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A unique program that links art and vocational-training programs will be launched soon under the direction of Amber Dixon, the former interim superintendent of the Buffalo Public Schools.

The Buffalo Arts and Technology Center will provide health-sciences career training for unemployed and underemployed adults while also offering an after-school arts program for at-risk high school students. Dixon is hoping programs will begin later this year, with plans for a full-scale launch of the center by no later than early 2014. The center will be located in Artspace Buffalo Lofts, 1219 Main St.

Dixon recently sat down with The Buffalo News’ Brian Meyer. Here is a summary of some issues covered in an interview that is part of the weekly “In Focus” series. Watch the full seven-minute interview at BuffaloNews.com/video.

Meyer: Tell us about the Buffalo Arts and Technology Center.

Dixon: [It’s] a new attempt here in the City of Buffalo to make an economic impact on the city. We’re modeled after the Manchester Bidwell Corp. in Pittsburgh, and our mission is to impact the economy on a two-pronged level. On one main level, it’s to provide an arts education program for at-risk high school students. The idea being that we want to encourage them to stay in school and graduate, because we all know that the chances of working with a high school diploma are so much higher than if you don’t finish high school. And the second [mission] is to look at the burgeoning medical corridor and look at what jobs are available there and look at people who are traditionally unemployed or underserved in this community. [We’re looking at] how can we train people to take these jobs and make sure that the growth of the medical corridor is a growth of the neighborhoods around it.

Meyer: Two very different mission statements. Why do they go together, do you think?

Dixon: What you see is that children who are coming to us, the lower their [families’] income, the more obstacles they have to overcome. The more unstable the neighborhood, the less work there is in the neighborhood, the harder it is on the children. So it’s almost as if we’re attacking this cycle of poverty on two different levels. One is to prevent further poverty by keeping students in school ... getting them graduated and on to college or career. The second is to sort of swoop back and grab those people who maybe weren’t successful in college, or didn’t make it through high school, and make sure that there’s a chance for them to have a job in the medical corridor that will pay a living wage and allow them to sustain their family.

Meyer: [Economic development officials note] that not everyone is going to be a scientist, but we’re going to have a lot of other good jobs on that Medical Campus. But we need to train people for them.

Dixon: Exactly. The board that brought this model to Buffalo ... [did an extensive study] of what jobs in the medical corridor would provide this opportunity for people who have a high school diploma or a GED. We were able to narrow it down to two particular fields: medical coders and pharmacy techs ... These are both areas that will have jobs that pay beginning in the $30,000 range and moving on up to $50s and $60s. So [there is an] ability to walk into what could be a career in an institution that pays attention to its employees and is about to grow, as opposed to getting ready to pack up and leave town. So we’re very targeted in our approach.