Karn Nichols – the MacPhee Centre

Karn Nichols – Board Chair

“Don’t waste precious time chasing someone else’s definition of success. Live your life with purpose now. Look for the things that inspire you, trouble you, make you feel most alive, and trust in those things to shape your future. They will give you all your heart could ever wish for.” ~ Bill Strickland

Do you ever look back at this journey called life and know exactly that moment when its trajectory changed forever? I do.

It was September of 2009.  I had just left a 20-year career knowing less about where I was headed than what I was moving away from. I had spent the past two decades growing personally and professionally in a wonderful organization but my heart was not filled and I knew intuitively that it was time to move on. Thus, as a 47 year old, I went back to school. It seemed like the right decision and the most logical next step forward.

The transition from supervisor to scholar was more difficult than anticipated. I found myself filled with an abundance of self-doubt and deep anxiety.  I was lost. I was scared. What the hell had I been thinking?   What made me think I could go back to school as a middle aged professional?  So, on that warm fall afternoon almost a decade ago, filled more with angst than anticipation, I did not foresee that one chance encounter would change my life forever.

As part of our Masters curriculum…we were required to attend a presentation by Bill Strickland. My research told me that Bill was  an African-American social entrepreneur from Pittsburgh whose life had been profoundly impacted by his high school art teacher, Frank Ross. This notion of  ‘social entrepreneurship’ was a brand new concept for me; however, it was one that resonated deeply.  I loved the notion of that creative collision between business and the arts in the service of something so much bigger.  As Bill spoke passionately about the work he was doing at Manchester Bidwell, I could feel something inside coming alive. His words moved me. They sparked a feeling of purpose…and hope.

Bill’s ‘enterprise’ was an organization called Manchester Bidwell. At Manchester Bidwell Corporation, they had a simple philosophy – they believed that environment shapes lives. By constructing an empowering atmosphere of art, light, music, and a staff that strived to realize the genius in everyone, they impacted youth in way that allowed them to become productive members of society. WOW!  What a profound moment of illumination!  I loved so much of what Bill shared. The transformative power of art. The importance of beautiful spaces. The potential of generative partnerships with the business community. The sweet intersection of passion and purpose. Suddenly, it became abundantly clear that the chance encounter with this lovely man was not a coincidence. What I was witnessing was beautiful synchronicity between the path I had chosen and the opportunity that was in front of me.

I have since had the privilege of meeting Bill on a number of occasions. Each time, I felt I was in the presence of a man who was on a divine mission to change the world through art.  His presence gave voice to that small spark inside and ignited my purpose. I feel privileged to have met this man. Our encounter gave me the confidence to take the next uncertain steps forward.

The journey since that fateful day has been rich and magnificent. It was through this chance encounter with Bill in 2009, that I came to know so many others who were also moved by Bill’s message.  I found my tribe.  This tribe believed it was our duty to replicate the essence and power of Bill’s work right here in Dartmouth.  It was through their vision, their energy and their sheer determination that we all have the privilege today to experience what I call the ‘MacPhee Magic’.

Some evenings, when I am at the MacPhee Center for a meeting, I take a moment to pause, close my eyes and give thanks for the beautiful energy that flows throughout 50 Queen.  The excited chatter from the drama club on the first floor. The gentle murmur of young songwriters on the second. This is the special energy that is generated when our youth meet inspiration. When fear meets love and humanity. When passion meets purpose.  This, my friends, is a true work of art. This, is the MacPhee Center.