February 17, 2000, was a cold, clear day in Corning, NY. It’s not likely that many people remember that particular fact, but Rob Cassetti does. Cassetti is the senior director of creative strategy and audience engagement at The Corning Museum of Glass, and he remembers that day vividly, for just as the sun was setting the Museum opened its doors and welcomed the very first guests to 2300°.
It’s now 20 years later and the Museum is still throwing the hottest party in town. An excuse to get dressed up, have a drink, dance to incredible live music, and see some of the best glass artists working today. There aren’t many places you can do all that in one night—let alone in a small town during the “off-season”—and still call it fun and educational.
To celebrate the 20th anniversary year, the Museum has revamped festivities with a new look and feel, but still the same energy and excitement that made the original 2300° so groundbreaking at the turn of the millennium. As Scott Ignaszewski, events and program manager, describes it, “We’ve kicked it up a notch!”
Always happy to reminisce, Cassetti remembers the planning of that inaugural event and the ways 2300° has evolved over the years.
It all began during a difficult time of declining admissions at the Museum. Unable to capitalize on the younger, working professional demographic in and around Corning, the Museum sought new and creative ways to engage visitors. The task handed down from the top was a deceptively simple one: think outside the box and get people through the door.
Cassetti took this to heart and the wheels began to spin. “First Fridays” was an idea gaining momentum in other museums across the country at that time—a free after-hours event with food and drink and quite often some live music. Cassetti knew that to pull off something similar in Corning would be a radical act for what was perceived back then as a conservative, small-town museum, but perhaps it was just the thing. Tentatively titled Museum After Hours, the idea began to take shape and would eventually become known as 2300°, roughly the temperature of the reheating furnaces on the hot shop floor. With glassblowers scheduled, a band booked, and a logo hastily drawn on a napkin, all the pieces fell into place.
2300° was envisioned as a program that put glass at the fore but kept it surprising and unexpected. This was an opportunity to do something a little bit different—a little crazy and unexpected. Back then, there was only a small 90-seat theater in which to watch the glassblowing demonstrations beside which an extra stage was assembled for a band to perform on so that the energy of the music would influence what the glassblowers were doing.
Of course, in the beginning, only 100 or so people turned up, “and most of them were staff,” Cassetti remembers, “but by the end of the year the event was attracting up to 1,000 people.” In its inaugural year, the event was held seven times.
In the 20 years since, 2300° has grown and flourished, taking over more of the Museum campus each year. Headlining musical acts delight visitors with concerts on the main stage in the Auditorium, and often additional bands or DJs are located outside in the Courtyard or in the Amphitheater Hot Shop positioned above the glassblowers. These days, a typical 2300° season runs from November–March, and May, the third Thursday of each month, and it’s not uncommon for 3,000 or more guests to show up.
The scale of the glass has grown, too. Eric Meek, senior manager of hot glass programs, has overseen 2300° for many years and finds that glassblowers respond to the energy and thrill of working in front of a captivated live audience. “When you invite a glassmaker to come to a party with live music and 3,000 people,” he says, “they jump at the opportunity!”
“The Museum’s gaffers are constantly inspired by the artistic drive of our visiting artists—but some of the most memorable 2300° moments involve our own team. Each of us have had a chance to shine during a 2300° event. Having a moment in the spotlight has driven us to do great things. I’ll never forget when George Kennard, who was the very first 2300° artist, made a four-foot dragon-stem goblet for the 100th 2300° in 2016. It drew the whole team together. We all wanted this very challenging piece to be successful—and it was! It was exciting to share that moment of local pride with so many members of our community.”Eric Meek, senior manager of hot glass programs
We’ll see you there!