The Maine College of Art plans to launch a new program allowing students to explore interactions of art and music, at a time when art installations increasingly involve multimedia components and as bands add light shows and elaborate visual displays to their performances.
A foundation named for Bob Crewe of Scarborough, a songwriter who created many of the most notable pop hits of the 1960s after attending art school, has donated $3 million for the Portland college to fund scholarships and build a sound stage, music practice rooms and a gallery. It’s the biggest monetary gift in the college’s history, school leaders said.
The program likely will begin this fall and will include one course in songwriting, said President Don Tuski. Students and music fans said the new program could enhance the city’s music and art scenes.
“This idea is great for MECA. Music and art are immediate family. Each one feeds the other in so many ways,” said Mark Curdo, host of the local music show “Spinout” on WCYY-FM and an original board member of the Portland Music Foundation. “Freddie Mercury (of Queen), Chuck D of Public Enemy and Mike Stipe of R.E.M all did time in art schools. Who knows what would have become of them or their music had they not been to art school?”
Crewe’s own career shows the strong connection between art and music. The New Jersey native first wanted to become an artist and studied at Parsons, an art school in New York, before getting into songwriting in the 1950s. He scored hits as a writer and producer for more than 20 years. His biggest successes came while co-writing with Bob Gaudio for Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons in the 1960s and 1970s. The pair wrote most of the group’s biggest hits, including “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Rag Doll,” and “Walk Like a Man.”
Crewe, who also produced many hit records, had his own record label and was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. About 15 years ago, after leaving the music business, Crewe returned to painting.
Now 83, Crewe is in poor health in a Scarborough nursing home. His brother, Dan, who also worked in the music business and helped found Gateway Mastering Studios in Portland, is a member of MECA’s board of trustees and helped to arrange the gift.
“This idea really came about because of my brother and how he started out to be an artist and went into music,” said Dan Crewe, 79, of Cumberland. “If you listen to his lyrics, it’s often about something he’s looking at with his eyes, in songs like ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You’ or ‘My Eyes Adored You.’ Art was his first passion.”
He declined to provide details of his brother’s health.
Tuski said the partnership between art and music constantly grows stronger, with more musicians using art in the form of light shows or visuals, and many artists incorporating music and sound into their work. It makes sense that students would want to study how to combine art and music, he said.
Savanna Pettengill, a senior photography major at MECA who helped organize a show of alumni and student bands at the college on April 18, said the new program will be of practical use to students wanting to work in the arts.
“Art and music are so reliant on one another,” said Pettengill, 25.
Dan Crewe said the Bob Crewe Foundation was started about four years ago because his brother had long wanted to support budding artists and musicians after having success in his career. The foundation mostly awards scholarships, though it also donates to various groups and projects. The foundation gave $10,000 to Portland Ovations to help fund a May 8 performance of “The Summer King,” a new opera by Maine-based composer Daniel Sonenberg.
The new MECA program will offer music courses as part of the college’s established degrees in fine arts, Tuski said. The school eventually may allow students to minor in music.
The gift, which the school planned to announce formally at a news conference Tuesday, will be divided into annual donations of $300,000 for 10 years, with the goal of growing the program to include more teachers and classes. Part of the money will be used for future operations, and part for an endowment for scholarships.
The sound stage, gallery and practice spaces will be built in the basement of the five-story, 200,000-square-foot building on Congress Street that houses MECA. The space is now used for storage.
Dan Crewe said the gallery will house his brother’s paintings, plus his gold records and other music business memorabilia. It also may be used to show art created by musicians.
“This is a pretty innovative thing for an art school to do,” he said. “I think it will spark some imitators.”
Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at: