institute for documentary studies

{salt is writing – not ending – its story}

salt is writing – not ending – its story

By Donna Galluzzo and Kimberly Curry, Special to the BDN (Bangor Daily News)
Posted Aug. 23, 2015, at 12:15 p.m.

A number of Salt Institute for Documentary Studies alumni have contributed tremendously to the effort in recent months to keep Salt alive, independent and a part of our beloved arts district and arts community here in Portland.

In June, Salt announced it planned to close. In the weeks since, a number of statements have been made about Salt’s 42-year history that we would like to clarify. As we move forward in our discussions about partnering with the Maine College of Art, we would like the people of Maine — the focus of all Salt stories and the heart and soul of our institution — to have clear and more accurate information about Salt’s past in relation to what we hope is an exciting future ahead.

It is of paramount importance that we clarify that Salt, in its entire 42-year history, has never held accreditation. Salt has had several decades-long affiliations with accredited institutions within and even outside of Maine, but we have never held accreditation in our own right.

Decades ago, as with many similar small workshop programs, Salt initiated institutional affiliations that allowed for some wonderful benefits for our semester program students. With institutional affiliations students were able to get official transcripts, transfer partial or full credit hours, use AmeriCorps awards to help pay for school and gain access to unsubsidized educational loans.

Over the years and of their own accord, our affiliate institutions ended their formal relationships with us. We were disappointed and concerned when the termination decisions were made, and we fought hard to make an argument for keeping such affiliations. Ultimately, we realized these decisions not only were out of our hands but also necessary for our partner institutions to remain as solvent as possible.

One of the most exciting opportunities we have with a potential partnership with Maine College of Art is we could re-energize our programming by reinstating our affiliation with an accredited institution. Going forward, we hope to be able to provide even more opportunities for our students to find creative ways to fund their semester program and develop mechanisms to transfer credits earned during a course of study at Salt.

It also has been suggested Salt’s operating expenses have increased significantly over the years. In reality, operating expenses and income have been at a nearly equal stalemate.

Salt consistently has committed 12 to 15 percent of our operating budget to financial aid; because we are not accredited, financial aid must be given from our own operating expenses. We feel the cost of tuition is a hurdle to those with socio-economic challenges, and we try to mitigate it as much as we can. But we feel the pressure of the rising cost of doing business, and we often are competing for students from a market in which institutions of higher education can fall back on their endowments to help provide aid in difficult times. Salt does not and has never had the safety net of an endowment.

The question then is, how has Salt managed these past years with somewhat static or small tuition increases, more significant declines in enrollment the past several years and the generally rising cost of business? The answer is simply we have cut staffing. Within the last decade alone, Salt has had as many as eight part-time faculty and teaching assistants and up to four full-time staff. Today, Salt employs four part-time faculty, two full-time and one part-time staff member.

Our first priority has always been to deliver the best quality educational program we could, but we no longer could ignore the fact that our facilities needed work and our students were struggling to find housing in the crazy rental market that has exploded here in Portland. As such, the two full-time staff members have been managing three facilities (two student housing facilities and the school’s physical space), two semester-long programs, between two and five week-long summer workshops and up to seven gallery shows per year. Each decision, show, facility and programming change was taken on in an effort to keep the institution alive and thriving.

With the announcement of our closure came an incredible outpouring of love and support for Salt. It now appears we might finally be able to make Salt more stable and sustainable through the generosity of the Quimby Family Foundation and the ingenuity, spirit and open arms of our neighbors across the street: Maine College of Art.

This most recent chapter of Salt’s history has been one of our most challenging, and it isn’t the way we would have written this story. But like all great stories, there are unforeseen twists and turns, decisive moments and unexpected outcomes. It appears, gratefully so, we are still writing our story and that is hasn’t ended after all.

Donna Galluzzo is executive director of the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. Kimberly Curry is Salt’s board chair.

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An Important Update About Salt’s Future

Dear Salt Alumni, Maine & Portland’s Arts Community and Interested Community Members, Near and Far:

It’s been about six weeks since we wrote to you with news of the decision to close Salt.

