New Space, New Inspiration: The Contemporary Art + Design Wing at The Corning Museum of Glass

View from above the new Contemporary Art + Design Wing. Photo courtesy of Iwan Baan and The Corning Museum of Glass.
View from above the new Contemporary Art + Design Wing. Photo courtesy of Iwan Baan and The Corning Museum of Glass.

I’ve been a little absent around here for the past couple of months, so I’m here to explain. This is a travel blog, and like most travel bloggers, I feel compelled to tell you about my favorite far-flung destinations, and encourage you to book a trip there, too. But often, we overlook the gems that are right in our own backyards.

As some of you know, my day job is pretty awesome—I do the PR for this incredible place called The Corning Museum of Glass—and we’ve had just a few things going on lately. On March 20, we opened the new $64 million, 100,000-square-foot Contemporary Art + Design Wing, a space that essentially doubles the size of the museum, and allows people now—more than ever before—to see and experience glass in a new light.

I knew my first post after my absence had to be about this new space—and it had to convey the grandeur of it all. This is the world’s largest glass museum—a major attraction that annually welcomes 440,000 visitors from 30+ countries to a town of 11,000 people in the Finger Lakes of Upstate New York. Pretty impressive! I wanted my post to tell you how we just opened two new spaces that are the largest of their kind anywhere in the world: the largest space for the display of contemporary art and design in glass, and the largest space in which to watch a live hot glass demonstration. I wanted to let you know how truly special this place is to the art world, and to me personally. I’ve been involved with the museum in some way for the last decade, and it is one of my favorite spots on earth. I’ve tried to write this post several times, but somehow, my PR need to extol every virtue has made it practically impossible to keep the word count under control. (I’m notoriously long-winded, but surely I should be able to wrap this up in less than five single-spaced pages, right?)

So, instead of listing the impressive facts and figures related to this museum, and particularly this new space, I’m going to let some of the work I’ve been involved in tell that story. The New York Times, Travel + Leisure, and any number of CMoG blogs I’ve written do that justice, as well as this awesome special show, for which I received a credit I never thought I’d have to my name: executive producer! A HUGE thank you goes to this incredible local news team. What a fun project to be part of!

Now, I want to focus on a few reasons why I love the new Contemporary Art + Design Wing:

Contemporary glass is truly inspiring. This may come as a shock to you, but I am not a museum person. I want to be so badly, but alas, I am not. I go to any and all I come across on my travels, and I always find something to appreciate in them—mainly pieces of glass—but spending hours on end looking at paintings on walls just isn’t my thing. And typically, I loathe contemporary art. I just don’t understand it. I’m fairly artistic, and if I feel like I can make it, I don’t understand why it’s in a museum.

But glass has always been the exception for me. It is absolutely captivating. I love the fact that contemporary artists from varied backgrounds are so fascinated by this material that they want to see what they can do with it. They work with glass artists to realize their visions, and in doing so, are pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in glassmaking. The new works on display are some of the most extraordinary things I’ve ever seen at any museum around the world. I can’t believe how lucky I am to get to see them and be inspired by them every day.

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I have a newfound love for architecture. Aside from the incredible glass this new wing holds, the building itself is an absolutely astounding work of art. With stark-white curvilinear walls and an entirely glass ceiling made up of 900+ skylights, the architecture in the space is unlike anything you’ll likely ever encounter in another museum. I don’t pretend to know the first thing about architecture, but after hosting so many amazing architecture journalists in the past few months, and seeing their excitement over the building, I’ve realized what a big buzz this Upstate NY museum has created in the architecture world. It’s all been extremely fascinating, and has made me even more proud of the building, and of the incredible team of people at the museum who said “yes” to such an ambitious design.

I especially love the contrast between the bright white galleries, where every detail is hidden in the walls, and the new all-black, highly industrial Amphitheater Hot Shop, where every nut, bolt, and screw is exposed. I heard it best described as a “child’s drawing of how you hold up a building.” That space used to house the blowing room or “hot end” of the Steuben Glass factory, a luxury glass brand that closed in 2011. The idea was to turn that space into the finest hot shop in the world, while preserving the integrity of the building where such fine glass was produced for more than 60 years—and they certainly succeeded.

