Not only do we understand that you are different, we all thrive on those differences. That’s why at MECA we offer so many possibilities so that you can find your place.
You’ll learn history of art, principles of design, and current influences and points-of-view while exploring literally any art form that interests you. Here declaring your major starts with claiming your space – setting up your own studio where you can push the boundaries of your work.
At MECA you’ll receive the individualized attention from faculty and staff that you need to grow as an artist and strengthen your work, and this begins with the application process. The MECA Admissions team can work with you to make sure you’re putting your strongest possible application forward. We review hundreds of portfolios each year, both in person and online, and it’s our job to help you put together your best work – just ask for help. When evaluating applications, we’re looking for all of your strengths with consideration given to your portfolio and academic achievements. Each applicant is considered for merit-based scholarships upon acceptance to the College. We invite applications from students who will contribute to the diversity of our student body, including traditional high school applicants, transfers, non-traditional and international students, and veterans.
I felt that by going to MECA I would not only develop my work, but personal routines that would help me sustain a professional practice.
When did you graduate? Were you a full or low resident?
May 2018 and I was a full resident in the program.
Why did you decide to get your MFA at MECA?
I decided to get my MFA at MECA because of the trimester structure of the program and the institutional emphasis on artistic excellence. I felt that by going to MECA I would not only develop my work but personal routines that would help me sustain a professional practice.
Where do you live now and what are you doing after graduation?
I currently live in Fairmont, West Virginia. I’m teaching at Fairmont State University in Fairmont, WV.
What are you working on now?
I am working on large-scale prints, relief sculptures, and a sculptural installation for a solo show next year at Real Art Ways in Hartford, Connecticut. More info can be found here.
Do you keep in touch with your cohort?
Since graduation, I have kept in touch with my cohort at least weekly (usually more).
How has the MFA program impacted what you are doing today?
I feel that the program acted as an idea incubator of sorts. I was able to work both instinctively and critically, exploring ideas that I could refine post-graduation as well as some ideas that needed to get out to be done. Speaking to how it has impacted what I am doing today, I am beginning to develop a body of work with explorations that began within the program.
MECA’s MFA program is: “A metaphorical pressure-cooker.”
Portland is: “A special place that will rarely give you a bad meal.”
Our goal is to have every student come to visit every exhibit, get to know the curators, be immersed in contemporary art, get to know the artists, and participate in conversations.
Erin Hutton ’98 is the Director of Exhibitions and Special Projects at the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) at MECA. In this interview, she reflects on the rich legacy of the ICA and her vision going forward.
Tell us a little bit about the background and legacy of the ICA.
Jennifer Gross was the first director of the ICA when it opened in the Porteous Building back in 1997. The vision at the time was to be a premier art space focused specifically on contemporary art, as there was nothing comparable in Portland then. David Ireland was the first artist to be showcased, and his dedication to working with students and interns helped to launch the premiere exhibit. The ICA directors, who also served as curators, have gone on to accomplish incredible things in the art world. Gross is currently the deputy director for curatorial affairs and chief curator at the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Lincoln, Massachusetts. Mark Bessire is the director of the Portland Museum of Art in Maine, Cindy Foley serves as the executive deputy director for learning and experience at Columbus Museum of Art in Ohio, Toby Kamps is the director of the Blaff er Art Museum at the University of Houston, Daniel Fuller is the curator at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center, and Lauren Fensterstock is an assistant professor in MECA’s MFA Program and a practicing artist. All kinds of school groups visit the ICA and use our exhibitions as part of their classroom experiences. We have programs that focus on youths, K-12, and other groups from colleges such as Bates, the University of Southern Maine, and Southern Maine Community College. We’re free and open to the public, so we really provide a service to the community.
What is your current vision?
Having been given this opportunity to honor the vision and legacy of the people who were here before me, I plan to move the ICA forward with a flexible curatorial model that will allow new voices to be included in this progressive, contemporary art space for years to come. My current vision is to really take off with this new model that allows me to be nimble and flexible through identifying and working with guest curators. At any one time, I can be working with nine different curators with nine different visions and levels of expertise. We provide a platform in an amazing facility to honor, support and promote a curator’s vision and what they want to produce. The ICA is always changing and continuously evolving. We don’t overschedule, allowing us to include an exhibit that needs to take place because of a current climate or that addresses a social or global issue. But we can also schedule out two years in advance and give curators and artists valuable time to create work, for which they are grateful. In 2017, as we celebrate our 20th anniversary, I see the ICA evolving to have a deeper connection to not only the local community but the global community as well, through digital communication. Powerful and poignant exhibits can be seen years later and through different types of media.
