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Students come here looking for an intimate learning environment. The structure and scale of MECA offers an ability to design a specific learning experience for each student. We have a lot of contact time with our students so there’s a long-term mentoring relationship that’s built.Elizabeth Jabar Printmaking, Public Engagement Assistant Dean Meet All
What happens to history when stories are lost? And what is the artist’s role in saving and sharing stories? Students in Documentary Storytelling, a class taught by MECA Adjunct Instructor of Foundation Matt Frassica, worked through these questions while learning techniques for storytelling, narrative, and engagement in a partnership with the Abyssinian Meeting House on Newbury Street in Portland, Maine. This Second-Year Lab class, which is part of MECA’s Public Engagement curriculum, continued a long-term project and podcast in conjunction with the Abyssinian. As Professor Frassica described, “This oral history project is greater than just this class—it’s a means of connecting to the Maine African American experience, making sure the stories are heard, preserved, and honored.”
The third-oldest African American meeting house in the country, the Abyssinian was built in 1828 as a church and also served as a school and a concert hall before closing in 1917. Its members included abolitionists and leaders of the Underground Railroad. Students collected stories from the Committee for the Restoration of the Abyssinian as well as members of the African American community in greater Portland. In early October, the students —newly equipped with an understanding of story structure and the tools for engaging subjects—took a tour of the Abyssinian and began to ask questions. Frassica said the students had a profound experience: they were poignantly affected by the layers of history in the house and in their community. One student remarked that the Abyssinian was “one of the most peaceful places” they’d ever been. Others said they could really feel the presence of history. The building is currently in the process of being renovated and rebuilt; one can see these historical layers in the structure itself.
“There are not a lot of forms in which students and young people can connect to older people and ask them questions about their lives and experiences. It’s really valuable to create these kinds of connections,” Frassica noted. “Art students are learning how to use themselves as a source. This project allows students to make connections to a wider community. They’re able to use these skills of seeing themselves as part of something greater in this project in particular, but are also able to carry that knowledge forward as both citizens and artists in their own work.” Through a mix of practical skills and civic engagement, the students come away with a greater understanding of the Abyssinian’s impressive significance—for themselves and for their audiences. Their work will culminate in collected oral histories and live storytelling events in early 2018.
Other classes also developed community partnerships for studio-based learning. The students in Design Studio, a class taught by Adjunct Instructor of Graphic Design Drew Hodges, partnered with several organizations. Linked through the Maine Association for Nonprofits, MECA’s Graphic Design majors worked primarily with 501(c)3 organizations that had budgets under $100,000 on posters, branding, and typography projects. This connection served nonprofits who otherwise might not be able to afford specialty design services while providing students with real-world experience working with clients. Kirk Simpson ’18 reflected that the class was “both incredibly rewarding and challenging at the same time. Each student tears each project down, finding out what the audience’s needs are, what the client’s needs are, and what our own imaginations can bring.”
Drew pushed us beyond the design aesthetic and made us tap directly into the emotional connection each project and community partner needed. – Kirk Simpson ’18
Hodges founded Spot Design in 1987, which was followed by the launch of SpotCo, an innovative full-service entertainment advertising agency that has done branding work for large Broadway shows such as Rent and Hamilton. He said he modeled the class “on a working design studio with the students as designers and myself as creative director. Not every project is a nonprofit, but most are. Jessica Tomlinson, director of Artists at Work at MECA, has been a great help: she connected us with the nonprofits in Maine. We began by working on a 1984 reading for the organization One Book, Many Conversations. Next, we did a membership outreach for the Center for Maine Contemporary Art in Rockland. Finally, we moved forward with a poster for the D.L. Geary Brewing Company—with which MECA has a 16-year involvement—and worked with the Frannie Peabody Center for World AIDS Day on December 1.”
