Thank you. I guess as a person who serves on a lot of these panels, I always wonder exactly what I can add to the conversation that we are having. Obviously my organization is a little bit different than the one in Point Breeze and I thought I maybe would describe that a little bit. But before I do that, there was just something that really struck me about the first session, both the people that spoke and the content of those remarks that I think is useful for us all to reflect on and that is the power of the individuals within our midst.
The work that Barbara Nichols, for example, has done, she just stepped out of the room for a second, is work that I have known and been influenced by for twenty years, but we have never met. I hear about her work, I receive her materials, I receive her brochures, I've emulated some of her programs, but we have never met each other. Justin, who lives in our community, who I see all the time, I was very moved by the comments that he was able to make this morning about this community, but his vision for this organization. I guess I would say that one of the ways that we can affect change is to not under estimate how much our actions as individuals affect one another, both people we know but also a lot of people that we do not know. I think that I would not be her today, in fact, if it were not for some people who I just felt I had to step up to the plate and emulate in ways that I could.
So in terms of the topic, though, I guess that's one of the central themes that I would just put forth is the sort of power in individual passion and vision as it relates to the arts, also as it relates to how we work within our communities. Passion is of course one of the fundamental ingredients of an artist. Any kind of artist and creative person that they feel deeply about the subject matter that they are engaged in, whether it's visual arts, whether it's a dancer in the performing arts, an actor, the people who are really great at it and even those who aspire to be great, it comes form a certain kind of passion, deep within their hearts.
Each of us actually, whether we're artists or not, do have that passion; it is the reason that we are on the planet, it is the reason that we interact with the people that we do, and finding that passion I think is one of the fundamental things that we as sculpture workers, as artists, as art professionals, need to really concentrate and think about how we find that thing that really lights us up because it is that light that other people see in us and it is what draws people to us, it's what helps us to develop the work that we do and form that passion, how it's developed, is that there's a certain vision or point of view about life that comes form that. The things that we care about, whether its our kids and the way that they're raised, whether it's our community and the things that we think must be improved, we develop a kind of way of looking at those issues that becomes important and when the passion then meets that vision, you find the ability for people to do extraordinary things like we heard of today, the work that Justin is doing, the work that Barbara is doing, et cetera.
I thought I'd add a bit of my personal narrative as to how that sort of played out for me. I did start out, as Rick alluded to, as an actor and as a performer, but it became very apparent to me that I was never going to be great at that. Very early on. It wasn't but is trying to figure out, what's the answer to a relatively complex question or issue, and interpreting various statutes and laws but anyway, it's a good way of thinking about a lot of issues and so it was useful to me as a young lawyer.
I was reading an article in the LA Times, that's where I was living at the time, about a young choreographer, at that point, somebody you may know, Bebe Miller, and Bebe Miller, who now is in Columbus area, she teaches up at Ohio state, has her own dance company that's on tour now, the critic at that point was talking about how ridiculous it really was, that Bebe would never be seen in Los Angeles, that was just not going to happen because Los Angeles could not get it together to bring an artist of that stature and that caliber, they didn't have the good sense to know that she was a great artist, et cetera, and I said, "oh that's interesting, I wonder if we could just rent a theater and present her here," and I called up a bunch of my lawyer friends and we, not knowing, talk about not knowing anything, you know, I had come form the theatre but knew nothing about producing shows, we put on the show with Bebe Miller and that led to my involvement with First Impressions, which was a dance presenter that did a project that really changed the landscape of African American dance, called 'Black Choreographers Moving Toward the 21st Century, and it was a project that looked at all the different ways that African Americans express themselves through choreography. From traditional dances all the way through the Bill T. Joneses and Ralph Lemons of the world, so that wide spectrum presented really asking the questions. What is really black dance? What are we talking about in asking those questions?
From that a began to do work as Cal State in LA and UCLA, I taught there for a while, went to the University of Texas, where I ran the performing arts center and, you know, as an African American when I was in charge of the programming, but at one point my director got the idea that we should produce a program that was about Latin America, about the role of Latin American arts in the world. This is because we ere in Texas, the demographics there are changing quite remarkably, so I had to really sort of come up to speed about. So, what does that mean, as an African American I'm now being asked to curate and put together a festival that's really about Latin America? Well, what we quickly discovered of course is that people of African descent are a critical part of Latin America. While they may refer to themselves as Latin Americans, people from Venezuela or Cuba or Brazil, they are, in fact people of African descent and we share a heritage and that, for me, opened a wide range of possibilities in terms of what might happen with my own life.
When I was called to think about coming to Pittsburgh, a place that I knew nothing about really, and had no impression either positively or negatively about, I was met with a group of individuals…
Pan–Indian musings kicked up dust not only in the politics but in the arts, also. In 1973 the incident at Ogallala between American Indian move activists and the FBI brought to the attention of American citizens the plight and degradation of Indians in a negative light. Socially, Native Americans were plagued with poverty, disease, and genocide. The issues of the American Indian were serious problems for tribes and the United States government and media did not help. Television coverage perpetuated a hostile uniformed and insensitive attitude towards Native Americans. Therefore some of the images developed form the coverage was that Indians were subhuman. Indians were drunks and Indians were beggars.
