As a photography instructor at the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild, Germaine Watkins explains why it’s essential to connect with his students. “It’s important, because that’s what was done with me when I was a student, and I’m trying to replicate that from my experience," he said. "It helps them out to see that other people are interested in them and their development within the arts, and as a person too.”
Since its inception in 1968, the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild, an arm of the Manchester Bidwell Corporation, has been serving Pittsburgh, Penn. and its surrounding communities as a non-profit, multidisciplinary arts education program available to at-risk youth. Founder Bill Strickland created the guild with the mission “to educate and inspire urban youth through the arts.”
The 62,000-square-foot training center, located in the North Shore section of the city, offers educational arts programming in ceramics, design, digital arts and photography. The guild also provides training in various vocational fields, such as gourmet food preparation and chemical, office and medical technologies. Other programs include the Denali Initiative, which educates future entrepreneurs on the development of business and financing practices, and MCG Jazz, the guild’s own record label that is the recipient of four Grammy Awards. Close to 4,000 students from the Pittsburgh Public School District are served by the organization on a yearly basis.
Sitting in on Watkins’ class, one gets the sense of the gifts he possesses when it comes to teaching. A former student of the guild and an employee for 16 years, Watkins started his professional career at Manchester as a lab technician after graduating with a degree in communications from Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
“When I was graduating from college, I wanted a job that was different every day, that wasn’t a factory job or something like that," he said. "That’s what I got. It’s something new and different every day. Sometimes it can be exciting, sometimes it can be stressful, but it’s one of those jobs that isn’t totally predictable.”
Soon he was teaching his own photography classes and, in partnership with fellow photography instructor Jolie Peters, created an in-depth series of photography workshops that challenge as well as inspire their students. This trimester they are teaching a black-and-white film photography class called "Nature’s Adventures," and another called "Hometown Advantage," a digital photography course where students take pictures of their surrounding neighborhoods. Other course subjects include "Sky's the Limit," which allows students to study the sky photographically, and "Double Fun," a film-based course that introduces students to 35mm and 2 ¼ film processes.
The Manchester Craftsman’s Guild uses various evaluation instruments to measure its social impact, the most prominent being the organization’s National Center for Arts & Technology (NCAT). Organizations and individuals interested in duplicating the guild’s success can do so through NCAT’s national replication strategy. In terms of evaluation from the teacher’s perspective, Watkins’ approach is very straight-forward.
“On the ground level, or where I’m coming from, I measure it simply by talking to the students and finding out if they’re getting what we’re trying to teach them," he said. "Also, I talk to them on a personal level and ask them what’s going on in their lives. So it’s more on an individual personal level within the classroom itself, but we do have our different surveys that the students fill out, and we also have our exhibitions that the students are able to submit their work to.”
In the end, it’s the enjoyment of teaching that keeps Watkins motivated and coming back for more. “Within the art world, there’s a lot of people who don’t perceive photography as an art form, and I’m like ‘No, it is an art form!’" he said. "So to have students who come here and don’t know anything about art and photography, and then come out with a better appreciation of the art form and wanting to create their own art, is very important.”
To learn more about the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild, visit their website at www.mcgyouthandarts.org.