The ICA is always changing and continuously evolving.
How do the exhibits and projects impact MECA’s students and the curriculum?
The ICA has never lost sight of the educational component of this space that ties directly to the curriculum and vice versa, with some exhibitions layered into the curriculum itself. In fact, the ICA is used as a laboratory space for many classrooms, including MECA’s Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) Program. Our goal is to have every student come to visit every exhibit, get to know the curators, be immersed in contemporary art, get to know the artists, and participate in conversations. Otherwise we could be like any other place. We are unique. Any student interested in working in a gallery or museum can train in the ICA through internships, employment, and hands-on experiences through curatorial practices, learning how an exhibition is put together from beginning to end, which is vital to them. They get real-world experience and deep dive into the exhibition process. MECA’s visiting artist committee is a link between the curriculum and exhibition roster. We work with faculty to produce curated exhibits, and we work with students and alumni who participate in exhibits. We’ve had interactive projects through MECA’s Public Engagement Program and we occasionally showcase student work in our front gallery through a vetted proposal process. In addition, the ICA manages all the exhibitions on campus.
The recent Painting Symposium in conjunction with the American Genre: Contemporary Painting exhibit curated by Michelle Grabner was a huge success, with over 150 people attending. What was that like?
It was an incredible experience to have artists, critics, writers, and a participatory audience hear from leaders in the field. This event would not have been possible without Gail Spaien, professor in MECA’s Painting and MFA Programs and a contributing artist to the American Genre exhibition. She developed this grand idea and had the energy to see it through. Michelle Grabner shared her vision for the exhibition that surrounded us, and we all got to kind of geek out on painting and be immersed in critical theory and all things painting. Our students were able to engage directly with these leaders and everyone left inspired, feeling like they sat through something really meaningful and powerful. We plan to have more symposia and opportunities for the community to engage in critical conversations.
In what sense is the ICA “a constant critique”?
The students who come in here say, “Ahh—that’s art,” because they see it on the walls. But the purpose of the ICA is to create dialogue—for a student, guest, or visitor to view artwork and have a response. It might be positive, negative, emotional, or blasé, but there’s a response. The exhibitions are meant to provoke students to bring these conversations back to their classrooms and strive to have their work on view in a museum or gallery or in experimental ways. We have pop-up events, visiting artists, a lot of things that percolate beyond the walls of the gallery. The future of the ICA lies in the impacts that go well beyond just the physical space.
Are there any particularly memorable stories you would like to share?
My most memorable story—the reason why I was so drawn to working in the ICA—was my experience as a young student working with David Ireland and being an intern on that exhibition, where I received first- hand experience and made a real personal connection with the artist. I will never forget it. Partnering with Daniel Fuller on the student-immersive events where we collaborated on weeklong student engagement projects was also a rich experience. The projects were fun, wacky, and strange, but mostly they were incredible experiences for our students. I continue to look back on those two important experiences, and they fuel the work that I do now.
YOU NEVER KNOW HOW YOU LOOK THROUGH OTHER PEOPLE’S EYES March 8–April 20, 2018. Selected artists create an antagonistic equilibrium in an experimental framework curated by artist Scott Patrick Wiener.
2018 MFA THESIS EXHIBITION May 11–June 8, 2018
More information on upcoming shows can be found here.
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.
Wheels click in staccato rhythms and rubber stoppers shriek against the slick wooden floor of the track. Strapped head to toe in protective pads and helmets, 10 women on rollerskates jockey for position, huddling in groups, bracing and pushing. Two nimble skaters—jammers—race each other as they try to score points for their teams while avoiding the clusters of the opponent’s blockers.
It’s a Saturday night in September—the opening bout of the 2017 Maine Roller Derby season. The RIP Tides are battling the Calamity Janes at Happy Wheels Skate Center in Portland, Maine. I am trying to be nimble myself as I dart from this corner to that, my camera and tripod in tow. I chose roller derby as the subject for my short documentary film project at Salt because I’ve always loved the pageantry of the sport: the campy derby nicknames like Cabbage Smash Kid and Stella Moves, and the displays of bravado and high drama on the track. But as I circle the players trying to get footage, trying not to get hit, I’m still not sure of the story I want to tell.