At that time, some archivists tried to preserve what was left of what they considered Indian culture before it became extinct but their intentions created only the romantic Indian. The icon of the Indian princess, the stoic chief, the noble warrior in his traditional attire. All these images have not been accurate or much appreciated by Indian people. But America's Film industry and their depiction of Native Americans have done the most harm. For decades, American Indians have been portrayed in films and on television in a manner entirely derogatory to our culture and mental well-being.
Who on this earth can enjoy seeing themselves and their race depicted as fiendish savages and murderers who hurl forth blood curdling yelps and seemingly their only form of vocal communication is, "Mmm… Hau." It is thought that this unabated corrupt use of American Indians by the American film makers has been a major contribution, contributing to the deepening cultural and spiritual malice of American Indians. Still many non-Indians seem to give Native American culture an honorable burial under museum glass. Despite dirges over the vanishing American Indian, we were not only failing to vanish, but actually begin to adapt to change and to evolve new modalities, a sure sign that we were not ready for it's tension.
The idea is apparent that everything traditional need not and should not be discarded and that the new and original forms could emerge from our traditions. Many Indians realize that with show dancing and historical pageants designed for the entertainment of non-Indians need not be the only concept of Native American performances.
Through a process of assimilation and relocation acts, the Indian culture was being brought to the melting pot and this type of elimination must be stopped. So Native American performing artists began a series of realistic Indian plays written by Indians addressing Indian issues and intended for a primarily Indian audience.
For too long, Indian groups had tended to keep to ourselves with little exchange of ideas. Desire for communication among ourselves and a willingness to open up Dialogue with non-Indian communities stimulated among other things the development of a number of Indian theatre groups throughout the country, mostly in large cities.
In 1972 formed as the American Indian theatre Ensemble Company, was America's first and only Indian repertory company. The central aim of the ensemble's work was to present plays for and about Indian people. Plays that were political, propagandistic, cultural, comic, traditional, educational, and entertaining, to wherever Indian people were located. The American Indian theatre ensemble company wanted to eradicate decades of whitewashed and superficial expectations form the public's mind. And even from the minds of Indians who had some accepted the romantic stereotyping.
Today Native American theatre companies and groups seemingly share a common mission; and that is to the approach of survival in the future rather than reproach for the past. Function is the component of the overall movement to achieve true equality and self-determination and to present and preserve our cultural existence. As an inroad toward corroding the vulgar images of the American Indian, the American Indian theatre ensemble company believes that plays for and about Indians, their past, their despairing presence, their hopes and dreams and daily lives, presented by Indian artists could be of inestimable value in uniting and uplifting the Indian people in the United States. Our ceremonial rituals we as indigenous peoples have practiced for centuries are uncontestable testimony to how strongly we respond to theatre for these ceremonies of song, dance, story and music are theatre in its most purest and functional form. All material performed in Native American theater is for the purpose of educating the native and non-native audiences.
Prior to the American Indian theatre ensemble company there were many plays on the American stage about Indian life and or in which Indian characters were little more than dramatic machinery for boisterous masquerade, melancholy rumination, or facial depiction, again, of the noble savage. Novelists and poets perpetuated the stereotypes that already appeared in drama whole eastern journalism and the Penny Dreadfuls of frontier life emphasized the image of the bloodthirsty, crazed aboriginal. These stereotypes were staple fare in films at least up until the 1960s.
Later, even more responsible works such as Little Big Man and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest struck some wrong notes. First, their authors were not Indians and lacked the Indian voice, and second the directors were no so much interested in depicting real Indians as in using Indians as a pathetic super numeraries to rub the face of America in its own guilt. Thus, the stage seemed to offer to the American Indians other means of self-realization through the presentation of our truth and nature. Some of the pioneers of contemporary Native American theatre felt that Indians who did not understand or participate in traditional ceremonies might also find in theatre a new respect for ritual and form. This new theatre would mean acceptable outgrowth through religious heritage of the American Indians race.
In the beginning, most frequently traditional tales were dramatized for the stage. As a legacy from the past, contemporary Native American theatre encompassed traditional music and or dancing. One play exemplifies this outgrowth of religious heritage titled Nahaza by Robert Shortie. Robert wanted to devise something moving, colorful and flowing. By consulting with Indian sources, he decided to dramatize the Navajo creation myth. A review of the play has described his achievement: The experience and transformation the spectator undergoes is difficult to describe for the impact is more than the sum of any single part of this ritualized vision. The nobility and simplicity of the theology astounded me. Much of the power of the experience came from the deep lamenting that we as other Americans in this country have no single story or religious philosophy as a collective people that comes close to touching the splendor and dignity of Nahaza. A moving and tender utterance in the simplest of language and movement.
In the past thirty years contemporary Native American theatre has strengthened the badly weakened sense of tribe and helped Indians define their own identities by encouraging self esteem and accurately reflecting our modern lives by instilling such traits in Native American theatre as hiring a Native American dramatist with knowledge of his ethnic identity. He must know who he is and who the people are for whom he is writing. He must have experienced the multi-faceted life of an American Indian preferably at our grassroots and have known the frustrations, sorrows, joys and satisfactions that ordinary Indian people live and know. He cannot afford to have led a sheltered life, especially in a non-Indian setting. He must know instinctively and from experience what protocols must be observed, what customs respected what limits observed and what sacred ornaments may fittingly be scorned or taunted. On the other hand, he cannot shun contact with the non-Indian world. He must write Dialogue untainted by artificial stiffness and anachronistic poeticisms of vice that often afflict much of what passes for the Indian voice and of course have talent.
