Bob Crewe Program in Art and Music

I strongly believe in creativity and how different art forms interact to create something unique. I believe my brother Bob’s career demonstrates this in a powerful way. The Bob Crewe Foundation and Maine College of Art are embarking on something really special and original in academia by blending the two areas with an evolutionary design. — Trustee Dan Crewe

The fusion of music and art at MECA is a match made in heaven, or at least in Newark, New Jersey, where Bob Crewe grew up. The path from Newark to Portland, Maine, may seem unlikely, but serendipity works in mysterious ways. Because of the extraordinary career of Bob Crewe, and his brother Dan’s generosity, the Bob Crewe Program in Art and Music is now an integral and uniquely innovative part of the MECA experience.

Dan Crewe has served on MECA’s Board of Trustees since 2011. Dan is the devoted brother of Bob Crewe, the writer/producer of many of the American rock and pop group The Four Seasons’ greatest hits: “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Walk Like a Man,” “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You”—to name only a few. Bob also wrote songs that were later covered by Bob Dylan, Michael Jackson, Herman’s Hermits, and Roberta Flack. Bob’s protean talent as a songwriter and sound studio wizard has long been recognized and celebrated in America’s professional music scene, and Dan wanted to honor Bob and preserve his legacy by nurturing young musicians.

Through Dan’s friendship with MECA’s president, Don Tuski, and their shared vision for a music program at MECA, a unique opportunity for MECA was born. Dan donated an unprecedented $3 million to MECA to institute a music minor option for MECA students. Along with funding a state-of-the-art sound studio, music practice rooms, and classrooms, Dan Crewe’s gift from the Bob Crewe Foundation has also created the Bob Crewe Gallery, featuring artifacts and
memorabilia from Bob’s life and career.

When Dan Crewe and President Don Tuski presented the fledgling program to the public at a news conference in 2013, Dan set a compelling and modest tone of inspired philanthropy. “There is no agenda,” Dan said, “no preconceived direction. Let MECA’s future artist-musicians create the program and take it wherever their creative genius leads.”

The connection between art and music, specifically art students and musicians, has long been known, if only haphazardly reported. Some of the 20th century’s most iconic pop stars originally went to art school, eventually blasting off into music but never abandoning their artistic skills and practice: John Lennon (painting), Jerry Garcia (illustration), Freddie Mercury (graphic design), Pete Townshend (graphic design), Kanye West (visual arts), Rob Zombie (visual arts), and Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull (fine arts), to name only a small fraction of the more recognizable names. The art/music crossover is so obvious that it has frequently been missed.

Bob Crewe himself went to Parsons School of Design in NYC and his visual art practice was an inspiration for his music. Besides his brilliant music career, Bob designed a number of album covers and had many acclaimed one-person gallery showings of his paintings.

The “hiding in plain sight” nature of this phenomenon could be the reason this rich creative hybrid has rarely been acted on formally in art schools. Through Dan Crewe’s largesse and President Tuski’s collaborative vision, however, MECA is now in the vanguard of this powerful new direction. MECA’s Vice President of Academic Affairs and Dean of the College Ian Anderson (no relation to the Jethro Tull frontman) asserts that MECA is “the first art college to explicitly engage in combining the study of contemporary art and design with music.” In Dan Crewe’s words, “I strongly believe in creativity and how different art forms interact to create something unique. I believe my brother Bob’s career demonstrates this in a powerful way. The Bob Crewe Foundation and Maine College of Art are embarking on something really special and original in academia by blending the two areas with an evolutionary design.”

The sound studio is now rocking, and there is a steady stream of artist-musicians going downstairs to what used to be The Forbidden Zone—the MECA catacombs—but is now a sparkling facility full of sound and creative freedom. Steve Drown, Assistant Professor of Music and sound studio professional, heads the program, which features courses such as History of Contemporary Music, Applied Theory Through Composition, Music Business and Management, Ethnomusicology, and the experimental course Sound and Color.

Steve and his colleague, instructor and composer Hans Spencer, bring great experience and passion to the new program. Hans is the CEO of Listen Up, a mobile music teaching app company, and has taught music for 20+ years. He has a master’s in jazz studiesfrom the New England Conservatory of Music. Steve has been an independent recording engineer for 20+ years, currently workingat The Studio in downtown Portland. He earned his degree in music production and engineering from Berklee College of Music.The proof, though, is in the figgy pudding, as they say at Hogwarts, and all signs indicate that MECA’s music program resounds with audible and visible proof. Steve Drown says: “Students have beenstopping by the music department since day one, just asking to play the instruments. It’s great that everyone wants to be involved.” Steve also shared a glimpse of how the program will interface withother MECA disciplines: “The new art and music program is going to be great not just for musicians; the new recording facilities will help the Digital Media students with films, animation, and video games. They now have a great space to record voice and do
sound design.”