Center’s innovative mix of art, training offers participants the tools to succeed - The Buffalo News
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Center’s innovative mix of art, training offers participants the tools to succeed

The new Buffalo Center for Art and Technology truly is about hope, promise and the arts.

The center, modeled after Pittsburgh entrepreneur Bill Strickland’s Manchester Bidwell Corp., has a dual role. Its training program gives adults the skills needed to fill a good job, and its after-school art program gives high schoolers a reason to stay in class.

The center’s new home, in the lower portion of the Artspace Buffalo Lofts at 1219 Main St., is breathtaking in its design, providing a sense of openness and expectation.

The dream of a state-of-the-art facility serving the community has been realized. More than $4 million, primarily from the John R. Oishei Foundation, First Niagara Foundation and Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo, along with support from the Empire State Development Corp. and the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council, has made it happen.

Executive Director Amber Dixon, brimming with pride and enthusiasm, recently showed off the modern, high-ceiling classrooms with brand new computers, Macintosh in the digital film and photography room and PCs in the pharmacy tech room.

This place has the eclectic feel of an art gallery with its odd-shaped furniture and clean lines, but with a touch of hominess that includes a downstairs kitchen and seating area for meals.

To the students taking advantage of the after-school art program that began last week, the center offers an incentive to set goals, stay in school and achieve.

That will happen with the support of Dixon and her staff, including a mix of well-known local artists and musicians. Students will get instruction in digital music and recording arts. There’s also mural arts painting – with the possibility of public display – along with drawing, collage and book arts.

The promise of such intensive instruction should be a magnet for any high school student with an interest in art. It won’t be learning for the sake of winning a grade – there are no grades – it is learning for the sake of learning. The graduation rate for high school students who have taken part in the program in Pittsburgh is between 90 percent and 95 percent.

The Manchester Bidwell concept, which incorporates art and vocational training, has been replicated in several other cities, including Cleveland, Cincinnati and San Francisco, and internationally.

Founder Strickland often talks about his own humble beginnings and how, as a child flunking out of school, he walked past a ceramics studio where he saw a teacher “throwing pots,” and his world of possibilities opened up. That possibility for transformation has now come to Buffalo.

And it includes the unemployed and underemployed, who now have a place to go for training that will prepare them for jobs on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus and beyond.

The center is offering training for medical coders and pharmacy technicians. The full-day, nine-month program begins in January with the medical coding class. Graduates will have the knowledge and skills for jobs with salaries in the $30,000 and up range.

Requirements for entry to the program are a high school diploma or GED, ability to read at a 12th-grade level – in a city where the average adult literacy level might be as low as sixth grade – and an interview process. It’ll be worth it in the end, for them and the community, when they are able to get good jobs. There is no charge to participants, except to pay back by meeting expectations of dress, decorum, attendance and study.

This program offers a fresh approach in a beleaguered city. It deserves the community’s support to ensure it and those using it succeed.

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