The task of separating things into categories in Native American theatre is a difficult one because storylines carry several cultural elements that cultural awareness seems to re surface as the distinctive theme of Native American theatre. Under the suspicious theme, cultural awareness, elements of the traditional past in modern day life are portrayed in our plays. One is the element is the presence of a trickster. Tricksters reveal something about our culture from which they arose and which they continue to be perpetuated. These multifaceted characters have been and continue to be sources of entertainment, agents of social change and mirrors of religious convictions for their audiences.
Native American dramatists do not always follow a linear sequence of time and present a sense of surrealism in performance. Many critics, including some of the most experienced fail to fully understand this, if at all, how much the work of an Indian playwright and actors manifests those same features that distinguish their traditional dramatic events. Such as the lack of a clear boundary between audience and performer and the focus of a timeless moment in the center. Critics are often unable to either comprehend or interpret what they are presented. But Indian audiences understand it.
Native American theater is used a tool for communication between tribes and preservations of our culture. It works at rectifying the negative image of native people. Contemporary Native American theatre continues to include elements of tradition by incorporating music, dance, myth, ritual and stories. Native American theatre is considered authentic by the writing of a dramatist with ethnic identity in the tone of his writings to his culture and has not led a sheltered life in a non-Indian setting. Thank You.
It's nice to be here and I'll get this done in thirty minutes or less so you can get out of here. I know it's very hot and I don't want to add to the temperature with a lot of hot air up here. And for those of you, this is kind of a… week, Rick and Louis and Barbara and Vaughn and Kim, we are all friends and it's really cool to be here to see them and to kind of give them and you a little bit of an update on what I do for a living.
So I'm going to quickly just show you a box of pictures, I don't have any big old speech; I don't do those anymore. I found that pictures are really worth a thousand words and people really remember the pictures long after they forgotten the speeches. The pictures have got me to some interesting places, so I'm going to stay with the pictures and it will allow me to talk about my philosophy as well because the philosophy the drives my center is really predicated on the assumption that, you know, poor people particularly deserve the very best the life can offer, not the worst that life can offer and that, if you're going to be in the business of reconstructing damaged human beings, you need to look like the solution and not the problem. So that when the poor kids, in a sense that everyone we work with is economically disadvantaged in one form or another, come to our facilities, they see a place that is pretty extra ordinary in terms of how we feel about them as human beings.
I was a ceramic artist, I am now a ceramic artist again, Rick and I share that experience together. I kind of quietly snuck back into the studio after twenty years, seven months ago and the kids actually said, "that old man can really make pottery" so it wasn't just all mythology, and so my life and legacy are really one public school teacher who saved my life, with art.
So this is autobiographical, it's not some theory. I'm actually living this stuff. Unfortunately he was killed in a traffic accident three years before I built the center but he lived long enough to see me well on my way and a lot of his spirit and a lot of his legacy are tied up with what I do and Mr. Ross took us to see a very famous house called Falling Water, which is just south of Pittsburgh, built by a guy named Frank Lloyd Wright, the architect. I was 16 years old the experience blew me away, I suggest if you ever come back to Pittsburgh make sure you go see the house, it's fabulous.
So here are a bunch of inner city kids that saw this fabulous house and I'm 16 years old and I committed myself to building a house like that before I died. So I hired one of his students to build my center so basically, what I had was a Frank Lloyd Wright building in the middle of the north side of Pittsburgh. By the way, historically, for trivial pursuit, our building is the scale model for the Pittsburgh airport so when you go back out to the airport, that is the built–up version of our school and it has worked out pretty good. But all the principles that drove Frank Lloyd Wright's architecture are at work at our center light and hope and aesthetic are really, to me, very important commodities.
That's that center, and as I mentioned to you, you're all invited to see it later today if you haven't, the staff is kind of there and we would love to show it to you, but it is a stunning piece of architecture and it was built in the neighborhood with the highest crime rate, which happens to be my neighborhood. I'm from this neighborhood and we built it there quite deliberately because we wanted to demonstrate that you would do world class facilities in a tough neighborhoods and you could begin to change the neighborhood and that has worked out pretty good and in twenty-two years of operation in this facility, I have never had one fight or racial incident or theft or drugs or alcohol; zero.
If you have the time, I will take you to see my old high school, it's four blocks from this Frank Lloyd Wright building, and it has armed guards, steel doors and metal detectors. The same neighborhood—four blocks away. So there are only two possibilities: I am the luckiest guy that has ever walked the planet Earth, or there is something transforming in the way that we think about people and their behaviors, and the theory is that if you treat people like world class citizens, more often than not, they will demonstrate world class behavior to go with it. And that has driven the philosophy of our center very successfully so far.