One Book, Many Conversations, a nationwide initiative that encourages dialogue by rooting it in the reading of a specific book, chose George Orwell’s 1984 for the 2017 project. The University of New England, the local sponsor for the project, selected Simpson’s design for the Southern Maine One Book, Many Conversations 1984 poster. Simpson attributed this success, in part, to his professor: “Drew pushed us beyond the design aesthetic and made us tap directly into the emotional connection each project and community partner needed. Through imagery and a strong attention to typography—and how it activated emotions—Drew brought his years of experience right to the core of what every student needed and how each one of us could successfully deliver a winning design.”
Jenna Crowder ’09 is an artist who works in installation, curating, and writing. She earned her BFA in Sculpture at MECA and has worked internationally on public and collaborative art projects. Jenna is currently a member of the Portland Public Art Committee and is a member artist at Pickwick Independent Press. She is the co-founding editor of the online arts journal The Chart.
Header: Drew Hodges, adjunct instructor of Graphic Design, leads a critique of posters in his Design Studio class. Photo by Kyle Dubay ’18.
Images Above, Top to Bottom:
Dennis Ross, president of WJZP 107.9, a local jazz radio station, was interviewed by students as part of MECA’s Documentary Storytelling class. Photo by Tia Doering ’20.
Students in Drew Hodges’ Design Studio class also worked with him on a rebranding project for WJZP. Jill Duson, who serves on the Portland City Council, was interviewed by students as part of MECA’s Documentary Storytelling class. Photo by Candice Gosta ’20.
This One Book, Many Conversations 1984 poster, designed by Kirk Simpson ’18, was selected to promote local community programming for the initiative.
Maine College of Art shares deep roots with the Portland Museum of Art. In 1882, the Portland Society of Art was founded, which encompassed both the art school and the museum. Not until 1982 did the Portland School of Art (as it was named in 1972) separate into an independent organization with a renewed mission to educate professional visual artists. In 1992, the College was once again renamed as MECA to better reflect its status as a degree-granting New England school.
Throughout its transformations, MECA has always retained close ties with the Portland Museum of Art, both as our neighbor in the Arts District and in recognition of the collaborative arts community here. MECA’s first-year student orientation, for example, includes a visit to the PMA, and MECA has offered Drawing at the PMA as a Continuing Studies class. In 2013, the PMA presented Ahmed Alsoudani: Redacted, the first major museum exhibition of the work of American-Iraqi artist Ahmed Alsoudani ’05, one of our most successful alumni.
PMA’s 2018 Biennial, a survey of contemporary art “intended to highlight artists with meaningful connections to Maine and enrich the cultural lives of the people of the state,” runs through May 30, 2018, and the 25 selected artists include many from the MECA community: David Driskell, Hon. DFA ’96, Gina Adams ’02, Jenny McGee Dougherty ’05, Anne Buckwalter MFA ’12, Adjunct Instructor of Foundation Stephen Benenson, Assistant Instructor of Illustration Daniel Minter, and Assistant Professor of Sculpture and MFA Joshua Reiman.
The Portland Museum of Art’s 2018 Biennial is made possible by the William E. and Helen E. Thon Endowment Fund, with additional support from the PMA Contemporaries. “Inspired by his own experience and love of biennials, Thon entrusted the PMA with the means to offer a rich contemporary art experience to its audiences.”
Nat May, the former executive director of SPACE Gallery (another vital arts organization and connecting point in downtown Portland, located between MECA and the PMA), was invited to curate the biennial this year. In addition to his work at SPACE for more than 13 years, May has been a strong influencer in the local arts community. To determine the final list, May assembled a team of arts professionals, which included PMA’s Judy and Leonard Lauder Director Mark Bessire, artist and Maine Indian Basketmakers Alliance co-founder Theresa Secord, and Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture Co-Director Sarah Workneh. They each visited studios throughout Maine and the nation, meeting with artists who complement each other while reflecting Maine’s increasingly diverse community. In a change from past biennials, many of the artists will be exhibiting not just one singular work but several.
