Posted on December 08, 2008 in News
By Danica Koenig
The Maine College of Art (MECA) attracts art students of all levels, from recent high school grads to professional artists. Founded in 1882, it is the oldest educational arts institution in Maine. Its gallery, the Institute of Contemporary Art, has been hailed as one of the finest art spaces in the Northeast for the exhibition of contemporary art. Though MECA currently enrolls about 447 undergraduate art students, it is not an ideal college for every art student. For various reasons, every year a number of MECA students transfer to USM, whether to continue art or pursue another discipline.
The MECA campus, comprised of four separate buildings all located within a four-square-block area in downtown Portland, is not set up like a typical college campus. Some USM students who have transferred from MECA cite this absence of a campus community feeling as one reason for preferring USM.
“The MECA campus was divided up in different segments of the city off of Congress Street so people were kind of disconnected from each,” says Jackie Reis, a fourth year USM student who transferred here last fall from MECA. “At USM I definitely felt a sense of community.”
Reis also states that she was impressed with the way USM offered her so many services while she was still a MECA student.
“When I was sick I went to USM health services,” says Jackie. “I bought my art history books at the USM bookstore; I even ate at the Portland Hall dining facility. In many ways I was taking advantage of USM as a USM student would except I wasn’t attending classes here.”
Another downside to MECA that Reis and other USM transfer students stated is the lack of diversity among the students, a strength that USM inevitably has because of the variety of academic programs students here study. Aubin Thomas, a third year USM student who transferred from MECA in fall 2006, describes how the diversity in the academic subjects here at USM creates a more exciting atmosphere.
“Art schools have a different feeling to them because their diversity is limited as everyone attending is doing some type of art,” says Aubin. “At USM, however, we not only have different types of people but also a variety of majors. I feel that, for me, it provides a more interesting atmosphere.”
Reis explains that this diversity among USM students has been a challenge for her, but interesting and exciting nonetheless.
“I wanted an environment that was more conducive to my learning and to be around people who were different from me because that’s how it is when you enter the real world,” says Jackie.
Thomas says that the disorganization of MECA’s administration offices was another factor in her decision to transfer. She recalls an experience when the MECA Financial Aid Office claimed that she had not submitted her tax forms when she had seen them on the desk during her last meeting.
“I became very frustrated with the administration and the way that the college’s business affairs were being run. It was very disorganized,” says Thomas.
The countless USM students who transferred here from MECA are attempting to dispel the myth that you need to go to art school to be an artist. The USM art program continues to attract more and more artists every year, with the current ages of enrolled students ranging from 16 to 84. Jackie says her time at both schools has taught her that the most important component of an art education is the individual artist.
“There are times where I miss MECA and feel less like an artist because I don’t go to an art school anymore, but I realize that I can do my artwork anywhere and get the same education at USM if I’m willing to work and learn.”