BAGI has a rich, almost twenty-year history as an arts non-profit in the Bay Area, and that history informs the direction we will travel over the next several decades. Twenty years is a long time for a start-up arts organization when measured against the backdrop that over 60% of new small businesses fail within four years.
BAGI history, a condensed version: Four artists who needed a place to continue learning and make a living founded BAGI in 1996 in the backyard of Bobby Bowes, a SJSU graduate. In 2001, local patrons banded together to raise the money to move BAGI into our current facility in San Jose near Japantown. It was then that BAGI morphed from being a small hot shop in which a few artists could work into its current form as a public access studio and school that includes blowing, flameworking, fusing, and cold working facilities teaching thousands of people a year.
One lesson I take away from the more than 10 years of my involvement is that BAGI is a survivor. We weathered two economic crashes in 2001 and 2008 by experimentation and reinvention. The organization has been adventurous in serving the community and generating the income needed to fuel programming. Here a short list: Co-op. Producing the Great Glass Pumpkin Patch® with the Palo Alto Art Center. Hosting “practice sessions” for budding glass artists. Running an auction. Renting time in the studio. Teaching classes. Distributing online coupons. Doing demos and staffing a pop-up booth at Christmas in the Park. Sponsoring visiting artists from Afro Celotto to Vladimira Klumparova. Hosting corporate events and team building.
All the while, BAGI balanced the needs of artists, students, and the local community… oh, and we generated enough cash to keep going. This resilience is a trait we share with many of the local technology companies that innovate and reinvent themselves to stay current and make an impact.
And now we are at the next chapter. I am very excited about our new ED, Damon Gustafson, the addition of multiple board members, and an increase in our community’s involvement. The engagement and success of the past three months have shown that the community wants a place to get hands-on with glass art to learn and make.
There will be more challenges. There are commercial entities competing with BAGI to provide similar events and services. The facility we rent will be turned into condos in the next few years and BAGI will need to relocate. Patrons have many worthy causes and activities to draw their attention and donations.
I have confidence in the organization’s will to thrive and fill a need. Drawing on our nearly 20 years of experience and looking ahead through the lens of the current environment, we clarified our mission:
The Bay Area Glass Institute (BAGI) provides accessible, hands-on glass experiences that educate and inspire current and future generations of patrons, students and artists.
Please contact Damon or me if you want to help make this vision a reality.