Later, at the after-party, under glowing strings of lights on the rooftop ofBayside Bowl, I asked some of the skaters sitting near me, “What should my focus be? What is the real story here?” One of the newer skaters spoke up quickly. She looked younger than most of the other skaters, and her long limbs, speed, and agility made her a natural jammer. During the bout, she looked almost like she was tiptoeing as she fought her way through the opposing team’s blockers—a mix of determination and uncertainty. She shared her own story: like other gay women on the team, she’d found not only a community that is notoriously inclusive, but she’d also met women who’d been out for some time and were living the kinds of lives she hoped for herself. I thought about my own experiences as a gay person, how I sought out places where I could be around other LGBT people, how reassuring it felt to see those older community members and think, “I’m going to be okay.” Her story stuck with me all weekend.
The following week, I asked if she would share her story in my film, and she reluctantly agreed. She was nervous about being on camera, afraid she might say the wrong thing; she didn’t really want the spotlight.That week, she allowed me to film her at practice, gliding around the track, chatting with teammates, but the following evening, when it was time to sit down for the interview, she texted me apologetically. She just wasn’t sure that she wanted to share her story, to open herself up to judgment and scrutiny. I told her I understood, but I was crushed. I wasn’t sure that I could make the film without her story.
Before I came to MECA, I buzzed with anticipation through the spring and summer, knowing that I would soon be leaving a job that had become heavy and stale. I knew I would spend the last four months of the year far from home, learning to make documentaries while surrounded by other students chasing the same dream. But during the second week of classes, when we turned in our first assignments, I realized that I was afraid to share my work with the class. I had studied photojournalism as an undergrad a decade ago, but in the years between had somehow forgotten how terrifying it is to create something so personal and then put it up on a screen for others to judge. I couldn’t fault the young skater for being scared of how I might tell her story or for her fear of what others might think.
I realized that I came to Salt, to MECA, to Maine, chasing a sense of belonging as much as a dream of making documentaries.
In the weeks after our failed interview, I wrestled with my disappointment, but I knew I just wasn’t done with roller derby yet. I thought about the other people I’d met sitting on the rooftop at that after-party. There’d been a young man there who had met a skater at a record store just
days before. After he’d confided in her that he really didn’t have many friends and was lonely, she’d invited him to the bout and he had decided to come. And there’d been all those other skaters: each had their own story of what had brought them to the sport, and each had stayed with it because they’d found a community that welcomed them and accepted them as they were. I decided to continue with the project, to gather as many of their stories as I could and try to capture that sense of community.
I also thought about my own story. I realized that I came to Salt, to MECA, to Maine, chasing a sense of belonging as much as a dream of making documentaries. All my classmates have their own story of what brought them to Salt, but we’ve all been welcomed into a community here, and it makes me think of what I find most wonderful about the documentary: the feeling of connection to someone or something you didn’t know before.
Alix Towler Salt ’17 is a writer, artist, and documentary filmmaker from North Carolina. A former forensic social worker, Alix focuses primarily on issues of social justice but is also drawn to document the quirky, the novel, and the charming. She came to Portland as an inaugural member of the fall class of Salt at MECA.
Images in Header: Photos by Alix Towler Salt ’17, except for upper right photo by Rick Stark Salt ’17
My experience during the 2017 MFA research trip to San Francisco and Los Angeles was a fruitful one. Along with the established itinerary, packed with visits to art institutions and scenic locations relevant to the West Coast, I took the opportunity to conduct some specific research outside of the already packed schedule. Within my practice, my interests are largely influenced by the architecture of my immediate environment. While in Los Angeles, I sought out the opportunity to gain more insight into the matter and visited the A+D Architecture and Design Museum. On display were the exhibitions
While in Los Angeles, I sought out the opportunity to gain more insight into the matter and visited the A+D Architecture and Design Museum. On display were the exhibitions Architectural Imagination and The Landscape Architecture of Lawrence Halprin. They contained preliminary work for architectural structures, refined models for the structures, and, in some instances, photo documentation of the completed projects, as demonstrated in the exhibition of Lawrence Halprin’s work. Halprin was a San Francisco Bay Area artist, notorious for his work within San Francisco’s Ghirardelli Square, an environment I had experienced first- hand just days previously. Speaking at the Architectural Imagination exhibition, I was floored by the combination of model and collage works operating in the context of exhibition as preliminary work for a larger project, but in my view also operating as stand-alone works. As collections of work, the exhibitions demonstrated innovative techniques for developing form within a variety of landscapes, shifting my perspective on how scale operates within a vast space and broadening my perspective on the ways that architecture shifts landscapes, both urban and rural. These exhibitions showed me how comparable these processes are to my own practice while challenging my perspective on how space and aesthetics, in response to an immediate environment, can function within both an exterior context and a gallery context.
