Posted by Erik Jorgensen

Bob Martin introduced Friday’s speaker by talking about the power of image, and how in this increasingly visual world, understanding visual communications has taken on new urgency. With that urgency has come increased focus and prominence for schools like the Maine College of Art, which train people not only to add to the Worl’d visual resources, but to help others understand and make use of them.

On Friday we heard from Laura Freid, who has served as the President of MECA for the past year or so, following a career with Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project. 

With 500 full-time undergrads plus students in the MFA and MAT programs as well as a base faculty of 30, the College is a major presence in downtown Portland.  25% of those who graduate stay on and live in Portland. 

Ms. Freid spoke about how “everything we are doing today succeeds more because of its visual elements and its designs.” Many countries are looking to the US for creative ideas, and students at MECA are being trained to work in the forefront of creative work in the US.  The College has grown more competitive in terms of admissions, and its graduates work in a wide range of professions. Some 60% of the students are interested in design (as opposed to fine art), from fashion, to computer graphics, to graphic arts.  

MECA students arrive in Portland having already worked as artists, developing portfolios and distinguishing themselves in high school.  What does MECA teach its artists? What they learn there, in addition to honing their art skills, includes brainstorming, analysis, and both giving and receiving criticism.  They understand the difference between form and content.  All these are critical abilities for any professional. She also added that MECA students take a range of other college courses in addition to their core art training.

Ms. Freid also spoke about the value of art for art’s sake. Artists generate meaning, empathy, and humanity. And while it is sometimes hard to measure or quantify the value of art, it’s clear that arts and culture deepen community and improve the quality of life. There is also a pecuniary interest, as arts & culture support more than 2000 jobs in Portland. 

She noted that MECA is an “innovation lab” and all the faculty live here in Portland, which is unusual, adding considerably to the richness of our city. We remember Beethoven, Bach and Picasso much more than the rulers of their day or the political arguments that were raging in the background as they worked.

(Photo L-R: Bob Martin, Laura Freid and President Don Zillman.)