Students Kel Gober, Frederick Toribio, TJ Myers, John Adams and Jonuel Rivera of the 'SS Boys' in December 2012.

Studio 345 produces young talent

An after-school program to teach digital multimedia skills to Charlotte high school students is attracting high praise from a national leader in youth development.

Launched by the Charlotte Arts and Science Council and based at Spirit Square, Studio 345 seeks to repeat a successful formula created by Bill Strickland at the National Center for Arts and Technology in Pittsburgh. Strickland is a community development leader and recipient of a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant who believes disadvantaged young people can excel when they’re exposed to meaningful arts education and facilities.

“Studio 345 is working primarily because they spent a lot of time thinking through their strategy and understanding their market,” Strickland said on a visit to Charlotte. “They spent time in Pittsburgh understanding our program, they met with our faculty, they looked at our curriculum…. They recruited an incredible faculty of some of the best visual artists in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg region, and Barbara [Temple] provided terrific administrative leadership.”

Temple, vice president of education for the Arts and Science Council, says the 10-week program organizes students into groups who take advantage of state-of-the-art studios for art and multimedia recording, as well as digital photography and videography equipment. Named for Spirit Square’s address – 345 College Street – Studio 345 finishes its third trimester on May 30. Mecklenburg County also supports the program.

“We want these kids to have a high school diploma,” Temple says. “But as Heath Morrison, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools superintendent, has said, it’s not just about increasing the graduation rate. It’s also about the quality of the diploma. We want the diploma to be as solid as it can, and we want these students to be college-ready, or career-ready, or Army ready, or Air Force ready – ready for whatever career direction or educational program they might choose.”

Last fall, multimedia production program was divided into three student creative teams. One of the teams – the SS Boys (for Spirit Square) – wrote, performed, shot video, and produced a music video of their own song, “I Can’t Wait.” The other teams completed projects just as ambitious.

Frederick Toribio, a senior at West Mecklenburg High School and a member of the SS Boys, says the audio recording experience was amazing. “The sound is much clearer, I was like, whoa, when I heard myself in the real studio instead of at home,” Toribio says. After graduating from high school, Toribio plans to study media production in the fall at Full Sail University in Winter Park, Florida.

Strickland is optimistic about the opportunity to repeat Charlotte’s success in other communities.

“Kids are built the same in Charlotte as they are in Pittsburgh, or Austin, or Des Moines, and that tells us that there is a remediation strategy that can be developed and that we can take this thing across the country on a national scale,” Strickland says. “We now have a direction that says we can engage tens of thousands of young people to take them from liabilities to assets and do it in a definable period of time. This is very good news.”

Photograph of Studio 345 students Kel Gober, Frederick Toribio, TJ Myers, John Adams and Jonuel Rivera — all of the ‘SS Boys’ — in December 2012.

Bob Page is editor of Digital Charlotte.