The Skowhegan Upgrade (Part One): An Interview with Kate Haw and Linda Earle

by Art Fag City on June 9, 2008 Events

Left: Kate Haw, Right: Linda Earle, Photograph AFC

Amongst the most competitive and prestigious residencies in the country, the Skowhegan School of Art is known internationally for its nine week long program in Maine during the summer. Now in its 62nd session, beginning June 14th the school will once again host 65 participants, six resident artists, and five to six visiting artists. Interested in the growth of the school in light of a greater interdisciplinary practice and increased institutional use of the Internet I spoke with Kate Haw, Executive Director of Development and Administration and Linda Earle, Executive Director of Programs, about how this has effected the school and its participants. This is the first of a two part interview which will be posted today and tomorrow. (Part two here)

Art Fag City: I want to begin by speaking with you about the media facilities at Skowhegan and how that's evolved over the years. In 2000 I believe there were two computers for artists. How has this changed?

Kate Haw: Digital media has been the focus of the largest number of improvements over the last few years because we're getting a lot of artists who are working in electronic media. It's not just video artists; sometimes painters want to come in and incorporate some kind of digital photography, for example, so we're finding a huge percentage of participants, even those who don't apply as working in video or a photographic medium, want to use those facilities. So that is a key place where, in the short term, we've made more improvements, like getting more computers. But in the longer term, that is one of the focuses of a committee we've just put together of governors and trustees to talk about our long term facilities needs and the media lab is an area where clearly we're going to need more physical space, and more equipment.

AFC: That's really interesting to hear because I've spent a lot of time focusing on New Media art and I've definitely sensed over the last couple of years that the fluency of artists across the board has jumped significantly in the field of digital media, as well as the amount of cross over there is in terms of what people want to do and how interested they are in engaging the web. But of course, past scraping data from artcal, I'm not sure I could do more than postulate on what I've been seeing. When was the media lab started?

Linda Earle: Probably ten years ago under my predecessor Tom Finkelpearl's leadership. So it's relatively new for Skowhegan. At the time, of course it was not digital”¦we had analogue video equipment. Now it's digitalized and we have pretty much a full array of both design and digital video editing software.

AFC: So how many computers do you have now?

Linda: It is evolving. In the lab we have about six, maybe more. We have a large format printer, and we have video cameras to check out”¦We also have DSL. We don't have DSL in the dorms because we want our people up and out to the studios. There are also no phones in the dorms. We want people to “unplug” a bit. ”¦but the upper campus [where the studios and workshops are] is wireless.

Kate: Also, some of the need for computers in the media lab has been alleviated by the fact that everyone brings their laptops, but there are still people who need the editing facilities there.

Not the media lab. Photograph courtesy of Skowhegan.

AFC: My sense of Skowhegan is that it is strong on painting as well as other traditional mediums but I don't have a sense of how many media artists you tend to have working there.

Linda: I think our application numbers pretty much reflect what's going on in graduate schools in terms of proportion. Most of the applications we get are in painting. And some of those are from Balkanized grad programs where if you were a painter it would have been hard to get access to the media lab, or you wouldn't have time to develop in that area because you were on a track in the painting program. So I think everyone benefits from the interdisciplinary community — most people work in more than one medium, save a chunk of painters. And the participants are really good about it — we have really good staff to teach tech stuff and we're growing that staff; that's the other big change. That's been our growth area, but a lot of it happens communally. People will exchange skills, somebody a couple years ago knew how to make egg tempera and did a session about it. Another participant last year taught a workshop on robotics and so it responds to what's needed and what people say they want to do.

Kate: Along a related line, we learned there was too much light in many of the studios for artists to actually be able to work well with video on their computers. So some of the new studios we're building will be situated in the woods so there's less light coming in all the time, whereas the painters want the light, so that's another way in which we respond to the needs of the residents.

Linda: Yea, the original studios were all north facing, they had big windows, because that's what people wanted. We're still figuring out what the media lab is going to look lik, and how it will relate to individual studios for media artists.

AFC: And do you have a media technician?

Linda: We're going to have three people working in the media facilities this summer.

Kate: Which is an increase.

Linda: Also, all the participants have a job at Skowhegan. There are participants who also monitor the media lab and they're around all night. Everything's open 24 hours.

Kate: I think one of the secondary benefits of having a well equipped media lab is that we don't actually want everyone only being off in their studios doing things all the time. A lot of the best things that happen probably happen at 2 in the morning when you're having a conversation with someone who's working something out, and they teach you how to do something you didn't know how to do or you come up with an idea together or something.

Linda: That's why we don't have single studio buildings sprinkled all over the place. Everyone has an individual space but studios are geographically grouped and nobody has a solo studio building except faculty.

Part two of two will be published tomorrow.

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