Sonoran Glass School: Building Community Beyond Art


Sonoran Glass School is known in Tucson as an artist resource, community center, and for the beautiful work that the artists create with the fun and dynamic medium of glass. As a nonprofit they work to “inspire people of all ages to discover the wonder of glass art.” The school is located just south of Tucson’s ever developing downtown core, along the newly completed El Paso Bikeway. The non-profit was formed in 2001, and converted what used to be a car tire shop into a full-fledged artist sanctuary with four studios to accommodate the variety of glass art styles that they work in. Interested in working with glass, or just looking to exercise your creativity? Sonoran Glass School offers make-your-own activities,  classes and workshops for individuals and groups, and even summer camp sessions for both children and adults.

Beyond the mesmerizing flames of the Hot Shop, the school is doing much more than just creating beautiful pieces of art. As a non-profit, they are dedicated to strengthening the resources for artists in the Tucson community, and to supporting the creative culture of Tucson. Recently, they have also begun to work with Local First Arizona more closely to support the community in other ways.

In 2018, Sonoran Glass School participated in the pilot of the SCALE UP program offered by Local First Arizona Foundation. As one of the original participants of the SCALE UP program, Sonoran Glass School’s own Executive Director, Lynn Davis, completed six workshops, covering energy efficiency, water conservation, waste management, transportation reduction, green teams, and benchmarking. Throughout the program, the school worked with other local businesses as they learned about sustainability concepts, while examining their own building and practices to find areas for improvement.

Shop under construction with improved infrastructure

Shop under construction with improved infrastructure

The old tire shop, now a converted glass school, is an older building that comes with some interesting sustainability challenges, though that has not deterred the nonprofit from doing their part in reducing the impact of their facility on the environment. Sonoran Glass School was one of the first participants to utilize the new Conservation Revolving Loan Fund, set up by the Community Investment Corporation for the SCALE UP program, to access low interest loans and grants for completing sustainability projects around the campus.

Sonoran Glass School (SGS) was able retrofit all of their 200+ lighting  fixtures to LED bulbs; they completed a hot shop retrofit with input from the program to create a more energy efficient heat barrier; and they installed new energy efficient doors to help keep the intense Tucson sun at bay. All of this sustainability work was done in an effort to reduce their utility bills, while reducing their carbon footprint. The school has also expanded their efforts to reduce waste, in what can sometimes be a resource intensive medium, identifying new partners for reusing and recycling old and leftover glass. They also have plans to reduce the amount of plastic waste that comes from the school as well.

They are not stopping there! As they learned in the workshops, there is always room for improvement.  SGS has plans to increase their energy and water efficiency in the future, utilizing the tools and resources gained from the SCALE UP program. Beyond the benchmarking and sustainability, Lynn Davis said that one of her favorite outcomes was making ten new friends and potential collaborators  through the program. The interactive workshops made the program an effective “community building tool” for the Sonoran Glass School.

Sonoran Glass School is now giving back to the community through another one of the Local First Arizona Foundation programs, but this time as a partner instead of a participant. In 2018, the Fuerza Local program launched in Tucson, bringing this successful Phoenix program to the Old Pueblo, and Sonoran Glass School has been hosting its second Southern Arizona cohort for Spring 2019. The Fuerza Local Business Accelerator program is a six-month program designed to teach underserved micro-entrepreneurs important basics for financial literacy and business development. Participants attend weekly classes on a variety of topics including marketing, business planning, cash flow management, and many more. Participants also gain critically important financial literacy through participating in a lending circle, which requires them to make on-time payments every month they are in the program. These payments are reported to Experian, building a credit history for the small business owner, often for the first time. Their savings is then matched by a scholarship from the Local First Arizona Foundation. Over the past 6 years, nearly 500 micro-enterprises have graduated from the 6-month program, creating 500 new jobs, and reducing average interest rates paid on borrowed capital from 48% to 6%. The whole Local First Arizona team is thankful for the significant partnership and collaborations with the one-of-a-kind Sonoran Glass School!

Upcoming Sonoran Glass School events:

Camp Fuego - Glass Arts Summer Camp for Youth 12-17: June 3 - 7 and June 10 - 14

Adult Summer Camp: June 25 - 28, 6-9 p.m.

4th of July Celebration - Make your own activities, eat BBQ, and enjoy  a glass history lecture and demonstration, 6 - 9pm

Pumpkin Fiesta - Saturday & Sunday, October 5 - 6: Shop for stunning glass pumpkins or make your own!

Winter Open House - Make your own ornaments and shop for beautiful gifts and seasonal decorations: Sunday, Dec. 1

For more information, visit or call (520) 884-7814.