May 4, 2013

MECA makes a fine art of recruiting

The effort to attract talented students from as far as China – and from Maine – is part of a larger mission to build the school's profile.

By Bob Keyes
Staff Writer

BELFAST – Don Tuski lists all the usual information on the front of his business card. On the back, he includes all that same info, but written in Chinese.

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Jason Cornell, the admissions counselor at the Maine College of Art, talks to students from Belfast High School about attending MECA on April 23, 2013.

Tim Greenway / Staff Photographer

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Maine College of Art President Don Tuski meets with students from Belfast High School about attending MECA on April 23, 2013.

Tim Greenway / Staff Photographer

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Tuski, president of Maine College of Art in Portland, had the cards printed up before a recent trip to China. He went abroad to build relationships with art schools and art institutions in China in hopes of recruiting more foreign students to come to Portland to study art.

MECA's international recruitment effort is part of a larger initiative to increase the school's profile. The school, which will confer about 70 bachelor's degrees at its 102nd commencement exercise on May 11, is positioning itself as a landing spot for students who want to learn a variety of skills that will serve them well in an evolving, complicated job market.

An art degree is no longer about learning how to make great art, Tuski said. It's about learning how to think creatively. "We teach our students how to make art and how to make a living," he said, repeating a mantra that echoes throughout the school's downtown campus in the former Porteous department store building.

Tuski instructed his admissions staff to cast a wide net in hopes of luring the best and brightest students not just in Maine and New England, but across the country and overseas. His admissions team visited more than 500 U.S. high schools during the just-completed academic year, traveling coast to coast, including a first-ever trip to Texas for a national portfolio day attended by many of the country's largest art schools.

Tuski spent eight days in China in late March, and returned home with serious interest from one or two prospective students, including one who is interested in a master's degree. He also set up the framework for student and faculty exchanges with three Chinese academic institutions at the high school and college levels.

"There is no reason we can't compete with the best art schools in the country," he said. "The MFA is the new MBA. Corporate America and the non-profit sector want more creativity in their work force. You can't outsource creativity, and that's our core. That's what we teach -- creativity. Art schools need to articulate how we create creative professionals. That's what this effort is all about."

Two weeks ago, Tuski and admissions counselor Jason Cornell made a quick recruiting trip up to Belfast in midcoast Maine. Belfast Area High School has a particularly strong art department, and MECA has always done well attracting students from there.

The school's art department chairman, Chuck Hamm, graduated from MECA when it was known as the Portland School of Art. He has maintained good relations with the school, and welcomes recruiting trips from Tuski, as well as representatives from other art schools.

Art schools from Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New Hampshire all make regular trips to Belfast, Hamm said.

Of the approximately 100 students who graduate from Belfast each year, about five commit to studying art at the college level, he said. Of those five, two or three usually choose MECA.

On this trip, Tuski and Cornell had 45 minutes to make their pitch. They talked about MECA's small class sizes, the appeal of a small city like Portland and the opportunities for work after graduation.

"One of the great things about art schools is that they help you see the world in more thoughtful ways," Tuski told 27 students, who packed one of the art rooms to overflowing. "We teach you how to take feedback and constructive criticism. We teach you how to use to your head and your heart, and your hands. We teach you to take risks. And we teach you how to think creatively -- and the thing about creativity is that everybody wants it. Employers want artists and designers and creative people who know how to think on their feet and how to solve problems."

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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On Friday, May 03, 2013, MECA student Chun-Cha Chang cleans out her cubicle she used at the Maine College of Art of the many items she made and use to decorate her space.

Gordon Chibroski / Staff Photographer


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