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Manchester Craftsmen's Guild

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

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.



HundrED has selected this innovation to

Pittsburgh, USA

Web presence






March 2019
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.

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.

Impact & scalability

Implementation steps

Get In Touch!

Our replication department, the National Center for Arts and Technology (NCAT) works with communities who’ve recognized a need for the services a Center for Arts & Technology provides. Specifically, responsive career training for underemployed/unemployed adults and quality afterschool visual arts programming for high school youth. It's important to remember that a CAT is a start-up, nonprofit organization housed in a customized physical building. This means any interested city will need access to significant seed funding. This support often comes from community influencers throughout the corporate, nonprofit, philanthropic, and municipal sectors. If you think you have these ingredients, NCAT would love to start a conversation.

Initial Assessment

NCAT will work with your local steering committee to conduct a rigorous, evidence-based feasibility study. During this process we provide (2) deliverables in the form of a comprehensive interim and final report/presentation. These deliverables visualize the results of NCAT’s detailed qualitative and quantitative research and analysis. They focus on your city’s demographics to identify specific employment and educational needs of the region relative to youth arts and adult training programs. Additional financial, human resources, and risk analyses lead to a statement of viability and conclusions regarding the ultimate feasibility of a Center for Arts & Technology in your community.

Putting It All Together

As a result, NCAT will work with your local leadership to build the business and physical infrastructure for a Center for Arts & Technology. Your Project Manager will guide your newly formed board of directors through the achievement of key objectives. For example, these include board development, strategies for operating and capital fundraising, identification and design of an appropriate facility, marketing and branding, as well as youth and adult programming. NCAT provides the training and materials to help navigate this part of the process. As a result, the stage will be set for your grand opening.

Opening Your Doors

NCAT will provide support for the first 12 months of operations to ensure that programs/systems are implemented are running smoothly. This part of the process is highly customizable and intended to support any area of the business you feel needs our focus. Need support designing curriculum, or hiring and growing your staff? No problem! NCAT will support you when looking to apply for large dollar grants, refine your financial systems, or improve your evaluation processes. Your Project Manager will support you every step of the way. In other words, they'll help you work out the kinks until your CAT stands firmly on its own.

Future Sustainability

Your Center may recieve support from basic tune ups to major overhauls. In concolusion, we will support you throughout the process.Get in touch to find out more!

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