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Professional Development

Advance Studio and Professional Skills with Opportunities and Experiences Beyond the Classroom

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Public Engagement

Art for Social Change

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Alumni Opportunities

Resources, Alumni Exhibitions, and Residencies

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Artists at Work

You’ll put your creative problem solving skills to use in the classroom, in the vibrant city of Portland, and around the globe. Professional development is not a singular class in your last semester. Creating a meaningful career starts the day you enter MECA and continues throughout your life as an alum of the College.

Whether you want to be a studio artist, a commercial designer, an educator, or an arts administrator, you’ll take away skills that translate into a variety of career choices. Artists at Work provides connections to internships, jobs, commissions, professional development opportunities, community partners, and residencies.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 65% of America’s school children will eventually be employed in jobs that have yet to be created. An arts education teaches skills for a new, entrepreneurial economy: critical thinking, creative problem solving, risk-taking, collaboration, and innovation.

What Our Alumni Do With Art Degrees
  • Artist-in-Residence, Design Studio for Social Intervention
  • Art Teacher, North Yarmouth Academy
  • Chief Operating Officer, United Way
  • Creative Director, Peabody Essex Museum
  • Curator, Issue Project Room
  • Design Editor, L.L. Bean
  • Digital Creative Director, Anthropologie
  • Director of Massive Change, Bruce Mau Design
  • Effects Animator, Walt Disney
  • Executive Director, Indochina Arts Partnership
  • Founder, Pickwick Independent Press
  • Game Designer, Self-employed
  • Graphic Designer, Cole Haan
  • International Projects Manager, Art Bospherous International Modern Art Fair
  • Marketing Design Director, Wired Magazine
  • Master Printer, Wingate Studios
  • Professor, Stanford University
  • Publication Designer, Smithsonian American Art Museum
  • Registrar, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
  • Vice-President for Design, Hasbro

Learn More About


Artists at Work Stories

View all Artists at Work Stories
  • I Let My Curiosity Lead Me

    Morrigan McCarthy '07
    Read Story
  • MECA Students Embrace Real-World Projects

    MECA Students Embrace Real-World Projects
    Read Story
  • Bayside Bowl Murals

    Tessa O'Brien MFA '16, Sophie Cangelosi '16
    Read Story
  • Beyond Borders: Art and Activism

    Aaron Staples '08
    Read Story
  • For The Hired Wrights, the Opportunities Are Endless

    The Hired Wrights
    Read Story
  • Different Contexts

    Sara Inacio '17
    Read Story
  • Majors Exhibit Nationally

    Mary Forst '16 & Betsy Lewis '16
    Read Story
  • Colorful Costumes

    Textile & Fashion Design Majors
    Read Story

Meet The Team

The heart of an art education is the studio process to gain knowledge as a maker. In addition, students develop as critical thinkers, risk-takers, and problem-solvers in the world. We connect students to opportunities to apply these skills in their creative careers.

Jessica Tomlinson Director of Artists at Work
Meet The Team
I Let My Curiosity Lead Me image

I Let My Curiosity Lead Me

Morrigan McCarthy '07

I let my curiosity lead me.

How did you learn about Salt?
A photographer friend in Portland took me to the final show of the 2006 fall semester, when the photography was still black and white film! I had been shooting some weddings and portraits locally and thought that was going to be my career, but within 10 minutes of walking into that gallery I knew I wanted to be a journalist. I met Donna and some of the instructors and they encouraged me to apply. The rest is history.

What was your Creative and Career Path?
a. 0-2 years after graduation.
I went straight from Salt graduation to the Maine Media Workshops, where I spent the summer as a teaching assistant. In fall of 2007 I attended the Eddie Adams Workshop and used my connections from there and from MMW to get some freelance assisting gigs in and around New York City. I knew so little about the industry at that point, but through assisting photographers with even mundane-seeming things like organizing their archives and gear, driving them to shoots and helping them write emails, I got a better sense of how the world of photojournalism/documentary worked and what it would take to do it professionally.

b. 3-5 years after graduation.
My partner at the time and fellow photographer, Alan Winslow, and I wrote some grants and got corporate sponsorship to do a long-term project that would be turned into a touring show. We completed it, and then began planning a second one.

c. 5-10 years after graduation.
We did the second project, which took us three years to complete, and then turned it into a public art show. When we returned from traveling we lectured and shared the project widely, and after moving back to New York City, I began picking up some freelance photography work- starting through a connection I made at Salt! In 2015 I started at the New York Times as a photo editor, and that’s still what I’m doing today!

How would you describe the story of your professional path?
I would say that my professional path hasn’t been conventional or particularly straightforward, but I’ve always thrown myself into projects and ideas that I love, and tried to tell stories the best I can. I let my curiosity lead me, and tried to be open to the experiences.

What resources, tools, or organizations have you found helpful throughout your career?
There is no substitute for making friends in your field. It can be easy to slide into a place where you feel competitive with other photographers, but finding some folks that you trust and with whom you can openly share career information (like, how much did you get paid for that gig? What was that editor like to work with?) is absolutely the best resource out there. Plus, those are the people who will understand when you go through lows, be your cheerleaders when things are going well, and you’ll all be elevated for the relationship.