Header Image: The Portland Museum of Art Biennial 2018 opening party. Photo by Brianna Soukup, the Portland Press Herald.
Art provides a platform for conversation and conversation is vital in the beginning to change the world.
Kat Miller, a junior in MECA’s Photography Program, has been working on a series entitled On the Cusp of Womanhood. Her work is featured in Girls, Interrupted, a three-day, all-female exhibition in London presenting uncensored works of illustration, photography, paintings, and sculptures created by 19 stereotype-defying artists, from underground and emerging art scenes all over the world. The exhibit is hosted by Creative Debuts, a platform for emerging artists that seeks to make art more accessible.
Kat’s photography uses dreamy colors to examine the juxtaposition between adulthood and child-like youthfulness. She seeks to capture young women’s tensions in themes of abilities and nostalgia for youth, as well as an idealistic perfect world.
“If women will not be given a place in art, we will create our own. This is our space, for women to show completely uninterrupted.” —Florence Given, Curator
The following Q & A with Kat is reposted from Brick Magazine.
How/do you think art can change the world?
Art provides a platform for conversation and conversation is vital in the beginning to change the world. With social media, art can now spread across the globe in a matter of minutes. We are currently able to see artists creating from their own experiences that are entirely different from our own; that to me is so powerful. It is our job to try and understand the different experiences that we may not be able to relate too. Art is a beautiful way of bringing these different experiences together.
What are your hopes and dreams for 2018?
My biggest hope for the New Year is to become more connected with the feminine energy that surrounds all of us. I want to travel and connect with other artists from all over the world. And of course, read some good books and drink more water!
The following Q & A with Kat is reposted from Refinery29
What are the main themes in your art?
I’m very interested in the juxtaposition between stepping into adulthood while remaining youthful and childlike. My photos attempt to capture the tension young women feel from their inability to sexualize their body without remaining childish and their nostalgia for their idealistic fantasy of a more perfect, virtuous world.
Tell me a bit about your piece on show…
For a couple of years, I was photographing my three best friends while they were in their last year of secondary school. I was struggling with the idea of becoming a woman when I still wanted to bathe [in] the girlhood I had created. When we all moved away from each other, I began photographing acquaintances. It was time to introduce new perspectives of womanhood into my work. I met with the beautiful Zahara on an early summer morning. Before this particular photo was taken, we had been talking and becoming more comfortable around each other. I had her lay on the grass to display her curves in an unconventional way. This was the photograph that felt like a new direction in my work. I am only in the beginning of navigating this transition.
How much does your gender feed into the work you do?
My art tends to be a personal navigation of what being a woman means to me. I am certainly in the transition between girlhood and womanhood and it often feels confusing. I want to be a woman but more than ever am realising how magical being a young girl was. My work often allows me to create a space where I have both of those things.
What does having your art uncensored mean to you?
How free I am to be a woman who is photographing other women without male restrictions. It creates more vulnerability for both myself as the creator and for the person who is willing and wanting to be photographed.
“I think people can be shocked to see artists making work about women that isn’t for the purpose of the male gaze”.
Why do you think art for and by women still has the power to provoke shock?
I think people can be shocked to see artists making work about women that isn’t for the purpose of the male gaze. Women are so often manipulated for consumers, to sell a product or appeal to specific ideals. Women making art about the taboos of womanhood are only shocking to those who refuse to accept these ‘taboos’ as normal and beautiful.
Why do you think there’s a need for all-female art shows?
They’re so powerful and needed after centuries of male-driven art scenes. However, having a strong collaboration between all genders in the art world is equally as important.
Do you think now is an exciting time for women in the art world?
Absolutely. Now more than ever, women are beginning to feel more comfortable to stand up for themselves and many female artists are taking powerful and effective stances through their art.
View more of Kat’s work here.
Elizabeth A. Jabar wrote “If You Want Creative Solutions, Start with Creative Partnerships” for Maine Audubon’s Habitat Winter 2018 issue. Read the entirety of her article here via PDF.
