For 40 years, UrbanGlass has been experimenting, educating and advancing the use and understanding of glass as a creative medium
Did you know that Fort Greene, according to Architectural Digest, is home to the most expansive glass-making facility in the country? For 40 years, UrbanGlass has been experimenting, educating and advancing the use and critical understanding of glass as a creative medium.
Initially founded in 1977 as the New York Experimental Glass Workshop by a group of art school graduates who wanted to continue their experiments in glass, the Workshop provided studio space for artists already versed in the material, as well as education programs and classes for working artists and the general public.
“When those students moved to New York, there were no glass studios, and setting one up as a single artist was impossible,” explains Cybele Maylone, the studio’s executive director. “So they created a communal studio space on Great Jones Street [in Manhattan] that gave artists access to the studio, facilities, community and knowledge they needed to work with glass.”
By the early 1980s, the Workshop became home to some of the most exciting new voices in the emerging glass movement, including Dale Chihuly and Toots Zynsky. In 1981, it moved from its original location at 4 Great Jones Street to a larger space on Mulberry Street.
“Studio space in New York is a nightmare,” said Maylone. “If you add glass to that, it’s impossible.”
Hence, in 1991, when the NYC Economic Development Corporation offered incentives for arts organizations to take over abandoned theatre spaces, the whole operation moved into the former Strand Theatre in Brooklyn. With the new space came a new name: UrbanGlass.
Thanks to a partnership with the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs, BRIC and a two-year $62 million renovation in 2011, the studio grew to 17,000 square feet and became home to the Agnes Varis Art Center, a gallery and store which presents exhibitions year round, each organized by independent curators.
Now, in its 4oth year, UrbanGlass’ studio programs welcome approximately 350 working artists each year; its education program serves over 1,000 students. The organization also works with local universities, offering for-credit classes for students at NYU and Pratt, SVA, Parsons and Brooklyn College, and regularly hosts fellows and visiting artists who use the studio to further their practice.
“Giving access to space, community, knowledge – that’s still very much at the heart of what we do,” said Malone. ‘And the need has only gotten more pronounced as New York becomes a more challenging place for artists to live and work.”