Bill Strickland 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.