WRITER | NICOLETTE CHAMBERY
PHOTOS | WMCAT
Raising Up Young Artists and Empowering Marginalized Adults
If you weren’t sure what you wanted to do with your life and took an unconventional (but intentional) path to get you to the position you’re in today, you can relate to Daniel Williams, the brilliant visionary leading the talented staff and board at the West Michigan Center for Arts and Technology (WMCAT).
WMCAT was inspired by Manchester Bidwell, an organization that combines career training for adults, youth arts education programs, jazz presentations, and orchid and floral sales to impact marginalized populations in Pittsburgh. Local business owners in Grand Rapids heard Bidwell’s founder, Bill Strickland, speak and decided they wanted to replicate the program. As a result, WMCAT was founded in 2004 to provide an interesting meeting of arts and technology to engage those in high school through graduation as well as underemployed adults so they can shift into a living-wage career. Williams wasn’t sure what he wanted to do through college, but he knew he was interested in examining systems and how outcomes, both positive and negative, aren’t accidental but the result of these systems. Through work as an admissions counselor in Hampton, Virginia, he encountered incredibly bright kids who weren’t adequately prepared for the admissions process and needed coaching to ensure their college attendance.
In frustration, Williams went on to work as the principal at the Grand Rapids University Prep Academy, where he bolstered graduation rates to more than 90 percent each year for seven years. After serving on WMCAT’s board from 2013-2015, he was appointed executive director, leading the conversations and directing initiatives to provide equitable opportunities to both children and adults.
What’s refreshing about WMCAT’s model is that it’s committed to providing the very best equipment and workspace for program participants, which includes the purchase of state-of-the-art industry-level technology systems.
“Working in an incredible environment is part of what curates community, and that includes the foyer when you first walk into WMCAT. By providing a safe and trusting environment, we hope to create a culture that fosters creativity and innovation,” Williams said.
WMCAT programs include their nationally recognized Teen Arts + Tech Program that offers a variety of free opportunities for youth to invest in their artistry after school and over the summer around Grand Rapids.
West MI Center for Arts and Technology l 98 Fulton St. E, Grand Rapids 49503 l (616) 454-7004 l WMCAT.org