Tuesday August 13, 2019 | by Gabriela Iacovano

CONVERSATION: Liesl Schubel, who's returned to UrbanGlass as director of education, talks about building on the unique New York educational experience

Artist, educator, and arts administrator Liesl Schubel has been named director of education at UrbanGlass, taking over from Ben Wright, who left to become artistic director of Pilchuck Glass School in May 2019. Schubel is very familiar with educational programming at UrbanGlass as she worked closely with Wright from 2016 to 2018 as the program's education coordinator before leaving to work on her own art practice. (Disclosure: The Glass Quarterly Hot Sheet is published by UrbanGlass.) Schubel earned a BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design and has worked and taught at several premier institutions across the country, including Haystack Mountain School of Craft, Pilchuck Glass School, WheatonArts and Cultural Center, The Chrysler Museum of Art Glass Studio, Circle 6 Studios, Ox-Bow School of Art, and UrbanGlass. Schubel is also a founding member of the glass and performance-art collective Flock the Optic, a group that shares her own focus on  the concepts of materiality, gravity, and intimacy. The Glass Quarterly Hot Sheet caught up with Schubel to talk about her plans for the UrbanGlass program.

Glass Quarterly Hot Sheet: You've had a lot of experiences at glass institutions around the U.S. What do you think makes the education programming at UrbanGlass different?
Liesl Schubel: For me, the really unique quality that Urban has is its location. A lot of of the other glass programs have been more rural or have had a smaller reach in their local community. I’m excited about capitalizing on this uniqueness more, and thinking about a more artist-forward program. I want to bring in artists who don’t necessarily work only in glass, and expand our community within the wider world of arts in the city, and specifically, New York City. We have so many other arts organizations around us to tap into as collaborators or partner organizations. I see so many other artistic fields that can be capitalized on for new programming ideas and innovative courses that many different kinds of artists in NYC would try. This could be everything from textiles to performance.

Glass: Are there specific things you might bring to the UrbanGlass educational programming that come from your experiences at the Chrysler or Pilchuck?
Schubel: I think I bring a range of important structural tools in running the programming. Because I worked so closely with Ben, I feel strongly about maintaining the foundation of what he started, but also looking into how it can expand and grow. I'm looking at ways of making it more accessible, highlighting the best parts of the programming and bettering them. The education program has grown exponentially over the past five years and I believe there are ways to capitalize on making the experiences of students longer lasting, and work to transition people into becoming more enduring members of the community, say, after they've taken an introductory workshop, or a more experimental course. If they're new, how do they becomes a more sustaining member of the community? There's a lot of room to play and grow there. I want to work towards classes that have a wider range of technical levels so we can expand the offerings after the introductory courses.  

Glass: There is often some overlap in the instructors making the rounds to different institutions. Why would a student choose to take a course at UrbanGlass instead of at a different location?
Schubel: The glass community is so tight and strong, there may be parallels in programming as instructors move around the community, and students do the same, but they are looking for different experiences at different places. Urban is unique in its location, the breadth of its programming, and of its year-round offerings. But what really sets us apart are the partnerships only possible in this city, and we'll be expanding the offsite opportunities by reaching out to the gallery community, and other art venues in the city. And this brings up the UrbanGlass community, which is something entirely unique. The minute you walk into this studio, you're immersed in a community that represents a diverse range of maker, hobbyist, artist designers -- it's this group of people you have around you as fellow students, renters, and teachers. It's inspiring just to see all the action of what is taking place and how people make their various livelihoods out of the studio. I'm inspired by this community, there's this amazing diversity.

Glass: Do you plan to continue with the scholarship initiative that Ben developed as a way to make UrbanGlass more accessible to a wider range of people? 
Schubel: I definitely will continue the scholarship program; it's something I worked closely with Ben on over the years. It's so important we continue to make all of the classes as accessible as possible to the widest range of people. This institution has been a clear leader in innovative programming, with classes highlighting experimentation, interdisciplinary making, and creativity. I look forward to continuing and building upon those ideals in the education department, and expanding our offerings in conjunction with our growing community of makers. As an artist and educator in New York, I have first-hand knowledge of the positive impact made by the programs, studio access, and community-building championed at UrbanGlass.

Glass: In addition to bringing new students to UrbanGlass, do you have plans to support the existing UrbanGlass community?
Schubel: Absolutely. I plan to continue and enhance professional development offerings to benefit our community, bolster the internship program, and create classes that fit the needs of a community of makers that is growing, gaining skills, and flourishing in the studio.

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.