Elizabeth serves as Chair of the Printmaking Program at MECA, where she is also Associate Dean and Director of Public Engagement. She is a feminist printmaker who explores a range of personal-political issues in her work, including cultural identity, representation, equity, and maternal ethics.
“If You Want Creative Solutions, Start with Creative Partnerships”
How does art facilitate advocacy?
How might the citizen activist and the citizen artist work together to help us all be more effective in achieving our goals for the planet?
Can the experience and symbolic gestures brought about by art transform the world?
These questions are at the core of the Public Engagement program at Maine College of Art, and they guide our partnership work in the community. From the beginning of MECA’s partnership with Maine Audubon, it was clear that our two organizations hold shared values, including inspiring and empowering leaders, activists, and messengers focused on addressing pressing issues. The “citizen activist” and the “citizen, artist, designer” are critical to successful advocacy and education.
Contemporary artists are working in the studio, the classroom, and the community. Within these contexts, artists are building platforms for public engagement, dialogue, and social change. Essential to this work is building long-term relationships and connecting our art practice to the larger concerns of the world. By extending the campus into the community, we facilitate opportunities for students to co-create socially engaged art projects with new communities. In this framework, students begin to see how the practice of artists and designers is expansive and dynamic, and how the way we work and where we work is evolving.
This fall, students in Professor Michel Droge’s Public Engagement courses Nature Lab and Field Guide to a New World collaborated with Maine Audubon to research local conservation and environmental issues. They studied the role of the artist as cultural mirror, maker, and activist. Students produced prints and books that use the tradition of combining fine art and scientific research. The handmade field guides pay homage to the legacy of John James Audubon, Henry David Thoreau, Winslow Homer, and others in their use of illustration, field documentation, and writing to capture and reflect nature. The block prints echo the style and technique of Russian and Chinese propaganda posters while delivering calls to action on behalf of environmental issues.
For the students in these classes, this space of discovery and questioning was nurtured through active field study and research in the landscape. “Students learn to engage with the land to understand things on a visceral level,” says Droge. “They experience the environment directly and feel it. It’s not an abstract concept. They see how their work can aid the institutions we work with and enhance the work they do. As a result, they see the issues and the solutions and their impact. That’s an amazing form of activism. Once they feel that, they never lose it.”
Ours is a timely partnership. When I consider the scale of human need and global uncertainty right now, I ask, “What is the role of the artist and the value of creativity in the ever-changing landscape marked by profound human need, environmental crisis, and rapid social political change?” I believe the answer is in the question — that it is through creative action that it is possible to solve the world’s most pressing needs. To accomplish this work, we need artists everywhere.
MECA student Matanah Betko ‘20 suggests that “it is important for the artist to present an idea for moving forward. It’s not hard to make people feel bad, but is very difficult to make people move.” Adding artists into the equation opens up unseen possibilities, because artists bring creative processes and new models of thinking into problem-solving. These new models shift perception through active participation, social experience, and experimentation. By working collaboratively, student artists and community partners forge the authentic relationships that are necessary for making real, lasting social change.
Within this framework, we can see the power of collective action and awaken our creativity to solve real-world problems. This “co-creation model” amplifies the social aspect of socially engaged art by making work with, by, and for others. It guides all our work in the Public Engagement Program. Working collaboratively to address complex issues requires us to take our time, be reflective, and be deliberate. These conditions support the mutual goals of facilitating social action while also creating space for the questioning and mystery inherent in both artmaking and nature.
Maine College of Art and Maine Audubon have a shared view of Maine as a place of natural beauty, and a source of inspiration and inquiry. Our common task of expressing the value of the local, as well as a serious commitment to repairing the world we share, brings the heart of our partnership into sharp focus: we can realize the long-term goals of conservation and stewardship of all aspects of our community through strong partnership.
