National Clay Week on the theme of ‘Collaboration,’ ” co-instructor Talon Smith explains. “Students from diverse backgrounds were able to share their interdisciplinary techniques to create beautiful works of art. This class gave our students the opportunity to learn new skills from one another, how to communicate ideas effectively, and how to execute those ideas productively.” The class was featured during National Clay Week in an hour-long, interactive live stream on Instagram, and was subsequently featured in an article in Ceramics Monthly. Bill’s reaction? “That’s cool, man.” Remember, he runs a jazz program, too.


Achievements & Awards

March 2018
Honorary Member of the Council - NCECA
January 1996
MacArthur Fellowship
January 1968
MCG Founded

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