USM Art Department

Artist-in-Residence Program

Overview of the Department of Art's Artist-in-Residence Program

The University has had a successful Artist-in-Residence (AIR) program since 1986. The program was originally designed for the artists to create a work of art that would be displayed on campus and the resulting AIR collection can be viewed here. In 2015, the mission was changed: artists now create a temporary project in the greater community. During their 7-week residency, AIRs also give a public presentation, engage with the USM and larger community, and work with art classes. These temporary or community residency projects since 2015 are featured below.

Spring 2020: Icelandic artist Ólöf Nordal

Ólöf Nordal, one of Iceland’s most well-known artists, uses various media to channel her work, primarily sculpture, photography, and video installation, in addition to public art. She has tackled various topics regarding culture, origin, and folklore, working with local and global matters. A mid-career retrospective was recently mounted at the Reykjavik Art Museum, Iceland. While Ólöf's visit had to be curtailed due to Coronavirus, she got a lot done! When she arrived, she gave a video interview about the video installation "lusus naturae" seen by clicking here. Ólöf also spoke at the "lusus naturae" closing reception. Click here for more on lusus naturae.

Hella Rock                                                                                                                     Icelandic lava rock and concrete cast, Maine granite rock and concrete cast
Artwork created during Nordal’s USM Artist Residency in 2020

This piece questions the remaking of nature and our ability to judge the truthfulness of what is
natural based on our knowledge and experiences. –Ólöf Nordal

This renowned Icelandic artist’s new artwork spurs contemplation on the nature of making in our ever warming world. The Maine granite rock Nordal selected is around 300 million years old. The 5000 year-old lava rock (hraun-hella in Icelandic) shipped to Portland highlights how the ecology, cultures, and economies of two continents are being thrust in ever closer proximity. Nordal states: “The work also questions what gets gained and lost in cultural translation, often as a result of misunderstanding.” Hella Rock was created in collaboration with the USM Art Department during Nordal’s artist residency, which began in person, and due to the pandemic, continued virtually. USM art students Gillian Brosnan, Max Carter, Lucy Freeman, Kelly Ledsworth, Josh Nelson, Rachel Robertson, and Katharine Rozanski made replicas of the two rocks under the direction of sculpture professors Michael Shaughnessy, Mathew Burke, and Studio Technician Stephen Walsh. The rock moulds were made by Shughnessy, Walsh, and art professor Damir Porobic. The moulds were cast at Swan’s Concrete Products. Director of Exhibitions and Programs Carolyn Eyler coordinated the project and Art Department Chair Kelly Hrenko provided oversight for the program.

Ólöf started working with sculpture professor Michael Shaughnessy and his students to make close replicas of a lava stone shipped from Iceland and a Maine granite stone. These Styrafoam and plaster models will eventually be casted in concrete or stone and placed at a public site. The lava rock and its Maine replica will be set some distance apart from the granite rock and the lava duplicate.The title of Ólöf's future public artwork, Hella Rock, places Icelandic and English words side by side just as the piece will ultimately thrust the geology of two continents in close proximity alongside their obviously fashioned doppelgängers. The approximately 5000 year-old Icelandic lava rock is termed hraun-hella. The rounded Maine granite rock Ólöf selected is around 300 million years old. Ólöf states: “This piece questions, among other things, the remaking of nature and our ability to judge the truthfulness of natural nature based on one’s knowledge and experiences. Which and what is true, genuine or original? The work also questions cultural translation– what gets lost and gained in translation, often as a result of misunderstanding.” The finalized piece will create a delightful contemplation on the nature of making in a colliding world.

After retuning to Iceland, Olof also participated in Senoir Seminar BFA/BA student critiques online and on a panel entitled Visualizing Maine and the North Atlantic: Celebrating the intersection of Art and Science presented by the University of Southern Maine Art Department and The Maine North Atlantic Institute, with community support from New England Ocean Cluster. Ólöf Nordal’s artist residency is sponsored by the Warren Memorial Foundation Visiting Artist Series and the Maine Economic Improvement Fund (MEIF) with additional community support from the Maine International Trade Center.