Since that announcement was shared publicly, there has been an outpouring of concern, hopes and good wishes from alumni and members of Maine’s Arts Community. We are incredibly touched and heartened to be the recipients of these nationwide sentiments – which have included offers of help, sadness and disbelief as well as rallying cries to find a way to reverse this difficult decision. Foremost among these groups, of course, were our own passionate Salt alumni. In addition to the existing Salt Alumni Board, another group of alumni quickly formed under the leadership of 6 dedicated individuals- leading a group called, Save Salt! Both the Salt Alumni Board and Save Salt! are working tirelessly to make sure that everyone’s voices are heard. We want to thank them and acknowledge their commitment, dedication and their unwavering belief that something positive can still happen.

Over the past weeks, Salt’s board of trustees has continued its outreach to potential partners and collaborators, and was also approached by several parties with suggestions and proposals for continuing Salt. After thoroughly assessing and considering all proposals, the trustees decided to pursue a dialogue with the Maine College of Art (MECA).

Salt and MECA are now entering into more in-depth discussions and a due diligence phase as we continue to negotiate opportunities for an exciting future for Salt in partnership with the Maine College of Art.

With the generous support of the Quimby Family Foundation (A private family foundation who has supported Salt as a funding partner for many years), the goal is to perpetuate Salt’s mission and unique programming while at the same time securing its archives, and providing an academic partnership different from any other that Salt has had in its 42-year history.

What is most important to all of us is that we stay true to Salt’s mission; that we retain the reputation of Salt’s revered national brand; and, that we create the opportunity for Salt to continue to offer its distinctive pedagogy. At the same time Salt would remain open and nimble to new technologies and cutting edge industry trends; welcoming opportunities for increased community partnerships, collaborations and, most importantly, increased alumni engagement.

Salt’s genesis, in Kennebunk, Maine in 1973, was under the umbrella of Kennebunk High School. Salt’s visionary founder, Pamela Wood, was able to grow the program beyond the walls of Kennebunk High School, through many evolutions of exploration and change, towards the program it is today. With that spirit in mind, Salt is excited to explore this partnership, one of the many benefits of which would include the opportunity to reduce operating costs and overhead. Salt would be able to retain classroom and gallery space in the heart of the Arts District, with its own branding, while at the same time accessing the benefits of a robust arts and academic community with whom to learn from and collaborate.

Salt and MECA are proposing the creation of an alumni advisory board to provide input into this process as we proceed through our due diligence phase. We will also be seeking the input of our Maine and Portland community, national collaborators and media partners as plans for the future are discussed in the coming weeks and months.

Leadership from all parties involved are committed to moving thoughtfully and intentionally through a transition process.

A partnership with MECA has tremendous opportunity to impact the Portland Arts Community in new and exciting ways. The recognition and branding of both institutions would be strengthened and elevated locally and nationally. MECA is flourishing under strong leadership and steady growth. They are poised and ready to be a fully collaborating partner with Salt, keen on retaining Salt’s trademark culture and program offerings while looking for opportunities to grow together – making each institution stronger on its own and in partnership.

There are still some pressing issues and immediate changes that will need to happen at Salt. The trustees, in their efforts to be fiscally responsible and ever cognizant of their fiduciary responsibilities, have been working with our landlord to find a new tenant for the space at 561 Congress Street. For the foreseeable future, Salt will share the space with a new leasing tenant (another educational institution) while details of our partnership with MECA continue to be discussed.

Salt student housing will be sold so that we can repay the generous foundation loan that enabled us to purchase the building. Attempting to carry the housing (including the loan and operating costs) without consistent programming would be another significant drain on Salt’s already exhausted resources.

Many have voiced great concern about what will happen to Salt’s 42-year-old archive. Historically, the physical archives have remained in Salt’s possession as the organization has moved from place to place throughout the state of Maine. The archives will continue to remain with Salt, for the time being at 561 Congress, and then either at MECA or with one of several interested institutions here in Maine. Salt will complete work on a publicly accessible digital story archive, this fall, containing digital versions of all Salt publications and all student stories from 1973 through present day.