As collections of work, the exhibitions demonstrated innovative techniques for developing form within a variety of landscapes, shifting my perspective on how scale operates within a vast space and broadening my perspective on the ways that architecture shifts landscapes, both urban and rural. These exhibitions showed me how comparable these processes are to my own practice while challenging my perspective on how space and aesthetics, in response to an immediate environment, can function within both an exterior context and a gallery context.
Kylie Ford MFA ’18 is a second-year MFA student who has exhibited her work nationally.
Images in Header:
Tessa Greene O’Brien MFA ’16 and her husband, Will Sears, both painters, had a long-standing dream to fill the city of Portland with colorful, graphic works of art in public spaces. Immersed in the worlds of sign painting, murals, and large-scale festival and installation work, the pair wanted to create opportunities for communities to come together around art that celebrated both the contemporary art world and the vernacular of place. In 2015, with a grant from the Kindling Fund—administered by SPACE Gallery through a regranting program funded by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts—O’Brien and Sears were able to co-found the Portland Mural Initiative, which now has six murals and architectural interventions under its name, and plans for future works underway.
“We have learned a lot about public art and community engagement since our inception,” says O’Brien. The Portland Mural Initiative has worked with several private businesses along Portland’s Bayside Trail that have offered up walls to emerging and established artists whom O’Brien and Sears have commissioned. They’ve also worked as far away as Kittery, in addition to their signature work in Portland. Understanding that artists are not separate from the communities they live and work in, O’Brien and Sears have diligently attended to fostering dialogue among artists, organizations, and community stakeholders. The Portland Mural Initiative has hosted free public meals at openings for murals and a series of artist talks designed to connect the public to the work.
This kind of connection is important, especially for artists like Jenny McGee Dougherty ’05, who was commissioned for one of the Bayside Trail murals in the summer of 2015. “There are elements of the composition that were directly drawn from the surrounding landscape,” she says, pointing to various architectural details and color palettes—like swaths of paint meant to cover up graffi ti—that inform her abstract, collage-like work. Dougherty, whose mural work will be included in the Portland Museum of Art 2018 Biennial, was able to translate the imagery of her smaller works on paper into something larger and much more public through her work with the Portland Mural Initiative: “Working large and having my process viewable to the public was exciting—it allowed me to come full circle with this work.”
For O’Brien and Sears, working with artists who have a connection to the area creates a space for the community to engage in deeper understandings of both art and artists in Portland, and work such as Dougherty’s can highlight hidden moments of beauty in the neighborhood in new, thoughtful ways. “Artists are integral members of the community,” says O’Brien. “We seek opportunities that allow the artists creative license while still aligning with the reality and vibe of the neighborhood.”
As the Portland Mural Initiative moves into its fourth year, O’Brien notes that they have dialed back the scale of the project in order to pursue projects that they’re passionate about, even if that means taking on fewer projects per year. “Our hope is that the artist’s creative vision is not dulled down through extensive design by committee,” O’Brien reflects. As the Portland Mural Initiative gains recognition and momentum, she and Sears are being careful to honor both the artists they work with and their own creative practices. In addition to working on several of her own commissions, O’Brien also has an active studio practice and recently attended painting residencies at the Vermont Studio Center in Johnson, Vermont, and at Hewnoaks Artist Colony in Lovell, Maine.
While new projects are underway, viewers can currently take a stroll or cycle along the Bayside Trail to see murals by O’Brien, Sears, and Dougherty, as well as by Andrea Sulzer and Greta van Campen, and can get updates from portlandmuralinitiative.org.
