© 2022 Maine Public
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Maine College of Art to Take Over Salt Institute for Documentary Studies

The Portland-based Salt Institute for Documentary Studies, which closed last year, will relaunch in 2017.

The school will taken over by the Maine College of Art, which is vowing to stay true to the spirit of Salt’s original mission.

For more than four decades, students at Salt have documented the people and cultures of Maine through photography, short films, writing and radio.

But after years of financial strain, the institute closed its doors last April. Now its assets — including an archive of thousands of images and hundreds of other works — are being turned over to the Maine College of Art in downtown Portland.

“There is not another program like this in the country,” says Ian Anderson, dean of MECA, which he says will able to offer Salt’s traditional one-semester curricula under its old name.

Assuming that the program is accredited, he says MECA will be able to provide access to housing and federally backed financial aid that the old Salt could not. Most importantly, he says, MECA will preserve Salt’s tradition of deep inquiry into Maine’s character.

“I have personally been listening to, reading and viewing and watching these stories over the last couple of weeks,” he says. “And I’ve been touched and inspired by them. And I’ve learned a lot about places and people in Maine that I would otherwise never have known about. And I have to say I’m truly honored to be part of the Salt Institute of Documentary Studies at MECA and to help foster the creation of many more stories for years to come.”

Salt’s board is now dissolved, but Salt alumnae will be invited to serve on an advisory committee for the program.

A grant from the Quimby Family Foundation will help defray operating expenses in the first years, as well as fund a facilities build-out to help house the new program.

Former Salt board chairwoman Kimberly Curry says the new version of Salt makes sense, given its operation and financial needs.

“Coming to MECA? Best decision ever,” she says. “We had a tiny staff, very small staff had to do everything. Here HR is supported, payroll is supported, housing, all these other things — when one person is doing that it’s really hard.”

Some Salt alumnae were critical of its board when the institute’s doors closed last April, and they complained about a lack of transparency from institute leaders.

Elyssa East, a Salt alum who teaches creative writing at New York University and part of an alumnae group called Save Salt, says she’s hopeful, but wary, about the MECA gambit.

“It always prioritized an incredibly high standard of ethnographical and journalistic ethics over aesthetic principles, and that is really the true heart of the program, not the archives, and we really hope the art-college environment will not compromise those standards,” she says.

MECA official say they will start a search by this fall for two full-time staffers. The goal will be to enable enrollment of 20-25 students in the fall of 2017, who will pay tuition similar to Salt’s old rates of about $9,500 per semester.

An alumnae forum is planned for May, and Salt will offer three-week workshops, at MECA, this summer.