Master glass blower Jackie Ballard likes to say she's got the hottest place in town. Or that she's passing the torch to the next generation of glass blowers.
Corny, to be sure, but both are accurate descriptions of her new venture, an arts center devoted to three-dimensional art.
Ballard, 60, opened the Industrial Arts Center in August as a teaching center for glass blowing as well as metal sculpting, jewelry making and drum building. Located in Gulfport's Art Village Courtyard, it's surrounded by quaint beach shops, cafes and restaurants. A 14-foot-tall metal horse stands near the entrance.
The center focuses on all kinds of 3-D art, but glass is the main attraction. Aside from colleges and glass production companies, it's one of the only local places that offer public glass-blowing classes.
Ballard started blowing glass 28 years ago and sold her pieces at area shops and festivals, including the Gasparilla Art Festival. She and the other gallery organizers wanted a place where people could experience art first-hand.
"It's not a gallery. It's an innovative teaching facility,'' she said. "It's not about setting up your art to sell.''
They called it "industrial'' in reference to the gritty nature of 3-D media. Glasswork incorporates all of astrology's elements: air, fire, water and earth.
The center has become a popular spot during Gulfport's Art Walks, held the first Friday and third Saturday evenings of each month. Artists give demonstrations, and students try their hand at making a glass object out of molten sand. On Friday, the center is offering a blow-your-own glass ornament for Mother's Day for $25.
Keeping the center open remains a constant challenge, especially in these tough financial times. A community contest a few months ago to name James Oleson Jr.'s metal horse raised a lot of awareness but little money, thanks to the theft of the main collection jar. The resulting name was Shane's Tall Drink of Water, after glass blower and board member Shane Vickers, who died of cancer last year at age 31.
"We're trying to get the community involved as much as possible,'' said president Lynn DiVenuti. "It's about getting the word out.''
In April, the center started a 360 Degree Club to raise money for rent, utilities and supplies. The goal is to get 360 people to donate $100 to cover expenses for a year. Members get a "Piece of the Pie'' glass pin and discounts on classes.