Fall 2018: OTHERED: Displaced from Malaga by Daniel Minter, an exhibition at the USM Art Gallery Oct. 4-Dec. 9, 2018

The OTHERED exhibition is part of Daniel Minter’s USM artist residency during the fall of 2018. We thank The Warren Memorial Foundation for their sponsorship of this residency and resulting catalog. Malaga Island is a small island on the coast of Maine that in 1912 the State purchased, ordered the mixed-race fishing community to leave, removed the buildings and exhumed the cemetery. USM Artist-in-Residence Daniel Minter, known for his visual storytelling, recalls this complex story with paintings, assemblage, and a small house in the gallery filled with historical photographs and archeological artifacts relaying a sense of place, loss, emptiness, and wholeness. Minter states: I imagine that the people of Malaga Island were able to maintain the sense of an inner home even at a time when every outward representation of home was being taken away. The image of the person standing in the water; the turbulent calm of the body and visage are reminders that in the face of eradication we may disappear but our spirits are not diminished. Our physical home is shallow whereas the depth of our inner home cannot be measured. Minter's artwork reflects abiding themes of displacement and diaspora; ordinary/extraordinary blackness; spirituality in the Afro-Atlantic world; and the (re)creation of meanings of home. Minter’s paintings, carvings, blockprints and sculptures have been exhibited both nationally and internationally at galleries and museums including the Portland Museum of Art, Seattle Art Museum, Tacoma Art Museum, Bates College, Hammonds House Museum, Northwest African American Art  Museum, Museum Jorge Amado and the Meridian International Center.


Right: Minter in the AIR studio on the Gorham campus.














Spring 2017: Emily Simons and the Beehive Design Collective

Simons cut her teeth on art activism as a member of the Maine- based Beehive Design Collective. For over a decade, she traveled around the U.S. presenting the Beehive’s graphic works to communities in struggle and using arts-based education in social movement contexts. Now based in Pittsburgh, Simons works as a cultural organizer, illustrator, and graphic designer. Simons was Artist-in-Residence February 16- March 29, 2018. Her residency project of creating graphic tools for the Southern Maine Workers' Center campaign for healthcare was supported by the Warren Memorial Foundation Visiting Artist Lecture Series.


As part of Emily Simons' residency, she worked with a crew of collaborators to produce the End the Debt! Decolonize! Liberate! Scroll, a 175 long 3 inch high participatory illustration that tells a story of the colonization and resistance of the people of Puerto Rico.  The piece can only be seen by standing in a circle and passing it together, allowing the audience to experience and hold together this complicated, ongoing story of resistance in the face of many interconnected oppressions.  The piece premiered in New York City at the Clemente Soto Vélez center on the lower east side of New York City, where collaborator Dey Hernandez also re-staged the scroll-production scene from the studio at USM. The scroll is continuing to travel to communities across the US and Puerto Rico with AgitArte Cultural Workers, where communities learn and connect to Puerto Rican resistance through this unique piece of art.

Fall 2016: Muhsana Ali, East Bayside Community Mosaic Mural

This mural, located on a vibrant corner in the ethnically diverse Bayside neighborhood of Portland, was designed by University of Southern Maine Artist-in-Residence Muhsana Ali in 2016. Ali is an internationally- recognized artist based in Senegal who works in many media to create conceptual community-centered art. She states, “The spiral design represents the common origin of all of humanity and the ways in which we spiral out from, or back into that center. The footprints, which I collected from the mural participants, are placed in various directions along the center of that spiral path. All of these elements glow together in one amazing, balanced and harmonious form like an evolved human family.”                                         

 The project was organized by the USM Artist-in-Residence program in collaboration with the School of Social Work and Coffee By Design.

Carolyn Eyler, USM Director of Exhibitions and Programs, executed site research and project management. Muhsana Ali and Dr. Paula Gerstenblatt taught a class that created an opportunity for USM students of many disciplines and community members to work together. Over one hundred USM students and several hundred community members participated in making small glass paintings. The artist and her assistants incorporated these pieces along with cut mirror, tiles, and ceramic pieces that were adhered to the wall with a mixture of pigmented concrete and sand.