Salt’s trustees and administration, in collaboration with MECA’s directors and administration and with the support and guidance of the Quimby Family Foundation are focused on creating a future for Salt that keeps the organization in Portland; keeps the Salt brand independent, recognizable and thriving; and, keeps the school fiscally strong by eliminating the duplication of overhead and expenses. This in turn will create opportunities for new community partnerships and more alumni engagement.

As we bring these ideas to fruition, we do so with the understanding that we must shepherd the memory and role Salt has played in so many people’s lives while exploring what the future holds for our beloved institution.

We thank all of you who have shared your feelings, time and expertise toward these shared goals and we look forward to updating you on our progress in the coming weeks.

Thank you.

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The Salt Institute Announces It’s Closing

A Maine school that has nurtured documentary storytelling for more than 40 years is closing its doors. Over 1,000 writers, photographers and radio and multimedia storytellers have attended the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies since it first opened. But ever-present financial challenges have finally forced Salt to shut down for good.

In 1973, a high school English teacher wanted to help students learn to use words and photographs to tell rich, in-depth stories. So Pamela Wood launched a documentary storytelling institute in Kennebunk.

At the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies, students immersed themselves in documentary writing and photography. Radio was added around the turn of the century and a multimedia program after that.

“To be honest with you, that we’ve sustained for 42 years, in many ways, has been amazing. Truly amazing,” says Donna Galluzzo, the institute’s executive director. Like so many non-profits, Salt, notes Galluzzo, has operated on the edge financially, year in and year out.

Salt, which moved locations five times over the years, is now headquartered on Congress Street in Portland. It has an operating budget of roughly half-a-million dollars a year. Salt lacks an endowment and has depended on the nearly $10,000 in tuition that students pay to immerse themselves in documentary storytelling.

But in recent years, says Kimberly Curry, enrollment has fallen off. Curry is head of Salt’s board of directors. “We just really haven’t quite recovered from the recession from 2008. If we had, say, 23 students or 25 students a semester, that would be terrific. But we’ve been seeing our numbers dropping in different areas,” Curry says. “And that’s just unacceptable.”

So Salt, which ended last year with $83,000 in debt, will close its doors. Galluzzo and Curry say the institute is working on finding a digital home for its vast archive of documentary work produced by more than 1,000 students from across the U.S. and abroad.

Salt has also been a contributor to MPBN for over a decade. Its most recent contribution was a profile that aired just two weeks ago.

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The Salt Institute Searches for an Interim Executive Director!


Founded over 40 years ago, the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies is a non-profit school in Portland, Maine offering semester-long intensive programs in documentary radio, photography, shortdocs and writing with a focus on powerful and responsible storytelling. The work of our students lives at the intersection of community engagement and fieldwork in a way that promotes artistry within the medium, sheds light on important social, cultural and economic narratives in our geographic region and gives audience to the diverse and important stories of the people and places of Maine and New England.

Having positioned ourselves as storytellers in this community over the past four decades, Salt is in an exciting state of transition to meet the changing demands of how media is delivered and how students engage in each of the tracks. As we grow and change with the industry around us, we are in a unique position to situate ourselves on the frontier of this evolving landscape. The desire to hire an interim director comes from the need to focus on stabilizing the organization through a period of growth and development, leadership and staff changes. Working in a role that is both creative and administrative, the interim director will be both a forward thinking educator and a savvy businessperson.


**As of May 1st, applications are closed. Thank you for your interest. We look forward to announcing the new Executive Director this summer!


Job Description

This interim director position is year-round and full-time and will be at least a two-year placement (with the possibility of a permanent appointment). Working with board and staff, the interim director will conceive of and plan the school’s ongoing programs and initiatives in keeping with Salt’s mission. The interim director will supervise the maintenance of the physical plant and studio facilities, manage the finances of the institution, and, most importantly, foster the continued development of an intensive creative community throughout this time of transition.

