Frequently Asked Questions

When did the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies (Salt) formally become part of Maine College of Art (MECA)?

As of April 8, 2016, the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies formally became part of MECA. This includes the Salt Archive and all other assets of Salt. Like all other programs at the College, Salt is overseen by the Vice President of Academic Affairs, the President, and, ultimately, MECA’s Board of Trustees.

Now that Salt is part of MECA, what will Salt be called?

Salt will be known as the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies at MECA.

When will Salt be offering its one-semester program again? When will students be able to enroll?

As long as MECA receives approval from its two accrediting bodies, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) and the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD) Salt’s semester program can relaunch in Fall 2017, and students could start applying in Fall 2016. In the meantime, MECA and Salt will be offering non-credit workshops in documentary storytelling. See below for details.

Who will lead Salt?

MECA will conduct a national search starting no later than Fall 2016 for two full-time faculty to run the Salt Institute. As per MECA’s normal administrative and governance processes, these faculty will chair the program, work with other faculty at the College, and report to the Vice President of Academic Affairs/Dean of the College. Salt’s current Executive Director will serve as a consulting director for the first few months of the transition.

Will Salt’s program change?

Yes and no. MECA was interested in Salt because of the special nature of its educational program, the caliber of documentary work that has been produced by its students, the student lives it has transformed, the program’s similarity to art and design pedagogy, and the way it has contributed to culture by telling the unique stories of the people of Maine. MECA’s primary interest is in preserving this “heart and soul” character of Salt.

However, all educational programs have to change to remain vibrant and relevant to their time and place, and to respond to changes in culture and media. As an art and design college, we have a responsibility to always be revising our curriculum and staying on the cutting edge of culture while honoring the long arc of visual culture. Additionally, there are specific standards that we have to meet for the program to become accredited.

Our plan is to continue to offer Salt’s four current tracks: radio, writing, photography and short film. Our plan is to be able to offer a graduate certificate in documentary storytelling and have the program fully accredited. This has also been Salt’s goal for many years. Some minor changes to the program may be required, but our research makes us confident these changes will not alter the fundamental nature of the Salt experience. We have submitted proposals to both of our accrediting bodies seeking approval for this program.

Will Salt continue to focus on documentary storytelling through writing, photography, radio, film and multimedia?

Yes, absolutely. This is the core of Salt’s mission and MECA’s primary interest is in preserving this unique education. Our initial and primary focus must be to preserve the one-semester Salt experience. Over time we know there will be rich areas of crossover with many of MECA’s programs. MECA will relaunch the semester-long program with all four tracks intact.

Will Salt be offering any documentary workshops?

We are excited to announce that Salt will be offering three one-week workshops in documentary storytelling this summer, each to be led by a documentary storyteller with a national profile:

Radio Storytelling with Michael May
Short Documentary Film with Annie Avilés
Documentary Photography with Amy Toensing

Has MECA talked to Salt alumni about what they want?

Yes. We have talked to and consulted with the Salt Advisory Board and other Salt alumni, all representing a variety of interests and perspectives. We found strong consensus around a few key points and have integrated these points into our transition planning. The key points are to preserve as much independence for Salt as possible, to preserve the unique and powerful experience of the semester program, to protect and preserve the Salt Archive, to maintain a commitment to the current four tracks currently offered at Salt, and to involve and consult with Salt alumni in future planning. We have honored each of these requests to the fullest extent possible for our College. As mentioned in this is FAQ sheet, there is a Salt Advisory Committee to which Salt alumni will serve, and the Dean of the College will continue to solicit feedback directly from Salt alumni and have open forums as needed to gather additional feedback from alumni on any future plans. The first open forum will be in May.

Salt alumni care deeply about preserving the integrity of Salt’s mission and educational experience for generations to come. How will MECA ensure this will occur?

First, MECA and Salt have closely aligned missions, pedagogical approaches (experiential, cohort-based and problem-based), educational philosophies and values. Salt’s approach to documentary storytelling dovetails perfectly with MECA’s Public Engagement and Digital Media programs.

