Alabama Arts Education Summit held at Troy University this week

Published 9:40 pm Saturday, February 21, 2009

The arts are the bridge to walk across to a new life. The arts give young people a reason to stay on the planet.

That was the message that Bill Strickland, founder of the Manchester Craftsmen Guild in Pittsburgh, Pa. delivered to those who attended the 2009 Alabama Arts Education Summit at Troy University Feb. 18-20.

Those who think that kids can’t pull themselves up by the bootstraps just don’t know about the Manchester Craftsmen Guild.

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When Strickland finished his presentation at Troy University on Thursday, he had made believers out of educators, school administrators and artists from around the state.

For more than 30 years, the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild has been a unique haven – “a multi-disciplined arts and learning center that fosters a sense of belonging, interconnection and hope within the urban community.”

Strickland said that children are born as assets, not liabilities and, at Manchester, each student is treated as asset and they accomplish great things.

“These are young people who come from varied backgrounds, most of them for poverty conditions,” he said.

“Ninety percent of our students go to college.”

Strickland credits pottery and sunlight with the success of the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild.

“Poor people live in the dark,” he said. “We bring them out of the dark and into the sunlight. Clay saves their souls.”

Strickland knows. It was his fascination with clay that saved his soul as a young student in a poor community. He conveys the message to the students at Manchester that “You don’t have to wear a tux to be treated like a world-class citizen.”

The Manchester students are responding by accomplishing great and unbelievable things in all areas of the arts.

Former Trojan and internationally acclaimed artist, Nall, spoke to the Summit participants on Wednesday and told them that art breaks down barriers and gives students the opportunity to express their true feelings.

“Truth is the essential message of art,” Nall said.

“Art encourages young people to express themselves, to express the truth.”

“Art opens young people to learning. It opens them to change, to truth and I believe that children today are ready for the truth and the atmosphere is open for the truth.”

Donna Russell, executive director of the Alabama Alliance for Arts Education, said about 150 educators participated in the three-day Summit with the theme of “Speaking with One Voice.” “The arts are extremely important and it’s important that we do speak with one voice to let our legislators know how important the arts are,” she said. “Through the arts our children learn to be creative. They learn higher order thinking and they learn to think outside the box.”

Russell said the arts can and should be integrated into all subject areas.

Therefore, the arts are not expendable and that message must be delivered with one loud and clear voice. That voice was raised at the 2009 Alabama Arts Education Summit and hopefully will be heard throughout the state.

This is the second year that Troy University has hosted the Summit and is sponsored by the Alabama Alliance for Arts Education.

“Hosting the Summit allows Troy University to further establish itself as a leader in training fine arts educators and advocating for strong fine arts education in Alabama and the region,” said Larry Percy, a professor in the university’s department of art and design. Percy said those who attended were challenged to define excellence in arts education as all-inclusive, to create a place for strong arts specialists and build strong collaborations that make for authentic arts integration in public schools.

The Summit featured a varied lineup of speakers including Dawn Ellis, who was the primary researcher for “Gaining the Arts Advantage,” and Barbara Shepherd, director of Kennedy Center Partnerships.