The proposed merger of two of Maine’s best-known arts education institutions, the Maine College of Art and the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies, may become a reality next week after more than eight months of discussions.

Maine College of Art will host a news conference Tuesday to announce details of a union of “two of Maine’s landmark educational institutions,” according to a statement Friday by Raffi Der Simonian, the college’s director of marketing and communications.

Though the statement does not name Salt, the two institutions have been involved in discussions on a potential partnership or merger since last summer. Salt leadership announced in June that the Portland-based school would close because of inconsistent fundraising and dwindling enrollment.

Der Simonian would not say Friday whether Salt would be a school within the Maine College of Art, or whether its courses in writing, photography, radio and multimedia would be part of other college programs. He also didn’t say how many students any new program might serve.

He said the details will be announced at the news conference at Maine College of Art’s Institute of Contemporary Art on Tuesday at noon.

Kimberly Curry, chairwoman of Salt’s board, also declined to give details until the news conference.


Salt, founded in 1973 and based in Portland, enrolled about 25 students each semester. Though small, the school’s alumni work in media and the arts all over the world. Salt students have chronicled Maine people and places for more than 40 years in photos, documentary films, radio reports and writing.

The idea of Salt becoming part of Maine College of Art has met with mixed reaction from alumni. Some have said that in light of the announcement about its closing last year, a merger that would keep Salt’s programs alive and its archive secure would be welcomed. Others want Salt to stay independent, and have lamented being kept in the dark on discussions between Salt and Maine College of Art.

Jaed Coffin, who taught at Salt about five years ago and now teaches writing at the University of New Hampshire, was happy to hear about the potential merger.

“It’s so important to keep it going, to have this huge archive of stories by people who really took the time to do them,” said Coffin, of Brunswick. “That it’s continuing, for me, can’t be anything but good news.”

Some former Salt students also are quoted on Salt’s website as supporting the idea. Amy Toensing, a photographer who has done work for National Geographic magazine, said in a short written statement that she supports the idea and believes both the college and Salt are working to keep “Salt’s name and brand alive and independent.”

But members of an alumni group called Save Salt, which formed shortly after the announced closing of Salt last June, say they cannot support the merger because they do not feel alumni have been involved enough in the planning.

“We feel that it’s been a lost opportunity to not involve the Salt alumni board or Save Salt in any meaningful way around the planning and envisioning of Salt’s future,” said Mike Eckel, senior Washington D.C.-correspondent for Radio Free Europe, who attended Salt in 1996. “Until or unless we know more details about this proposed plan we will have to hold to our previous statements that we do not see a strong affinity between MECA and Salt.”

When Salt officials announced last year that the school would close, some people connected to the school felt its focus had been too narrow and it had been too slow to expand beyond traditional documentary techniques. Because of the school’s small size, even small decreases in enrollment were a financial setback.

The Maine College of Art, with about 450 students, is based in Portland and grants degrees in a wide range of arts-related fields. Those include bachelor of fine arts programs in ceramics, digital media, graphic design, illustration, photography, metal smithing & jewelry and painting.

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