Nonprofit Spotlight: Glass Axis shatters the glass bubble with new marketing attitude

Julie Bhusal Sharma
Rex Brown

Getting outside of the glass bubble has been a struggle for Glass Axis, but moving locations has not.

Relocated in Franklinton after a move from Grandview, the nonprofit offers art education classes while renting out space and tools to artists of the trade and selling works in its gift shop.

"It's been in Columbus for 29 years and it's always kind of been this hidden jewel. It's attempted to stay-not deliberately-but by default, rather small, member-run, and in doing that a lot of people aren't aware of it," Executive Director Rex Brown says.

That changed with the Franklinton move in January 2015, prompted by a cost-prohibitive increase in rent, according to Brown. For similar reasons, Glass Axis moved from the Arena District to Grandview in 2001.

"When we moved to Franklinton, it was obvious that we needed to get out of that glass bubble and grow a little bit," he says. "We've done that. We've increased our earned revenue by 125 percent in the last year because of a change in attitude in marketing and advertising and getting the word out."

The new marketing attitude manifests itself in plans for a coffee shop and improvements in balancing and boosting revenue stream through renting space for large private events.

Glass Axis has attempted to level its cyclical income by staying open during August, a month it previously had closed before last summer. The off time was used for furnace maintenance and staff vacations. Now, a rotation starts in June for furnace cleaning so that classes do not come to a halt.

Revenue peaks in December when the cold brings people to the hot shop and the season is one of gift-giving.

Brown hopes for more exposure year-round with the planned coffee shop to be run by an outside vendor.

"Our goal with the coffee shop is to expand the hours that the public community can come here because not many of us are early people here," Brown says. "Plus, there are a lot more coffee drinkers than there are glass blowers."

Still, Glass Axis has accumulated a robust community of glass artists.

The nonprofit has been member-based since its start as a traveling hot shop that was the brainchild of 10 Ohio State University students. However, its board members have evolved to have less of a hands-on approach, resulting in a gradual need for five paid employees-one of which was a social media and marketing position added after the latest move.

According to Brown, Glass Axis follows a nonprofit model because it allows for affordable glass education to the public, which means more people can experience the expensive and dangerous art.

Glass Axis' main revenue sources are classes for the public and work with schools, with rental fees from its 114 members and gift shop sales following, respectively.

Ohio State University Holography Lecturer Jacci Delaney appreciates the affordable rentals for artists. She became a member four years ago to avoid massive sunk costs she would incur by opening a private studio.

While Glass Axis' Franklinton space was being remodeled, Brown showed Delaney blueprints of her studio in the new space. An inconvenient door would make Delaney's route to the cold shop-where glass is polished-an extra 15 minutes away, which matters when you are carrying a 200-pound sculpture.

"He talked to the architect and they installed the door where we wanted it, so that was so awesome-he didn't have to do that at all," Delaney says.

Brown's flexibility derives from the joy he feels in making new artists through classes and sustaining them in the studio.

"I create new artists because they've taken an ornament (they've made) and they go, 'Wow, this is really awesome,'" Brown says. "Or, some people come in and they say, 'Wow this is really hard...But now they understand what it takes to make one of these. So, it's a win-win for me."

Julie France is staff writer.

Glass Axis

610 W. Town St., Columbus 43215

About:Offers weekly classes on glass art forms; works with schools on glass education from a scientific and historic approach; rents equipment and space to local glass artists/members.

Executive director: Rex Brown

Employees: Five

Central Ohio members: 114

Volunteer hours annually: 2,085

2015 revenue: $566,004