That's the entrance to the building; we have fabulous artwork. Everywhere your eye looks, there is something beautiful looking back at you, with quilts and clay and calligraphy and even on an overcast day, like today, the building is very bright, it's full of sunlight because the worst part of being poor is what it does to your spirit.
And the theory is that if you want to work with people whose spirits have been damaged, you have to put them in sunlight so they know that the sun is for everybody on the planet, not just for rich people. So when the kids come to this building even on a day like today, it very bright and very hopeful and very optimistic. It actually has an effect on behavior. Aesthetics affect behavior, big time. These are more of our quilts and so forth.
That's our board room. I commissioned a Japanese cabinet maker to do 60 pieces of furniture for our school; he studied with George Nakashima, by the way, so in effect, we have 60 pieces of Nakashima in our school, in the middle of a black neighborhood, with a high crime rate. Which is exactly what you need to do to mitigate perceptions of value in that community.
By the way, this guy is getting rich making furniture for wealthy people. In the industrial part, where our school is located, we… him off into his own business. He has a waiting list over a year long.
We have fresh flowers in our building every day of the week, 365 day of the year. These are not plastic, they're real. The concept was that the people I work with, who are welfare mothers and single parents and some at risk kids, need to have fresh flowers in their life because it part of the psychology of the facility that we created. The cost is very insignificant, but the gesture is very significant. We've learned that these things you don't think amount to very much… they amount to very much. They actually change the perception of reality, on the part of the people who come to our school. That's at Christmastime… and I'm a big proponent of Heinz ketchup, I hope you eat it. I… if your politics are about ketchup but I stand with ketchup.
In rare days, as Louis well knows, I had a cardboard box… of this building and I had it in a garbage bag before it got real sophisticated and I was walking the streets of Pittsburgh trying to raise the money to build this center and John Heinz had heard about my work and he called me into his office, which is like going to see the Wizard of Oz, because he had about 600 million dollars at the time and I had about sixty cents and John Heinz said, "I've heard about your work. You are doing great things with the kids, and the steel workers and we want to help you and you could really help the Heinz company out with our affirmative action program if you would add a culinary program to your new program in your new school, when you get it built."
Well, back then we were a building trades program and I said, "Well some of them are reluctant to go into a field I don't know anything about, but I promise you, if you help me get this building built, I will come back and we'll add that food program just like you asked." And he sat real quietly and he said, "Well, what would your answer be if I said I would give you a million dollars?" and I said, well Senator, it appears as though we are going into the food training business."
John Heinz did give me a million bucks, but as importantly, he… me head of research for the Heinz company and we built the curriculum from the Culinary Institute of America which fancies itself the Harvard of cooking schools, and we created a gourmet cooks program for welfare mothers in this million dollar kitchen, and we never really looked back. It's been a great ride. Unfortunately, we lost Senator Heinz to a plane accident, we probably lost a president of the United States, in my view, but his spirit is alive and well in our building.
We built an amphitheatre for the students, Paul's one of the advisors for this thing. So, we had chefs from all over the world now who come and do product presentations at our school, and no fast food is done at the facility, it's all gourmet. We feed it to the students, it's our culture. As a result of that, people go the food service industry, big time, and it's worked out fine.
That's our pastry department, that's one of our students, that's our dining room, that's in celebration of the salmon I caught in lake Michigan and brought back to Pittsburgh and did my version of a fish fry, which consisted of all this salmon in this culinary department, we had all this fish and I said, "What am I going to do with all this fish?" and said, "We'll have a party!" So our guys took the fish and we did smoked salmon and gravlocks and so forth and one of the corporate guys showed up and he was so impressed with the concept of the center, he gave us a check for three hundred thousand dollars. One salmon—three hundred thousand dollars. Calculate the return on investment. As you might suspect, we now do salmon presentations quite regularly at our school.
This is the work the students are doing after six months in the program. These are people with no talents, supposedly, who are poor and don't have any imagination. We emphasize color and texture and presentation. That's our pastry, I've actually eaten six of those baskets, they are very good, no calories of course, but the point is that, you know, here are poor folks who supposedly don't have the ability to be creative and thoughtful, and you put them in a program and six months later, that's what they're doing. Which suggests to you, that there's nothing wrong with poor people, except they don't have any money, which happens to be a curable condition. It's all in the way that you think about people that often determines their behavior. So if you set world-class standards, people will have a tendency to reach for the bar.
That's our dining room on a normal day; full of sunlight and we do a lot of catered events as you might suspect at our center. That's become a nice little business unit for us, we train pharmaceutical technicians for the pharmacy industry, and we train chemical technicians for the chemical industry. I train for Bayer, Calgon, carbon, BASF, Fisher Scientific and Exxon, and the thing that's really fascinating about this program, we have welfare mothers who don't have any background in science doing analytical chemistry in ten months flat, using rhythmic calculators. What is revealed to me is that there's nothing wrong with the students. That life is about expectations and if you create an environment that is technically sophisticated and you give people the opportunity to show what they're capable of, they'll do analytical chemistry every day of the week. So we now have 26 research technicians working for Bayer, right now. Out in the parkway when you drove past the corner of the airport, our guys essentially run those research facilities. So it's worked out pretty good. That's our lab, we teach people how to read, have a computerized literacy program we have kids with their high school diplomas but they can't read. Not one, I've got a lot of them. I'm telling you, we're going to lose our country, if we don't try and change this. We'll never make it. Lou Dobbs on CNN, a month ago, announced the dropout rate for Hispanic and African American youth in America is fifty percent—for the country, that's not just for Pittsburgh. The math doesn't work. We'll never make it. And I think you guys are a big part of the solution to this thing and that's why I agreed to sort of talk for a few minutes.
