Snapshots: Hilltop Artists In Residence

Alexis Treu
February 1, 2000

OBJECTIVE: An alternative education program for dropouts and other youths who are struggling academically, Hilltop uses glassblowing as a “hook” to attract kids and to teach life skills.

IN A NUTSHELL: Youths learn the art of glass- blowing, which is intended to teach teamwork, cooperation and self-discipline. They “also learn how to work with others, because you can’t blow glass by yourself,” says Executive Director Luana Welch, so “you need to make mutual decisions.” A full range of academic subjects is covered in the classroom. Some students are full-time, while others are part-time, attending classes at their own schools and coming to Hilltop for certain subjects or for tutoring and mentoring. The program runs from 8 a.m to 9 p.m. Youths volunteer for the program but are also referred by school counselors, the courts and local health agencies.

WHERE IT HAPPENS: In a former auto body shop and a classroom at Wilson High School.


WHO STARTED IT: Glass artist Dale Chihuly and gallery dealer Kathy Kaperick conceived of and launched the program. They have since started another glassblowing program in Taos, N. Mex., modeled after Hilltop Artists in Residence.

WHO RUNS IT: Hilltop Artists in Residence,
a nonprofit agency.

EARLY OBSTACLE: “Gaining credibility and building trust with the kids” was a primary obstacle at first, Welch says. “It’s been a challenge to keep them interested and on track with the education part of the program, which is certainly not their favorite.”

HOW THEY OVERCAME IT: “We’ve needed to be consistent, we’ve needed to give the kids individual attention and treat them with fairness and respect.”

COST: About $500,000 a year.

WHO PAYS: Hilltop runs on individual donations; grants from Washington-based corporations (such as Boeing and Weyerhauser Company Foundation) and national foundations (such as the National Endowment for the Arts and the Surdna Foundation in New York); local, state and federal government grants; and contributions from local businesses and charities. The Takoma public school district provides financial help and in-kind contributions. The students sell their work, which provides a small additional income.

KIDS SERVED: About 120 a day, most from the Hilltop community of Tacoma, although the program serves all of Pierce County. The program focuses on kids who have dropped out of school, and those who are severely struggling and have been deemed to be “at risk” because of numerous factors such as poverty and broken homes.

KID TURN-ON: “They are excited by the risks of glassblowing,” Welch says.

KID TURN-OFF: Because the program teaches
job skills, not just glassblowing, the youths “work on attendance, punctuality, and serious work ethics,” which many participants dislike. Many also do not like the academic function of school, said Welch.

WHAT STILL GETS IN THE WAY: Funding remains a big obstacle. And “outreach to connect with and identify” the kids who would benefit the most from this instruction and environment is hard, Welch says, “because they’ve sort of dropped off the radar screen.”

CONTACT: Luana Welch, Executive Director, Hilltop Artists in Residence, P.O. Box 6829, Tacoma, WA 98407. (253) 571-3191.

Treu, Alexis. "Hilltop Artists In Residence." Snapshots. Youth Today, February 2000, p. 25.

©2000 Youth Today. Reprinted with permission from Youth Today. All rights reserved.