TYIAN BATTLE, founder of ACH Clear Pathways. (Photo by J.L. Martello)
by Christian Morrow, Courier Staff Writer
In just 10 years, ACH Clear Pathways has gone from an idea to a nonprofit agency that employs art to enrich the lives of hundreds of children and youth in the Hill District. But one thing it always lacked—which became ever more pressing as the program grew—was its own building.
That may cease to be a problem very shortly, as ACH Clear Pathways is currently undergoing fundraising efforts in hopes of purchasing the Kaufmann Center building from the Hill House Association, the New Pittsburgh Courier has learned.
“We are in the process of closing on the purchase,” founder and Executive Director Tyian Battle told the Courier. “It will be done by the end of the year.”
When Battle’s son, Amon Cashmere Harris, died at age 7 from a rare heart condition in 2009, Battle knew she wanted to honor his memory by providing for local children. At the suggestion of a friend, she decided to start a nonprofit, and thought to do that through something Amon loved—martial arts.
“And it took off from there. I can’t sing, dance or draw, but we have people who can. And I’m just blown away by the way our kids engage in arts,” Battle said. “This year is an amazing year for me because Amon would have graduated from high school this year. The stars are really aligning in heaven for this.”
By 2010, Battle had registered ACH Clear Pathways as a nonprofit charity. Almost immediately, it earned the backing of the United Way, and thanks to Battle’s tenacity and faith, it has enjoyed a meteoric rise to success. In addition to traditional studio and visual arts programming, ACH Clear Pathways now offers theatre and acting, music and vocals, dance, poetry and spoken word, and, of course, martial arts after school each day. There are 47 students enrolled for the coming year.
It also operates a six- to eight-week summer Creative Camp where students receive breakfast, lunch and a snack, attend field trips and complete community service projects and the visual arts projects they complete are displayed throughout the Hill District community.
But again, the lack of its own space was a problem. Battle operated from the Blakey Center until the Hill House ended its youth programming in 2012. She then moved to the Ammon Recreation Center until 2017, then to Weil School, and finally to the former Hill House Charter Academy space in the Kaufmann Building in July.
State Rep. Jake Wheatley, D-Hill District, was one of Battle’s earliest financial supporters and now serves on her board of directors. He also serves on the board of the Hill House Association, which has been liquidating assets pursuant to its bankruptcy filing earlier this year, and said the deal was a case of perfect timing.
“They had actually done a huge capital campaign and had raised a lot of money so they could build their own facility. They’d even purchased some property in the Hill,” he said.
But then Battle said the Hill House approached her about purchasing the Kaufmann Center building, which she knew from having leased the space on the ground floor had all the amenities needed—a classroom, studio, and thanks to a $1 million grant from the late Elsie Hillman, beautifully upgraded performance space. The auditorium inside the Kaufmann Center is named the Elsie Hillman Auditorium.
“I think it’s always important to help children grow creatively, artistically, because it helps them academically and socially, and our kids need that creative side nurtured,” said Rep. Wheatley. “That and Tyian’s passion and her personal story made me want to be a part of this. So, I’m all in and I’m very proud of how she’s stuck with it—people closed doors on her in the beginning. But she’s an example of what you can do when you have clarity of purpose and heart.”
Battle gives the credit to God for ACH Clear Pathways’ success (the “ACH” in ACH Clear Pathways are her son’s initials). As for the speed with which it has come about, she says that’s all relative.
“It doesn’t seem quick to me because I’m doing the work,” she said. “I have a strong faith and I don’t really even look at that.”
Now, assuming everything passes due diligence, she’s looking forward to filling that auditorium—not just with kids, but with performing artists and community members.
“We want it to remain a hub for artists and the community. We’re looking at programming for seniors, and we want to partner with advancing Black artists,” Battle said. “And we’ll have an event coordinator to schedule concerts, poetry slams, plays—we want it packed with events. The revenue is part of our strategic plan.”
This year’s students will celebrate their artistic accomplishments with two showcases; the holiday showcase, Dec. 20, and the spring showcase, May 19, 2020.
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