Our ideal candidate will have 5 or more years of experience in managing staff, fundraising and working with a board. They should have excellent oral and written communication skills and the ability to craft and share a compelling story to inspire individuals and diverse audiences. They must have the ability to connect with the local community. The interim director must be nimble and quick thinking, as Salt is a dynamic and ever-evolving organization. A clear vision and the ability to collaboratively carry out that vision will be critical in this role. In addition to prior executive director (or equivalent) experience a background in strategic branding and marketing is strongly preferred.

Specifically, the director will:

-Provide leadership within the school, including resource development and personnel management
-Supervise student applications, financial aid and admission procedures and policies
-Foster relationships with alumni and other cultural institutions in our community on local, national and international levels
-Promote and publicize the school
-Oversee the annual schedule of gallery exhibitions (including 2 student shows per year)
-Ensure compliance with regulations and laws that pertain to the school and 501c3 status in particular
-Formulate and develop long and short-range goals and strategic plans to ensure continued growth and sustainability
-Maintain instructional standards of quality
-Develop and prepare the annual preliminary budget; monitor and control budget expenditures
-Direct the preparation and maintenance of detailed and comprehensive reports, records and files regarding personnel, facilities, programs, operations and activities
-Manage school facilities, student housing, vendor relationships and insurance requirements for both facilities
-Hire and review staff necessary to assist with all phases of the program and operations
-Report to the Board of trustees on a regular basis
-Serve as ex-officio member of all standing committees of the Board
-Oversee community relations
-Demonstrate literacy and proficiency with Mac computers and Mac related software (knowledgeable enough to oversee the purchase of hardware and software and negotiate vendor contracts)
-Showcase an attention to detail especially in the enforcement of Salt and student policies and procedures (such as: awareness of conflicts of interest, ethical questions and general legal matters)

Salary: $60,000-$80,000 commensurate with experience

Benefits: Health and dental (full coverage), PTO (4weeks)

Application Deadline: Through May 1st  **Applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis between the posting date and the 5/1/15 deadline

Preferred starting date: July 1st (or earlier)


To apply:

Submit resume or CV, cover letter, and in one page or less, tell us, “Why Salt and Why Now?”

Email applications only please, to:; Subject line: ED Search Committee

Format: pdf only; Please label each document: lastnamefirstinitial_resume(or coverletter or Saltquestion)

No phone calls, No walk-ins, No USPS or paper delivery of any kind

*The institution will contact you via email with status updates and requests for further information or to schedule an interview no later than the deadline date of May 1st.

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Accepting Submissions for Mobile You 2.0

The Salt Institute for Documentary Studies is excited to announce Mobile You 2.0.

This juried exhibition will feature photographs shot exclusively with mobile devices like smart phones and tablets. Who will shoot this unique collection of images? You.

We’re now accepting submissions for consideration in the Mobile You 2.0 exhibit, which will go on display in the Salt Gallery on October 2 – October 31. Exhibited photos will be available for purchase by the public for $30 and that amount will be split evenly between the photographer and Salt.

You can submit up to five photos to the Mobile You 2.0 for the $15 submission fee, so go ahead, show us what you’ve got. Or just send us your one or two favorites.

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Join us June 20th for a World Refugee Day Event!

World Refugee Day is a global celebration that is held annually to honor the courage and struggles of the more than 15 million people worldwide displaced by war and persecution. Each year, Maine welcomes refugees from war-­‐torn countries and helps them to rebuild their lives in safety.


This year, on Friday, June 20th, renowned inaugural poet and Maine resident Richard Blanco will deliver an address at a World Refugee Day event scheduled for 4pm at Congress Square Park in Portland.


Following the celebration, Salt Institute will host a special reception featuring their newest collection “In the Shadows: Urban Refugee Children in Africa” by National Geographic photographer and Salt alum Amy Toensing. The reception will begin at 6pm. Both events are free and open to the public.

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Spend a week of your summer at Salt!

Are you interested in learning more about Photography, Multimedia, New Media (Video Storytelling), Writing and Radio?

Then consider spending 1 week with us this summer! Our short programs incorporate hands-on skills training, lectures and  individual critiques to provide a solid foundation (or build on an existing one) in just 5 days. This year’s offerings include opportunities for beginners, intermediate/advanced media artists, high school students, nonfiction writers and professionals looking to build media skills for the workplace.

