Many of my Rants & Raves begin as conversations at home. Normally I attend an event, read a news article, listen to talk radio or watch something on television, and then the discussion begins. Primarily with my husband Rickerby who has also become the unofficial editor of my R&R’s. Since I started this column, a recurring theme has developed, we believe we can all become change agents in building the type of communities we want to live in and leave as a legacy for future generations.
On a recent Sunday morning, Rickerby watched an episode of CBS’s Sunday Morning on Daktronics, a company founded in 1968 by two South Dakota State University professors. The company now makes the largest LED displays for stadiums throughout the US, but they didn’t know that when they started. Their motivation, instead, was simply to try to employ a portion of the 88 percent of their college graduates who left the town of Brookings because there were no jobs for them when they graduated.
Their story reminded him of Bill Strickland, the man who built a multi-million dollar enterprise – the Manchester Bidwell Corporation – in the heart of Pittsburgh’s poorest neighborhood; a unique education and job training company founded as a small craftsmen’s guild. We first met Mr. Strickland 12 years ago when he was a featured speaker at the annual Inc. 500 Conference in Indian Wells and have continued to follow his career as he has continued to build similar centers in cities across the country. If you want to be inspired watch his TED Talk on how environments change behavior.
As a playwright and professor of theater at UC Riverside it really made Rickerby think about his own students and our constant complaint that some of the brightest students have to leave the region once they graduate because there is nothing to keep them here.The founders of Daktronics did it in rural South Dakota. Bill Strickland in blighted Pittsburgh. And then there’s Ashland, Oregon – the country’s premiere Shakespeare theater which annually attracts thousands of people to the secluded little town. So, the question became, if these people could do it, why can’t we be agents of change right here in Riverside – the city of “Arts & Innovation?”
Yesterday Rickerby celebrated his 50th birthday. And in honor of that milestone he decided to stage an evening of excerpts from his work at UCR’s University Theater, the very same stage where he began his amazing career as an undergraduate at that university and where he is now a full professor. He was joined by around 350 friends and family. Also present was the man who introduced him to drama, his high school English and drama teacher Mr. Rory Pullens, a national leader in arts education and the head of arts education for the Los Angeles Unified School District, the second largest school system in the country. Rickerby definitely learned from the best.
At the end of the evening, from that very stage where he launched his career 27 years ago, Rickerby announced that he is founding the Center of Dramatic Innovation at UC Riverside that will take the arts into schools and communities and provide jobs in the arts right here in the Inland Empire. So he thought this birthday celebration was also the perfect time to announce our commitment of $25,000 to start Hindsight Collab, which in the spirit of tech start-ups will serve as an incubator for new work in theater and performance, developed with talent right here in our region to tour at universities, theaters, and communities across the US and abroad. He gave as examples a performance he took to one European country last year which has led to two performances touring four European countries this year.
Then something totally unexpected, but in the spirit of the evening, extremely dramatic, happened.
Rory Pullens rose to his feet and from the audience announced that as head of Los Angeles Unified’s arts education program, he would match our $25,000 with a $25,000 contract to develop an innovative theater program for Los Angeles public school students. And then UCR Vice-Chancellor of Student Services Jim Sandoval, another mentor and person who has seen how the dramatic arts can engage and inspire young people, pledged another $25,000 to build the “pipeline” of students ready for the university. And this is just the start.
With this financial foundation, The Center for Dramatic Innovation’s first program will begin in July less than a mile from UCR’s campus at the Cesar Chavez Center in one of Riverside’s most disadvantaged communities as a part of the city-run Riverside Arts Academy. UCR graduate and talented performer Rhaechyl Walker, who had to leave the area in search of work but who has returned because of the arts, will lead it.
As our family continues in the tradition of change agents we encourage you to do the same…and get down to the business of changing the world, beginning right here and right now.