The next president of Maine College of Art has spent her career promoting artistic excellence, civic engagement and creative entrepreneurship, and most recently served as executive director of the Silkroad Project, a music-based organization founded by cellist Yo-Yo Ma to promote global understanding through the arts.

Laura Freid will start working at MECA on July 1, replacing interim president and Maine Poet Laureate Stuart Kestenbaum, who has held the job since the departure of former president Don Tuski last summer. MECA’s incoming board chairman, Brian Wilk, announced the hiring Saturday afternoon, and Freid met with the MECA community after the announcement.

“I see MECA as a rising star in the higher education landscape and am excited to work collaboratively with faculty, staff, alumni, students and the board in bringing the college to the next level of excellence,” Freid told the Maine Sunday Telegram. “My goal is to help MECA achieve the next level of excellence by continuing to recruit top-notch faculty and talented students and providing them the resources they need to excel.”

Freid will be the 18th president of the 135-year-old school.

In a statement, Wilk said Freid’s skills, experience and “appetite to continue building our mission” separated her from other candidates.

MECA has an annual operating budget of about $15.5 million, and a student population of more than 500. The current freshman class, with 161 students, is the largest in recent history, and reflects growth achieved under Tuski, who served six years before leaving for an art school job in Portland, Oregon.

The school did not disclose Freid’s salary. In 2013, the job paid $185,000 annually, according to tax records.

In an email, Freid said her introduction to Maine came through field trips to the beach. “I attribute some of my favorite childhood memories to strolling the beaches in Kennebunkport, collecting sea glass. Over the years, I’ve collected thousands of pieces of it and I believe New England sea glass holds the stories of the world,” she wrote.

She was born in New York, studied philosophy at Washington University in St. Louis and came to Boston for graduate school. She earned an MBA from Boston University Graduate School of Management, and a doctorate in education from the University of Pennsylvania.

Prior to her work with the Silkroad Project, she served as executive vice president for public affairs at Brown University in Rhode Island and chief communications officer at Harvard University, where she was publisher of Harvard Magazine.

She has worked as a writer, storyteller and documentary film producer.

Art is important because it gives us balance and perspective, she said. “Art has always played a vital role in the advancement of our communities, locally and also in a more global sense. This is because art helps us understand our world and our own unique identity. Art school provides the required foundation, vernacular, critical-thinking skills and resilience to go out into the world and make a real difference,” she wrote.

Freid joined the Silkroad Project as CEO and executive director in 2004. During her 12 years there, she led Silkroad’s programs, museum residencies, workshops and other creative ventures. She built the organization’s financial support, and collaborated with Harvard and the Rhode Island School of Design. Ma established Silkroad in 1998 to advance global understanding through music and the arts. It has been affiliated with Harvard since 2005, with campus offices since 2010.

Debbie Reed, chairwoman of the MECA board of trustees, described Freid as “an exceptional leader who understands MECA’s mission and the importance of creativity.”

Freid said she and her husband of 32 years, David, are eager to get to know Portland.

“I have always been drawn to the ocean and I’ve always thought that it is no coincidence that Maine is home to some of the most influential American artists,” she wrote. “There is a certain indescribable beauty in the light and diverse landscape that surrounds the city. I appreciate how walkable, beautiful and historical it is. When I first saw the views of Casco Bay from inside the Porteous building, I felt like I was at home.”

Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

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