Established in 1994, Hilltop Artists is a non-profit organization started by Dale Chihuly. Created as a gang diversion program, Hilltop Artists has an extraordinary success rate. Through creating glasswork from a piece as small as a bead to a piece as big as a vase, students learn subtle life lessons that are transforming their lives and in turn, transforming their community. Kate Ward, Administrative Coordinator, explains how art has the power to cultivate self-assurance in the students that directly correlates to real life.
“There are skills that you gain, confidence that you gain, things that you learn about yourself in being able to create something beautiful.”
The process of glass making requires a detailed eye and remarkable focus. In the constant turning and melting, in all the determination and effort put into it, sometimes it breaks.
Ward describes, “In the breaking, it is so disappointing, but it’s in this process that the students make the connection to their life.”
The students understand the concept that even after the breaking and the disappointments they can choose to start over and try again.
“The students get it without even being told,” Ward says.
Billy Bob, student, is in the 8th grade and has made over 300 hundred pieces of glass art. “I love being in this environment. It just makes me want to create,” he said.
According to Ward, not only does the process of making art encourage individual inner betterment but also the betterment of the community as a whole.
“They even wanted to ‘adopt’ a part of 6th avenue and pick up litter. Totally their idea,” she said.
Kathy Anderson, Outreach and Communications Manager, helps connect students to resources according to their needs, whether it’s helping with job applications or providing rides, or just keeping up with what is going on in the student’s lives. She is at the core of fulfilling the mission of the organization, which is helping connect youth to better futures and to be successful.
“The biggest reason for our success rates is because we keep on the kids. We check grades, check absences, if we notice a pattern we will address it. We stay on them,” Anderson explains.
Hilltop Artists has access to Tacoma public school records, which helps when there is an unusual pattern in student’s absences or behavior. Hilltop Artists leaders can connect with the youth in a unique way that the schools may not be able to. According to Anderson, their graduation rate is always high.
“We had 9 on our production team in 2013 and 100 percent graduated. We recruit our students not just for their glass talents but because they need a place to be and a place to belong,” Anderson said.
Mark, student, has been a part of Hilltop Artists for 4 years and has graduated and gone on to college. “This place is more of a family than anything,” Mark said.
He is a part of the production team, and was active in the ‘Lost Tribes of Hilltop’ art exhibit at Wright Park Conservatory as well as a part of the glass installation and partnership at Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital.
There is a great need in Tacoma’s youth and Hilltop Artists is cultivating a space where students can thrive and can create something they can be proud of. This year marks the 20th anniversary of Hilltop Artists.
Starting in April there will be an installation of the student’s art at Wright Park Conservatory where their family and the public can go and view their work.
Hilltop Artists will also be having an exhibition at Tacoma’s Museum of Glass starting September 6th, in celebration of partnership with the community.
Hilltop Artists studios are located at both Jason Lee Middle School and Wilson High School.