 Special mention is given to Senegalese artist, Amadou Kane Sy, Ali’s husband and colleague, who assisted in the creation of the mural. Many thanks to USM art alumna Mia Bogyo, USM art intern Kayla Frost, and USM art student Kenneth S. Davis. This project was completed with generous contributions by Redfern Properties, Coffee By Design, the USM Office of the President, the Running with Scissors artist community, an anonymous local donor, and all those who contributed material donations.


Spring 2016: Natasha Mayers, Welcome to New Mainers and Gorham Community Map

Welcome to New Mainers
is now on display inside the Portland Jetport. Mayers engaged over a hundred USM and area students to paint these buoys with the flags of the 77 countries represented by Portland’s newest residents. The idea began with a banner for the Maine Immigrants’ Rights Coalition painted by Mayers in collaboration with members of the Union of Maine Visual Artists (UMVA) and The Artists’ Rapid Response Team (ARRT!),  an activist group Mayers founded in 2012. The first buoys were painted by students in the Portland Public Schools’ Multilingual & Multicultural Center’s “Make it Happen!” program for the opening of the exhibition “400 Years of New Mainers” at the Maine Historical Society. USM students from many disciplines completed that first set,   which now hangs in the skywalk. USM art students made a second set to hang in the Portland Jetport. During her 7-week residency with the USM Art Department in Spring 2016, well-known Maine community artist Natasha Mayers facilitated two significant public art projects: Welcome to New Mainers (Flags on Lobster Buoys) and the Gorham Community Map mural.                                                                      

“I hope the buoy installations will make us all more aware of the rich cultural diversity being woven into Maine and help  us open our hearts to the contributions and struggles of our new neighbors,” Mayers said. The students’ collective effort transformed a traditional icon of Maine and the sea, which many immigrants have traversed, and imbued it with new associations. Viewers themselves are travelers at the  sites of these installations, and they pass through a syncopated rhythm of brightly colored patterns and varying shapes at alternating heights. This celebratory experience initiated by Mayers, Maine’s leading activist artist, is a great gift to, from, and about the state of Maine.

USM art lecturer Lin Lisberger and Jess Lauren Lipton  of Creative Portland helped arrange the Jetport installation. USM art students Caitlin Warner, Farrin Hanson, Sara Jane Laughlin, Mackenzie Moore, and Kennedy Sheafe participated in the installations.


Spring 2015: Traci Molloy, Constructing Identity

Traci Molloy, Brooklyn, New York-based artist and education activist, created collaborative artwork with the Center for Grieving Children's Multicultural Program, which practices a peer support model to build and strengthen community. Seven USM art students enrolled in Molloy’s USM Artist-in-Residence course assisted Molloy with the artwork and attended the Center’s program to observe. Marie Sheffield, coordinator of the Center’s Multicultural Program and licensed art therapist, explained that “when those who feel as if they are part of a community, work together, hope and resiliency flourish.”

USM Artist-in-Residence Project 2015“Traci’s community-based art project helped to facilitate the process of finding common meaning, promoting expression and recovery, and reducing isolation for students in the Multicultural Program,” said Sheffield. “Non-verbal expressions reduce language barriers and inherently connect to the expression of feelings, shifting towards action and resolution.”

For the past 17 years, Molloy has worked on collaborative art projects in New York City and across the U.S., exploring themes of adolescent identity, and building and strengthening communities.

“With this type of community project, people can realize the commonality in our collective humanity,” said Molloy. “The artwork, the visual language, can prompt dialogue and inspire people to consider things from another perspective. That is how we, as communities, can enact social empowerment and change.”

The Center's Multicultural Program is divided into two groups of middle school and high school students, and Molloy  created a separate artwork with each group.

“In talking with the middle school and high school students at the Center, I found that they are very empowered,” remarked Molloy. “They are strong, they are brave, and they believe that they are going to make a difference. There is an extraordinary sense of community.”