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Flint Institute of Arts Gets Growth via Glowing Glass

Jamie Paisley
Brent Swanson in FIA's new Hot Shop glass blowing arena

This weekend, the Flint Institute of Arts unveils two newly constructed, multi-million dollar additions. One features galleries for two new acquisitions the FIA received. The other is an arena to watch artisans create works of art from glass. WKAR’s Jamie Paisley went to Flint earlier this week for a preview.

For a good 40 minutes now, Brent Swanson has been making a decorative vase. But he’s been doing it for an audience.

"So I have this handy, dandy tool over here" explains Swanson, into an over-the-ear microphone, "and I can just rest it on here and I give it a light tap and it pops right off." As the glass comes off the tool, the audience watching him glass blowing applauds, but Brent reminds them there is more that can go wrong with a slightly whispered "It's not in the box yet. Wait."

Brent is the Glass Programs Manager with the Flint Institute of Arts and he’s showing off the new glass arena of the FIA. Underneath a skylight, Brent is heating, shaping, reheating, twisting, and yes, again, reheating his glass with the new equipment, while on the other side of a light partition, an audience can sit and watch while Brent explains what’s going on with his molten glass. Two monitors show close ups of each step of Brent’s progress.

"Those demonstrations I hope to mimic or utilize techniques that we have in our contemporary glass collection" says Swanson, "and show the public what we can do as well as what we have and so that they can bind or meld those two, you know, forces together of seeing the making and then seeing the finished product."

This glassblowing arena, or Hot Shop, is one of two new additions the Flint Institute of Arts is unveiling this weekend. The other is a contemporary crafts gallery showcasing ceramics and glass collections gifts to FIA. It’s all part of an 11 million dollar, at least 11 million so far, expansion project. The lion’s share of that money came from an 8.5 million dollar series of grants from the C.S. Mott Foundation. But the timing may seem strange since the FIA broke ground on this project in 2016, during the height in awareness regarding the ongoing Flint Water Crisis.

"My reaction to that is what happened in this town and the trauma that the community has been put

We need to make sure that it has the arts, and cultural, and civic infrastructure for the community to grow and move forward. - Neal Hegerty, C.S.Mott Foundation

through, generated a lot of response." reflects Neal Hegarty, VP of the Mott Foundation during the FIA's press presentation Thursday morning. "Including from our foundation where we committed $100 million dollars and led fundraising of other foundations and donors around the country to get resources into this community to deal with the health issues, to deal with the infrastructure issues and deal with the sort of fall out of what happened. And so we took that very seriously, invested a lot of time, a lot of resources and really changed the focus of what we had been planning to do, just like everybody else that's involved in this community. But at the same time, as we do all that, we really feel that the community still needs to move forward and there's still a future, a positive future for this community. So, at the same time that we're dealing with that, we need to make sure that this community has the educational resources it needs going forwards. We need to make sure that it has the arts, and cultural, and civic infrastructure for the community to grow and move forward. So, our feeling was address as deeply and seriously, and committedly as we can on the crisis and also think about the things the community's going to need to move forward and think about the future of the community. And in our perspective, arts, culture, the ability to make, craft, be creative are fundamentally important."

For more about the new FIA additions opening this weekend, including the museum’s Huntington Free Saturdays and the hourly glassblowing demonstrations, visit flintarts.org

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