Louisville has GAS

Landing the Glass Art Society Conference is a major feat

The next time you think Louisville’s slogan of “Possibility City” is getting a little stale, remember that it’s actually true. Maybe we need to add “It’s the people, stupid” to the fine print.

The Glass Art Society (GAS) didn’t select Louisville as the site of its 40th anniversary conference out of the blue. While we have come a long way in the 10 years or so we’ve been working on becoming a glass art destination, we still pale in comparison to places like Seattle. But we do have a lot for a city this size: three downtown glass studios, an abundance of galleries, and people willing to put the time and effort into the “possibility” that GAS would be interested in Louisville. Hence the title of the 2010 conference — “Ingenious Possibilities.”

Attracting a GAS convention to your city is a no small feat. The organization’s purpose, according to its website, “is to encourage excellence, to advance education, to promote the appreciation and development of the glass arts, and to support the worldwide community of artists who work with glass.”

It’s appreciation with a capital A — it also includes those interested in glass, not just artists. The group boasts about 3,500 members from 50 countries (it is estimated more than 1,000 people will attend the Louisville conference, bringing in at least $800,000 to our economy).

Artist Robert Wiley is traveling to Louisville from Portugal, where he teaches the Master of Glass Art and Science program at the New University of Lisbon.

“As you might imagine, the reasons that bring any group of professionals together are many, and when this group is a bunch of glass artists and enthusiasts, it becomes even more nuanced,” Wiley says. “For me, there are two basic reasons to attend GAS. First, the Glass Art Society is the single greatest way for artists, collectors and anyone else interested in glass art to stay connected to what is happening in the world. The second is that, as an American working and living in Portugal, GAS is an important venue to discuss and foster knowledge of our master’s program in Lisbon.”

The main catalysts behind bringing GAS to Louisville are the four co-chairs: glass collector Merrily Orsini of the marketing firm Corecubed, Ché Rhodes of U of L’s Cressman Center, Brook White of Flame Run glass studio and gallery, and Page von Roenn of Glassworks. Although efforts to attract the convention to Louisville had been under way for several years, the idea really gained momentum once three glass studios were in place by 2005.

“Three studios on the same stretch, 18 blocks apart,” White says. “Even Seattle doesn’t have that many in the same proximity.”

In 2007, Rhodes contacted Shane Fero, artist and president of GAS, and urged him to consider Louisville as a possible destination. Having previously visited the city and Glassworks, he was interested.

“In 2007, I spoke to Shane Fero (artist and president of GAS), saying, ‘Oh, by the way, Louisville needs GAS,’” says Rhodes, a former GAS board member.

As far as Rhodes was concerned, it was all what he calls “cloud talk” until the fall of 2008. That’s when it became official — Louisville was to be a GAS site sooner than expected, in 2010.

While the actual conference likely will not appeal to most area residents — the event is geared toward glass artists — the organizers have not forgotten anyone with an interest in glass. As a result, they’ve planned a long list of events geared toward the art-loving public.

The “Day of Glass” on Wednesday, June 9 (see sidebar), is for locals who are not going to the convention as well as for attendees who arrive early. “On (Wednesday), our city will be buzzing with free demonstrations and lectures, open to the public, which will bring the art-making process to life,” says Kay Grubola, “Day of Glass” chair. “Making glass art is one part fine art, one part performance and one part magic, and it’s a fun, dramatic spectator event.”

“Glass30: Four Weeks of Fire,” also part of the annual Louisville Visual Arts Festival, will provide the accompanying exhibitions (see sidebar). There are more than 50 shows by artists from around the globe. A special trolley hop will be held on Friday, June 11, with maps available at each venue and at the Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau.

At each convention, GAS honors an outstanding artist or two. The 2010 recipients are Mark Peiser, who will receive the Honorary Lifetime Achievement Award, and Tom Philabaum, winner of the Lifetime Membership Award. They both have solo exhibitions at the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft (KMAC).

KMAC also is raffling off a piece of blown glass by one of the top artists of today, Lino Tagliapietra. The 18-inch-tall work is from his “BORNEO” series and is valued at $35,000. The raffle tickets are $35 each, with the drawing on June 11.

As for whether Louisville’s GAS conference will have a lasting impact on the local glass art industry: “The glass studios are a more cohesive community now,” says von Roenn. “It sets the foundation for us in the future. I hope we get more artists to relocate here. More sales, of course. (It’s about) opportunities for the public and the community.”

One surprise benefit is that the Fund for the Arts, not known for its support of the visual arts, became a GAS sponsor a few months ago. As Orsini diplomatically says, “The visual arts community is thrilled that the Fund took that step.”