See inside the massive Flint Institute of Arts expansion

FLINT, Michigan—Loud banging echoes through the halls, noticeable even  before entering the construction at the Flint Institute of Arts.

Thick layers of plastic tarp cover the construction entrance, soon to be home to a massive $5-million, 11,000-square-foot wing that will house more than 300 pieces of contemporary glass and ceramic works. 

This year the Flint Institute of Arts marks its 90th year. It is the second-largest art museum in Michigan (topped only by the Detroit Institute of Arts) and home to one of the largest art schools in the nation.  

FIA received an $8.5 million grant from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation to construct the new wing and expand the art school with a $3.5 million investment that will allow for the teaching of glass blowing. 

The expansions will add a modern design to the building located on East Kearsley Street within Flint’s Cultural Center. A ribbon cutting ceremony for the new Contemporary Craft Wing and art school expansion is planned for 10:30 a.m. April 21.

The expansion follows the donor purchase of Sherwin and Shirley Glass’ collection of 142 contemporary glass works, which for years had moved from gallery to gallery, and the gift by Dr. Robert and Deanna Harris Burger of more than 200 pieces of contemporary ceramic. 

After acquiring these two unique collections, there was only one problem: There wasn’t enough room to house all of this new art. Since the pieces are mostly three dimensional in nature, the only option was to make room. 

“These two collections are very valuable and very exclusive,” said Kathryn Sharbaugh, development director for the FIA. “We saw by having these two collections in Flint, we would position ourselves in a very unique place in the museum world—because this isn’t common.”

Within FIA’s Art School, the remaining $3.5 million from the Mott Foundation grant will build a Hot Shop and Demonstration space for glass blowing, adding to the existing facilities that allow students to make ceramic works. 

The soundproof, state-of-the-art studio will be equipped with new, million-dollar machinery and supplies for glass blowing. There will also be retractable seating and mounted monitors, so viewers can watch different demonstrations and see details up close. 

A cold shop, flame work, and Bishop Sculpture Gallery will be coming in as new additions as well. 

“We know Flint people will like doing this. It’s really perfect for Flint,” said Sharbaugh, who noted the popularity of the Art Schools pottery classes. “It really transforms and unifies people.”

The Flint Institute of Arts also features a museum shop, cafe, art sales and rentals as well as a new museum group called “The Contemporaries” that offers private tours, classes and events. 

FIA is open noon to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays, and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays. Entry is free on Saturdays through a sponsorship by Huntington Bank and children 12 and under are always free. Tickets are $7 per person with discounts for seniors and students. 

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