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Small Business Week: BAGI Preserves the Ancient Art of Setting Glass On Fire

Established Community Backer ***
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Name: Diane Weiss

Business: Board member and glass artist at Bay Area Glass Institute (BAGI)

Milestone: Despite losing its lease in a scorching hot housing market, BAGI is still in business!

Location: San Jose, CA

Launched: 1996

Diane Weiss is an Intuit executive by day. By night (well, at least for a few evenings a week), she’s an active member of the Bay Area Glass Institute (BAGI). For Diane, “active” means more than just practicing her mesmerizing art of blowing glass. It also means teaming up with other dedicated BAGI members to keep the only glass-arts “hot shop” in the area open for business. That’s been particularly challenging since the institute lost its lease two years ago after 15 years in the same spot in downtown San Jose. But Diane and her fellow glass artisans were determined to help the center survive and even thrive after this tough break. Thanks to a financing loan from Intuit and some serious fundraising efforts by the BAGI team, the institute now has secured a new home in a soon-to-be-renovated building in San Jose History Park.

BAGI is a featured vendor at Intuit’s Small Business Week Celebration this week in Mountain View, CA, April 30 to May 4.

Diane, tell us about the history of BAGI.

The Bay Area Glass Institute was founded in 1996 by four San Jose State University students. After they graduated, they needed a hot-shop to work in. They set up the first “institute” in a garage. From the beginning, the founders wanted to create a glassblowing studio with space they could rent out and provide a gathering place for fellow glass artists.

BAGI has long been an affordable work-space option for local glass blowers, fusers and torch workers. It’s also an education facility, and BAGI enables 15,000 people each year to interact in some way with glass arts. We offer hands-on experiences that educate and inspire Silicon Valley residents and employees to connect with their creative side. BAGI helps established local artists, as well as students of all levels, further their glass-working journey. We host innovative corporate events and team-building sessions, too.

Today, BAGI is a recognized 501(c)(3) nonprofit, and it’s the only public access glass-working facility in Santa Clara County with fully functional glassblowing, fusing and torch working studios. Our goal is to continue expanding our educational, outreach and team-oriented programs to meet the growing needs of the local community.

Have you always been interested in glass blowing?

About 10 years ago, I took up glass blowing as a hobby. I started taking classes at BAGI and rented space there so I could blow. Now, about once a week, I meet up with my friends, and we blow glass. It takes us outside of emails and business planning and lets us do something physical and creative.

When you deal with glass on fire, you have to pay close attention to what you’re doing. The immediacy of the process takes you away from the stress in your outside life and makes you focus on the moment. I’ve learned you can’t write a business plan in your head when you’re blowing glass! And since you work in a team, there’s a deep community connection. I think of BAGI as my own community center. Screen Shot 2018-05-03 at 4.21.56 PM.png

How did you go from being a casual glass artist to being a dedicated member of the BAGI leadership team?

I joined BAGI just as it was encountering financial issues and was about to close. The business had too much debt and couldn’t stay afloat. I wanted to do my part in helping it survive, thrive and grow, so I joined the board and become part of the leadership organization.

Tell us how the team approached the financial and logistical challenge of saving BAGI.

We lost our lease in downtown San Jose after 15 years in the same place. We got 18 months’ notice that the owner would be building condos where the institute has always been.

We needed to raise $700K in revenue and donations so we could first build our interim location and then build our new home. We consulted with a professional non-profit leader and fundraiser so we could develop an effective fundraising plan.

We generated revenue through sales from our annual Glass Pumpkin Patch event and a Christmas ornament sale. We built a strong pipeline of corporate events by developing new marketing materials and by calling companies directly. We reached out to the community for donations and support, and we held a capital campaign with meetings, emails and phone calls. We took out an Intuit financing loan for new equipment, too.

In the end, our efforts were a success. Construction on the our permanent BAGI building began last week, and our new home in a renovated warehouse in San Jose History Park will be ready by summer.Screen Shot 2018-05-03 at 4.23.41 PM.png

What are you looking forward to most about moving in?

For all of us a BAGI, nothing is more rewarding than seeing the sparkle in people’s eyes when they see and make something beautiful and magical from glass. We enable kids, teens, hobbyists and tech workers who spend their days behind a desk to innovate with colors and shapes. They get the chance to work as a team in a completely new and different way. And it’s all thanks to an amazing art form that has existed for thousands of years.

Want to read about another nonprofit organization that’s educating through creative, hands-on experiences? Meet Jeremy Malman and Worth Motorcycles.

And here’s where you can read about some other impressive fundraising efforts: Northwest Kidney Kids Supports the Families Who Support the Kids

Before you go

QB Community members, what local small business or organization helps you get your creative juices flowing? After all, you can’t work all day, every day!