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The Amphitheater Hot Shop is a place where dreams are realized. This place is my new favorite hang-out. Watching a glassmaking demonstration is completely awe-inspiring. I’ve seen hundreds of them during my time at the museum, and I could happily watch hundreds more and never grow tired of them. Glassmaking is an art form that can’t be learned from a book or YouTube, which is rare in this day and age. It’s a tradition that’s passed down from teacher to student—from one generation to the next. I’ve heard it described as a family tree that goes back to the very first Roman glassblower, some 2,000 years ago. They’re all connected by their deep love of the craft and passion for this dazzling material. It’s hard not to appreciate what’s going on in front of you as you sit there and watch a blob of molten glass come to life.

This new hot shop is one of the most capable spaces for glassmaking in the entire world. Practically anything you can image in glass can be made in there. Just in the month it’s been open, I’ve had the privilege of watching the best living glassmaker create enormous works, giant ants and bombs take shape—that was cool!—and glass and metal bond successfully for the first time ever. Even more than that, I’ve enjoyed watching the gaffers who work for the museum showcase their talents. I can’t even imagine what’s in store for that space as time goes on, but it’s going to be incredible.

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I could go on for days, detailing all the reasons I love this space. It’s been described as “transformational,” and I completely get that. I was one of the lucky few that got to see this space during construction and installation—which was inspiring in and of itself—but now seeing visitors enjoy it as much as I do is truly gratifying. Although I haven’t worked there long, and played a markedly small role in the project, I’ve never been part of anything that has inspired me more.

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If The Corning Museum of Glass wasn’t on your bucket list before, I hope it is now. Drop me a line if you’re ever in the area. I’d love to show you firsthand how amazing this place is!

What to know if you go

The Corning Museum of Glass is the world’s largest glass museum. There you can see glass, see glass being made, and make glass yourself. Browse 35 centuries of glassmaking history, be inspired by live glassmaking demonstrations, and then create your own piece of glass during a Make Your Own Glass experience. The museum is located in Finger Lakes Wine Country of Upstate New York, between 4 and 6 hours from many major cities in the Northeast, including NYC, Philadelphia, Boston, DC, Cleveland, and Toronto.

Places

The Corning Museum of Glass

The Corning Museum of Glass, Museum Way, Corning, NY, United States
800.732.6845

The Corning Museum of Glass

The Corning Museum of Glass, Museum Way, Corning, NY, United States
800.732.6845
www.cmog.org

Visit Ithaca Encourages People to do Exactly the Opposite

Due to a "ridiculously stupid winter," Visit Ithaca encourages people to go to Florida instead.
Due to a "ridiculously stupid winter," Visit Ithaca encourages people to go to Florida instead.

Let’s be real. It’s freaking miserable in New York State right now. February is always a rough month, but for some reason, it’s particularly bad this year—“ridiculously stupid,” you might say. Although the snow totals aren’t as great here in the Finger Lakes as what our neighbors to the northwest experience in Buffalo, it’s not too much fun to be here in the winter. And anyone who tells you differently—aside from hardcore skiers and kids with a snow day—is lying.

But that’s not stopping national news outlets from talking about a small Upstate New York town today—and for once, the story isn’t about an impending snowstorm!

Visit Ithaca, the tourism board for Tompkins County—one of 14 in the Finger Lakes—decided that with the wind whipping outside and the temperatures dipping below zero, they’d rather be in Florida. And so should everyone else.

The VisitIthaca.com homepage pop-up encourages people to visit the Florida Keys, causing one Florida tourism rep to wonder about job security.

The VisitIthaca.com homepage pop-up encourages people to visit the Florida Keys, causing one Florida tourism rep to wonder about job security.

“That’s it. We surrender. Go to Key West instead.” That’s what the pop-up banner on VisitIthaca.com read on Monday, February 16. Despite how “gorges” Ithaca may be—and it is beautiful in the winter, too—the tourism folks aren’t sugar coating how much that fresh layer of powder actually sucks. It’s too darn cold to enjoy all that beauty. Come in the spring.

