Despite being a fairly industrialized city, Newark contains many patrons of the finer arts who care deeply about using their talents to revitalize the area. One example is GlassRoots, a nonprofit glass-making studio in downtown Newark, which not only teaches the arts of glass blowing and flameworking to local youth, but also supports local artists. The studio’s programs manager Michelle Knox is a glass sculptor and came to speak at NJIT’s March 28 MakerSPEAK event.
Founded in 2001 by Rutgers-Newark instructor Pat Kettenring and Newark Women’s Association trustee Dena Lowenbach, the studio was inspired by artists in Tacoma, Washington, who wanted to offer local youth an alternative to the proliferating gang violence at the time. “[Kettenring] saw what an introduction to glass-art could have for kids and pictured a similar benefit for people living in Newark,” said Knox.
The studio specializes in several different areas of glass making. These include flameworking, using a torch to shape a rod of glass; glass blowing, inflating a rod of molten glass into a bubble by using a blowpipe; staining glass; and creating mosaic work. Classes are available for students and adults, and independent artists can rent the space and produce their own work. The rates can be found on GlassRoots’ website.
GlassRoots offers local high school students several free programs and internships that aim to maximize their scientific knowledge and entrepreneurial skills. “Over the years, we’ve expanded our range of programs,” Knox commented. “These include our workforce programs and college and career readiness programs, where we see students’ leadership and mentorship skills. We have served over 25,000 young people since the studio was founded.”
The primary way in which students learn about glassmaking is during school field trips; after-school, weekend, and summer workshops; and workforce development and entrepreneurship programs that develop skills and create opportunities to generate income. Adults and other community members can attend glass-art education programs for people of all ages in public weekend and evening classes as well as glass-art educational programs for adults and young adults with developmental disabilities.
Adults have options available to them as well, such as the “Arts for Art’s Sake program to help them explore their creativity and reignite skills,” Knox added. There are also classes whose durations range from a few hours to a few months, that are taught by GlassRoots staff and will give attendees better skills in that regard.
Knox also touched on her educational background, having received her bachelor’s degree of fine arts from California College of the Arts and a master’s degree of fine arts from Tulane University. After completing a Non-Profit Leadership Training Certification from The County College of Morris in New Jersey, “I’m really passionate about community engagement in the arts, especially by creating public art,” she said.
She is also an accomplished artist, having presented her pieces at numerous exhibitions across the country; these include Artspace88 in Keyport, New Jersey; Atlantic Highlands Art Council in Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey; The Glass Wheel in Norfolk, Virginia; and Keys Consulting in Sag Harbor, New York. Knox is also the recipient of several different awards focusing on her pieces and advocacy for underrepresented groups.
About her work, Knox stated, “I work in a diverse set of media that speaks to the history of sculpture, including wood, concrete, and metal as well as glass. These materials are combined with traditional and non-traditional methods.” Her art focuses on the scale and physicality of a structure, providing an experience that is larger than the viewer. She added that the work is supposed to include audience participation on a physical, emotional, and spiritual level.
For those interested in learning more, the GlassRoots studio is located on Bleeker Street next to the Rutgers-Newark campus — a nine-minute walk from NJIT. Check it out to learn more about opportunities and Knox’s work!
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