by Andrew Page
Last summer’s massive protests sparked a national dialogue about race that has reverberated across society and challenged the art world to reflect on how inclusive keepers of culture have truly been. In the glass art field, where representation of people of color remains limited at best, it sparked a necessary and overdue conversation about why racial disparity has persisted in this medium for expression, and what actions can be taken to change that. One focus of this issue of Glass is to illustrate the extent of the problem and to highlight potential paths toward progress.
In June, the Glass Art Society issued a Glass Pledge “to provide opportunities and tear down barriers,” asserting itself as one of the leading institutions advocating for widespread change. Over 120 galleries, studios, artists, and organizations have signed on. Executive director Brandi Clark, who had been working on the initiative even before protestors took to the streets, sees it as a moral imperative. “For us, the board and staff, we really felt this was not a political issue, but a human issue, and it was about our community and making our community better,” she told me.
Meanwhile, a young nonprofit dedicated to changing the field from within is showing how to take direct action. This issue’s cover article features artist Corey Pemberton, who is cofounder of Crafting the Future, which supports students of color with scholarship and advocacy programs. Pemberton has also started Better Together, an initiative to celebrate the achievements of successful black artists working with glass through gatherings that foster mentorship and community. In an extensive interview with cofounder Annie Evelyn, Pemberton shares insights and hopes for a more diverse future for the field.
Why does glass continue to struggle with representation? Some of the answers can be found in the first concrete estimates of diversity—or lack of it—in the glass field, courtesy of original research by artist and author Matthew Day Perez. In examining statistics on the progress white women have made in the previously white-male-dominated field of glass, Perez suggests people of color may find an instructive example of how a single curatorial appointment can foster rapid changes that reverberate across the field. He also discovered that people of color are a growing presence in college art programs, yet few find their way to this particular medium.
In an extensive interview, artist, educator, and Public Glass executive director Nate Watson discusses the anger and frustration that swirls around this issue for people of color, even as it is being acknowledged and promises are made. “I’m calling for those organizations, institutions, businesses, and everyone in our glass community to translate those thousands of social media posts and statements about diversity, privilege, and implicit bias into concrete action,” he says.
Not only do we all share an obligation in our field to work toward a glass art world that more closely resembles the diversity of our nation, so, too, do we need to achieve greater inclusivity so glass art and design remains accessible and relevant as a vehicle of expression for all voices.