Nestled in the Southern Finger Lakes, The Corning Museum of Glass collection covers 3,500 years of history and includes nearly 50,000 objects from around the world. In one room, you may see ancient Roman mold-blown glass, and, in another, a pink, serpentine chandelier by Dale Chihuly. You can walk past a floor-to-ceiling Baccarat crystal sculpture and listen to 19th century musical instruments made of glass. And, you can try your hand at glassblowing– or, if you’re flame-shy, just watch a demonstration.
CMoG attracts more than 460,000 visitors each year – more than 40 times the town of Corning’s population of 11,000. Nearly 40 percent are international visitors.
With its unique offerings, high standards of stewardship, and inviting programs, CMoG has become New York State’s most visited art museum outside of New York City – and 30th in the country. CMoG’s local impact is also broad, from its support of 200 employees to its advocacy of regional campgrounds, hotels, and B&Bs. Beyond the collection, the museum’s Studio has welcomed thousands of students, artists, and visitors, and its Rakow Research Library is a leading global resource on the art, history, science and technology of glass.
We spoke with President and Executive Director Karol Wight about how the museum cultivates its standing as an international cultural tourism attraction –and an economic driver in its region.
“The museum, Studio and Rakow Library enable us to be the most comprehensive place in the world to view glass, research glass, experience glass being made, and to make your own glass,” said Wight.
Founded in 1951 by Corning Glass Works (now Corning Incorporated) in celebration of the company’s 100th anniversary, the museum is not a company showcase but a nonprofit with vast offerings, financed by a mix of contributions, grants, program revenue, and investments.
“Glass is a compelling topic, and the phrase we hear most frequently from our visitors once they’ve arrived is ‘I had no idea…’ But…If our displays and demonstrations were not high quality, we wouldn’t see so many visitors,” Wight said.
CMoG has continually grown, challenges notwithstanding. In 1972, the museum faced a flood that filled the walls with five feet of water, after which staff accomplished major restoration work. By 1980, new elevated galleries had been constructed. A further $65 million expansion took place in 1996 to hold an increasing number of visitors. A contemporary gallery and hot shop for glassmaking were added in 2015.
In addition to careful attention to its collection, exhibitions, and programs, CMoG works to grow its following through extensive outreach, both locally and internationally. To build its community, the museum hosts a series of “2300°” events, six times a year (November to March and May) with demonstrations, live music, and regional fare.
According to Chief Marketing and Communications Officer Beth Duane, CMoG also works to attract its crowd in unconventional ways – like partnering with Watkins Glen International raceway and creating a glass trophy for the NASCAR race held there. In addition, sales employees and artists travel throughout the country and internationally to give presentations and demonstrations, including outreach on Celebrity Cruises.
Keeping with the museum’s focus on innovative ways to engage with and share glass, this year, CMoG will launch GlassBarge, a project in conjunction with the Erie Canal Bicentennial that will bring glassmaking to towns along New York’s waterways. The project is supported by NYSCA’s Regional Economic Development Council Program. NYSCA also receives General Operating Support through NYSCA’s Museum Program.
As audiences and program offerings have grown, so has CMoG’s budget. According to the most recent 990s filed, between fiscal years 2010 and 2014, the company saw a $7 million increase in contributions and a $4 million increase in income – providing room to explore new possibilities.
“We are an ambitious institution that has always wanted to grow and exceed our expectations,” said Wight. “We will be 75 years old in 2026, and this is a significant date in the museum’s history, one that will enable us to examine what we’ve achieved in that time frame.”
Wight looks to a 10-15 year strategic plan to focus the museum around goals of strengthening its mission and pushing boundaries of what it can do to “Tell the World About Glass.” Yet she is already thinking beyond that time frame:
“We will begin to think ahead to what else we might do, how else we might expand, and what’s missing from our message…One of our goals is to constantly reinvent ourselves to identify new ways to educate and serve the needs of those who see Corning as the go-to place for all things related to glass.”
Slideshow photos: Maestrale, Toots Zynsky; The White Necklace, JeanMichel Othoniel; Carrona, Javier Perez; Lynx After a Sketchbook Page by Albrecht Durer, Marta Klonowska; Still Life with Two Plums, Flora C. Mace and Joey Kirkpatrick; Nocturne 5, Karen LaMonte; It’s Raining Knives, Silvia Levenson; Erbium Chandelier, Dale Chihuly; Glass Harmonica, Bohemia, probably made by C.T. Pohl; Three Horns (late 16th-17th century); Cityscape, Jay Musler
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