That's our library… this is Manchester Craftsman's Guild, this is the program I started in 1968, I was a ceramic artist, as these people will tell you and during the riots, like everybody else, I had a little program in an old warehouse, and it was a tough time. My feeling was that I needed to provide some kind of an alternative to the violence on the streets. So I set up a shop, I had pottery wheels, built a kiln out back, free clay and kids start wandering in, and I started hearing back that whatever I was doing with these kids, they were starting to show up at school more regularly. After a while, I figured out through trial and error, that there's nothing wrong with the kids. The school system is screwed up; the kids are fine. All you have to do is give them enough clay and enough sunlight and enough good food and flowers and you can cure what's troubling them.
Because of that insight, I won a McArthur Fellowship. Not because I am some great genius, but was able to recognize what I saw in front of my face, that the kids are basically built pretty well. They had been ground down by social structure that doesn't work, but if you take them out of that, and you put them in a refreshing and hopeful environment, they come right back to life, like a dying flower that's been given a new drink of water. We had clay… this is the work the kids are doing.
By the way, we get eighty-five percent of the kids in college every year for the last fifteen years in a row, and we do not teach the academics. I now have our first PhD, our first Fulbright Scholar, several of our people as Penn State Alumni, thanks to Grace. It's been a great ride. We have several emergency room physicians who came through our ceramics program. One of them is an African American woman with four kids and no husband. Enrolled with our program in high school, and now she's running one of the major hospital emergency rooms, which suggests to you that it's the different way of thinking that is the answer to solving this problem.
This is the mosaic project we did… (Power outlet problems) There are about twenty more slides and we've got fifteen minutes, so we are on track.
Just hang on a sec, we'll see I we can get this thing figured out.
We are getting pretty close to figuring this thing out; I'm going to finish this in nine minutes flat. Let me tell you what you are going to see in nine minutes. I'm going to show you our technology center for our jazz program.
You may be aware, or maybe you aren't aware, we won three Grammys for our recordings going back to Dizzy Gillespie in 1986. We now have over 600 recordings. Probably the most important of contemporary Jazz recordings in the world is in this center in Pittsburgh. Dizzy was the first one, the Count Basie orchestra; we won for Nancy Wilson at our last event. In fact, never wanting to miss a commercial opportunity, I brought along the Nancy Wilson RSVP album. You should know that Nancy Wilson, in her life, never won a Grammy until she recorded with us. It was fascinating to be at the Grammys and hear Nancy Wilson stand there and thank a community based arts organization for allowing her the opportunity to win a Grammy before she left the planet. So we think that if we didn't do anything else in life right, we did that right.
I used to do this with a slide projector. Cardboard box, duct tape on the corner, I brought my own projector, with a bulb, and I never got stuck like this ever. So that's where you high–tech gurus, that's the consequence of being dependent on this stuff.
This is the art side of the street; we work, these days, with 500 kids in the public school system, grades eight through twelve. We've put eighty-five to ninety percent of those kids in college every year for the last fifteen years, and we discover that the kids are fine. They are also fine in every city in America. This isn't unique to Pittsburgh. And I think one of the biggest contributions that we can make is to take on the agenda of responsibility of rebuilding our education system.
So I am going to give you an assignment, this weekend. Let's start figuring out how to do that.
This is a piece the kids did for the school. This is the mosaic workshop. These are all the kids with no talent. We have photography—a guy named Gordon Parks showed up, pretty good photographer. Guys named Eli Reed, and Chester Higgins, so we have had some of the best in the world come and mentor these children and we are getting kids in the Rochester Institute of Technology and Rhode Island School of Design and Cooper Union, right out of our studios on the north side of Pittsburgh. Oftentimes on four year scholarships.
This kid won a scholarship in the… of that photograph. This is our gallery. This is my concept of what a gallery is supposed to look like for kids. This is the student show. It's elegant, it's well lit, and our culinary program does a full food presentation during the opening. We have even got parents coming. I couldn't buy a parent twenty years ago, so I hired a guy that got off on Jesus, you know, saving souls for the Lord and all that, and I said, "I want to hire you but you got to turn–down the Jesus stuff, but keep the enthusiasm. I can't get these parents to come," and he said, "I'll get them to come."
So he took the keys to his van and he went to Ms. Geralds' house and said, "Ms. Geralds, I knew you wanted to come to your kid's art opening but you probably didn't have a ride, so I came to give you a ride."
We did that and we picked up twenty parents and thirty parents… the last show we did, two hundred parents showed up, and we didn't pick up one parent. Why? Because now it's socially not acceptable not to show up at the Manchester Craftsman's Guild to support your children.
There's no statistical difference, by the way, between Hispanic mothers and Asian mothers and Black mothers and White mothers. Mothers will go where their children are being nurtured every day of the week. It ain't that big of a deal.