Strong partnerships are similar to a thriving ecology. They require attention and care of the interrelationships within an environment, and an ability to see the totality of relations, guided by reciprocity and inclusivity. As caretakers of our environment and community, we must bring this way of seeing and being into all aspects of our lives. As MECA student Renee Michaud ‘20 explains, “I can step back and see the whole picture and recognize that I play a part. This feeling is similar to when I am making a painting and all the little pieces of paint combine to evoke a form. We are all contributing to the palette, and together we create a better composition.”
Collective action with our networks and communities is necessary to take on complex challenges and develop strategies for purposeful innovation and social change. There is a great need for artists and citizens who are willing to create spaces of risk where we can reach across boundaries and build bridges to imagine our collective future. My classroom is where I begin.
Article and photography reposted from Maine Audubon. Photographer: Ariana van den Akker/Maine Audubon.
My work was always instinctual. I believe in chance, thrift shops, found objects. In crafting records, for instance, I might hear an old Harry James riff and weave it into a Freddie Cannon song. The sound of someone slamming the studio door might become the hook. I view art the same. In the fifties I was close to Otto Fenn, the fashion photographer, who introduced me to Andy Warhol. We had an ongoing canasta game — Andy, Otto, Johnny Ray, and myself. Andy was decorating the windows at Bendels and displaying his wonderful shoe sketches. I was working with linen and burlap, applying resin, molding, hardening, and covering it with sand, beads, and shells. Very organic, very physical. Andy considered my stuff edgy and arranged a show at the Bodley Gallery. Reviews were strong, interest high, but in the sixties the music business shot even higher — Bob Crewe, 1968
Bob Crewe (1930–2014) was a legendary record producer and songwriter for many hit songs. One of Bob’s most known successes as producer and writer was for the Four Seasons and Frankie Valli’s solo work. The story of the Four Seasons was adapted into the musical Jersey Boys, which was performed on October 6 and 7, 2017 at Portland Ovations.
The timing provided the perfect collaboration between Maine College of Art and Portland Ovations to create a special event in honor of Bob Crewe. On October 5, 2017, MECA hosted a gallery talk in their Bob Crewe Gallery Seeing Sound: The Life & Work of Bob Crewe.
Dan Crewe, Bob’s brother, MECA Trustee, and President of the Crewe Foundation, was the lecturer at this special Gallery event. Having worked alongside his brother for many years as his right hand man and business partner, Dan Crewe is confident that MECA’s Bob Crewe Program in Art and Music is the perfect way to celebrate his brother’s legacy and life-long passion in both his music career and his serious engagement to the visual arts.
In the recent article by WLBZ2 “Legendary Maine songwriter remembered with his own gallery,” Dan recalled, “My brother didn’t read music. Most people can’t figure out how he wrote all those hit songs. But he sang the songs and then he would have an arranger put them on charts.”
In April 2014, the Bob Crewe Foundation awarded MECA $3 million dollar gift to establish a new area of study that explores the intersection between art and music. The program, working in tandem with MECA’s rigorous visual arts offerings, prepares students to cross traditional boundaries as musicians, sound artists, performers, and artists.
All photography by Kyle Dubay ’18.
Congratulations to Ted Lott ’06 (Woodworking & Furniture Design)! Ted is featured in the October/November issue of American Craft magazine. He is one of this year’s recipients of the Shortlist Artist award in American Craft Council’s “Emerging Voices” competition.
The American Craft Council introduced the Emerging Voices Awards in 2015 to recognize and celebrate the talented craft artists working today. Each Emerging Artist and Emerging Scholar receives $10,000 towards their work and research; Shortlist Artists each receive $1,000.
Born and raised on the shores of Lake Michigan, Ted Lott has resided in 12 different states and visited every one but Alaska. A sculptor, designer and craftsperson, he believes that “thinking and making are two sides of the same coin.” Since graduating from MECA, he has earned two graduate degrees from the University of Wisconsin‐Madison, worked as a furniture maker, and been an Artist‐in‐Residence at the Anderson Ranch Arts Center, Kohler Arts/Industry Program, Haystack School, Vermont Studio Center, and elsewhere, as well as widely exhibiting his work.