I’ve lived in Corning, NY, all my life—just under an hour from Ithaca. I love living here. It’s so picturesque. The 11 glacially-formed, crystalline bodies of water stretch out like fingers. 130+ wineries and vineyards dot their shorelines. Idyllic small towns that have been equated to Norman Rockwell paintings are in abundance, each one more charming than the last. It’s one of those gems of a destination. You come here, and you know you’ve discovered someplace special.

But there’s a reason winter is the slowest season.

I used to work in tourism marketing for the Finger Lakes region, and while there are a lot of things to do here in the winter, a mid-February vacation wasn’t always the easiest sell. Any talk about Upstate NY in February is about leaving it.

Except for today, ironically enough.

Sure, when the Today Show, CNN, Yahoo! Travel, People magazine, and a whole host of other outlets covered the story, they relayed Ithaca’s message to “visit the Florida Keys this week,” because “it’s for the birds here now.” But what that actually did was put Ithaca—a town encased in snow and ice—on everyone’s radar. Not convinced? Their webpage that typically has 1500 hits a day during the winter got more than 80,000 today!

It seems so counterintuitive. What tourism organization in their right mind would use those precious tourism dollars to promote another destination? Even a representative for the Florida Keys was surprised, calling it the “wackiest thing I’ve ever seen in my life from a tourism marketing standpoint.” But a county tourism office couldn’t dream of buying the publicity that Ithaca got today. It’s genius, and I bet there’s a lot of PR people out there who wish they’d thought of it first. Despite the fact that no one wants to come here in February, people may now be more apt to visit “when things thaw out”—just as Ithaca suggests. Which, let’s be honest, is good for the entire Finger Lakes region.

So, I tip my PR hat to you, Visit Ithaca, for suggesting people do exactly the opposite. What a brilliant way to ensure visitors to the region for many months to come.

It’s Christmastime in the City

Christmas displays in NYC
Christmas displays in NYC

City sidewalks, busy sidewalks, dressed in holiday style. In the air there’s a feeling of Christmas…

Despite the fact that when I tell people I’m from New York, they automatically assume I live in the Manhattan, I only get to the City about 2-3 times per year. I’ve always wanted to see it at Christmas—those iconic sites you see in the movies: Rockefeller Center, Radio City Music Hall, Central Park—all aglow with holiday flair.

Kyle and I try to give “experiences” for Christmas as often as we can. We decided it would be lots of fun to take his parents to NYC with us as their gift this year, since his dad had never visited. We would get to do all those fun touristy things you have to do on any first trip to Manhattan, but somehow, it would be just a bit more magical at Christmas.

And it was. I’m not going to lie, I become a different, slightly more aggressive version of myself in NYC crowds, but despite all that, the City really is beautiful all decked out for the holidays. We began our day with a visit to Bryant Park to check out the Bank of America Winter Village. Although it didn’t exactly have the European ambiance I so desperately want to experience again, we had some ridiculously decadent hot chocolate that was to die for—and some people may have! It was fun to sip what I can only fathom was pure, melted Ghiradelli chocolate while perusing the little huts filled with treasures crafted by artisans, and watching ice skaters fly around the rink.

Next, we walked up to Rockefeller Center—we had a mission to see it in daylight and darkness. We were almost unimpressed by day, but at night, the tree absolutely came alive. (And so did the masses).

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A highlight of any New York City trip at Christmas is seeing the elaborate window displays. We passed by Saks Fifth Avenue, marveling at their fairytale-themed windows, depicting the stories of different characters. We wandered into Tiffany’s to get a better look at the massive trees all decked out in that iconic blue. And I couldn’t help but drool over the incredible façade of Harry Winston.

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It was a nice day, so we took a stroll through Central Park. Even in the wintertime, it’s such a beautiful place. I first visited on my last trip to the City in April. I’d always had this love-hate relationship with NYC, but walking through Central Park last spring, seeing that New Yorkers really do take a moment to stop and smell the flowers in this little bit of an oasis inside this bustling city, made me realize that I really do love New York. And winter is no different. I loved seeing all the horses and carriages decked out in rich reds and deep purples for the holidays.

