Leaders of the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies and the Maine College of Art said Monday that they are discussing a possible merger of the two Portland institutions.

An email from Salt executive director Donna Galluzzo was sent to Salt alumni and other interested parties Monday afternoon saying that Salt and MECA “are now entering into more in-depth discussions” about a possible partnership. Such a partnership could help Salt continue its mission and “unique programming,” she said.

It was the first time Salt leaders acknowledged discussions between Salt and MECA, though some Salt alumni who want the school to stay open and independent said publicly last week that Salt board chair Kimberly Curry had told them of the merger option. Curry said Monday a time frame for any merger has not been set.

Salt board members announced in June the school would close in September after 42 years in business, citing declining enrollment and a lack of consistent fundraising. Since then, an alumni group called Save Salt has been raising support to keep the school open. Save Salt members have said they would rather the school stay independent, instead of merging with another institution.

MECA President Don Tuski said he reached out to Salt’s board soon after the closing was announced and offered to “help any way we could.” His offer lead to discussions of a possible partnership.

Tuski said the talks are preliminary, but keeping Salt’s brand and mission alive are goals of his. He said the school’s mission, teaching documentary skills and preserving people’s stories, is a worthy one.

“It’s a really important organization,” said Tuski. “We want to help preserve its mission and identity, working with alumni and Save Salt members.”

Tuski said that the Quimby Family Foundation is considering the possibility of providing funding for a Salt-MECA partnership, if the parties can prove the partnership is “viable,” Tuski said. The foundation supports Maine nonprofits and was formed in 2004 by Roxanne Quimby, a founder of the Burt’s Bees personal care products company. Efforts to reach representatives of the foundation were not successful Monday.

Elyssa East, a member of Save Salt, said Monday she and other group members were hopeful that talks with MECA could be a way to keep Salt open. But she said Save Salt members were not in a position to be “supportive” yet since they feel like Salt board members have kept Save Salt members in the dark about their plans ever since Salt’s closing was announced. She said Save Salt members would want to be involved in future talks to make sure they have a voice in the process.

Save Salt members presented a detailed plan for saving Salt, including fundraising ideas, to the board on July 8. The plan calls for a number of changes to the way the Salt Institute conducts business, including offering online courses, hiring a full-time development person or grant writer to raise money, and making improvements to the way the nonprofit school markets itself.

When announcing Salt’s closing, board members cited declining enrollment, a lack of an endowment and a lack of consistent fundraising. The school used to give college credits but had not the past few years. Tuition is $9,890.

In her emailed statement Monday, Galluzzo said a partnership with MECA would help reduce Salt’s operating costs and overhead.

“Salt would be able to retain classroom and gallery space in the heart of the Arts District, with its own branding, while at the same time accessing the benefits of a robust arts and academic community with whom to learn from and collaborate,” she wrote in her email.

MECA and Salt are both located on Congress Street in downtown Portland, very near to each other. The Maine College of Art has about 450 students, Tuski said, while Salt typically enrolled 25 a semester.

Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

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