Gritty No Longer

Renewed Pittsburgh to host annual conference

By Salvatore Deluca

South Side is one of many neighborhoods in Pittsburgh that residents are revitalizing.

Credit: Greater Pittsburgh Convention and Visitors Bureau

Bill Strickland has spent the past 40 years trying to do for others what his high school art teacher, Frank Ross, did for him.

"Because I was an inner-city kid, my life was basically saved by Mr. Ross, who got me excited about ceramics," says Strickland, one of three keynote speakers at the 2006 National Preservation Conference in Pittsburgh, which runs from Oct. 31 to Nov. 5. Strickland is a Pittsburgh native, a talented potter, and an accomplished social-services entrepreneur.

Joining Strickland on the dais of the restored 1927 Stanley Theater (now the Benedum Center for the Performing Arts) during the opening plenary session will be celebrated Pittsburgh-born historian David McCullough and Philip W. Grone, a deputy undersecretary of defense. McCullough will discuss the effects of the built environment on people throughout history, and Grone will examine Department of Defense initiatives to care for its historic sites.

Strickland still lives in the Manchester neighborhood where he grew up, once one of the city's rougher areas. There, from a three-building campus, he runs arts and vocational programs. In 1968 he founded the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild, which offers after-school and summer programs in ceramics, photography, and drawing for public school students. "As the kids get better at clay or photography or computer design, their attendance in school also improves, their grades improve, and they go off to college," he says. In the mid-1970s, he acquired the Bidwell Training Center, a failing poverty program, which now retrains out-of-work adults as pastry chefs, orchid growers, and medical coders, seeking to place them in local jobs.