A 'Dangerous' Art Helps Kids Find Meaning
GlassRoots teaches an ancient skill -- and important life lessons
Located in downtown Newark, GlassRoots, an art studio and community center, was founded in 2001 with a mission to empower at-risk youth and transform communities through the power of glass art.
The center, which offers courses in various techniques of glass manipulation, has served over 5,000 residents, including participants from local public and charter schools, the Boys and Girls Clubs, Girl and Boy Scout troops, and other community groups as well as individuals. The group is now looking to expand their outreach by developing programs targeted at specific groups such as helping ex-offenders, those grappling with substance abuse and people going through long-term medical treatments like cancer.
GlassRoots Executive Director, J. Wesley Simms saw the power of art touch his father’s life and recognizes the potential of art to transform people’s lives. The youth that visit GlassRoots to participate in classes in bead making, mosaics, kilinforming (a glass-shaping technique) and glass blowing come from a variety of backgrounds – some more privileged than others. While participants from New York and across New Jersey attend the studio, a majority of them do come from Newark, and some are faced with challenging situations such as growing up in single-parent homes and experiencing exposure to drugs, gangs, and violence within their communities.
Working with glass gives kids a positive subject to focus on and a new outlet for unleashing their creative energies, Simms says.
“It’s incredible to watch some of the kids who come in here. Because we work with molten glass and fire and broken glass primarily, kids have to focus when they come in here.“
Working with glass requires immense focus and concentration in order to be done safely and correctly. Simms explains that the danger inherent in glasswork is a trait that actually attracts young people to the art form.
“When kids come in and they see the opportunity to play with something dangerous, they’re attracted to it. Not too many people get to handle 2,000 degree molten glass.”
The effect can be transformative – one mother hardly recognized her sometimes rambunctious son working attentively in the studio. She asked Simms, “Is that my child sitting still focusing on something?”
The organization can expand the horizons of the youth that attend, teaching them not only glass techniques but also educating them about the history, math and science of glass.
Twenty-two year old Jamal Blanding, presently interning at GlassRoots, had never known of the existence of glass arts until he visited the center. He was fascinated by the work he witnessed, but says he was most impacted by the people.
“Everyone’s so energetic, it’s amazing. If you’re having a bad day, you can always come to GlassRoots and be happy. It’s more than just blowing glass – it’s like we’re one big family.”