For many students, selecting a major may feel like setting the course for the rest of their professional lives. For Aubin Thomas, time spent outside the classroom proved to be most beneficial for her life after college.
After graduating from USM in 2009 with a degree in English, Thomas had one immediate goal on her mind. “I knew I had to be part of the Portland music scene. It just had to happen,” she said.
Despite a failing attempt in 2006, her first and only year as a student at the Maine College of Art, to gain a following around the city with a self-released album, Thomas is on the verge of releasing her third EP “All Points North” of self-described “electro-punk cabaret” to a much more accepting public. “It’s actually really great now that people know who I am and approach me for a project, which was the ideal arrangement from the start,” Thomas said.
Thomas wasn’t involved in either the music or art programs at USM. Instead she found her time at the college most rewarding when she was able to select elective classes based on her own personal preference. “I started choosing things that weren’t necessarily what I would usually do, as broad as that sounds,” she said.
While enrolled in one of these courses, Thomas met then editor of “Words and Images,” Ben Rybeck, and a connection was immediately made that lead her to become the art director for the literary journal — a position that would lead her to establish valuable connections within the Portland music world. “Through “Words and Images” I met every person that has helped me in music since,” she said.
With her experience at both MECA and USM, Thomas said the biggest challenge for USM graduates who are trying to succeed as artists in Portland is the clear division between the two campuses. “It’s so cut-off in Gorham. With MECA being based in Portland, they have an advantage over art students at USM because [USM students] had to take the majority of their classes in Gorham,” Thomas said. “When I was at MECA we were greatly encouraged to go out in the community. Not necessarily to make connections people wise, but connections as to where you can put your art and where you drew your inspiration from. You were encouraged to be enmeshed in it from your very first orientation day.”
Although Thomas is passionate about the visual arts, even being featured on the front page of the “Portland Daily Sun” as the curator of the street art blog “Freezetagging,” she said it isn’t something that she believes she can become a part of professionally in Portland. “In order to be successful in Portland, you basically have to commit social life suicide — something that I simply couldn’t do for art,” she said.
Thomas also praises the willingness for many of Portland’s music venues to take risks with many musicians who may have not had a venue to play otherwise. “Ian [Farnsworth] at Slainte has taken about four different chances with me, and probably only one has paid off,” she said. “But he would rather take a chance and possibly find something that is great than to decline someone who is just trying to find a place to play their music because he thinks some other band would bring in more money.”