Secondly, MECA has formed a Salt Advisory Committee to help guide the transition, to ensure MECA is honoring Salt’s legacy, and to advise the Dean and Program Chairs on curricula and other strategic matters. The Salt Alumni Board has been asked to serve on this committee. The committee will also have at least two former Salt Trustees, MECA faculty and other individuals. More details will be forthcoming. Additionally, MECA will be hosting an open forum for Salt alumni in May.

What will happen to the Salt Archive?

MECA will preserve the archive. Additionally, Salt is launching the Salt Story Archive, an incredible repository of alumni work documenting original stories of Maine people in writing, radio, film and photography that will be accessible to the world. This is a remarkable archive, with few others like it, that showcases the incredible caliber of work made by Salt alumni, and is a cultural asset to the people of Maine, New England and the world. On Tuesday, April 12, the site will be viewable to Salt alumni for review and will be released to the general public three weeks later.

How will this transition be financed?

We are grateful for the support of the Quimby Family Foundation, without which this union would not be possible. A long-time supporter of both the Salt Institute and MECA, the QFF has committed grant funding to cover start-up and operational costs for the first two to three years of Salt at MECA.

QFF approached MECA’s executive leadership and the boards of both Salt and MECA about working together to preserve Salt. Due to the faith and trust the Foundation has in MECA, and previous involvement with and support of Salt, along with their belief in the importance of Salt’s work and the impact and success of Salt graduates, they offered to help keep the Salt program alive by funding the acquisition of Salt by MECA. The QFF believes that if the College takes on the burden of administrative and facilities costs, Salt can be a viable and sustainable program.

What are some of the key advantages to Salt being part of MECA?

Advantages of this arrangement for future Salt students include earning college credit, utilizing alumni services and accessing professional student services and housing. Additionally, all Salt students will have access to the College’s extensive modern studios and equipment.

What will happen with Salt’s facilities?

Salt will move out of its current location at 561 Congress Street and move into MECA’s Porteous building at 522 Congress Street. Supported by the grant from QFF, MECA will build out additional space for the Salt program. Salt students will have access to all of the same facilities, studio space and academic resources offered to MECA students, including the Joanne Waxman Library, the Institute for Contemporary Art, dry and wet photography labs, and a new state-of-the-art recording studio in the Bob Crewe Program in Art and Music.

Will Salt’s tuition change?

No. There will be no major change to the present tuition to enroll in the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies at MECA.

Will scholarship packages change?

No. However, if the program receives all necessary approvals, students may be eligible for federal financial aid or other student loans for the first time in the program’s history.

When did the conversation to add Salt as a program at MECA begin?

As soon as the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies announced intentions to close last summer, leadership of Maine College of Art conducted a series of exploratory discussions with Salt, Salt alumni, and other key stakeholders. A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed in early 2016 established a formal agreement that outlined the intention to explore Salt and MECA working together to preserve the Salt educational experience. At the conclusion of this phase, the decision was made to recommend Salt becoming part of MECA. This was agreed to by the boards of both institutions.

When was the decision made official?

MECA’s Board of Trustees voted in favor of the proposed acquisition of Salt on February 10, 2016. Salt’s Board approved the proposal based on the collective desire to secure the future of Salt’s unique and inspirational program in documentary storytelling. On April 8, 2016, Salt legally became a part of MECA.

Were there financial concerns for either institution driving this exploration?

Yes. Despite Salt’s successes and longevity, static enrollment, difficulty in fundraising, an overall lack of ability to access economies of scale in providing services to students, and the increasing costs/needs of technology, led to annual fiscal difficulties for the Salt Institute. After much deliberation, Salt’s Board decided to dissolve Salt and its assets in a timely fashion to ensure it could close business in a responsible way.

Likewise, MECA had to carefully research and deliberate to ensure it could confidently help shepherd Salt far into the future without damaging any of its current operations. In recent years, MECA’s enrollment and fundraising have steadily climbed, resulting in a healthy and sustainable operating budget. However, it was only with the support of the Quimby Family Foundation that MECA believed it could take this next step with Salt.