PORTLAND, Maine — The Salt Institute for Documentary Studies is in talks with the Maine College of Art on a merger plan that could allow the Portland-based school to remain open.
In June, Salt's board announced the school would close in September due to declines in enrollment and fundraising.
But on its website Monday, Salt's board announced the potential partnership with MECA and the Quimby Family Foundation.
Some Salt alumni, though, have concerns about a merger.
When Salt announced it was closing, members of the school's board and its executive director, Donna Galluzzo, received an outpouring of support from alumni nationwide and from members of Maine's arts community. People wrote to share their sadness about the demise of the school, which has nurtured documentary storytelling for more than 40 years, and to offer ideas about how to save Salt.
"I think we were all hopeful that something good may occur," says Donna Galluzzo, Salt's executive director.
She says something promising did occur, when MECA reached out to Salt's board of directors. The two institutions began talking, joined by a third party with deep pockets.
"Salt, over the years, has done a lot of work with the Quimby Family Foundation," Galluzzo says. "The Quimbys are familiar with Salt. They also have done a lot of tremendous educational work with the Maine College of Art. I think the initial idea was just birthed out of a lot of community discussion of what was happening at the time."
Galluzzo says Salt and MECA are now engaged in in-depth discussions about a possible partnership that would allow Salt to continue to educate future generations of radio, photo, film and multimedia documentarians. It would also include financial support from the Quimby Foundation to preserve Salt's vast archive of student work.
Galluzzo says it's too soon to say exactly what the partnership will look like. But she notes that several key considerations are driving the talks.
"From the very very first meeting, it was made clear that Salt would like, and the Maine College of Art would like, for Salt to retain its brand, its independence, its national recognition through its brand and independence," she says.
But this assurance, at least as of now, is not enough to win the support of one group of Salt alumni that have been fighting to save the school.
"We were stunned when the announcement was made," says Mike Eckel.
In the days after the closure announcement in June, six former students, including Mike Eckel, came together to form Save Salt. The group now has 2,500 followers on Facebook and has presented its own plan for saving the school to Salt's board.
Eckel says Save Salt needs to know more about the possible partnership with MECA before deciding whether to support it.
"We really don't know the details," he says. "And we really haven't been included in any of the discussions. And that's been the issue all along, even before the announcement that Salt was going to close, going back several years."
One key person close to the talks, though, says he plans to make sure that Save Salt has a place at the table as details of a potential partnership are ironed out.
"The alumni council and the Save Salt folks, we want to involve them in what it may or may not look like," says Don Tuski, president of the Maine College of Art.
Officials at Salt and MECA say they expect to have more details on the outlines of partnership in the coming weeks and months.