Glass-blowing event to help bring art to Detroit-area classrooms

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Detroit — Carol Hofgartner's mission is simple.

She was able to see the world because she followed her passion of art and music, a passion that started when the Dearborn native was back in elementary school.

Blossom works on her piece at The Michigan Glass Project on July 20, 2018.

Now, Hofgartner says, she's able to give back and help children get in touch with their creative side.

"Every day of the week we're in the schools," said Hofgartner, co-founder of Art Road along with her husband, Stephen. "What we do is create the base of imagination and set them free."

Hofgartner's  Livonia-based nonprofit, whose mission is to bring art classes back to Metro Detroit schools without them, is looking to get a big boost from a fundraiser this weekend in Detroit.

Glass artists work on their pieces during The Michigan Glass Project, a festival of glass, music and arts benefiting art programs in Detroit Public Schools at the Russell Industrial Center in Detroit, Michigan in this July 20, 2018, file photo.

Proceeds from the Michigan Glass Project's weekend glassblowing and live arts festival. at the Russell Industrial Center on Detroit's east side. will be donated to Art Road, now 15 years into its mission. Some 5,000 guests are expected.

The Hofgartners' mission started in 2004, when Art Road was granted 501(c)(3) status. Since then, its art classes have touched approximately 14,000 schoolchildren in Metro Detroit.

During the 2018-19 school year, Art Road offered classes in five schools, serving nearly 2,100 students: Detroit's Spain Elementary/Middle School, the Charles Wright Arts Academy, Thomas Edison Elementary School, Ecorse's Ralph Bunche Academy and Grandport Middle School.

Artists Louie Sanchez and Rebecca Silverman work on a glass goblet that was auctioned at the 2018 Michigan Glass Project.

The three smaller schools have one day of class a week, while Spain and Wright get Art Road teachers two days a week.

At a late-1990s career day at a now-defunct elementary school in Detroit, Hofgartner gave a presentation on art. After showing her work and talking about how art affected her life, a boy in the class said: "We don't have art class."

Today, "more schools want us than we have funding" for programming, Hofgartner said. 

The Michigan Glass Project says its mission is to "unite artists through charitable events that create and foster positive change in the community." Last year, it gave Art Road some $125,000, bringing its total gift, since it started donating to the group in 2015, up to $345,000.

"It's a working community of artists giving of themselves" with the future in mind, Hofgartner said.

"The huge donation checks we write to Art Road each year is a testament to what a united force of people can do when they pool their talents and resources for a common cause," said Alison Key, executive director of the Michigan Glass Project, in a statement announcing this weekend's program, which is called the Main Event. 

Rajin Tech works on what looks like a glass bone hatchet at The Michigan Glass Project in this July 20, 2018, file photo.

Key continued: "As a spaced-out ADD kid with an overactive mind, art class was the only class that mattered ... I think for many kids, it's the only class in school where they are truly honored for their uniqueness."

Detroit Public Schools Community District noted, in a statement, that its 88 elementary schools "all offer fine or performing arts classes" and described Art Road as a partner in its "whole child commitment" by expanding its "robust performing arts programs in music or dance" at the schools it works with.

"Art Road supports the visual art component at these schools to a small number of students while the district continues to build its art and music programming," the district said.

The Main Event starts at noon Friday and runs through Sunday night. There will be a silent auction that ends at 6 p.m. Sunday and a live auction that begins at 7 p.m. 

Throughout, the Russell Industrial Center will be filled with artists making live art, guests taking part in the scene and donors looking to donate to the arts.

There will be 32 live painters, 52 DJs, 93 glass artists and even two "neon artists." Tickets are $30 for a weekend pass and $15 for a daily pass.