After our stroll, it was time to see the City from above. Most people go to the Empire State Building on their first trip to Manhattan, but I think the best spot is the Top of the Rock (aka, Rockefeller Center). You get the same view, plus you’re directly across from the Empire State Building, and thus, it’s in all of your pictures. The view never gets old. It looks so quiet—so peaceful—high above it all. That speedy elevator ride transports you 70 stories to a parallel universe. Pro tip, though: Leave your pocket knives at home. Somehow Kyle always brings the pocket knife I got him in Switzerland—and his dad had his, too—so Kyle had to stay with them on the ground. Luckily we had done the Top of the Rock last year, so he was perfectly content to go shop the NBC Store while he waited for us.

View from the Top of the Rock

View from the Top of the Rock

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No NYC trip at Christmas is complete without heading to Radio City Music Hall to see the Rockettes preform the Christmas Spectacular. Kyle’s mom had seen the show in high school and remembered it fondly. Honestly, I knew it would be great, since nearly every show in NYC is, but I had only seen Broadway shows (mainly Wicked three times!) so I really didn’t know what to expect of this show. But it was fantastic from start to finish, aside from the bouncing children “sitting” in front of us. The use of light displays and even 3D was really impressive, and the different scenes were both fun and poignant. I especially enjoyed the “New York at Christmas” scene where the Rockettes dance on a double-decker bus, and the “Living Nativity,” complete with live camels and sheep. It was hard to believe 90 minutes had gone by when they got to the last of 14 scene. I highly recommend this show if you ever find yourself in the City at Christmas. It’ll get you in the spirit of the season!

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Since we caught the 4:30 p.m. Rockettes show, the City had completely transformed while we were inside. Manhattan by night is an experience all its own. The famed Rockefeller tree was absolutely dazzling, surrounded by literally thousands of people trying to take that perfect selfie. Despite the crowds, it really is worth it to venture there to see it, so put on your body armor and your game face, and witness one of the iconic symbols of Christmas in America.

Rockefeller Center

Rockefeller Center

Just as we did, make some time to shop Times Square. It’s completely touristy, but an absolute must for any first-time visit. We went in all the clichéd shops from M&M’s World to the Disney Store. And we saw that beautiful Waterford Crystal ball that will drop is less than two weeks—yikes!

For me, every single NYC ends on a sweet note: a visit to Cake Boss Café. It’s a Thompson family tradition—seriously. We typically travel to and from the City via bus, and Port Authority is conveniently located next to this little decadent paradise that helps me endure the 4-hour bus ride home. The personal tiramisu cake is my absolute favorite!

I’m so glad I finally got to experience NYC at Christmastime. I’ve always said NYC really is beautiful if you don’t look too closely, but this time of year, the beauty is truly in the details. In a year when I haven’t put up any decorations of my own, it got me feeling very festive, and I’m so glad we could share it with Kyle’s parents. I love helping people experience new aspects of travel for the first time.

Wherever you find yourself this holiday season, look for some beauty in your corner of the world. Whether it’s an elaborately decorated tree in the center of town, a local merchant’s window display, or a festive wreath on a neighbor’s door, appreciate the details, and soak in the spirit of the season.

Happy holidays!

Places

Rockefeller Center

Rockefeller Center, Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY, United States

Radio City Music Hall

Radio City Music Hall, Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY, United States

Bryant Park

Bryant Park, New York, NY, United States

Central Park

Central Park, New York, NY, United States

Times Square

Times Square, New York, NY, United States

Rockefeller Center

Rockefeller Center, Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY, United States
http://www.rockefellercenter.com/

Radio City Music Hall

Radio City Music Hall, Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY, United States
http://www.radiocity.com/

Bryant Park

Bryant Park, New York, NY, United States
http://www.bryantpark.org/things-to-do/wintervillage.html

Central Park

Central Park, New York, NY, United States
http://www.centralparknyc.org/

Times Square

Times Square, New York, NY, United States
http://www.timessquarenyc.org/index.aspx
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