How did your experience at Salt help you find your first position after graduation?
Salt instructors were the ones who encouraged me to apply for the position at Maine Media Workshops! I’m sure I wouldn’t have even applied if it weren’t for Neil and Kate and Donna.

What would you look for if you were in a position to hire new graduates from Salt at MECA?
I would look for new graduates with a good eye for unique composition, solid technical skills and the ability to sniff out a good story. So many stories feel recycled- I love seeing new ways of telling old stories, or completely fresh-feeling stories about things that could have been ho-hum.

What advice might you have for current Salt students? For new Salt alumni?
Honestly, journalism is tough. You have to really love what you do and be willing to put in the time and effort. Don’t get frustrated. Stay humble. There is always more to learn and you can always make yourself better. Trust your gut and keep telling good, important stories truthfully as long as the medium inspires you.

Find more of Morrigan’s work here.

MECA Students Embrace Real-World Projects image

MECA Students Embrace Real-World Projects

MECA Students Embrace Real-World Projects

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.

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Bayside Bowl Murals

Tessa O'Brien MFA '16, Sophie Cangelosi '16

When Bayside Bowl expanded their bowling facilities, owner and former president of the Maine State Senate, Justin Alfond connected with Maine College of Art. Said Alfond, “Bayside Bowl’s expansion needed local flare and art. Jessica Tomlinson introduced me to a bunch of great artists.” Alfond selected artists Tessa Greene O’Brien MFA ’16 and Sophie Cangelosi ’16 to create two murals. Tessa is the co-founder of The Portland Mural Initiative and Sophie installed a mural for her senior thesis. In less than a week, both artists met with the client to provide initial sketches and revisions. The two different concepts played to each artist’s strengths. Tessa’s text based mural builds off her skills as a painter with Better Letter Handpainted signs. Sophie’s silhouettes are similar to work she did in her senior year. Both murals are located on the first floor of the new addition, which is located across from MECA’s most recent residential housing. Alfond is pleased with the results. “Tessa and Sophie jumped on our mural projects and delivered the punch that we wanted.”

Sophie Cangelosi '16

Sophie Cangelosi ’16

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Beyond Borders: Art and Activism

Aaron Staples '08

Art is a lens to look at issues that are too complex to examine in words.

Aaron Staples ’08, who grew up in Maine and earned his BFA from MECA in Graphic Design, worked with Greenpeace to create art for their “Not Just Tuna” campaign that demonstrates the environmental destruction implicit in commercial tuna fishing, which includes destructive fishing methods and exploitive and unsafe working conditions for the fishermen.

As part of the campaign, Aaron was commissioned to create large paintings in the Sumi-e style, using black ink made from lamp soot. In a Bangor Daily News article about the project, Aaron said, “It’s really an honor. I’m very proud to be able to lend my small voice to this larger campaign in a meaningful way.”

His process and work were featured on a blog post entitled “4 Reasons Art is Essential to Activism,” which quoted some of Aaron’s thoughts about the project: ““Regardless of what language they speak, people can feel the emotion. That’s why art can be such a powerful tool to translate these ideas across a range of audiences. They’re responding specifically — and very viscerally — to what they’re seeing.”

“Risk is a large part of making art. What you’re doing is essentially opening yourself up and putting your thoughts, ideas and way of responding to the world on display for people to come and look at. You don’t know if people will embrace it … I think it’s the same for artists and activists: there’s a compulsion. There’s this innate drive to do what it is you need to do. We have to react, so we get over the fear of failure.”

In the BDN article, Molly Dorozenski, from Greenpeace, said, “We were immediately taken with his ability to distill complex ideas into beautiful and captivating visual stories. Because the Not Just Tuna campaign shows how current methods of fishing tuna impact both the diversity of marine life and the humans who are working in terrible conditions, we knew we needed a special artist to be able to illustrate that complexity. Furthermore, our campaign is global, but Aaron’s images don’t need to be translated — they tell the entire story of the campaign in images.”

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For The Hired Wrights, the Opportunities Are Endless

The Hired Wrights

The members share a common passion of creating compelling and influential works fueled by a mixture of specialty and creativity.

Forest Gagne ’14

The Hired Wrights is a collective of 14 artists, designers, and craftspeople who offer services encompassing illustration, graphic design, woodworking, sculpture, bookbinding, printing, and more. Based in Portland, Maine, “the members of HW came from all over to join up behind a common passion of creating compelling and influential works fueled by a mixture of speciality and creativity.” They all have college degrees and solid freelance experience.

The Hired Wrights was co-founded by graphic designer Hugh McCormick ’15, who was raised in Baltimore, Maryland, where he worked as a horseback riding instructor and wilderness trip leader before enrolling at MECA. “Hugh is a firm believer in creating a voice through a harmony of form, content and delivery. He is interested in finding innovative and influential design solutions through the balance of aesthetic quality and creative direction. He has targeted focuses in branding, apparel design, packaging and print/web based advertising, but despises the idea of in any way being limited to those practices.”

