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Kathy Catania



140 Water Street
Benton Harbor, Michigan 49022
Decades ago, Kathy Catania and her husband Jerry laid the groundwork for today’s Benton Harbor arts district. Their pride and joy is housed inside a Victorian building, circa 1898, now home to Main Street Glassworks, where glass is blown, children grow, and art is internationally renowned.
Michigan Nightlight: What does being a leader mean to you?
Water Street Glassworks Co-founder Kathy Catania: Being a leader means seeing a need and taking the initiative to address it. I don’t think of myself as a leader, but more of a pioneer: a person who is willing to do something that may seem like big risk to others. For me, that is instinctively the most interesting thing and right thing to do. When you are in the midst of something like that, it doesn’t seem out-of-the-ordinary. Only in retrospect do you understand the scope, and if what you have done is exciting, others will follow.
What is your dream for kids? 
My dream is for kids to discover their own creativity as a means of empowerment. Creativity is not a luxury – it is a necessity.
I want them to experience the creative time warp, that feeling you get when you are so involved in something that you have
My dream is for kids to discover their own creativity as a means of empowerment. Creativity is not a luxury – it is a necessity.
no concept of time passing…that’s the key. Because when you are in that zone, amazing personal growth and transformation happens.
At the glassworks, the extreme temperatures and technical challenges of glass create a unique, intensely-focused learning environment that is very empowering, and students have to push past their fears of heat, of possibly being cut on the edge of a piece of glass, of using strange tools, and even of learning something new that looks fascinating, but also intimidating. When they do, they get to feel the exhilaration and satisfaction drawn from their own creativity. Then, they are truly fired up.
What is one concrete thing that could be done to improve the environment for social sector work in Michigan?
I would like to see an increase funding so that it’s financially desirable to be [working] in this field and so more public awareness can be created, specifically in the arts. In major metro cities like Seattle, there is a statewide one percent arts [sales] tax initiative. That money is designated specifically for the arts. I love this. It would send a message that the arts are valued culturally and backed economically in Michigan.
Creativity is a valuable commodity, and Michigan has tremendous cultural resources. With added financial momentum, our state could set the standard in growing a creative economy.
On the for-profit side, look at the artesian movement. Organic eating, micro brewing – those are excellent examples of rapid, creative change in the nation. Economically, culturally and socially creativity is a good investment, and for-profit businesses are tapping into it. Nonprofits can benefit and grow from these efforts, too. We are not that different.
How do you know you’re making progress?
I’m seeing more evidence of our presence and our impact – evidence produced outside our usual evaluation tools, like stats, revenue tracking, and focus group studies – you know – business as usual.
With added financial momentum, our state could set the standard in growing a creative economy.
This is one of the first things that come to my mind: I took one of those tours of homes, and in one of them I found a spectacular display of glass art. When I admired it, the guide asked me if I knew anything about Water Street Glassworks. There’s progress.
Our students have been commissioned to do work for corporations, car shows, and colleges that want to present original marks of beauty instead of engraved trophies.
They have been invited to participate on a discussion panel by the annual international Glass Arts Society Conference that’s being held in Chicago in 2014. Our student representatives will discuss and demonstrate their talents alongside youth from similar programs across the globe. We are fundraising right now so that every student, not just the student reps, can attend that conference. Everyone will be able to go. We are becoming very well known. That is real progress.
What are you most proud of?
In general, I have been able to pursue my two passions, which are art and history, and have made a difference.
I’m proud to know that, in 2013, the broad-based, regional cultural programs and projects that we -- my husband and me -- initiated decades ago are still viable and growing. In addition to the Glassworks, we founded Blue Coast Artists studio in Fennville and the glass program in Saugatuck, in conjunction with the School of the Arts Institute in Chicago.
But if I had to pick one thing that I’m most proud of, it would be our FIRED UP! youth program, where we have always taught a ‘pay-it-forward’ model and have produced some real, live success stories. Some of our former students have achieved great things, awards and recognition. One is now a member of our core faculty, and others have become professional glassblowing artists and teachers. It’s a full circle. 
Reflecting on your career, what would you say was your greatest professional learning experience?
Well, after college, I became the first director and curator of a historic foundation in Texas. I am from Michigan, so I think it would have to be moving so far from home for my first job without the strong support system -- my family, my friends -- that I was used to having. Without that, I really had to draw on my own personal resources. 
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Program Profile


  • Water Street Glassworks
    The mission of Water Street Glassworks is to provide a regional school, studio, and gallery dedicated to the medium of glass, offering educational opportunities, studio access, and special events. We create partnerships with other educational ...


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