All fired up: Flint Institute of Arts unveils Contemporary Craft Wing and Hot Shop

It was a celebration of art, optimism and community on April 21 as the Flint Institute of Arts (FIA) unveiled its new Contemporary Craft Wing and Hot Shop.

The new wing showcases the FIA’s collections of glass, ceramics, metal working and other forms of contemporary crafts, while the Hot Shop offers visitors the opportunity to learn the art and science involved in creating such works, as well as the chance to make their own unique pieces.

That combination of creative work space and museum gallery — the only example of its kind in Michigan — speaks to the FIA’s longstanding impact in the greater Flint community, said William S. White, chairman and CEO of the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation.

“Today we celebrate the FIA’s art school, its collections and its ongoing mission to train, educate and improve the quality of life for all our citizens,” he said.

White also paid tribute to the vision and leadership of the museum’s staff and its board of trustees, noting, “Without great people, you can’t have a great institution.”

The Mott Foundation provided $8.5 million in grants to support the expansion.

The new facilities and related programming are expected to draw artists and visitors from around the region to the FIA, which is located on the Flint Cultural Center campus. As a hub for the performing and visual arts, the Cultural Center welcomes more than 610,000 people each year.

And the Hot Shop’s demonstrations of glass and metal working will enhance the FIA’s outreach with area schools to use the arts to engage local youth in STEM education.

“It’s not just science, technology, engineering and mathematics — you’ve got to put art right in that as well,” U.S. Senator Gary Peters told the audience gathered for the grand opening. “We know when that creativity is expressed in a child, that their brain forms in different ways. They work cooperatively with people in different ways. It truly is transformative.”

The grand opening also featured remarks by Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, FIA Executive Director John Henry, FIA Board of Trustees President Tom Mitchell, U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow and Mott Foundation President Ridgway White. The program opened with an interfaith blessing led by area clergy.

In total, the FIA has raised $11 million of an ongoing $14 million capital and endowment campaign for the project. In addition to the Mott grant, support comes from Consumers Energy, the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs, the Whiting Foundation and other donors.

On display in the new wing are pieces from two recent gifts to the FIA: the Dr. Robert and Deanna Harris Burger Collection of Contemporary Ceramics, and the Sherwin and Shirley Glass Collection of Contemporary Glass, which is on permanent loan to the FIA from the Isabel Foundation.

Answering Woman, by American artist Viola Frey, greets visitors to the Dr. Robert and Deanna Harris Burger ceramics gallery, located in the new Contemporary Craft Wing.

Answering Woman, by American artist Viola Frey, greets visitors to the Dr. Robert and Deanna Harris Burger ceramics gallery, located in the new Contemporary Craft Wing.
Photo: Rick Smith

Admission to the FIA, including the new wing, is free on Saturdays, thanks to Huntington Bank. Visitors on Saturdays also can view free demonstrations in the Hot Shop, thanks to McLaren Health Care.

Such partnerships reflect the ongoing collaborative efforts to give new spark to the revitalization that was underway in Flint before the city’s water crisis broke in late 2015. Other recent examples include the launch of two early childhood schools, restoration of the city’s iconic Capitol Theatre, the redevelopment of the Dryden and former Ferris and Woolworth buildings in downtown Flint, and a project designed to reestablish the Flint River as a community asset.

“All that stuff is happening right here, and it’s the people of Flint that own it, with the passion, the determination to take the hardest of circumstances and turn it into a better future,” said Calley. “I couldn’t be more proud of Flint and the people in it. This is the easiest city in America to fall in love with.”

For Ridgway White, passion and determination stand alongside creativity, ingenuity and inventiveness as hallmarks of the Flint community, reflecting both its early role in giving rise to the country’s automotive industry, and its recent steps to recover and rise from the water crisis.

“As we celebrate the history of ‘making’ in Flint, as we think about our future, we’re reminded that our story is not going to be defined by others, but will be defined by the things we’re doing here, the things we’re doing in the community to make this a better place to live for all and to allow for success for all,” said White.

Stabenow echoed his message.

“Art unites all of us,” she said. “It gives voice to what’s in our hearts, it tells our stories, and I am so excited for the artists in all of us to have this new opportunity to tell the story of Flint.”

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