USM Art Department

Artist-in-Residence Program

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 artists to create a work of art that would contribute to the campus collection. Those AIR works can be viewed here. In 2015, our mission changed to foster temporary projects in the community. Artists also give a public presentation, engage with the USM and larger community, and work with art classes during their 7-week residency. Community residency projects since 2015 are featured chronologically below.

Spring 2023: Veronica A. Perez

A woman works at a desk braiding synthetic hair while wearing a mask.We are excited to announce our Spring 2023 artist, Veronica A. Perez. Perez's work lies between interdisciplinary sculpture and community practice, encouraging a reflection on identity for participants and viewers alike. Of her art, Perez says:

"My work lies at the intersection of identity, vulnerability, protection & power, using materials such as hair, sugar, and chain link fencing to reveal hidden & forgotten parts of ones’ identity. They reflect the experience of the artist and an experience of a diaspora of Latinx folx. My practice is further informed by research on the effects of colonialism & gentrification within individuals relating to identity politics. This research-based practice about the psychological impact of white supremacy is related to my personal experiences as a biracial person. My father, a Puerto Rican man, would openly wish for a blonde-haired, blue-eyed child. I assumed he wanted a kid that looked like my mom. I now realize years after his death, he hoped for his children to have an easier time navigating this world. For this reason, visual art has served as a catalyst to understand the world. Art helps me understand socio-political issues that affect me and the communities that surround me. In turn, this aids me in working together with said communities toward mutual aid, representation, and interdependence."

Perez's project with USM is entitled braiding circles. It will be an immersive installation featuring hair, hands, and oral stories that ruminates on themes such as fractured identity, representation, and power through the vision of students and community members in USM and Portland and how these intimate stories can comment on larger systemic issues that affect BIPOC folx in the immediate community. 

Perez's engagement with USM will start in January 2023. If you are interested in participating or volunteering alongside Perez, please contact the Director of Art Exhibitions and Outreach, Kat Zagaria Buckley

Photograph credit: Coco McCracken.

Spring 2022: Artist Amy Stacey Curtis

Amy Stacey Curtis is a well-known installation artist in Maine. Coming off of her 9 solo biennials, Amy's work encompasses sculpture, video, photography, and much more to create immersive, participatory installations in large spaces. Her work is often intensely personal, drawing from her private archives and personal experiences. 

Learn more about Amy's artistic practice and her engagement with USM through her recorded lecture, available here.

A woman sits at a desk in a room where everything is completely blue. She is writing in a blue book.

Curtis created an expansive installation in Westbrook for her engagement with USM called The Color of Memory. In this vast, immersive, participatory artwork, the artist built nine "houses." Each house is a different color, with the items inside and out all adhering to the same monochromatic scheme, including chairs, lamps, desks, photographs, and a blank book with a pen. Participants were invited to write in the book and record the memory that the house’s color evoked for them. The installation opened on March 26 and ran through April 22, 2022. See a gallery of the installation and exhibition here. 

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. Her mid-career retrospective was recently mounted at the Reykjavik Art Museum, Iceland. During her spring 2020 visit, Ólöf spoke at the reception for her video installation "lusus naturae." Click on the title for more info or see her talk by clicking here. Olof also participated in a USM panel entitled Visualizing Maine and the North Atlantic: Celebrating the intersection of Art and Science. Although her visit was curtailed due to Coronavirus, she continued to work virtually with the Art Department towards Hella Rock's successful completion and installation.

See the slideshow on Hella Rock's creation and read the Portland Press Herald article.

Hella Rock at a DistanceHella Rock

Icelandic lava rock and concrete cast, Maine granite rock and concrete cast, 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

Hella Rock on Portland's Eastern Prom by the Casco Bay Community Garden.              

Photos: Tim Greenway

Ólöf Nordal's new artwork spurs contemplation on the nature of making in our increasingly 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.” This questioning of what gets lost in translation is evident in the two fabricated “rocks.” From far away, one sees four rocks. However, a closer view reveals traces of the laborious and difficult casting process of large objects such as small surface imperfections and seams. 

Hella Rock Close Up

Hella Rock was created in collaboration with the USM Art Department. 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 molds 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 Nordal’s 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. Thanks to the City of Portland and Creative Portland for fostering this project.

OTHERED: Displaced from Malaga, An Artist Residency exhibition by Daniel Minter

USM Art Gallery, Oct. 4-Dec. 9, 2018

OTHERED was mounted during Minter’s USM residency in 2018. 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. Known for his visual storytelling, Minter 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.

"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." -Daniel Minter (featured below in the AIR studio)

Minter’s artwork has been exhibited 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 elsewhere.

We thank The Warren Memorial Foundation for their sponsorship of this residency and resulting catalog with essays by scholars from a range of disciples. View the catalog and the Malaga Island Panel Discussion. The catalog is available for purchase at the Art Gallery.


Spring 2017: Emily Simons and the Beehive Design Collective

Emily Simons was Artist-in-Residence February 16- March 29, 2018. Simons cut her teeth on art activism as a member of the Maine-based acclaimed 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. For Simons' residency project, she developed interactive visual storytelling materials about the US Healthcare crisis in collaboration with the Southern Maine Workers Center. Simons then worked with a crew of collaborators who traveled to Maine to produce the End the Debt! Decolonize! Liberate! Scroll, a 175" long 3" high participatory illustrated 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. It 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. The residency was supported by the Warren Memorial Foundation Visiting Artist Lecture Series.

 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.

“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.”  –Muhsana Ali  


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

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. Welcome to New Mainers is 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 program for the opening of the exhibition “400 Years of New Mainers” at the Maine Historical Society. USM students from many disciplines completed the first set for USM. Art students made a second set to hang in the Portland Jetport.

 “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”

–Natasha Mayers

The students’ collective effort transformed a traditional icon of Maine-a bouy-and the sea, which many immigrants have traversed, and imbued it with new associations. Viewers themselves are travelers at the sites of these installations, passing through a syncopated rhythm of brightly colored bouys. This celebratory experience initiated by Mayers, Maine’s leading activist artist, is a great gift to 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 

During her residency stay, Traci Molloy, a 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. USM art students 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 states: “when those who feel as if they are part of a community, work together, hope and resiliency flourish.”

Molloy created a separate artwork with the Center's middle school and high school groups by drawing their portraits and having them add their own imagery to the portraits. Molloy then made digital prints and banners for a display. “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.

“With this type of community project, people can realize the commonality in our collective humanity. 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.”

–Traci Molloy

Molloy further explains, “In talking with the middle school and high school students at the Center, I found that they are very empowered.”  “They are strong, they are brave, and they believe that they are going to make a difference. There is an extraordinary sense of community.” For the past 17 years, Molloy has worked on collaborativ art projects in New York City and across the U.S., exploring themes of adolescent identity, and building and strengthening communities.

View previous AIR works as part of our campus collection here.