Tuesday August 16, 2016 | by Malcolm Morano

Glass art on the rise in Asheville as nonprofit buys private facility, plans new studios in 2017

FILED UNDER: Announcements, News, Opening

North Carolina has multiple connections to glass art, from the remarkable residencies and classes at Penland to the glass supplier Spruce Pine Batch, run by the son of Studio Glass pioneer Harvey Littleton, who relocated to the state in 1977. Now the city of Asheville, North Carolina, which the state art council cites as home to "the third-largest number of craft artists in the United States," will get a boost for glass artists with the recently formed North Carolina Glass Center, a nonprofit art center gearing up to move into a brand-new facility in spring of 2017. NCGC will occupy state-of-the-art studios at River Arts Makers Place (known as RAMP), a multi-use 50,000-square-foot facility that will house facilities from a variety of institutions, including the University of North Carolina Asheville. The new glass center aims to offer studio rentals, glass classes and workshops, as well as gallery space. But even before the new building comes online next year, the new nonprofit is already in business, having purchased the assets of the privately-held Asheville Glass Center as of June 1, 2016. NCGC's executive director Kari Rinn, formerly the director of creative arts at Haywood Community College, told the GLASS Quarterly Hot Sheet that the nonprofit plans to vastly expand the glass education programs while keeping the public access that Asheville Glass Center offered.

NCGC will differ from Asheville Glass Center, first and foremost, in the organization’s very nature. “The Asheville Glass Center was a for-profit enterprise,” Kean Werner, chair of the NCGC board told the Hot Sheet in an email exchange. “The North Carolina Glass Center is a 501(c)(3) not for profit primarily focused on education." It will differ equally in scope. "Although the Asheville Glass Center offered some entry level courses in glass blowing and flameworking, NCGC will be offering a full curriculum including casting, fusing, slumping, cold work, and neon in addition to hot shop and flame shop classes.”

In a telephone interview with the Hot Sheet, Rinn reinforced this agenda, calling education the “core function” of the new center. “Education is like the tree, and there’s all these other things that we do, but they really branch off of that core,” she said.

NCGC plans to be an important resource for local artists, as well. Werner said that, “like Asheville Glass Center, we will still be a public access studio where artists may come in and rent studio time.” Rinn hopes to expand this goal to “connecting artists with the resources to build and develop their business skills, as well." And exhibitions are on the agenda, as Werner told us that, “NCGC will offer exhibitions and educational programs that will promote the rich tradition of glass in our region. There are a large number of glass artists that call Western North Carolina their home, and NCGC will offer lectures, classes, and other programs to support and grow that community.”

Other programs at new center will include glassblowing demos to educate the public, as well as walk-in workshops to give passers-by the “hands-on education to understand the physicality of working with the material,” Rinn said. They also wish to develop after-school programs; Rinn spoke of her “goal and passion for reaching school-age kids in the community, and pulling them in and introducing them to the material."

NCGC's new studios at River Arts Makers Place will include approximately 12,000 square feet, with artist studios and exhibition areas filling additional space. Rinn, expressing excitement for the cutting-edge design center's other tenants, told us she looked forward to “a wonderful symbiotic workplace where there’s a lot of collaboration going on.”

In addition to her directorial experience at Haywood Community College, Rinn has served as the Director of Craft Entrepreneurship at the recently-closed Handmade in America; Gallery and Special Events Coordinator at Pistachios, a contemporary jewelry art gallery in Chicago; and professional sales and development consultant for various artists. She graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University with a degree in Craft & Material Studies in 2007, focusing on glass and metal. She continues to work as a metal artist — images of her metalwork have been published in the magazines Metalsmith and American Craft — but she wasn’t able to stick with glass. In fact, she told us that, “part of the reason I was really attracted to [NCGC] and what they were trying to do was because, if there had been a facility like this available to me [after college], then I probably would have kept up with my glasswork.”

Rinn's time at Haywood makes her uniquely qualified for NCGC. There, she oversaw the transition of the school’s arts programs into a new Creative Arts Facility. "Starting from an empty building, she dealt with equipment selection and purchasing, studio set-up, establishment of curriculum offerings, and hiring of staff. She managed over 180 creative arts classes per year,” Werner said. Rinn explained it simply: “they said ‘here are five studios and a budget and the keys; make it happen!’” She's even ready to roll up her sleeves and survey the construction site. “I own a hard hat from my last job, and I will bring it for this one, too.”

NCGC is just at the beginning of a large undertaking, but they're comforted by the community’s support. “Everyone’s on board,” Rinn said. “It takes a team [to build something] and we have an awesome team and community.” As far is Rinn herself is concerned, she’s ready for the challenge: “My personal motto does tend to be ‘go big or go home.’ So we’re a pretty good fit for each other, this project and me.”

For more information, visit the North Carolina Glass Center's website.

GLASS: The UrbanGlass Quarterly, a glossy art magazine published four times a year by UrbanGlass has provided a critical context to the most important artwork being done in the medium of glass for 35 years.