Reaching for the 'glass' ring: Ball State readies its new center for glass art

Topics: Administrative, College of Fine Arts

July 28, 2010

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A formal dedication of the building, located near Christy Woods on the west side of campus, is scheduled for Sept. 29.
Nearly a half-century after the last of the huge furnaces that made Muncie's fortune shut down along with the big Ball Corp. plant in 1962, Ball State University is creating new opportunities for students and reconnecting the community to its glassmaking heritage with the opening of the Marilyn K. Glick Center for Glass.

Home for the university's recently approved bachelor of fine arts (BFA) and master of fine arts (MFA) in visual art programs, the building's 10,000 square feet of creative space includes a hot shop — where molten glass will begin the transformation into works of creative expression — and a cold shop with a kiln room, where the objects will anneal into their final shape and color. Between the two, the natural light-filled facility contains a classroom, undergraduate and graduate studios as well as faculty offices, photo documentation and exhibit areas.

A visiting artist program, community and children's outreach programs and a biennial competition of art glass also are part of the university's overall plan for the new campus resource, named for one of Indiana's most influential supporters of the arts and an avid glass art collector.  Although set to open to students at the start of the fall semester, formal dedication of the building, located near Christy Woods on the west side of campus, is scheduled for Sept. 29.

"The Glick Center is relatively small as college and university buildings go, but its potential for enhancing our programs in art is enormous," said President Jo Ann M. Gora. "The visual arts inspire creativity, develop design and artistic abilities that are useful in a wide variety of pursuits extending beyond simply the museum or gallery and into advertising, publishing, fashion, stage and film production, even Web design. The university already enjoys an excellent reputation for scholarship and distinguished programs within the College of Fine Arts and Department of Art. The Glick Center sharpens our distinctiveness in this area while providing additional opportunities to our students.

"While the most modern of facilities in all aspects, " Gora added, "the center also recalls Ball State's historical connections to the Ball family and the glassmaking industry in Muncie — ever more appropriate as the university approaches its centennial. We expect it to have a tremendous impact on cultural opportunities in the community and we look forward to welcoming the many visitors, local, regional and international, who will be attracted by this unique educational environment and fine arts experience."

Bold gift

The $5 million lead gift to establish the Glick Center was provided by The Glick Fund, a donor-advised fund of the Central Indiana Community Foundation, and announced amid much fanfare at the September 2008 launch of the public phase of Ball State Bold, the university's current capital campaign with a goal of $200 million.

Created by Indianapolis philanthropists Gene and Marilyn Glick, The Glick Fund supports a variety of causes, including organizations and programs benefiting the arts, cultural and civic causes, health care and medical research, as well as numerous other community groups and organizations dedicated to improving the quality of life of the central Indiana community. The couple's daughter, Marianne — an acclaimed artist herself — is a member of the university's Board of Trustees.

In addition to opening the center, the university is hiring faculty and organizing scholarships and graduate assistantships in support of the new BFA and MFA offerings. Courses will permit students to learn and practice a wide range of techniques from glass blowing and glass casting to fusing (using a kiln to join together pieces of glass), slumping (employing a mold to cause already fused glass to take on the shape of a bowl, a plate, or similar object) and cold-working (treating glass in its "frozen state," including sandblasting, engraving, cutting, grinding and polishing).

Brent Cole joins the Department of Art as senior faculty member for the glass program, leading the design and operation of the center as well as the development of its curriculum, programs and events. He comes to Ball State after six years at the head of the glass program at the University of Miami. Recipient of an MFA from the University of Illinois, he's also completed residencies with the Appalachian Center for the Arts, Headlands Center for the Arts, Ucross Foundation and others and brings a wide range of skills in traditional glass blowing, casting and kiln-working to Ball State.

Meanwhile, another former Appalachian Center for the Arts artist-in-residence, Michael Hernandez, will manage the center's studios and facilities. He'll also serve as an instructor of glass art. An artist and technician with further experience at the Pilchuk Glass School and the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, Wash., he holds an MFA from Alfred University.  

"Something that's really going to sell this program, though, is the building itself," said Robert Kvam, dean of the College of Fine Arts, who stressed how much Ball State's investment is atypical of glass programs elsewhere.

"There aren't a lot of glass programs out there. Fewer still can lay claim to a dedicated, intentionally designed facility built in consultation with experts in the glass industry," Kvam said. "They're operating out of old Quonset huts or other converted buildings. More than any other discipline or subdiscipline in the visual arts — painting or sculpture — working in glass is a very physical activity. It's nearly as much choreography, a vigorous collaboration of many different players, as it is imagination and technique. To be done well and, more important, to be taught well requires a space like the Glick Center for Glass."

Hot stuff

Situated near the university's orchid greenhouse and world-class Wheeler Orchid Collection and Species Bank, the Glick Center also complements the Ball State University Museum of Art as a cultural attraction on campus. Prominent in the lobby of the new structure is a glass partition separating visitors from the hot shop. Kvam expects the location quickly will become a popular spot on campus once the center is in use. He noted that at the Corning Museum of Glass in upstate New York, a visitors gallery in the still-active Steuben crystal hot shop continues to draw thousands of glass art enthusiasts each year.

The center is the first building, too, designed specifically to function as part of Ball State's geothermal heating and cooling system now under construction.

The two 560-pound glass furnaces at the heart of the scene, however, will be gas-fired and attain temperatures exceeding 2,300 degrees, said Cole, the faculty lead for the program. They will operate 24/7. Specially built by a North Carolina company, the computer controlled units feature safety systems designed to shut down the furnaces automatically in case of a power or gas disruption.

They also reflect an important trend in the studio glass movement, said Cole, explaining that both incorporate devices known as recouperators, which capture flue gases and use them to preheat fresh air entering the system, thereby producing a more efficient burn.

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