A school that has quietly drawn to Portland, trained, and set loose around Maine a large number of journalists and other young creative professionals is entering a new phase, and not a decade too soon.
The Salt Institute for Documentary Studies, which relocated to Congress Street in 2008 after nearly a decade on Exchange Street (with its gallery in the space that is now the Corner Room), is adding more multimedia to its curriculum. The school's students have put out work displayed in a book (which terminated publication a few years back), gallery shows, and "radio church," a semester-end listening party playing work by students in the audio/radio track. In more recent years, many students have posted some of their work online, including collaborative writing, photography, and audio projects. That effort will now expand with additional faculty support.
The school does not grant degrees, but often serves as a host for college students taking a semester away from their regular campus (as well as college grads seeking additional education). Its four part-time faculty members quit earlier this spring "for a variety of reasons over the course of a couple weeks," says Donna Galluzzo, Salt's executive director.
She says the school has been planning a revamp of its curriculum, specifically to incorporate more multimedia work, for some time now. "We've been hearing off and on a lot over the years from students" seeking that sort of instruction in addition to the existing teaching.
"We've always had one class that's been an all-track class," Galluzzo says, and it's there that the school will center its multimedia instruction, led by Christine Heinz, who studied photography at Salt in 2001 and has worked at the school and elsewhere doing photography and multimedia storytelling.
Galluzzo says the multimedia class will seek to merge the existing disciplines at Salt into an online format, and will shy away from outright filmmaking. "We're not looking to be a film school or compete with any film schools," she says. As far as video goes, she says the school will provide "an opportunity for people to dabble."
Similarly for animation; "some (students) come in with tremendous skillsets," Galluzzo says, and Salt is trying to position itself to take better advantage of any opportunities "to combine what they know and what they're learning" that might arise.
The other new instructors have also been hired: Andres Gonzalez will teach photography; Michael May will teach radio; and Caitlin Shetterly will teach writing. Gonzalez is also a Salt alumnus, and a Fulbright Scholar who moved to Istanbul four years ago to document cultural transition in that city, which has been a crossroads for thousands of years. May is an experienced radio journalist (and has a solid print-journalism background) whose work has aired on major nationwide National Public Radio programs. Shetterly, too, is an author and public-radio producer (and former Portland Phoenix scribe).
What comes of these changes remains to be seen; Galluzzo says she is hoping to help students gain more marketable skills and produce more "sellable" pieces. While many Salt students have gone on to work as staffers or freelancers for local media outlets (including the Phoenix), since the demise of the school's own book, few of the students' actual projects for their classes have made it into wider publication. (For a rare exception, see, "Portland's Islamic Center Avoids National Debate," by Maura Ewing, August 27, 2010.)
Galluzzo has expressed interest in coordinating more with local publications and journalism organizations (including the Maine Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, a group I serve as president). It's a fair bet that with Salt's new blood and a refined focus, not only the students and school but also Maine media outlets and their audiences could be real winners.
Jeff Inglis can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.