Illustration by Liz Long '14

Illustration by Liz Long ’14

The collective includes many other MECA alumni, who bring a broad range of expertises to the table, such as Johnny Dickinson ’14 (woodworking), Forest Gagne ’14 (woodworking), Liz Long ’14 (illustration), Brady Price ’14 (printmaking and illustration), Anna Taylor ’14 (graphic design and illustration), Nick Gonthier ’15 (illustration and sculpture), Emma McCabe ’15 (illustration and book binding), John Novak ’15 (graphic and exhibition design), Joe Lendway ’15 (woodworking), and Patrick Scholz ’15 (photography). Past clients and collaborators include The VIA Agency, Kingspøke, Might and Main, Creative Work Systems, Maine Leather Co., and many others. As a collaborative venture, The Hired Wrights is especially situated to work on projects that require more than one skill and the ability to tap
many resources.

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Different Contexts

Sara Inacio '17

MECA has played a major role in shaping me as an artist.

In 2015, Sara Inacio was awarded a Professional Development and Entrepreneurship Grant, which helps BFA, MFA, and MAT students to advance their studio and professional skills by accessing opportunities and experiences beyond the MECA classroom. She is using her funds to participate in a project conducted by Braddock Tiles, a community based artisanal micro‐factory located in a formerly abandoned church in North Braddock, Pennsylvania initiated by the artist Swoon who specializes in life‐size wheat paste prints and paper cutouts of human figures.

Describe a body of work that you are currently working on.
I am currently working with Printmaking and Ceramics. I have been exploring ways in which sculpture/installation can relate to print. Lately I have become very interested in Biblical concepts and ideas. In my current work I have been using the lamb as a symbol of purity and sacrifice. I am working on a life size porcelain lamb that will open for people to interact with by writing/drawing with charcoal directly on it. Once the lamb is completely covered, I am planning on glaze firing it so that all of the charcoal will burn off, giving the lamb a new, clean, and glossy surface. This piece will be about renewal, and the beauty that comes from this idea of offering, or letting go of something.

What’s your background?
My initial intended major was Painting, but after exploring several programs at MECA, I found that Printmaking was the best fit for me. I have become interested in working in many different mediums, and Printmaking can easily be combined with any of them. I find Printmaking to be a very flexible medium that allows me to keep exploring new ways of making and combining different mediums and materials. It also allows me to work in multiples and to bring my work into many different contexts. I was drawn to the sense of community throughout the department, and the collaborative aspect of it. The department overall works very well in combination with my Public Engagement Minor.

How has your education at MECA shaped you as an artist?
MECA has played a major role in shaping me as an artist, and it has really encouraged my practice to change over time. I spent my first two years exploring as many programs as I could, including Printmaking, Painting, Ceramics, Sculpture, and Illustration. All of these programs, along with Foundation, has helped to build up my skill set. My work has changed drastically from the beginning of my MECA education, and it continues to change and improve as I learn how to apply the skills I have learned along with what I am learning.

What inspires you?
All of my inspiration and what really drives me to create is God’s love for people and his love in me. All of my work is inspired by his love, and I believe that he is the one who gives me the ability and motivation to create.

What do you hope to do after graduation?
I am not sure of exactly what career I would like pursue once I graduate. I just know that I would like to continue to make art, and to keep doing collaborative and community based work. Although I don’t have any specific career goals, I am confident that the range of skills and experience I have been gaining during my education at MECA will open a lot of opportunities for me as an artist.


Majors Exhibit Nationally image

Majors Exhibit Nationally

Mary Forst '16 & Betsy Lewis '16

Two Metalsmithing & Jewelry Design majors, Betsy Lewis ’16 and Mary Forst ’16, were accepted into national exhibitions. Betsy is exhibiting in Craft Forms 2015, dedicated to enhancing the public’s awareness of fine contemporary craft, while providing a venue for established and emerging artists to share their creative endeavors.  Both also exhibited in Form Forge Fabricate, the Southern Illinois Metalsmith’s 8th annual exhibition, which promotes metsalsmithing arts and features work by graduate and undergraduate students interested in metal as an artistic medium. Mary is also a finalist in the 2016 NICHE Awards student competition, hosted by NICHE Magazine.

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Colorful Costumes

Textile & Fashion Design Majors

Colorful costumes designed by MECA students and faculty were featured in "An Alice Symphony."

The colorful costumes seen in the Portland Symphony Orchestra and The Portland Ballet’s performance of “An Alice Symphony” by Del Tredici were designed by Textile & Fashion Design students and faculty.  Part of an Enchanted Favorites program, the symphony was in honor of the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice in Wonderland (a similar tribute took place at a MECA hosted exhibit at the Portland Public Library). To fit the two different bodies of the performers playing Alice, Ariana Faria ’17 designed a blue dress with a combined knit and woven fabric .

Participating Textile & Fashion Design Majors

Justin Desper ’17
Ariana Faria ’17
Parker Smedley ’17
Nicole Waller ’17
Ashley Wernher-Collins ’16

Photo Credit: Michael Havey