Investigating a range of issues from equity and privilege to materiality and labor, Nathan Watson’s artwork addresses complex social issues through a combination of monochromatic glass and compelling form. After directing San Francisco State University’s small glass program for five years, the artist, designer, and educator became Executive Director of Public Glass, the city’s only public access glass making facility. As the director of an arts non-profit and in his life as an artist, Watson’s current practice continues to move intuitively between community building and art making as a way to examine and imagine how we might offer each other the same attention and regard as we do the object.
A Kentucky native, Watson received a BA in history from Centre College in Danville, Kentucky, where he also began investigating glass as a way to transform storied narratives into a visual medium. Before pursuing his graduate studies at California College of Arts in 2004, Watson received grants and awards from the Rhode Island Foundation and the Rhode Island Council for the Arts for his work concerning local crafts, identity, and immigration. Often formed by constructed architectural interventions and poetic imagery, Watson’s work in glass has been the subject of exhibitions at the Noma Gallery and Refusalon in San Francisco, POST in Los Angeles, and numerous surveys of contemporary artists using glass as an element in their practices.
Watson has lectured and taught nationally as a visiting artist at the Massachusetts College of Art, Centre College in Kentucky, UC Fullerton, San Francisco State University, and at conferences addressing issues surrounding arts education, youth programming and social justice. As a curator, he has contributed to exhibitions at Southern Exposure, Google, The Reclaimed Room at Building Resources, and directs the gallery and artist in residence programs at Public Glass.
In 2012, Watson co-founded Light A Spark, a glass-focused arts program that provides rare opportunities and resources for youth in the underserved communities of San Francisco. He’s also a member of an artist collective called Related Tactics, which brings together artists and cultural workers to collaborate on projects that deal with the intersection of race and culture.
Days before the most recent issue of GASnews was set to publish, the organization received a letter from Watson and published it in its entirety.
Watson wrote: “In this moment when all communities must ask, how did we get here, I think that it’s a meaningful statement in itself to say that I am one of two African Americans leading nonprofit glass organizations, and one of three helping to guide University glass programs in the entire United States. After sitting back and watching our glass community respond to the lynching of brown people and observing the social media-based processing of our complicity through inaction and a pervasive lack of inclusion, I’ve decided to put my heartache aside to share what it feels like from my perspective. With all of the wealth, privilege, and supposed progressive elements within our arts community, how could we let ourselves fall so far behind when it comes to supporting equity and opening doors for everyone?
Even when compared to the lack of representation across the art world as a whole, the glass community looks really bad. No words, propping up of black faces, or sudden unburying of works by black artists will solve this. We were wrong all along to be content amongst ourselves, content to peddle in shiny things with little connection to the realities of the world that is burning our eyes open now. We as artists, who are tasked with interpreting our collective condition, did not do our jobs, and the industry that supports us did not do theirs. The glass galleries did not look toward and support our futures, and our institutions looked to the past and the same sources for self-congratulation again and again until last week.
In the last few days my projects, my body, and the images of my black and brown colleagues have become all too popular in the social media posts of the many glass companies and organizations around the country who are trying to make a statement about how “woke” they are. If you use our bodies in your catalogues, in your posts, and in your applications for larger grants, YOU are responsible for helping to create a way forward for the many who have not been offered a seat at your table.
The leading nonprofit glass organizations from coast to coast who have been working on issues of access and diversity, lifting new voices, and supporting emerging artists for years with little to no contribution from our industry’s biggest donors and institutions have joined together to create the Give to Glass Campaign. We’ve united due to the devastating financial impacts of COVID-19 on our programs and studios, but also because our own glass community has never fully appreciated the value of what we’ve been working for all along. In this moment when everyone has
something to say about social justice, I ask….Do you see us now?!
If you as an individual or an institution have made a declaration about where you stand, then it’s your moral obligation to support change in our glass community. Words raise awareness, but contributions provide the resources for REAL CHANGE! Donate to Give to Glass, to Crafting the Future, or to any organization that is versed in fighting for those whose lives are compromised and voices muted, and for God’s sake, please VOTE!
If there is no action behind your statements, then please stop using our names, our black bodies, those of our youth, and the objects made from our alienation and pain, and step aside to let us build our own house.”
Talking Out Your Glass podcast and all of our sponsors have made donations to Give to Glass.
Give to Glass is a fundraising campaign created by and for Glass Impact, a nationwide coalition of nonprofit, community-focused glass organizations who are dedicated to equal access and uplifting diverse voices and ideas through glass. Each of the member studios is supported primarily through public programming, making the economic fallout of COVID-19 and social distancing particularly devastating.
By supporting Glass Impact through the Give to Glass Campaign, you are making a statement:
A diverse and accessible glass community is the best way that we can move the industry forward, and we cannot afford to allow COVID-19 to eliminate the studios that are fighting for inclusivity.
Glass Impact is:
Firebird Community Arts | Chicago, IL | @firebirdcommunityarts
Foci- Minnesota Center for Glass Art | Minneapolis, MN | @focimcga
GlassRoots | Newark, NJ | @GlassRootsinc
Hilltop Artists | Tacoma, WA | @hilltopartists
North Carolina Glass Center | Asheville, NC | @NCGlassCenter
Public Glass | San Francisco, CA | @PublicGlass
STARworks Glass | Star, NC | @STARworksglass
UrbanGlass | Brooklyn, NY | @UrbanGlass_nyc