This week’s student-organized holiday sale at the Tyler School of Arts in Philadelphia is just one of many similar events taking place across the country as the Christmas season approaches. On November 19th and 20th, the Tyler Glass Guild will be selling glass ornaments and other small gifts, with proceeds benefiting the department’s Visiting Artists Program—a practice many other schools also employ.
As Brent Kee Young, professor at the Cleveland Institute of Art and head of the glass program, puts it, “I think just about every school with a craft program in the country does it.” But, as Young also notes, “there are lots of incarnations of it,” with the most interesting distinctions having to do with the level of involvement from outside the universities themselves.
At California State University at Chico, funds raised by a one-day-a-year sale are quite beneficial to the Art and Art History Department. As Prof. Robert Herhusky explains, “That’s pretty much how we buy all our blow pipes and glass-working tools.” The Chico incarnation involves the sale of mostly tabletop or decorative objects, rather than student art, and the prices are kept low—“never above $100,” with glass ornaments specially priced at three for $25 and individually packaged in Chinese takeout boxes. The primary audience for the sale, according to Herhusky? University staff, who take advantage of the chance to snap up unique and inexpensive gifts.
When Young first arrived at the CIA in the 1970s, he recalls students who were able to pay for most of their tuition with the profits from such sales. Today, the funds from the glass program’s holiday sale go to the Gaffers Club; essentially, students are given “full ownership” of the money and can make decisions to purchase new equipment for the studio. Because of its affiliation with a larger holiday event called “CircleFest,” the CIA incarnation brings in not only students and staff but also members of the community as buyers.
A most interactive incarnation of the holiday glassware sale takes place at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Twice a year, in May and December, the program hosts a two-day open house for the public, which includes demos; as glass program head Steve Feren says, these sales “have really helped us to raise funds for visiting artists and other equipment that we need,” in addition to spreading excitement about the glassmaking process to the community. Feren notes that he receives calls year-round from people outside of the university who are interested in attending the next open house. As in the other cases, the sale at UWM is “really run by the students,” who get half of the proceeds. The other half of the money goes to the department.
As this last example especially demonstrates, even though such events are familiar at art departments and schools around the country, there’s no reason that the broader public can’t become involved in them. Objects are generally priced quite cheaply (as fitting for peer buyers), but that doesn’t mean they aren’t well-made or conceptually interesting. Who knows? You may pick up something from a budding great. If not, at least you’ve helped support a good cause. You might contact local schools in your area to see if similar events are taking place within the next few weeks.
–Analisa Coats Bacall
IF YOU GO:The Tyler Glass Guild Holiday Sale November 19th and 20th, 10 AM – 6 PM
Tyler School of Art Main Lobby
2001 N. 13th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19122 Telephone: 215-777-9000 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org