Alumni of the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in Portland have started a campaign to try to save the small school, including a Facebook page and a petition.

Four graduates of Salt, living in different parts of the country, started the effort last week after the announcement that Salt would close in September. The school, which has about 25 students a semester in four areas of documentary-making, has faced dwindling enrollments over the last few years, board members said.

Members of the alumni group want to drum up support for keeping Salt open among alumni and others, in hopes of persuading Salt’s board to reverse its decision, said Mike Eckel, a Salt graduate living in Alexandria, Virginia, who started the Save Salt Facebook page with three other alumni.

The Save Salt group would like to develop a plan to run Salt as a “stand-alone” organization, or in conjunction with some larger organization. Eckel said the group would look at ways to improve fundraising, as Salt has usually covered expenses through tuition and some grants. Board members have said the operating budget is $500,000. Currently tuition is $9,890 per student, and the school has traditionally had about 25 students per semester. So even a small drop in enrollment is a significant cut in revenue.

“Our effort right now is to show the board that there is deep and undying support for Salt among alumni and in the Maine creative community,” said Eckel, 43, who works as a writer and editor. “This announcement caught most of us out of the blue. But since we heard about it, there has been a groundswell of support.”

Kimberly Curry, who chairs Salt’s board, said no one from Save Salt has contacted the board yet. But, she said, the board is “open to any suggestions,” including options for housing Salt’s extensive archive of work if the school does close.

Eckel said his group will post a petition, directed to Salt board members, on Change.org sometime this week. The Save Salt Facebook page had 465 likes by Monday. The group also has a Twitter feed, @Save_Salt.

Salt, on Congress Street, is a 42-year-old organization that does not grant degrees. It is considered a professional development school for people studying forms of documentary journalism. Salt, which doesn’t have an endowment, has struggled financially for years, board members said.

The alumni who started Save Salt live all over the country, which demonstrates the reach of the organization. Eckel is a former Associated Press reporter who has worked around the world, primarily in Russia, the former Soviet Union and Southeast Asia. Besides Eckel, the group’s other organizers are Elyssa East of New York City, Amanda Waldroupe of Portland, Oregon, and Suzi Piker of Portland. Piker creates video content as “chief storyteller” for United Way of Greater Portland, and formerly worked at the Portland Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram.

Eckel said it is unclear how much money would have to be raised to keep Salt open and operating indefinitely since alumni don’t have access to the organization’s financial records.

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

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