How artists utilize their space at USM

Arts & Culture Featured

By Asha Tompkins, Arts and Culture Editor

Even with limited space for creating their art, those involved with the USM Art Department make do with their current spatial conditions, using the room in their minds to utilize their full artistic abilities.

USM artists are good at making do with what they have, as the university has many expenses on its plate and the idea of building a new art facility is not cheap. Administrative Specialist Amy Hagberg explained that a lot of things must be taken into account when thinking of the Art Department as a whole.

“We take up a lot of space for what we do because making takes space,” said Hagberg. “We have to have electrical capacities to handle the load, we have to have vents, there’s a lot of things that go into play.”

The Portland campus has two dedicated classrooms, Luther Bonney 424, which is the 2D design and book arts classroom, and Luther Bonney 425, which is a drawing classroom. Otherwise, all art facilities are located in or near Robie Andrews at the Gorham campus.

“You can have 10 students work in the photo developing rooms for ART 271 Intro to Photography and also advanced students can work in there as well,” Hagberg said. However, bunching these students together in the same area is nearly harmful to the quality of the art.

“They would have to give us a large space,” said Hagberg. “Things have been floated, ‘Oh, the Sullivan gym,’ but we’ll have to believe that when we see it.”

Gorham campus has a full woodshop for sculpture, a plaster room separate from other sculpting rooms because it can get messy, as well as a welding workshop.

“In the printmaking studio, we could definitely use a bigger space. The classes are always capped at 12, but with 12 people in here it’s really tight,” Hagberg said.

In this studio, they have an exposure unit for photo quality images to implement in their silkscreens, and they also have limestone to do lithography.

Hagberg said that everything needs to be neat, otherwise one will “make a horrible mess.”

The Academy Building serves as the oldest building on the Gorham campus, as well as the Art Department’s painting studio. A shed right outside of the main entrance houses a unique method of ceramic firing called Raku. It’s lower firing, but one will heat their ceramics up until red hot, then flash them with sawdust, paper and smoke. The smoke creates interesting colors on the ceramics.

Hagberg explained that each year, the Academy Building hosts a visiting artist in residence, and this means they will stay in a designated studio space. Up the stairs in the same building is where the advanced students work.

“They all have their own spot. These spots are separated from everybody else, they have their home so they can concentrate on their projects,” said Hagberg. “This studio’s nice, there’s good light in this building, that’s why it’s been dedicated to painting.”

Hagberg explained that the masterplan for the Art Department might have a different approach, in terms of reconfiguration. “I don’t know if they really know exactly how much space we take up.” She stated that it would have to be a work in progress. The administration would need to work with faculty to see what their needs are and work with designers as well.

“Whatever space they gave us over there, even in an existing space, it would have to be reconfigured for us because we can’t just jump in there,” said Hagberg. “They’re not going to have a wet darkroom, they’re not going to have a woodshop, they’re not going to have the electrical capabilities for a kiln room.”

The drawing classroom in Gorham is smaller than the one in Portland, which has much more light and space.

“A lot of the residential students, they like to have drawing classes here on the Gorham campus so they don’t have to go into Portland, and that will be a transition for when and if we move to Portland, some of the residents and students,” Hagberg said.

She explained that when Selma Botman filled a presidential role at USM, they had an architect draw plans for an art building on campus.

“It really hasn’t been a plan for us, the administration knows we’d like a plan, we’re anxious for a plan because being in the basement of a residence hall really isn’t ideal either,” said Hagberg. “Some of the residents will complain about the noise above the sculpture studio, but, you know, we have to be somewhere.”

“I know that they’re reworking their Portland master plan. It would be nice if we were incorporated in it, but they would have to know we can’t have a corner because we take up a lot of room. It’s necessary, and we wouldn’t want to lose some things, like our Raku shed, either,” Hagberg said.

She explained that a drawback of the Robie Andrews space is the fact that they’re making do. Stephen Walsh, the studio technician, is always trying to upgrade the building and make it safer since Robie Andrews is an older building.

“USM has gone through so much financial turmoil over the past number of years, there really hasn’t been the money for just the infrastructure,” said Hagberg. “Although, I believe art is crucially important to have a well-rounded society. Some people view it as a luxury. We’re expensive, I can’t say we’re not, but I think we are wonderful.”

She stated that “great students have come out of” the Art Department.

“Those are the pros: we’re here, we exist and students are making great work,” said Hagberg. “It would be nice to have a facility that was really set up for us, as opposed to us trying to figure out how we can fit in this space.”

Hagberg explained that most of the facility has been set up by people who already worked in the facility.

“An outside contractor didn’t come in and build our dark room. The original darkroom was built by professor Rose Marasco, who’s retired,” said Hagberg. “The big giant sink in one of the rooms, Steven Walsh rebuilt it a few years ago. All these things were set up by the people who are here. Nobody has come in and said ‘we’re going to build you this beautiful facility and you can just walk right in and we’ll be all set.’”

The spaces consistently evolve as needs arise, as does the artwork that is created within the same spaces. They aren’t only making do; they’re making masterpieces.

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