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Arts and Culture

Salt Institute for Documentary Studies Closing Its Doors

PORTLAND, Maine - A Maine school that has nurtured documentary storytelling for more than 40 years is closing its doors. Over 1,000 writers, photographers and radio and multimedia storytellers have attended the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies since it first opened. But ever-present financial challenges have finally forced Salt to shut down for good.
In 1973, a high school English teacher wanted to help students learn to use words and photographs to tell rich, in-depth stories. So Pamela Wood launched a documentary storytelling institute in Kennebunk.

At the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies, students immersed themselves in documentary writing and photography. Radio was added around the turn of the century and a multimedia program after that.

"To be honest with you, that we've sustained for 42 years, in many ways, has been amazing. Truly amazing," says Donna Galluzzo, the institute's executive director. Like so many non-profits, Salt, notes Galluzzo, has operated on the edge financially, year in and year out.

Salt, which moved locations five times over the years, is now headquartered on Congress Street in Portland. It has an operating budget of roughly half-a-million dollars a year. Salt lacks an endowment and has depended on the nearly $10,000 in tuition that students pay to immerse themselves in documentary storytelling.

But in recent years, says Kimberly Curry, enrollment has fallen off. Curry is head of Salt's board of directors. "We just really haven't quite recovered from the recession from 2008. If we had, say, 23 students or 25 students a semester, that would be terrific. But we've been seeing our numbers dropping in different areas," Curry says. "And that's just unacceptable."

So Salt, which ended last year with $83,000 in debt, will close its doors. Galluzzo and Curry say the institute is working on finding a digital home for its vast archive of documentary work produced by more than 1,000 students from across the U.S. and abroad.

Salt has also been a contributor to MPBN for over a decade. Its most recent contribution was a profile that aired just two weeks ago.