Tuesday January 5, 2021 | by Andrew Page

Youth-nonprofit GlassRoots seeks executive director as long-time leader Barbara Heisler steps back after eight years

As it embarks on its 20th year, the Newark, New Jersey-based nonprofit GlassRoots has announced a search for a new executive director to take over as its longtime leader Barbara Heisler steps back. Dedicated to using the unique power of glass art to reach young people, and help them develop the skills and confidence to succeed in life, the organization is poised for a year of major changes. It is preparing to move into a brand-new facility later this year, growing its footprint from a 5,700-square-foot facility to a 25,000-square-foot location in a newly created center called the Newark Arts Commons, and broadening its offerings to include a coffee shop and a worker space to support emerging craft artists in multiple media.

In two decades, this organization assisting youth of all backgrounds has grown to have an annual budget of $1 million, and is funded by a mix of government grants, private donors, corporate and foundation grants, and earned income. GlassRoots estimates in the past eight years it has served over 15,000 students and offers unique programs of career training in scientific glass, using glass art for trauma healing, and creating commissioned glass awards for corporations, among a whole range of educational courses.

GlassRoots has been recognized for its operating efficiency and transparency by leading nonprofit watchdogs. With a staff of 12 and a board of trustees with 13 members, the organization is looking for new leadership to set strategic goals and priorities as it expands in the coming years, according to the job posting about the executive director position. Qualified candidates should send a current resume, together with a cover letter and salary requirements via email to Charlene Moore Hayes.

The organization is seeking a well-rounded new leader who will be able to oversee the expansion into a new space and new activities, such as a coffee shop and expanded gift shop, that will come with the new space. Fundraising is another key expertise the job requires. The deadline to apply for the executive director position with "full consideration" is January 22, 2021. Candidates must bring a bachelor's degree; strong leadership skills; proven management abilities; a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion; and outstanding communication skills. Additional pluses are a demonstrated passion for community-based arts and an appreciation for the business side of art. The successful applicant would be able to start immediately.

"We look forward to working with Barbara in a different capacity as she will continue advocating for GlassRoots through work with donors and funders on our behalf,” said Roger C. Tucker III, GlassRoots board president said in a prepared statement. “Our next executive director will build upon Barbara’s successes and lead the organization’s transition to larger studios and bigger programs. Our new state-of-the-art facilities in the Newark Arts Commons building will allow us to invite and interact with more schools, artists and introduce glass arts to communities throughout Newark and New Jersey.”

The Glass Quarterly Hot Sheet was able to catch up with outgoing executive director Barbara Heisler for an extensive telephone interview about her 8-year tenure with the Newark nonprofit, which she has led through not only continuous expansion of programs and
offerings, but the difficult pandemic that hit in March 2020.

Outgoing executive director Barbara Heisler has led the organization since 2013.

Glass Quarterly Hot Sheet: You came on in 2013 as interim director, and became executive director in 2014. What are the things you're most proud of, and why are you moving on?
Barbara Heisler: I left another role as president of a national organization to come to GlassRoots because I realized that I really enjoyed working with organizations in transition, and I planned to work as an organizational executive coach. So I came in 2013 as a transitional leader, and it was like with anything else when you fall in love, you do things you wouldn't otherwise do. GlassRoots is a very special organization, and it faced big challenges at the time. I found myself totally enmeshed in this marvelous organization and, by extension, in the glass-art world, which I had known nothing about. Both of them totally got me, and so I stayed on. I'm not leaving with any dissatisfaction, I just feel it's a really good time to leave personally and for the organization.

Glass: Well there certainly do seem to be some big changes going on with the upcoming move to be the anchor of the ambitious new art center called Newark Arts Commons.
Heisler: I had originally planned to stay on until after GlassRoots moved into its new space. But as they say, people make plans and God laughs. The move date has been a moving goalpost, as with any major construction. At one point we were moving in 2018, then 2019, then we were moving in 2020, now we’re finally going to move in 2021. I realized that I needed to stop tying my end date to the date of the GlassRoots move. It wasn’t good for me or the organization, and, quite frankly, organizations need different kind of leaders at different times. I was the leader in the "teenaged years," when GlassRoots was deciding what it wanted to be when it grew up. Now it's time for another leader as the organization turns 20 years old. It's really moving into adulthood.

