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News & Events

News & Event

Changing Lives with Art

During his first week at Cincinnati Arts and Technology Center (CATC), Brandon Briggs stood up at a college fair and asked a tough question. “Can I get into college even though I have a felony on my record?” Brandon is 17 years old and began taking classes at CATC last fall after he was released from juvenile prison. 
Cincinnati Arts and Technology CenterDuring his first week at Cincinnati Arts and Technology Center (CATC), Brandon Briggs stood up at a college fair and asked a tough question. 

 “Can I get into college even though I have a felony on my record?” Brandon is 17 years old and began taking classes at CATC last fall after he was released from juvenile prison. 

 He is one of 300-plus Cincinnati Public School juniors and seniors at risk of not graduating. CATC teachers use fine arts to encourage students like Brandon, who have often experienced a lot of failure and think of themselves as nonachievers. 

Brandon and Laura Greene-White, CATC Director of Education, recently reflected on his first week at CATC. 

“Do you realize how brave it was of you to get up and ask that question?” Laura asked the teen. “You probably asked the question others were afraid to ask.” 

Brandon smiled at this praise and said that when he was in juvenile prison, he was told that it was quite likely he would turn into a statistic and return. 

“How did that make you feel?” Laura asked. 

“It put me low. I felt like I couldn’t do anything but get through high school,” he replied. 

This interaction with Brandon is typical of Laura’s day. As she walks through the bright CATC classrooms in Longworth Hall, she knows all the students’ names and asks them specific questions about paperwork and plans. 

For instance, a female student is considering transferring to another high school program. Laura asks her if she is aware that if she does this, she will no longer be eligible for some college scholarships and sends the student to visit the Cincinnati Youth Collaborative representative on staff who is there to help students with college access. 

A student beams when Laura compliments his pottery. She reminds another boy to take off his hat. He obviously doesn’t want to but does it with a respectful smile and “yes ma’am.” 

Laura explains that the CATC staff work on building up confidence as well as teaching students that in order to succeed in the real world, they need to understand the value of working hard. 

“They don’t understand what the world requires of them – no one has taught them,” she said. “We look at their strengths first. To put effort into the work, you need to feel your efforts are positive. We tell them what’s right and then give them the tools to grow. Kids know when you’re trying to help elevate them and for these kids, art is the perfect vehicle.” 

CATC was modeled after the successful Manchester Bidwell Training Center in Pittsburgh founded by Bill Strickland.

“Strickland’s concept is that if you provide children with high expectations, they will rise to meet them,” CATC Board Chairman Lee Carter said. “It’s CEO Linda Tresvant, Laura and all the other teachers that make this work. They are dedicated to these children.” 

As for Brandon, he learned that he can go to college. 

“I was hopeless, but now my goals in life can be accomplished,” he said. “It’s like art is my new life.” 

Brandon still faces obstacles. The teen said there is a lot of gang activity where he lives with an aunt and cousin. He tries to keep his schedule packed by working two jobs and going to CATC. 

Laura reinforced his choices. “Do you know how brilliant you are?” she asked him. “You are creating a schedule and a place to be so you’re not available for trouble.” 

Brandon plans to go to college and study criminal justice. He and Laura discuss the possibility of him someday using art to help children in juvenile prison. 

“I saw a lot of people with talent in jail,” he says. “I can help people who were in my shoes. You can’t reach everyone. If you reach one person – it’s all right.” 

It’s hard to believe Brandon won’t reach more than one person. 

CATC received $275,000 for start-up funding in 2003 from Better Together Cincinnati (BTC), a funders collaborative managed by GCF. 

Educational attainment is one of three goals that BTC focuses on to develop lasting solutions to racial equity. In 2005, CATC received a $100,000 grant from GCF. It has also received support from donor advised funds and one of GCF’s Private Foundation Grantmaking Services clients.