Pam Wood, the former journalist and teacher who founded Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in 1973, thinks the school has been hampered by mismanagement and a lack of aggressive fundraising and that the June announcement of its proposed closing was handled poorly.

Speaking from her home in Oaxaca, Mexico, on Thursday, Wood also was hesitant to support current talks between Salt and Maine College of Art about a possible merger, saying she questions whether pairing Salt with an art school is “the right fit.” Wood said that if keeping the Portland documentary school open and independent is not an option, she’d like to see talks with other potential partner schools, including larger universities.

Wood, 85, had been publicly silent for months on Salt’s proposed closing, which was announced in June. The reasons given for the closing included dwindling enrollment and a lack of consistent fundraising. After mulling the issues involved, Wood decided to send a letter to Maine newspapers, including the Press Herald. “I sat on it for a while, hoping things would turn around,” Wood said Thursday. “I felt I owed it to all my former students to make my thoughts known.”

Wood said she is not formally involved with Save Salt, an alumni effort aimed at keeping the school open and independent. But she said of the effort, “I wish them well.”

In her letter, Wood wrote about starting Salt with students at Kennebunk High School and how it grew into a nationally respected school for writing, photography and other documentary studies. Wood was president of the school, which usually enrolled about 25 students per semester, until 2001. She said the board asked her to step down from her leadership role at that time and that she had planned to leave “in a few years.” She is now “semi-retired” and living in Oaxaca, where she started a nonprofit that helps indigenous people.

In her letter, Wood said Salt’s board “has destroyed its legitimacy” by voting to close the school without consulting the four decades-worth of former students. She also wrote that when she left, Salt owned a brick building on Exchange Street, which was sold in 2007 for $1.3 million. Wood said she believed the money was to be used to start an endowment and help sustain the school’s future. But an endowment was never created, she wrote.


She also wrote that the school’s leadership “failed to fulfill it’s role as principal fundraisers.”

“One of the main jobs of leadership at an institution like this is to be a very active fundraiser,” Wood said Thursday. “I would spend two days a month researching foundations and private givers.”

Salt Director Donna Galluzzo directed questions about Wood’s letter to board chair Kimberly Curry. Curry said she would not comment on the letter because she had not seen it. She said talks with MECA are “ongoing.”

Don Tuski, president of Maine College of Art, said in late September that representatives from Salt and MECA had met four to five times and that discussions had focused on how Salt’s curriculum would work within the college. He said an agreement could be reached by “early winter.”

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