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Calif. arts center models itself on local organization

| Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2004

Manchester Craftsmen's Guild's influence reaches across the country, as far as the California coast.

The guild provided the inspiration for San Francisco's Bayview Hunters Point Center for Arts & Technology, which will hold its grand opening Wednesday.

"We're starting out small, but the important thing is to show people what you can do day in and day out," says Villy Wang, executive director and co-founder of the already thriving center.

Bill Strickland, chief executive officer and executive director of the guild and related Bidwell Training Center, says interest in his site's post-secondary educational programs points "to a big need for better performances by schools and the needs of underserved kids in our cities."

The opening of the Bayview center follows the creation of the Cincinnati Arts and Technology Center last fall, likewise shaped after the Manchester Guild. Strickland says the Guild does not have any control or financial interest in the other two, but will receive a fee of "about $50,000 a year" from each site for sharing technology and networking. He is dealing with interested groups in Grand Rapids, Mich., and Kansas City, Mo., as well.

Bayview is in a 5,000-square-foot space and already is offering programs in graphic arts, filmmaking and book publishing, Wang says.

"We weren't the first to open, but we were the first that had the idea," Wang says. Efforts to create the center began in 1996.

She expresses a desire to broaden the program constantly, even to get into the jazz presenting that the Guild does, but basically consigns her ambition to a "first-things-first" attitude.

"Bill has way more space than we do," says Sue Sacks, chairwoman of Bayview's board of directors. "But we're trying to follow the history he has created."

Strickland founded the Guild in 1968 and absorbed the Bidwell Training Center in 1972. The two programs in 1987 moved into a 62,000-square-foot headquarters. It is the home of educational programs teaching the arts and vocational skills, as well as a concert venue and recording program that has produced two Grammy Award-winning albums.

Plans for San Francisco's $1.5 million Bayview center began in 1996, when Strickland gave a talk in San Francisco about the creation of the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild. Willy Brown, who was mayor then, told Strickland, "I want one of those."

The idea gained momentum the next year, when jazz pianist Herbie Hancock performed at the Guild and urged Strickland to spread his educational concept.

San Francisco planners were able to acquire land for the project but then found out it was contaminated. "After four years, the writing on the wall was that this would never get started," Sacks says.

While a new site was sought, she says, the organization that became the Bayview center was being assembled. That led to Wang's hiring two years ago. Wang left her career as a corporate lawyer to join the organization that eventually put together the San Francisco Jazz Festival. She was drawn by their arts-oriented, nonprofit work and became part of Bayview.

Wang says she sees the center as not only an educational site, but a venue that can change attitude in the racially mixed, blue-collar community.

"We want residents to be able to own the change when it happens," she says.

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