Hilltop Artists – Nurturing the next generation of glass artists

| 0

How did you learn to be a glass artist? Perhaps you took an initial class, and then began experimenting and learning on your own. Or were you fortunate to have a mentor or teacher take you under their wing and teach you the craft? While some glass artists have training through art schools, it is rare to encounter someone who was introduced to glass art or learned the skills in a formal way when they were young.

That is what is so remarkable about the Hilltop Artists program, one of the few programs of its kind in the country to introduce students as young as age 12 to glass art, including blown glass. Founded in 1994 by Dale Chihuly and Kathy Kaperick, the mission of Hilltop Artists is “Using glass art to connect young people from diverse cultural and economic backgrounds to better futures.”

Hilltop Artists in the hotshop – Summer Program 2023

Celebrating its 30th year in 2024, the Hilltop Artists program, located in the Hilltop neighborhood of Tacoma, Washington introduces young people ages 12-26 to the various forms of glass art through its partnership with Tacoma Public Schools and the glass art community. Middle school and high school students have the unique opportunity to learn glassblowing (the program operates two hot shops), fusing, torchwork, beadwork, and even neon through free school day, after-school, and summer school programs.

Hilltop Artists Students working at Museum of Glass

More advanced students go on to participate on the Production team, getting paid to work with professional artists to design and create commissions and public art installations. Students also have the chance to work with internationally renowned glass artists through residencies and partnerships with organizations such as the Museum of Glass, Pilchuck Glass School, the Appalachian Center for Crafts, Better Together (a BIPOC artists organization) and Corning Museum of Glass

Hilltop Artists serves more than 650 students every year. The majority of the teaching staff are alumni. Some alums have gone on to professional glass careers, including teaching, glass production, or working in glass studios. Student and alumni work has been exhibited at Museum of Glass, Tacoma Art Museum, Bainbridge Art Museum, and other prestigious institutions. Several Hilltop Artists alumni, including Jason McDonald, Edgar Valentine, and Trenton Quiocho have competed on Netflix’s glass competition show, Blown Away. The intergenerational rapport students form with alumni creates a powerful connection and motivation for students, and the alumni bring new ideas, creative energy, and artistic perspectives back to the program. Students also benefit from meeting and working with professional glass artists such as Dan Friday, Sayuri Fukuda, Cedric Mitchell, and Jen Elek. The value of such mentorship and support for young people, whether or not they go on to be glass artists, cannot be overstated.

Learning glass art skills and expressing their creativity through art is just a part of what Hilltop Artists offers youth. Hilltop Artists offers a safe, healing space for kids where they can receive care from supportive adults, connect with other students in healthy ways, and learn to express themselves through glass art. Students often come from challenging circumstances, and the program staff approaches each one holistically, meeting them where they are, building on their inherent strengths, and providing resources and support to help them overcome barriers to success. Working with Tacoma Public Schools and other community partners, Hilltop Artists offers assistance with basic needs such as food or housing for students’ families, as well as mentorship and guidance to complete their academic path and pursue an artistic career, if they so choose.

Hilltop Artist students learning flameworking technique

As stated by Executive Director Dr. Kimberly Keith, Hilltop Artists is committed to making a “…conscientious and sustained effort to remove barriers and hold space in the glass field/community for Black and Brown students and artists. Glass has been overwhelmingly white and male since the 12th century and continues to be one of the most expensive and exclusive art mediums.” The work that Hilltop Artists is doing benefits everyone in the glass art community, by teaching a diverse group of young people the art and science of glass, helping to ensure that glass art continues to thrive long into the future in the Pacific Northwest and beyond.

If you are interested in learning more, volunteering, or seeing the program in action, check out their website: Hilltop Artists. If you live near Tacoma, you might want to attend one of their upcoming March events, including their March Gallery, the Third Thursday at the Museum of Glass (take advantage of the free admission!) or Hot Shop Hot Nights, featuring New York glass artist Adeye Jean Baptiste.

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of articles profiling programs, projects, or people in the greater glass art world. If you know of a program in the Pacific Northwest that might be of interest to glass artists, please let the newsletter team know.