PORTLAND, Maine — The Maine College of Art is launching a new program combining studies in art and contemporary music with the help of a $3 million grant that will support new construction at the downtown Portland campus, a scholarship and the college’s first endowed faculty position.
A foundation named for musician Bob Crewe, who is credited with top-10 hits like “Sherry” and “Big Girls Don’t Cry” by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, announced the award during a news conference at the college Tuesday.
Dan Crewe, the musician’s brother and a board member at the college, presented the award on behalf of his brother, who lives in a retirement facility in Scarborough and was too ill to attend. Crewe said that while his brother did not participate in the latest announcement, it was a long-discussed plan and part of the foundation’s broader efforts to support art and music in Maine.
“We’d like to see opportunities not just here at the college but in terms of enrichment programs that we do for kids in public schools,” Crewe told the Bangor Daily News. “This is a part of the bigger plan in trying to bring art and music where it’s no longer promoted as well as it used to be when we were kids.”
With both brothers living in Maine, Crewe said this is where the New Jersey natives decided to focus their philanthropic efforts. The foundation also has awarded grants to Maine groups including the Breakwater School in Portland and the University of Southern Maine’s School of Music.
“Because I live in Maine and now my brother lives in Maine, we’re focusing here where we can make more impact than Los Angeles,” Crewe said.
The grant will support the construction of The Bob Crewe Gallery, a sound stage and multiple practice rooms in part of a 25,000-square-foot space on the lower level of the college’s Porteous Building on Congress Street. MECA President Don Tuski said the space is used mostly for storage now.
The first courses for the program are expected this fall, according to Dean Ian Anderson, with development of a minor in music and visual art expected in 2015.
Tuski said the college’s research turned up no other similar efforts in the region or country to combine art and music studies. That research did, however, turn up a list of musicians who studied fine art, including John Lennon, Kanye West and Rob Zombie.
College officials said Tuesday they hope the program will raise the school’s profile in the region and nationally, as well as serve current students who are now pursuing courses of study that combine art and music but face a choice between the two when deciding whether to attend art or music school.
“I would have lost my mind in high school if I could have done both in some way,” Anderson said. “I think for our current students, what I worry most about is can we get [the courses] out in time?”
Anderson said the curriculum for the program is still in development but could include courses examining the relationship of sound and color, music theory, history of contemporary music, and music business and management.
Student Savanna Pettengill, who helped organize a music festival for students at the art school last week, said that practical guidance is present in the college’s other offerings as well.
“This school works to create working artists,” said Pettengill, who is on track to graduate this spring.
She said she didn’t know of other schools taking the same approach to a combined music and art program.
“And Portland is the city to do this in,” she said. “There are so many musicians and so many small niches in the scene here.”
As for the foundation’s support, Dan Crewe said it is giving the college a long leash.
“Our purpose is to open the door to allow something to percolate,” Crewe said. “This is a laboratory and I am as excited about the fact that we don’t know where we’re going as I am about the fact that I’m making it possible to go there.”