This is actually an old slide, but I was doing this little thing in the Silicon Valley and this lady came out of the… and said, "That's old technology but your slide is a little bit dated. The equipment in there is old." I said, "Well it all looks the same to me. What do you do for a living?" She said, "Oh I run a company called Hewlett-Packard." And I said, "Well my dear, there's an instantaneous solution to this problem." Well, we got to be pretty good friends with HP.
They gave us a million dollars in technology, we have one of the hippest digital imaging centers east of the Mississippi river, which we'll show you this afternoon, but I keep this slide of her for nostalgia reasons and you never know when an Apple Computer representative might be in the audience. This… got transferred technology… we actually figured out a way to take a computer image and make a decal out of it, to make it permanent. So I can actually take a computer image and make a ceramic tile out of it. And this technology may be patentable. One commercial application would be if you wanted to redo your bathroom in your own image, I could fix you up, take a look at yourself while you're taking a shower.
This is our music hall, which some of you saw last night, that's where dizzy Gillespie stood. It sold out, in subscription, three weeks after the season was announced, in the middle of a black neighborhood with a high crime rate. We have never had one instance of vandalism. And I've had the greatest artists in the world, including Joe Williams, whose last album in life was recorded in our facility. And Joe Williams came up to me, stuck his arm through mine, the last words he said to me were, "God has picked you to do this work, man. God bless you."
We recorded his last album, and we have that, along with Moe Jackson and Tito Puente and a few other folks. This is the place I filled up with rich folks; if you'd have dropped a bomb in that room, you'd have wiped out all the money in Pennsylvania because it was all sitting there. The next night, I had the neighborhood come in and had the same food both nights. Why? I wanted to demonstrate the concept that you don't have to have a tuxedo on to be treated like a world-class citizen. People are entitles to be treated with decency no matter where they live. It's worked out fine.
That's Dizzy, just in case you thought I was lying, he was there. That's… Billy Tanner, who a few of you must know. He's playing a Steinway piano that I bought with a guy named Jamal at Steinway brothers in New York where he took some of my brochures. So we have a 9-foot concert grand and why do we have a Steinway? Because the kids deserve one. That's why it's sitting on the stage. Because I wanted to set a very high standard so that these children would know what that looks like.
That's Pat Methany; he recorded with us. That's one of our recording facilities and a guy named Paul Simon sent his engineers to Pittsburgh from Canada to design these facilities for nothing. That's an album we also did with Nancy Wilson that got us on Oprah. Manchester Craftsman's Guild jazz band on Oprah with Nancy Wilson singing that music, and I saw, just as sure as I'm standing here. Now if you don't believe in magic, that's what called magic. We also sold 10,000 CDs that night.
This is… during the riots, this is next to the building I have been showing you, and another box broke. I built that office building. At 60,000 square feet, we filled it up with anchor tenants and I now get downtown (rental) rates in a Black neighborhood.
It's filled up with anchor tenants like the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center—took half the building for their building operation… bank of which I am a director was a tenant in the building, this is the entrance to the building…
This is my concept of how people are supposed to be treated. And those flowers, by the way aren't plastic, those are real. They are called orchids. The reason they are in the building is because we grow them, in that greenhouse. We have a forty-five hundred square foot greenhouse. We have the hippest greenhouse east of the Mississippi River with the latest technology, and I've got welfare mothers growing orchids in the middle of the inner city, which brings me to Giant Eagle.
The grocery store chain now sells our orchids and we just signed Whole Foods last week, so we are feeling pretty good about that. Those are the products, and we also grow tomatoes. The kind with no dirt, called hydroponics. They taste like tomatoes in January and I grow them right on the north side. You come up and you'll see them. The idea was to begin to develop controlled ag (agriculture) as a propagation strategy for vegetables and I had to prove we could do it in Pittsburgh even on a cloudy, overcast day and we sold our whole fist crop to Monte Verde's restaurant.
So if you all ever invite me back, since I only got one speech, I'll have to improve the speech by showing you a couple new slides. For our next move, we're going to take a steel mill site about twenty minutes from where you are sitting and we are going to convert 80,000 square feet into a tomato and vegetable propagation facility and the plan is to have the steel workers and the welfare moms and the single parents start growing food, just like they do in Holland, Europe, and in Israel. If the Dutch can figure out how to do it in Holland, which is a cold climate, on a volcano; I ought to be able to grow tomatoes in Pittsburgh.
So stay tuned, this is getting kind of interesting. That's the tomatoes; you also can grow these, by the way. Your homework assignment is to check out the market prices of these things tonight and you will see exactly why I'm growing them. $3.99 a pound, last night—I checked. And you can grow these without dirt, anywhere in the world. So we are often running on this, you are the fifth group to see this. This is the National Center for the Arts and Technology, which is my version of a replication strategy for America. This is the first slide, we just created it. Because I now have three centers open. Cincinnati, San Francisco, and we open in Grand Rapids, November first, and we just signed up New Orleans, and our plan is to try and build a hundred of these things in the next ten years, in America, before we build a hundred around the world. That's the goal.