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.
The Public Engagement student exhibition Art & Audubon: Collaboration in Conservation opens on Friday, October 27, 5–7pm at the Gisland Farm in Falmouth. The exhibition features work from the classes ‘Naturlab’ and ‘Field Guide to a New World’.
The Public Engagement program helps propel students into real world situations that tap their creative potential. These foundation classes collaborated with the Maine Audubon for a call for action to Environmental Conservation in Art.
Article and photography reposted from Maine Audubon. Photographer: Ariana van den Akker/Maine Audubon.
Art and Audubon have a rich history. This dates all the way back to John James Audubon, whose wide acclaim as a painter helped raise awareness about these species and inspire international bird conservation efforts. Maine Audubon continues to draw on this legacy by featuring the work of local photographers and painters on the walls at our education centers, in the pages of our guides and reports, and for sale in our retail stores.
Our relationship with the Maine College of Art (MECA) is an important part of that commitment today. Many MECA alumni have made wildlife conservation a focus of their work. Several have also partnered with Maine Audubon. Jada Fitch ‘06 illustrates our children’s books and other projects; Chris Patch’s ‘97 migration installation anchors the “Modern Menagerie” at Portland Museum of Art; and Hannah Rosengren’s ‘15 pollinator graphics helped illustrate our early “Bringing Nature Home” materials.
Two years ago, Maine Audubon Education Director Eric Topper was invited by Annie Seikonia, founder of the Portland Pollinator Partnership who also works at MECA, to attend a MECA presentation. MECA students were presenting mock grant proposals about pollinator conservation they had prepared in a math class taught by Bob Jenkins. It was clear that MECA wasn’t just producing art and artists, but forging leaders, activists, and messengers focused on addressing pressing local issues.
Next, Eric met with MECA’s Director of Public Engagement Elizabeth Jabar. Elizabeth explained her additional goal of developing deep, ongoing relationships in Greater Portland for instructors and students. Then he connected with MECA instructor Michel Droge, an accomplished contemporary artist in her own right. Much of Michel’s art focuses on serious and sometimes dire environmental themes such as climate change and impacted landscapes. She was teaching a course for second year students that fall, and thought of Maine Audubon as a rich source of subject matter and inspiration for students to create woodblock prints in the tradition of Chinese propaganda art — bold images and colors, few or no words, and designed to evoke action.
Eric collaborated with Michel, working with that class (and again with another this fall) to teach them about Maine Audubon’s mission and work and to help them select themes for their prints that align with our conservation priorities. In return, Maine Audubon has been the beneficiary of these powerful student products and the messages they convey. We also worked directly with Bob Jenkins’ math class last spring, providing content around which to base their mock grant proposals.
This fall, Michel Droge has repeated the Maine Audubon woodblock print project with a new group of second-year students. In addition, she developed another class for first-year students in which they produced handmade nature journals and field guides after visiting and learning about Maine Audubon. The results and products from both classes are stunning, and yet another example of how much “the next generation” of conservation leaders and activists has already accomplished and contributed today.
Two classes of incredible MECA student work will be displayed in the gallery at Gilsland Farm beginning this weekend, with an opening reception on Friday evening, October 27. Please join us in appreciating this beautiful art, congratulating these amazing young people, and celebrating this vital community partnership!
Tracy Mumford Salt ’13 and Steven Jackson Salt ’13 won audio awards in the 2017 Third Coast/Richard H. Driehaus Competition.
Produced by Tracy Mumford Salt ’13, The Traffic Stop is an audio documentary that breaks down the high-profile fatal events that occurred on July 6, 2016, when Philando Castile was pulled over for a routine traffic stop by police officer Jeronimo Yanez, in Falcon Heights, Minnesota.
Photography (header) by Tim Nelson; cropped and edited.
Steven Jackson Salt ’13 is an associate producer of Blink One for Yes, a podcast that went behind closed doors to witness the hardest choice one family ever had to make. It was aired on Snap Judgment and originated from Nick van DerKolk’s podcast Love and Radio.
The Third Coast / Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Competition seeks the best audio stories produced world-wide. They have celebrated more than extraordinary 130 stories and bestowed $250,000 in cash prizes to many of the most innovative producers of this past decade.