As a Pittsburgh youth besieged by racism in the crumbling remains of the steel economy, Bill Strickland should have been one of the Rust Belt's casualties. Instead, he discovered the potter's wheel, and the transforming power of fountains, irrepressible dreams, and the slide show.
Bill Strickland's journey from at-risk youth to 1996 MacArthur "Genius" grant recipient would be remarkable in itself, if it were not overshadowed by the staggering breadth of his vision. While moonlighting as an airline pilot, Strickland founded Manchester Bidwell, a world-class institute in his native Pittsburgh devoted to vocational instruction in partnership with big business -- and, almost incidentally, home to a Grammy-winning record label and a world-class jazz performance series. Yet its emphasis on the arts is no accident, as it embodies Strickland's conviction that an atmosphere of high culture and respect will energize even the most troubled students.
With job placement rates that rival most universities, Manchester Bidwell's success has attracted the attention of everyone from George Bush, Sr. (who appointed Strickland to a six-year term on the board of the NEA) to Fred Rogers (who invited Strickland to demonstrate pot throwing on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood). In 2010, President Obama appointed Strickland to the White House Council for Community Solutions, which oversees volunteering and community service on a local and national level. And though cumbersome slide trays have been replaced by PowerPoint, the inspirational power of his speeches and slide shows are the stuff of lecture circuit legend.