Special Reports

Glass acts

This week you get to see what's inside the cone. You get to see how big those glacial chunks are atop the Chihuly Bridge of Glass compared to your 4-year-old son (bigger).

This week the Museum of Glass: International Center for Contemporary Art opens, and you get to figure out for yourself what kind of establishment it is.

Unless you're one of the 1,900 museum members or already have a gala ticket, the fun will start next Saturday at 10 a.m.

Conceived in 1993 as a center for the art of Dale Chihuly and backed heartily by Frank Russell Company magnate George Russell, the museum's motto today is "Opening doors and crossing boundaries" - between other contemporary media and glass, between nonmuseumgoers and the madding arty crowd, between the science of glass and its finished aesthetic.

"This is an educational institution," said director Josi Callan.

It is not a Chihuly museum; none of his works is inside. It is not an encyclopedic art museum.

Plugged in this week's Newsweek on a list of niche museums including New York's Museum of Sex and the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C., the Museum of Glass aims to "define specialized museums for the 21st century," a press release says.

Setting glass in the context of contemporary art makes the Museum of Glass unique in the United States.

Callan hopes for 165,000 visitors the first year, including 5,000 on opening weekend.

The 1,000 available tickets to the opening gala Wednesday sold out fast - even though they cost $250 to $1,000 each - and more than 200 people are on a waiting list.

But the museum has raised only $180,000 toward its planned $15 million endowment, largely due to the recession, Callan has said.

It has collected $42 million toward its capital goal of $48 million. Callan said the rest is promised and will be delivered by the end of the year.

"We may go over, because we're still raising dollars, but what we need is committed," she said.

Drew Perine | The News Tribune

As expected, the hot shop amphiteater was a big draw last week during the Museum of Glass appreciation day for Baugh Construction workers and their families. Visitors can watch artists blow their glass creations stadium-style beneath the giant cone.

With a $6 million annual budget, 42 full-time employees and 28 part-timers, the Museum of Glass is larger than the Tacoma Art Museum or the Washington State History Museum.

The 75,000-square-foot building cost $29.3 million and sports three outdoor plazas with five art installations, an indoor gallery with multiple exhibitions, a theater, education studio, cafe and store. And, of course, a working hot shop inside the cone.

"I'm staggered at this point," said board vice chairman Phil Phibbs, president emeritus of the University of Puget Sound. "It is far beyond my wildest dreams."

A committed vandal might say the same thing of the veritable sculpture garden outside the museum, including the bridge. Security patrols and round-the-clock video surveillance are designed to protect the art, but ultimately that will be everyone's responsibility, Phibbs said.

"My experience is that people respect beauty," he said.

For builders, this is the end of the line. It's also the end of a long name game. The museum began as the Chihuly Center for Glass (1993), became the Museum of Modern Glass (1995), went global with International Museum of Modern Glass (1996), contracted to International Glass Museum (1997), expanded for Museum of Glass: An International Center for Contemporary Art and Glass (2000) and, later that year, finished with Museum of Glass: International Center for Contemporary Art - all without passing go.

"This is a beginning, not an ending," Callan said. "The museum will not be the same in five years as it is today."

That will be just like old times.

Jen Graves: 253-597-8568