This is eBay, in San Francisco. That kid on the right, I met him, he saw my slide show and he came up to me and he said, "Man, that's a heck of a story," and I said, "Thanks—what do you do for a living?" he said, "Oh, I built a company called eBay," and I said, "Oh? That's cool—you got a card?" I remember I had a techie guy and he's been for a glass of water, so I came back to Pittsburgh and I asked one of the little techie kids in our program, "What is eBay, man?" he said, "Oh, Mr. Strickland! That's the electronic commerce network," and I said, "Holy smokes! I met the guy that built the company." So I called him up and I said, "Mister? I've come to have a deeper understanding of who you are, man," and he laughed, he said, " I thought you'd figure it out sooner or later. Here's a half a million bucks to get you going in San Francisco."
That's Jeff, cutting the ribbon with the director Billy Wong and that's worked out fine. This is where we are eventually going to build in San Francisco. This is Cincinnati, and it's open. We graduated ninety-four percent of the kids in the first year of operation, in a public school system that has a forty percent dropout rate with the same kids. The Western Michigan Center for Arts and Technology will open November first. Steelcase is our corporate partner. That's the building they bought downtown, and they are renovating the space. That's what it's going to look like. It's breathtaking. They raised five million dollars in sixty days to build this thing, so that will be our third one, and these are some of the kids. And these are the cities and the countries we are now talking to about building centers.
Here's where I will conclude my remarks. I am a member of The Association of American Cultures by bloodline. It's my genealogy. You need to understand that I am one of you. I came form this lineage and this history and it's very important that you see me work within that context.
Two, what I make look very easy is actually very difficult, but my job is to make it look easy, so we can get other people doing this kind of work.
Thirdly, I discovered something that figured out—the model, I called up Jeff and I said, "The model is Starbucks," and he said, "What the hell are you talking about?" I said, "It's Starbucks, man. That's how you can take this thing to scale," and he said, "Well, play it out for me," I said, "Think of Starbucks, fifteen-hundred square feet, they put hip furniture in there, nice lighting, jazz, not mine yet, but we are working on that, great coffee and people like my wife standing out in the cold at six o'clock in the morning to give this man four dollars for an eighty cent cup of coffee.
But what they are promoting is environment, and that's the key, guys—what you've got to do is build environments like the one I just showed you for yourselves. You deserve to be treated like world-class citizens in addition to the people who you serve. You can't be the thing that you aren't, you have to be hope, you have to be opportunity, and I'll tell you that I know what I'm talking about because all of you have gotten into this profession, like me, because somewhere in your history, you must have had a dream. Why else would you do this kind of work? You can't do it for the money, there's no money in it. It's a lot of headache, and a lot of suffering so you must have gotten in here because you had a very romantic vision of how you wanted the world to look. Well, my job is to tell you that I think that we can actually create that world.
The work that you are doing is vital to the national interest; it's vital to the spirit of this country. It's also vital to me. The courtesy I hope I've given you today is to let you know that you're okay, there's nothing wrong with you. In fact, there's an awful lot right with you. I hope you'll return the favor by letting me know I'm okay too. Thanks for being so polite with all the technology and listening to what I have to say.
Good morning. I have been at Point Breeze close to twenty years. We are a small community, one mile square, located in south Philadelphia, which is squeezed between center city and the river. For years, my community suffered nothing but real disinvestments. There were no significant anything done for Point Breeze. The housing stop was allowed to decay, drugs ran rampant, just about you-name-it, it went on in Point Breeze. In 1984, my mother actually decided that she wanted to start an organization. So she started point breeze performing arts center.
It really ran out of her kitchen and that is where it stayed and unfortunately, she passed away in 1987 and everyone said, "Oh, well, you have to pick up your mother's dream" and I thought, not me. You know, I'm not an artist, I absolutely know nothing about art and I thought, well I will stay here until you can possibly find some artsy-fartsy person to take over this organization. So, here I am, almost twenty years later, still at this organization. In the beginning, I just thought Art for Art's sake. Those kids would come, they would take classes, and they would go home. I never thought people would make demands on me, I never thought that I would get personally involved with the young people, or the families in the community. I was probably there a year, when people came and asked me, "Well, how I get food? How do I get food stamps? I need a therapist, I need this, my kids are misbehaving."
A woman came in one day and just sat in the lobby, she said, "I need to sit here because if I go home, I'm going to kill him," and I thought, what has that got to do with me? So, you know, I literally sat in the lobby, and I held her hand and I guess I talked her out of it, I never heard about it in the paper, but the lady has never come back into the organization again. So all these many years, you know, things evolve, they change, and you sort of grow up. It's almost like a rite of passage. You accept what's been given to you as a challenge, or you just drop the ball and you say to yourself, this doesn't involve me. Well I was born and raised in point breeze. I never had a political consciousness, was never really politically aware, until I had to really take these things on.
Then, I looked around and I thought, you know, there really has to be change. Not just change for change's sake, but for the young people in the community. At that point, we were the only positive African American role model for the young people that came in to the community. Because of them, I think so many things have changed and they are truly an integral part of what we do. Like I said in the beginning, we just started having classes. In 1992, after one of our summer camps, a group of young people with one of our instructors just started to come in, taking additional classes, jut fooling around in the studio. Now that group is the point breeze dance company. These were a group of kids, they were between nine and thirteen years old and one day my husband walked in and he said, "why are the kids here dancing every day?" and I said, "I don't know. You know, they don't have anything to do, they all live right here in the neighborhood, in the block."
