‘Soul’ food for Midcoast educator
Belfast — Like most art teachers of this day and age, Charles “Chuck” Hamm, Fine Arts Department coordinator of Belfast Area High School, spends a lot of time scrounging for the sake of his students.
“We’re always pleading, borrowing and Dumpster diving,” he said during a break between classes.
But for eight days of every recent summer, he and some seven dozen of his peers from around the country enjoy a very different experience at the Maine College of Art in Portland, thanks to the “Feed Your Soul” Art Educator Fellowship program. Late last month, Hamm became the first, and thus far only, recipient of a lifetime scholarship and acceptance to “Feed Your Soul,” a program that feeds the body as well.
“They give you a place to sleep — you can stay in the dorms — and space and supplies and they feed us, too. We’re not used to it,” he said. “It’s funny to see all these art teachers in shock.”
It’s not all new to him, since Hamm is a MECA alum. And since he’s “a local,” he makes sure the visiting teachers take advantage of all the college, city and state have to offer.
“I’m probably the biggest cheerleader here,” he said.
Until last year, Hamm also was an instructor in the program. “Feed Your Soul” has been expanded in recent years to accommodate 90 teachers and serves in part as a marketing tool for the college. As such, the move was made to have its workshops taught by the Bachelor of Fine Arts faculty, to better give participating teachers a taste of the school.
“Each college has its own personality, and teachers know their students well enough to know which is best for each,” said Liam Sullivan, MECA’s Director of Admissions.
Hamm’s practice follows that suit. While he has helped form a strong connection between his alma mater and BAHS that includes at least one annual visit — last year’s included the college’s president — he also brings in representatives of other art schools, as well as members of the local creative community, to meet with his students.
“Chuck understands the importance of getting professionals from the outside in front of his students and initiates that. We don’t do that for many schools! The president loved it, said he really enjoyed meeting the students and talking with them,” said Sullivan.
“All in all, our students going on to major in the arts amount to about 15 percent of college-bound seniors,” said Hamm.
One or two BAHS grads each year head to MECA — “Nancy Joslen should get word any day now” — and others go to Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), Massachusetts College of Art and Design (MassArt) and Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), as well as university art programs, Hamm said. Part of that placement success has to do with BAHS’ Art Portfolio course, which focuses on observational drawing.
“That’s how I was trained,” said Hamm, whose BFA is in metalsmithing and jewelry. “Every kid in the Art Portfolio class has been accepted to the art schools they’ve sent applications to.”
In addition to drawing, the BAHS visual arts curriculum offers instruction in painting, printmaking, photography — darkroom and digital, craft including jewelry making, metal working and basketry, glass bead making and a clay course, depending on interest. That’s a full plate to be served up by only two full-time art teachers; Heidi O’Donnell, president of the Maine Art Educators' Association and advisor to the BAHS chapter of the National Art Honor Society, and Hamm juggle the schedule.
“We built a beautiful fine arts wing eight years ago; it’s half paid for and, this year, half staffed. That’s happening over the country, I know, but it’s not making good on the investment this community has made to their kids and their futures,” Hamm said.
In fact, there are not enough art teachers this year to pull off the annual district-wide art show that usually takes place during the Festival of Art at the University of Maine’s Hutchinson Center in May. But the high school will host a show for students of Sam Maheu, who works with many of the RSU 20 elementary schools.
“Our students will hang it and host a reception,” he said.
Hamm admits trying to make artistic ends meet is stressful — he’s also doing graduate work at the Hutchinson Center — and that is something “Feed Your Soul” attempts to address. The program is designed to give art educators professional development, individual studio time and an opportunity to share ideas with other art educators. The networking aspect is a boon in this time of limited resources; Hamm said BAHS got a donation of four darkroom developers from one of his fellow recipients. And the opportunity to be just artists again, if only for a week, can be profound.
“It really changes them, you can see it in their eyes,” said Hamm.
His own eyes saw little daylight during his recent fellowships. He has spent them in a MECA darkroom creating a new body of work, photographic images from his trips to Africa.
“I spent days living in the dark, not sleeping! I’ve got a pile of new work,” he said.
“You know, art teachers give their best efforts to their students, all year long. We think it’s time to give a little back to them,” said Sullivan.
He added that the faculty-taught workshops offer Fellows the opportunity to learn new techniques and also to revisit and redefine media already practiced, relevant experiences that are translated to their students. The teachers come from all over and so does the MECA student body. Sullivan said about a quarter of the school’s 400-plus students come from Maine, many more from the Northeast in general. About 20 percent come from elsewhere in the United State and overseas.
“Liam has done a great job, and has expanded the program. There are four times as many recipients now,” said Hamm.
“Feed Your Soul” participants come from all over and applications come in fast and furious during the December and January application period.
“It fills up super fast! We have 90 spaces available, and they’re filled by the end of January," Sullivan said.
Hamm is the one person always assured a spot, thanks to the lifetime scholarship and acceptance award. Sullivan said MECA’s goal is to educate future creative thinkers and entrepreneurs, so the decision came easily.
“One, he’s an art teacher in Maine, our own backyard. Two, he’s an alum so let’s support them. And three, well, then there’s Chuck! He’s an extraordinary educator who works tirelessly for his students and promotes the arts,” he said.
Sullivan added that what Hamm and other arts educators offer are skills that all students, not just those headed specifically into the visual arts, can benefit from.
“He gives them problem-solving capabilities that can apply to anything. Creative problem-solving skills is what the world needs,” he said.
“Feed Your Soul” Art Educator Fellowship program participants take workshops with MECA’s BFA faculty, create work in MECA’s studio space, share ideas with other art educators and colleagues and get to know Portland as a creative location. For more information about the program, visit meca.edu/art-educator-resources.
A&E editor for Courier Publications, LLC
(207) 594-4401/4407, ext. 115
Dagney has been providing Courier coverage of the local arts scene since 1985 and has helmed the multi-paper A&E section since it debuted in 2003. She has been a local performing artist, community and professional, for 30 years and spent a decade writing, producing and announcing on-air for several Midcoast radio stations. When not in the NewsNest, Dagney likes to be in motion.