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126 AUGUST 2009
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“I got excited about clay”: A powerful story in one page

Karen VanderVen

He received a MacArthur “Genius” award and he has lectured all over the United States, from Harvard to Stanford. However, he is not the dean of a business school. Who is this? It’s William Strickland, a native Pittsburgher and founder of the Manchester Craftsman's Guild, a community program for inner-city youth on the city’s North Side. Mr. Strickland has told his story of how he came to found the Manchester Craftsman's Guild by saying that as a youth himself, through exposure to the medium, “I got excited about clay.”

In a nearby dreary, dark-brick high school, there are graffiti and drugs. Four blocks away, at the Guild “none. Walk into the Guild building and you say, “What? This doesn’t look like a school or youth program.” You see a beautiful space. There are flowers everywhere. The lighting is subtle. There are elegant sculptures, intricate wooden surfaces. Various sections of the building are furnished with state-of-the-art equipment in ceramics, drama and theatre, and food preparation. Skilled adults preside in the areas where youth from the neighbourhoods are brought in to learn and practice the skills of the trades.

What happens to youth who have experienced the Guild's activity program?

What is its magic success formula?

Replicating this community activity-based model elsewhere may be too simple for this foolish world to do- it makes too much sense. So we’ll continue to put millions of dollars into jails and prisons, into boring and “point and level" driven residential programs, into security systems, into TV cameras and metal detectors, into beefed-up police forces, into “institutional” furniture.

Let’s help our youth become excited about ... if not clay ... other crafts, drama, games, sports, music performance, cooking, to name just a few possibilities. We can clone animals now. Why don’t we clone this?

This feature: VanderVen, K. (1998). Views from the field: “I got excited about clay” “A powerful story in one page. Journal of Child and Youth Care, 11, 4. pp. 101-102.

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