When visitors enter the new spaces at the Flint Institute of Arts (FIA) in late April 2018, they will be experiencing a central tenet of the museum made manifest: If you see an object in the FIA galleries, you should have the opportunity to make it in the Art School studios. Indeed, when people step into the new 8,565-square-foot Contemporary Craft Wing to view the Sherwin and Shirley Glass Collection or the Dr. Robert and Deanna Harris Burger ceramics collection, they may be only a class away from creating a similar piece in either medium.
While other facilities in the Midwest offer instruction in constructing objects out of clay or glass, the highly anticipated FIA Art School glass studios will offer a state-of-the-art hot glass shop and flameworking studio – also known as a Makerspace – that is the best of its kind in our region. Headed by glass program manager Brent Swanson, the anchor of the expanded facilities is the Hot Shop, which will be used for glassblowing and public demonstrations. Featuring a self-sufficient oxygen production system as well as an emissions recuperation system that captures exhaust from its 400-pound melting furnace, the space will be the home of weekly glass working demonstrations, which will be free to the public, thanks to the generosity of McLaren Health Care.
Flint, with its deep roots in manufacturing, is the ideal location for the public to experience contemporary craft, in part because of the long history of applied art instruction at the FIA Art School. As FIA executive director John B. Henry noted at the start of the expansion, “We are thrilled to be able to introduce a glassmaking and public demonstration component. Offering such an in-depth look at contemporary craft, these additions to the FIA will create an unparalleled resource for people in the state and the region.”
Swanson, a College for Creative Studies graduate who left a teaching position at his alma mater to help supervise the construction of the Hot Shop, create the glass curriculum and teach its classes, agrees with Henry. “Glass in all of its forms has such a wow factor. Once someone sees a piece in the collection, the opportunity to see something similar being made live with the Makerspace adds to their museum experience exponentially. I’ve seen countless demonstrations – I’ve performed just as many – and I’m still entertained every time. It really is magical.”
For those as interested in creating as they are in admiring the shimmering works they see on display, the Makerspace will offer workshops, classes, artist-in-residence events and private-use opportunities, such as team-building exercises linked to hands-on activities or small parties where guests might make do a make and take. Called soirées, these up-close experiences can be fashioned to an individual’s or group’s needs by the FIA Art School and events staff. The possibilities – from a small group of friends getting together to celebrate a special occasion, complete with wine and appetizers, to a professional organization using the space to discuss the scientific properties of glass while participants try their hands at making a beaker – are endless.
Donovan Entrekin, FIA Art School director, knows that, whoever the user, the space will be as enlightening as it is educating. “When we look at glass objects in galleries and museums, or even on our dinning room tables, there is this sense that the creation of these objects is a secret. [Our Makerspace] will pull back the curtain on this mysterious process and will help museum visitors enjoy a much deeper understanding of the objects they view in the galleries.”
The FIA will celebrate the opening of its Contemporary Craft Wing, as well as its Art School Hot Shop, throughout the weekend of April 21 and April 22. This community weekend, which will be free and open to all members of the public, will include a ribbon cutting, lectures, a book signing and live demonstrations throughout the Art School, including the new Makerspace. For more information, please visit the FIA’s website at flintarts.org or call the museum at 810-234-1695.