Register here

Learn more here

“Being an alum, I know the incredible value of time spent as a student at Salt. The skills, confidence, and community that is gained through the semester program is tangible and long-lasting.  Four years later I am working as Director of Multimedia at a creative arts non-profit for youth teaching and documenting our work through photography, audio,and multimedia. I  enrolled in the summer multimedia course to learn about film, something I knew nothing about, feeling a little daunted by the technical skill needed to successfully shoot and edit video. In just one week we were skillfully taught and guided through multiple media projects. I had major learning moments and left feeling fully competent and inspired by my final  work and the work of my classmates. It was a valuable week professionally and personally and I would highly recommend it to anyone in our community.”
[Molly Haley]
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Photoville ME

Join us in Congress Square August 17-22 for Photoville ME : Portland’s first outdoor art exhibit held entirely in a 20×8′ shipping container!


Salt traveled to Photoville in Brooklyn last year, and were one of dozens of organizations, schools and artists to create displays in shipping containers in NYC’s Brooklyn Bridge Park. This year, we’re bringing Photoville to Portland with an exhibition of past Salt work. The exhibition will be on display during daylight hours in Congress Square August 17-22 before traveling to New York to participate in this year’s larger Photoville exhibition.


Read more about the exhibition in this Portland Press Herald article!


Photoville ME is sponsored by Zachau Construction, Portland Downtown District, Pulp + Wire, Grapheteria, and Salt.

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Architalx Voice of Design portals find a new home at Salt!


Voices of Design at the Portland Museum of Art 2013

Haven’t been to the Salt gallery in a few weeks? Come in and visit us, and you’ll notice something different. Thanks to Architalx, Salt is the new home of a portion of an architectural design exhibition featured at the Portland Museum of Art earlier this spring. The exhibition, Voices of Design, celebrates 25 years of Portland’s Architalx lecture series.

The 10-foot tall sound portals are hard to describe – but we’re so excited to put them to use playing Salt student work and as part of interactive exhibits here. Come see for yourself!

Voices of Design was designed by Tim Ventimiglia and Jennifer Whitburn, of Ralph Applebaum Associates, New York and the tower was built by Chris Wright and Martin Simpson.

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Week 15: Radio

Salt is self-selecting. Imagine a group of 20 people who are innately curious, ask probing questions, care about the inner lives of other people and could listen until their ears fall off,  sponges laden with the weight of your words. If this describes you, then coming to Salt is like finding your long lost brothers and sisters. Your people. And it was these people that I had the enormous pleasure of standing alongside during our graduation.
My sister calls them “freeze frame” moments. It’s those moments of suspended time, plucked from the rush of a momentous day, in which you can remember every detail perfectly. Our radio class decided to construct a Soundscape in two parts. We recorded a classmate’s laughter, our multimedia instructor’s favorite phrases, all manner of computer whirring and keyboard clacking and while it played in the background, we lined up in front of the crowd dressed in the uniform of our radio instructor (re: flannel button down + hat). We proceeded to say catch phrases from our class in a medley of sound bites. If you come to Salt, you’ll inevitable have your own inside jokes and loaded phrases, the refuse of days spent together trying to figure out how to tell a good story:

“Where’s the nutgraf?”
“If you’re not on Tweet Deck, you’re really not on Twitter.”
“What do the salmon hear?”
“Okay people, can we take a five minute break and be back in five minutes?”


It sounded like Salt. It felt like Salt. In many ways, standing in that red room where we had first assembled as strangers all those weeks ago, it was a distillation of all I had come to love about Salt—on the high of creating work, sharing with others, standing together, and finding a creative way to make a moment our own. When I first came to Salt, I worried and wondered that it would be cut throat. Competitive. Every man an island.
Like all stories, you don’t know how it’s going to end in the beginning. And if you’re at the beginning of your own Salt experience, trust me when I say that you’re about to go on a journey. Standing on the other side, I can tell you with a full heart and a vote of confidence that the ending is beautiful if you’re willing to take the risk.

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