Day 2 of the TICE Explore Stage kicked off at the National Glass Centre on a gloriously sunny day on the Sunderland quayside, as we saw 11 Burnside Business and Enterprise College students gain a great insight into the fascinating industry of glass-art.

A work of modern art in itself, the Glass Centre serves many purposes in the local community, operating as a museum that commemorates the art of glass making throughout Sunderland’s history, whilst also doubling-up as a gallery that showcases the very best contemporary art of the past century.  Remember that the National Glass Centre is completely free to all visitors: tourists, art lovers, families etc. are all welcome to take in the stunning artwork free of charge. Meanwhile, families, schools and groups can book themed workshops, where they can have fun designing and creating glass products, whilst learning skills just as fusing, moulding and glass-blowing. Alongside it’s function as a gallery, the Glass Centre also operates as an extension of Sunderland University, offering a wide range of facilities and opportunities to its talented group of art students. These university students were very hands on with the group, even going as far as to give a live demonstration of a laser jet-cutter, which uses high-pressure concentrated water jets to precisely cut glass into any given shape. Very cool!

We began our day in The Pod, a quirky meeting room on the top floor of the gallery, where we met Learning and Engagement Officer, Rachel Groves. A long-time member of the Glass Centre, Rachel treated us to a detailed tour of the building. Our students were thoroughly impressed by the amount of concentration and effort needed to craft the amazing sculptures in the gallery, where coloured powders and swatches must be moulded at precisely the right temperature for the art to turn out perfectly.  The Glass Centre really shows that one of the best ways to learn about history is to physically see it, as we saw stained glass in the Heritage Centre that dated back as far as the 7th Century. Rachel told us that local monks used similar glass-blowing techniques to what modern artists use today; we had no idea what a tradition this art has been in the history of the North-East.

Now they were savvy with how the Glass Centres operates, our group of students were tasked with designing their own workshop for the Centre to introduce for visitors, which was an opportunity to really get creative and put to use their new-found knowledge of the glass industry. However, this task also encouraged our students to adapt to a market they weren’t fully familiar with, and craft an innovative idea using their creative enterprise capabilities. Working in teams of three, it didn’t take long for the group to design some brilliant glass workshops, including mask-making, arts and crafts sessions and glass-blowing tutorials.

Speaking of glass blowing, a demonstration of this centuries-old art was next up on the agenda. After a lunch overlooking the Wear, we filled into the demonstration area, where we were treated to a step-by-step guide of how to make glass jewellery and ornaments. Despite using a furnace that was 1280 degrees hot, the professionals made it look easy, handling molten glass whilst seamlessly talking us through every stage of the process. Unsurprisingly, this was most of the group’s favourite part of the day; there’s something endlessly cool about seeing a chunk of solid glass liquefy and glow bright orange as it comes out of a furnace. Our students were also impressed that these glass artists sell every piece of glass they craft, placing each item on sale in the Centre’s gift shop. It’s satisfying to observe each stage of the glass-making production and seeing how amazing the final product turned out.

Buzzing from their time in the demonstration zone, the group were eager to learn more about this fascinating industry, so back to The Pod we went, to meet Kathryn who led a great talk on marketing in the art business. Having to market your product or service to a certain demographic is a must in every kind of industry, so while the topic of art may not resonate with the whole group, marketing is a skill that can be applied to all forms of business. As such, Kathryn introduced various sub-groups that her company would aim their displays at: from the” Facebook Families” to the yuppie “Metroculturals” and then the older generation of “Heydays”. The students’ task was to decide upon unique ways to market different art galleries and displays to these demographics, matching locations and styles to the needs and wants of each group. For example, after much debate, our teams decided that digital marketing and social media posts would be a great way of reaching the tech-savvy Metroculturals, as not only is it free to do, but it is a perfect medium to use when aiming to attract that trendy kind of crowd.

With their time at National Glass Centre all but over, our group reflected on the day. The students were surprised by how much they had learned about the glass-art industry throughout day, as even the most sceptical team members had been impressed by the amount of hard-work and dedication that goes into making the wonderful sculptures and models on display in the gallery. However, National Glass Centre is only one example of how a business can provide a multitude of both products and services to people of all different backgrounds and demographics, and it became clear to our students that any business can be adapted to be open people from all walks of life. Combining the right business idea with the right marketing can result in a very successful business. Hopefully seeing a working model of this idea in the Glass Centre could inspire our group of young entrepreneurs to start up wonderful businesses of their own in the future.