UrbanGlass by Patricia C. Phillips
UrbanGlass's new facilities in Brooklyn provide access to studios and equipment as well as educational opportunities for glass artists and artists wanting to learn glassworking techniques. UrbanGlass is dedicated to the creation and appreciation of art produced in glass. It supports this deceptively modest purpose with an ambitious and integrated range of programs and initiatives. The anchor of UrbanGlass is to provide access for artists to glass production and studio facilities. Artists reserve time to work on independent projects, to produce commissions, or to explore for the first time this ubiquitous, yet mysterious, material. The scale of projects ranges from beads and goblets to architectural elements and projects. In any given week, there are accomplished glassblowers working alongside artists who are just beginning to incorporate the material and new processes into their work.
Started in 1977 by Richard Yelle and Eric Erickson, the original artist-run facility was called the New York Experimental Glass Workshop. First located on Great Jones Street in New York City, it was the only art (rather than industrial) facility in the region to provide opportunities for artists to work with glass. After moving to a second site in lower Manhattan, new programs, increased use, and demands for space caused them once more to relocate the entire operation, to Brooklyn, in 1991. Now located in the former 1919 Beaux-Arts Strand Theater, the new 25,000-square-foot, three-story site is a spacious and captivating facility for its many programs and projects. Architect and glassblower Jeff Beers designed a minimal white grid in the interior that organizes the different production spaces of this glamorous and gritty building. The studio/production area includes spaces and equipment for glassblowing, hot casting, kiln casting, cold working, sandblasting, moldmaking, flat glass, neon, and lamp-working. This productive occupant seems at home in the majestic spaces of the early 20th- century theater.
John Perreault, executive director of UrbanGlass since 1995, has had a distinguished career as an art critic and curator, and the organization's programs have gained focus and scope from his background. Perreault is concurrently an advocate for traditional values and experimental initiatives. More importantly, he sees the inextricable relationship between the two.
In addition to artists' use of the facilities, UrbanGlass is one of the largest glass schools in the world. Offering courses throughout the year, it has an annual enrollment of 600 students. Classes include short-term, focused workshops, as well as semester-long classes. Courses for product design students from Parsons School of Design are offered during most terms. Like many art organizations, there is a growing emphasis on UrbanGlass's instructional and outreach programs that help emerging or established artists acquire skills or achieve an understanding of the many different technologies and typologies of glass production. Last summer, UrbanGlass featured an impressive scope of weekly classes and weekend and other intensive workshops in glassblowing, stained glass, beadmaking, hot casting, sculptural lampworking, and neon.
UrbanGlass has traditionally supported an annual series of artists' residencies (these are currently under review because of the costs involved). Barbara Broughel, the B Team, and others have been given space, materials, and technical support to produce new work. Several years ago, Eve Andrée Laramée did a residency at UrbanGlass. She used the residency to create an amalgamation of scientific apparatus, including beakers, flasks, and meandering tubes for her spectacularly profuse installation The Science of Approximation. Laramée's exhibition opened in January 1994 in the Robert Lehman Gallery at UrbanGlass. Recent exhibitions have included the work of Alan Glovsky, an exhibition curated by Alison Sky entitled "People in Glass Houses...," and the summer 1997 group exhibition "Glass Worlds," which included the recent work of artists currently teaching at UrbanGlass. This exhibition, in particular, represents the eclectic range of contemporary glass art.
The exhibition program is a vital dimension of the organization's mission. The 1,500-square-foot Lehman Gallery is a site to present new and old, national and international glass art. Its position adjacent to the production facility provides invaluable opportunities to observe the mysteries of making-to consider the dynamics of production processes, intention, function, and aesthetics.
UrbanGlass's other program, a quarterly publication, connects all of the organization's objectives and provides an international forum on glass art and craft. Glass: The UrbanGlass Art Quarterly, which is currently edited by Perreault, is a communicative, critical vehicle that reaches an audience of mainstream glass artists, other artists, curators, critics, and collectors.
Recently, Perreault has helped to found the New York Arts and Crafts Alliance. Including Greenwich House Pottery, the Sculpture Center School, the Crafts Students League at the YWCA, and, of course, UrbanGlass, this new confederation of art organizations is committed to a continuing education that provides opportunities for people of different artistic backgrounds to learn new skills and processes. It is an important "non-degree" alternative that is available to young artists as well as to people who have had minimal art instruction. In addition to the collaborative and creative prospects of this kind of cooperative, educational alliance, it is an economic imperative at a paradoxical moment when many art organizations face diminishing economies and increased demands. It is a promising model for specialized arts organizations to mix mediums, exchange ideas, and share resources.
By keeping its doors open and hosting such a variety of programs, UrbanGlass admirably fulfills its mission to support a national artist community, encourage public interest, and create a critical forum for both traditional and emerging glass arts. Citing the Arts & Crafts movement which balanced shifting equations of idealism and entrepreneurship, Perreault and his staff fully understand and embrace the challenges that face smaller art organizations. Providing a unique creative and critical service, the art and craft worlds are immeasurably enriched by UrbanGlass's activities and programs. If meaning often begins in the making, then art facilities such as UrbanGlass, where artists can investigate the rich traditions and untested potentials of particular materials, are invaluable creative resources.
Patricia C. Phillips is an independent critic and writer and dean of the School of Fine and Performing Arts at State University of New York, New Paltz.
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