Student Entrepreneurship and Artistry on Display in GlassRoots Trade Fair

By Maddie Orton
Arts Correspondent

It’s a question every artist asks: will my work sell? The greater Newark area high school students in GlassRoots’ Business and Entrepreneurship Program are about to find out. And, with carefully drawn-out marketing plans, legal structures and cost-benefit analyses, they’re more than prepared.

“We’ve had a year-long program and the kids have designed business plans, and done SWOT analyses, and mission and vision statements, and then they actually created projects in our shops,” explains GlassRoots Executive Director Barbara Heisler.

This competition and trade fair is the culmination of their efforts. Thirteen students present their product lines one-by-one to judges from the fields of education, art and entrepreneurship. After deliberation, the 13 are whittled down to five, and then to one. At stake? Cash prizes, and of course, bragging rights. But, for GlassRoots, the competition is a means to an end.

“Our work is really to engage disengaged youth in Newark and in the region,” says Heisler, “and we use the vehicle of glass to pull kids in. Glass is cool. It’s fire, it’s fragile, it’s exciting and it’s the kind of vehicle that allows us to teach math, science, entrepreneurship, without the kids realizing their learning.”

They are learning though, and in the 21st century workplace, the skills they’re acquiring are invaluable.

“They’re learning how to market, they are learning to think through who their customer or who their audience is, and they are learning how to create a product that is sellable,” says competition judge Esther Fraser, the director of communications for Rising Tide Capital, a non-profit that works with entrepreneurs.

While GlassRoots doesn’t expect students to necessarily go into art professionally, those who do will be at an advantage.

“All artists have to understand the business side,” says Newark Museum Executive Director Steven Kern. “So, to see a program now working with high schoolers, teaching them right from the get-go: ‘What is your marketing plan? How are you going to reach your market and do you meet the needs of that market?’ I think is a really great thing.”

Students agree.

“Now I understand the basics of business,” says Keila Mella, a senior at the Ironbound Academy in East Side High School. “I’ve always wanted to start my own beauty salon, so now if I do — I probably will — I probably will have a better chance.”

“I learned how hard it is to set it up and how much you kind of have to have an idea of before you decide to make a company,” says sophomore Lindsay James from Science Park High School. “And when it comes to glass art, I learned so much, and I actually found my art medium that I want to take part in.”

“No matter what they end up doing — whether these young people go on to college, or they go into business for themselves, or go to work for someone — these are all skills that are going to serve them throughout their lives,” says Heisler.

It’s not only lessons students are bringing home, but cash as well. Many artist-entrepreneurs sold out of their product.