Glass: What are some of the highlights from your years as GlassRoots leader? Did you always see such growth and opportunity for this unique organization?
Heisler: GlassRoots has had a really solid staff, and always had a very strong foundation. I just walked in and felt like the possibilities were there for the choosing, and it was a challenge to roll those changes out slowly so they could absorb them, which is one of the reasons I stayed so long. We rolled out our form of the bead shop, modeled on the UrbanGlass Bead Project; we rolled out our scientific glass program, and in our new space we'll have a scientific glass shop which will be a working studio for on the job training and revenue. We’re now in our next iteration of the Fellowship Program, after three years with Penland, we're restarting the program with Peters Valley School of Craft. And we’re introducing our exciting worker space, which is really about creating a place for emerging craft artists to be able to hone their skills and take those kind of risks you have to take as an emerging entrepreneur, creating a safe environment with low overhead for someone launching a career in the arts. 

I'm especially excited by the worker space , which will be aimed at jewelry making, glass, enameling and small metal work, small woodwork. It's not going to be one of those spaces aiming at robotics, or 3D printing, but will offer 10 spaces for emerging artists, craft entrepreneurs to work collaboratively. We'll be offering lectures from other entrepreneurs, sessions from master artists, how to hone your skills as a craftsperson, how to maintain work/life balance. The idea is to provide a launching pad for people to grow into. Right now as our participants graduate from our bead shop program, they need a place to launch their businesses, as so many of them live in housing where they can't have an open flame. They need a space to continue to build their businesses.

Those are things I’m really proud of, as well as GlasRoots' standing in the glass world. During my tenure, I was able to shine a light on a really innovative spunky organization that people knew about but didn’t really get how creative and what potential there was there. And so, through my affiliations with GAS and SOFA and other wonderful networks available, I feel like that’s what I did.

Glass: How have you handled the incredible challenges brought by the Covid-19 pandemic?
Heisler: It has been tough, but it's also allowed GlassRoots to show its nimbleness. Within two weeks of our lockdown, we had our virtual programing up and running. It's really a testament to the willingness and creativity of our staff to think together and keep our community at the center of all of our work. We knew we had to keep connecting with our community, and we connected well outside of our community. Nearly 40,000 people viewed at least one of our virtual-studio programs. The legacy of that is we’re going to include more distance learning programs in the future. We understand that while hands-on glass work is optimal, there is a way to reach young people and adults virtually in meaningful ways. That’s important even in a small state like New Jersey, where there are schools that are four hours away from us that will never get to our studio, but we can still have an impact on their education.

Barbara Heisler (second from right) tours the building site of the new site where GlassRoots will move in 2021.

I feel like I’m leaving at a time of hope. There’s now a vaccine, and I feel like GlassRoots is going to be in a place where the move will happen, the studios will get set up, people will be able to gather again at the same time the timing was really perfect.

But it has been a challenge. We did recently have to close down again for 10 days when there was a lockdown in Newark because of a spike in cases. We’re back open again, still in small in-person groups, private lessons, and studio rentals. We just watch what’s happening in the environment, our mayor is very communicative about what we need to be doing, and we are very serious about safety. None of our staff has contracted the virus. We post what stage we’re in on the GlassRoots website, we’re in stage 3 at the moment, and we list our protocols, small groups, no in-person shopping or anything, no prolonged visits.

Glass: What is next for you, personally?
Heisler: I've had a consulting practice for many years, focused on organizational change and individual growth. I'll be focusing on relaunching that practice, formally. Though I’ve had some work on the side, Glassroots always came first. Now this work will come first. But GlassRoots will be one of my clients for the foreseeable future, and I will be working with the development team. Especially in the area of institutional funding, where we’ve been able to develop some really deep relationships.  

I want to continue my efforts to ensure Glass Roots remains as healthy as it has up to now. We haven’t had to let go of anyone due to the pandemic. Some of our part-time instructors are a bit more part-time than they had been, due to their own constraints. Some of our instructors are in college, or they might have children being educated at home and don’t have the flexibility they had prior to the pandemic, so we’re trying to make it work for everybody. We have salaried staff artists, they’ve all been able to remain on staff at full salaries. So many of our staff members are graduates of our own programs and it’s important for us to keep everyone employed.

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 more than 40 years.