So he went out and sold that. He sold that concept that these kids could perform somewhere and in the ensuing years, not only did he sell it, the kids traveled to Australia, they went to Angola, the island of Angola for two weeks, an open carnival, they've been to Galveston, Texas, they've been to Peru, I mean they traveled all around the world. This was the first group of young people. Then we started having a consultant that came in and he would have group sessions with the kids to just hear their thoughts on things. That's when we found out that they were very dissatisfied with their neighborhoods, not all of them wanted to grow up and move away, they wanted to know, why couldn't the graffiti be taken away, what did they need to do to help the drug dealers move off of the corners? So we kicked those things around for a long time and after that we started talking to our politicians, pushing for different things to happen within our community, to really get some money in the community, because the kids never thought of what they were doing, just art for art's sake, they came because they could find the answer to so many of their life problems. I mean, they would come and take the class and then after class they would tell me, "My mother beat me up last night. My father beat me up last night. What can you do to help?"
I have taken in so many young people it's like, unbelievable and like I said in the beginning, I never thought of myself as this person that was going to be around with young people. I thought I was going to pursue some kind of intellectual pursuits in life, and you know, half the time I find myself trying to teach somebody algebra and believe me when I tell you, when you have to go online and run to a bookstore to find concepts that you haven't done in almost forty years, that's the challenge.
Then we became involved with people that were actually doing economic development, we had to become entrepreneurs in what we were doing, and most people when they come to point breeze, they just see this little small building sitting right there and have no concept of what we do. Not only do we teach right at the center, we have about 8 or 9 satellites. Some are in the suburbs, we do a lot of work with the Philadelphia housing authority, taking programs to them 5 days a week, summer programs, and we have summer camps. So we're like more than just this little bird's eye view of what you see when you drive by. Then the state gave up 6 million dollars. Okay, that's a long story.
It was a 6 million dollar matching grant. Well, let me tell you, you know you don't look a gift horse in the mouth; it was like the Trojan horse. How do you raise the other 6 million? Well, we had so many people wanting to come and help us, who thought they were going to get their hands on the 6 million dollars, "Well, you know. They're too dumb and stupid, let us manage this."
Everyone wants to think of community arts as not very sophisticated. Everyone wants to come and help you but they don't want to do it for their heart, they see this price tag and they figure, "how much can I make off of this?"
It's really not about them. Anyway, we went through a lot of people who realized that they were not going to get their hands on the money. Then we became involved with Universal companies, which is, I don't know if everybody knows but Kenny Gamble, the… mogul came back to his community and really started to build it and then he came and asked up, were we willing to be a part of what was going on because they wanted to help in the revitalization of Point Breeze, and of course we said yes. So because of that, today we have brand new houses going up in point breeze that were never there before. The other thing that comes along with that is also gentrification. That's the challenge, as it is right now.
We just became a part of the point breeze coalition and it's going to be about a $100 million dollar project for the total revitalization of Point Breeze without trying to push out long-term residents and keep the tax base. The point breeze performing arts center is going to be the anchor with our new building. What we're proposing is a charter school and a performing arts center combined, so that we can capture all of these throw away young people. We have to do everything and yet we still find ourselves absolutely challenged on where our dollars are going to come from. I think most minority organizations; you can feel the sweat under your armpits just pop when payday rolls around, because we're still trying to figure out, are we going to make the payroll? I mean, that is so key, and it's interesting because after 9/11, some reporters came around to different organizations and asked, "How are you suffering the effects of funding?" and said, "Well, yeah our funding is down."
So hey wrote a story about us in the paper and I got a call from a gentleman and he said, "I have a black friend that was a tap dancer in Point Breeze. I really want to do something for you, because I'm really interested in that community, and I work for a foundation, I'm the head of it." So I said, "Oh that's wonderful," and he said, "What's your budget?"
I said, "$1.4 million."
He dropped the phone. He said, "$1.4 million? There's nothing in point breeze worth $1.4 million."
You have to take the insults and you have to learn to get over them. He sent a check for $500 dollars and I thought, well, you know what, I could send it back and be really nasty but I thought, you know, it pays the electric. So every little bit helps. It just goes to say that these organizations that are in communities are very important, because that's where social change comes from. That's where you give people a conscience. That's where young people learn that they're valuable and that they're important and that they can make a difference and that's what my organization is about. It's about helping young people make a difference, help them become a part of the process to help the change. Not just get a college education and go away.
In the first generation of young people that came through point breeze, my husband and I personally, out of our own pockets, had to pay their college tuition and every one of them that came through the program was a first generation college graduate. Some of them are teachers, some of them have gone on to careers in the arts, and our most famous graduate is now one of Beyoncé's choreographers and dancers. He constantly comes home and talks with the kids and works with them, we have other young people that are school teachers and often in the summer they come and they run our summer programs, some of them, live in the housing that we were a part of, so we're giving them choice opportunities and chances. That's what the arts are all about. Choice opportunities and chances.