I work to appropriate what is culturally and aesthetically perpetual and evident in my understanding. Using the language, in this piece, intends to create fluctuating meaning that aspires to release the language from any ideological charge.
About The Work
I was invited to take part in the inauguration exhibition of The Palestinian Museum in Birzeit. I finished my summer intensive course at Maine College of Art in Portland and went back to Birzeit, which is 20 kilometers north Jerusalem, to install my new work in the garden of the Palestinian Museum as part of Jerusalem Lives. I worked with the museum staff and some friends to install the work and then the work came together as luminous words made out of light boxes that were suspended above the ground and surrounded with olive trees. The piece read “God Bless This Land Whether It Was Holy or Not”. The work was installed in one of the orchards where the backdrop shows Jaffa and the Mediterranean Sea as if they are close to reach, but they are not.
In my previous works, I looked into cinema and photography as determinant components in Arab modern culture. In my studio, I work to appropriate what is culturally and aesthetically perpetual and evident in my understanding. Using the language, in this piece, intends to create fluctuating meaning that aspires to release the language from any ideological charge. It was articulated as twisted common daily pray that touches on faith and question dogmas.
The work reads clearly in the daylight and it gets dark, it lights up. It stands in the landscape, day and night with a changing scenery and changing mode of reading the piece. The “Adan”: call for prayer, from the neighbor mosques, the fog, the shadows of the trees, became part of reading the work and what it means. However the most surprising experience, was watching some sort of foxes who left their grottos in the last hours before the sunrise, to play among the artworks in the garden. They came very close to us while we were documenting the work, drinking tea with sage.
About The Artist
Inass Yassin has multifaceted practice that examines the modernity in the Arab culture, inspired by her personal reading of transformation. Shift in space and social structure has been main theme in her painting, installation, film and photography work, Yassin is a former director of Birzeit University Museum and a current Fulbright grantee at Maine College of Art. Visit her site here.
About The Exhibition
Curated by Reem Fadda, Jerusalem Lives (Tahya Al Quds) opened on August 27. It was the first exhibition at The Palestinian Museum and will be on till 30th January 2017. The exhibition is participatory work, consisting of four chapters that examine the cultural, political, economic and ideological aspects of Jerusalem. The exhibit includes works by 48 artists; 18 works were large-scale commissions in the museum’s extensive gardens ‘based on ideas about land, openness and non-exclusion’. The Jerusalem Lives exhibition attempts to study and examine the city of Jerusalem as a case study, a microcosm or condensed laboratory that metaphorically represents globalization and its failures, and to find answers that inspire us to struggle for a better future.
Balance ambition with discipline and patience. Building a career as an artist takes time and you need a place to live and food to eat. Working for someone else doesn't mean you can't make art. It means you are going to need discipline to make art in your spare time, to apply for craft shows, more interesting jobs, residencies, and grants.
I began building my independent studio practice soon after graduation from MECA. I focused initially on one of a kind works but eventually, begrudgingly, I began working in multiples and developing a production line. While a student I had shunned this kind of work believing that it lacked soul or artistry, however once I started doing it I found unexpected fullfilment. Production speaks to my inspirations of utility, efficiency, and economy; I take pleasure in the challenge of creating beautiful designs within its restraints.
It took six years of partial self employment and cautious growth for me to become fully self employed as an artist. If I could give a piece of advice it would be this – balance ambition with discipline and patience. Building a career as an artist takes time and you need a place to live and food to eat. Working for someone else doesn’t mean you can’t make art. It means you are going to need discipline to make art in your spare time, to apply for craft shows, more interesting jobs, residencies, and grants. The discipline I developed while building my business has been instrumental in maintaining its success over time. If you work for yourself, it is on you to make sure the work gets done, and that you keep making incredible art.