What exactly is an olio?

It is a dish of many flavors, a hodge-podge, a medley....that's the definition of the word, and this place. An olio is a thing, it's in the dictionary and it's not the gross fake butter from the 80's, that's 'oleo'. 

I get asked this a lot, what it means. A friend suggested the word when I described this dream of mine. This weird idea to start a school for teens, to teach them this magic thing called glassblowing.

The Olio is all about glass in many ways, yes of course. But it is actually also about many other things, perhaps more so about economics, pragmatism, expression, empowerment, business, sustainability. It's about art in general, and how we can, do and should, use art to teach many other things. Art, in a very general sense, can teach us anything....history, science, engineering, math, and so much more when you apply it right.

When I was in college, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, I was lost. I was an art major, then a history education major, and then I was ready to drop out or get kicked out. I had a terrible time as a traditional student, and academics were hard for me. I am smart, but I need hands on learning and I need to be deeply interested.

I was on academic probation when I found the glass class. I wanted pottery but they were full. It was like that spot was meant for me. The first day of class I was in love. The process, smell, noise, all of it was exciting and awesome. The second day of class I knew I would start a school for other kids like me, I was 19 at the time. The next semester in college, when I was a glass major, I made Dean's List. 

But it couldn't be just a school. We can't make a living on only that. Glass is expensive to make. The equipment is costly to purchase and maintain. The gas and electric bill is high. The tools and supplies are expensive. Glass also breaks a lot. It takes a long time to be good. And you break a lot while learning, or things are so terrible you want to break them. So the learning curve is long, and sometimes the payoff isn't so high.

When we opened in 2014 I was as ready as I could be, spending over two decades learning the job of Executive Director and the administration, fundraising, marketing, management, and so much more that goes along with this title, in addition to glassblower and teacher. The shop is always evolving and growing, and we get better at what we do every day.

We have created a place that is a school, but it teaches in a way that is appropriate for each person, and we help them get whatever they want from it....weekend workshop, hobbyist, professional, or simply viewer. Not everyone likes the heat, but we still let them hang out in the hot shop.

So this is where The Olio sits. In between the passion and the realities of life is strategy. We are a school, we teach kids who can't really pay. We are a shop, we sell stuff that most people can't make themselves. We are a place where you can learn your own art and some business tools to sell it. Or we are a place where you can just enjoy the glass while we work. We are a mix of business and art. We meld passion with pragmatism. We are truly an olio.

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1 comment

  • I am very interested in your organization! Looks awesome!

    • Suzie Beasley